At the limit
Of life champions and world champions
The special story of Ludwig Hackinger and the world’s fastest handbikes.
30 degrees in the shade. The hot air shimmers above the glowing asphalt. With regular crank movements, Ludwig drives his matte-black handbike across the federal highway in St. Georgen. Just a few centimeters above the sun-softened bitumen, he reaches top speeds of up to 35 km/h. Downhill, the torsion-resistant, aerodynamic design of the bikes even makes speeds of up to 100 km/h possible.
Even though the neon-orange pennant at the top of his two-meter flagpole sticks out over the light-brown, wilting spring barley, there is always the risk that he might not be seen. But if you live according to the motto that “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, then this is unlikely to shake you.
Ludwig was born with a very severe form of innate SPINAL angiomatosis, an extremely rate, incurable spinal disease. Since the age of eleven, he has undergone numerous painful operations. The decision to amputate his left lower leg was the gravest and mentally most challenging of his life.
“Let your boy grow up like any other normal little rascal!” Ludwig’s worried mother followed this advice of the attending physician with a heavy heart, thereby making a key contribution to her offspring’s personal development. Much of what appears very ordinary to us, he had to forgo. But in spite of many health-related setbacks, Ludwig was never thrown off course and he accompanied his friends whenever and wherever possible. While monoskiing in the magnificent mountains of Turracher Höhe, he met the handbike professionals of the Austrian Paralympic team and the following spring discovered his own passion for biking.
His first bike weighed an incredibly heavy 22 kg and proved to be quite unsuitable for racing in many situations. First steps towards making his handbike lighter quickly yielded success and led to ever new goals – a bike under 12, then under 10, and finally under 8.5 kg. His weight tuning skills soon impressed his biking friends and it wasn’t long before he received his first order.
At his small hobby workshop, Ludwig produces home-made carbon fiber components in his own autoclave. He adapts each bike individually to the rider’s handicap, just like a tailor-made suit. He invests around 800 hours in each unique item, with waiting times for these much coveted racing bikes now having reached one and a half years. Good things come to those who wait, they say.
Medalists Walter Ablinger and Thomas Frühwirth also appreciate the quality of his work: “Haki builds the best handbikes in the world.” Ludwig may not have become a professional athlete, but as an important member of the national team, he accompanies the aspiring medalists to all major events. The highlight to date was the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. “I was so impressed by the spirit of the Games and by the city itself,” Ludwig remembers, sporting the smile of an eternal rascal. Due to Covid-19, Tokyo 2020 was rained off for him. “But four handbikes that I produced took part and won a sensational six medals: one gold, two silver, and three bronze,” Ludwig proudly tells us. “No doubt I’ll be there again in Paris 2024!” Until then, he is perfecting the next generation of his ultralight “Haki-Bikes 3.2”, creating the best possible conditions for his colleagues to achieve new superlatives.
Ludwig “Haki” Hackinger has been a member of our team for 27 years and, as a technical draftsman, is responsible for designing high-precision steel workpiece fixtures. As with his bikes, stability also plays a key role here and this is where his hobby and his work can mutually benefit.
Our colleague may not gain the fame of an Olympic medalist or a world champion. But as a champion of life, whose incredibly positive approach is an example in all respects, Ludwig will always be our number one.