Love of bikes keeps Tibbs revved up

Published 6:00 am Thursday, February 1, 2007

Former motorcycle man Tony Tibbs used to be able to get his 650Yamaha to do over 100 miles per hour “in no time.” Now, hemaneuvers his wheelchair between rooms as best he can.

The 49-year-old Tibbs had a series of strokes at age 36 thatleft him a paraplegic. Now, under hospice care, there seems littlehope for recovery.

“When I had the stroke, the first thing that popped in my mindwas that I was going to miss my bike. I knew I’d never ride again,”said Tibbs, who had to give his beloved bike to his bestfriend.

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Now Tibbs’ days are spent with his nurse, Rose Conerly, who saysTibbs keeps her entertained for hours with his stories of bikes andthe road.

“We talk motorcycles. He has great stories of when he was abiker,” said Conerly. “He’s a beautiful person, and you can tell heloved life, and he still wants to.”

Tibbs also can get his fix by watching television and chattingwith his Internet friends about his lost love. Sometimes every dayfeels the same as the last, but there are days where he’s able toapply his still-sharp mechanical knowledge.

“I go from the bed to the the computer to the TV. I don’t getout much,” said Tibbs, who sometimes is still able to help hisonline buddies with their bike problems. “There was a guy who askedme about his bike wiring, and I was able to help him fix it.”

Tibbs is now living with his mother, Virgie, who cares for himmuch as he had to do for her from a young age after his fatherdied.

“Daddy died when I was 11, and I had to give up my childhoodways,” Tibbs said, recounting how he had to take odd jobs to helpfeed his mother and his four brothers and sisters. “Being able toget out on my bike and feel the freedom of the road was how I gotaway from it all.”

Tibbs has a son, 26-year-old Chris Tibbs and two grandsons, ages5 and 2, who live in Hattiesburg.

Motorcycles became a solace for Tibbs around age 12, when hebought his first old metal minibike and remade it.

“It wasn’t one of the fancy doohickeys they have now,” he said.”It pretty much had a lawnmower engine. I put that thing togethermyself.”

As he grew up, and during his adult life, the obsessioncontinued. During his marriage, his wife’s uncle and hisbrother-in-law would come over, and the three would work on bikesin their off-time. Sometimes they’d even load the bikes down withcamping equipment and escape for a weekend at a time.

“I was always working, but we’d go riding to have time toourselves,” he said. “Just getting away from the house and everyonearound there.”

Tibbs even built his 650 Yamaha “from scratch,” if it can besaid of a motorcycle.

“We completely built it,” he said. “When I first got it, it wasall in pieces in boxes. We put it together and tuned it up andtweaked the engine. It was fast.”

But although he can’t ride or work on the bikes he lovesanymore, Tibbs can pinpoint one particular inspiration.

“I love Jesse James,” he said, his eyes gleaming as he talkedabout an all-copper liberty bike that the rogue host of the show’Monster Garage’ built. “That guy can make over anything. If it’sbuildable, he can build it.”

Angela Parker, of Community Hospices of America, said effortsare under way to arrange a meeting of some sort for Tibbs and hishero.

“I’d love to surprise him,” said Parker.

Tibbs said one reason he loves to watch the “Monster Garage”reruns, as well as “Orange County Choppers,” another bike-centricshow, is because of the massive difference in bikes in his day andthe technologically advanced bikes of today.

“They’ve done a complete turnabout,” said Tibbs. “There arebikes now I’d give anything to have and ride.”