The History of Mert Lawwill: The Spirit of a Great Creator
While most people are satisfied with success in one pursuit, the legendary Mert Lawwill cannot say the same. After a hugely successful career as a professional motorcycle racer, he went on to develop some of the most critical advancements ever to frame building in both the motorcycle and mountain biking industries. If those feats were not enough, he then developed several advancements in the design of prosthetic limbs for amputees.
Mert Lawwill is known for more than just being a great racer and his contributions to the racing and biking worlds. He is also known for his efforts to improve the lives of those who found themselves in need of assistance to continue their passion for racing or riding after the loss of a limb through the development of suitable prosthetics.
More than those things, he is known for never settling for being outstanding in just one area, but rather excelling in multiple pursuits and several diverse areas of his complex and interesting life.
Mert’s Early Years
Born in September of 1940, Lawwill began his career in his hometown of Boise, ID, where he cut his teeth on scrambles. Initially, when he began his riding career, Lawwill did not have the support of his parents due to the stigma that surrounded motorcyclists at the time; his parents believed that only “bad people” were riders.
However, after a move to Los Angeles in 1961 in order to pursue his professional career, his parents soon became his biggest supporters. Not long after his move, Lawwill was sponsored by a Harley-Davidson dealer, officially beginning his career in 1963. He would spend the remainder of his racing career on the Harley-Davidson factory racing team.
1965 marked Lawwill’s first winning professional season, and a few short years later, he won the AMA Grand Championship and was named Most Popular Rider of the Year. Soon after these achievements, Lawwill’s quest to defend his title became the subject of the documentary entitled On Any Sunday. Alongside motorcycle enthusiast and movie star Steve McQueen, Lawwill was featured to show how his “all business” approach to racing stood in stark contrast to some of his fellow competitors. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary category.
Not long after meeting McQueen, Lawwill suffered an accidient which nearly ended his career, breaking over 40 bones in his wrist and hand. Initially, doctors told him that the injury to his hand was so severe that he would never regain normal use.
His wife and friend ensured that he was removed from the hospital immediately. When McQueen found out about Lawwill’s injury, he suggested his doctor for the job. McQueen’s doctor realized that there was a specialist better suited to help Lawwill through his recovery, and though he knew he would have difficulty affording it, Lawwill went to see the hand specialist at McQueen’s behest. After several surgeries, Lawwill’s hand regained almost all normal functionality, and McQueen took care of the bill and had Lawwill and his family stay with him during part of the recovery process.
A Career Cut Short, But a Life Far from Over
Lawwill continued down the track as a professional racer until 1977. That year, after being afflicted with an inner-ear disorder that affected his balance, Lawwill decided to call it quits as far as his racing career was concerned.
During his tenure as a racer, Lawwill amassed an impressive number of awards, including winning the Grand National Championship 15 times. Though his days as a racer were over, Lawwill was far from finished when it came to his contributions to the biking and racing worlds.
Further Contributions to the Motorcycle Racing World
During his early years with Harley, Lawwill began to dabble in working to improve the frames of racing bikes. Eventually, he would become one of the most respected creators and builders of frames in the industry.
Though Harleys had a reputation of being slower than other bikes on the circuit, Lawwill’s adjustments to the frame of his bike to make it lighter and more suitable for racing gave him just the advantage he needed to race his way to the top.
Oddly enough, Lawwill also realized that the more power the engine put out, the slower the bike moved. He reduced the engine’s power, an innovation that also helped to speed his bike up considerably.
Lawwill attributes his ability to innovate while making sure that his bike was running at optimum speed as the reason he was able to remain with the Harley team throughout his career.
Lawwill continues to contribute to Harley and the racing world by working to make the Harley models used for racing street-legal.
The Mountain Bike Adventure
Lawwill is also credited as a pioneer in the mountain biking industry, having created, developed, and designed one of the first mountain bikes. From there, he went on to continue to innovate and improve the way that the bikes handled.
At the time that he took an interest in them, Lawwill felt that mountain bikes could have improved deign when it came to their suspension, and that is precisely what he set out to create.
In 1977, Lawwill went down in mountain biking history as the first person to have an assembly line production of the specialty bicycles. Over the decades, in addition to running his own mountain bike company, Lawwill has consulted for many companies, and his son is very involved in the industry as one of the top downhill bikers in the game.
Lawwill’s Contribution to Prosthetics
Witnessing friend and fellow racer Chris Draayer’s near-fatal crash where he lost most of his arm, Lawwill inadvertently found himself in the prosthetic business.
For years following the crash, Draayer found himself with an urge to race and ride; however, he had yet to find a prosthetic that could accommodate the needs of an amputee. From the grip of the hand being too loose or too tight to properly maneuver the bike, to the prosthetic not breaking away in the case of a fall, no one could seem to get a substitute hand just right for those wanting to continue their passion for riding even after losing a limb.
Ever the astute problem solver, Lawwill developed a ball and socket limb that would “think on its own.” It would release if the rider were in an accident, and it gripped the bars just right. It did everything that was expected and more.
Today, Lawwill’s company provides many prosthetics to returning US Vets who lost a limb while serving our country.
The History of Mert Lawwill: A legend of many talents
It is rare to come across anyone as talented in as many areas and as many ways as Mert Lawwill. His contributions to the motorcycle racing, mountain biking, and prosthetics worlds have been undeniable.
Lawwill’s knack for being an innovator in any industry he finds himself in has led to him being recognized as a true trailblazer.