• Beginner Trikes


    reprinted from BB.com , July 2003
    copyright owned by author


    Beginner Trikes

    This is always an offbeat topic when it comes to motorcycling. Somewhere between the automotive world and motorcycles are those funky three wheeled contraptions otherwise known as trikes. Some are automobile conversions, like the all too familiar VW Beetle (the original air-cooled rear engine Bugs, not the modern retro look-alikes) powered trikes. Then you have your motorcycle based conversions that swap out the swingarm for their own rear end, and some companies simply build their own chassis and add in an automotive or motorcycle engine. So this month's "Customarily Minded" editorial will detail something that is both a custom modification and at the same time a possible beginner's alternative to motorcycling.

    Whatever the case, there is no denying the mystique behind the third wheel. I finally got to sample a trike first hand at the 3rd Annual Branson Rally in Missouri back in May of this year. J&R Trikes (in Missouri, (573)765-5488 or toll free at 1-877-63-TRIKE, visit their website at www.jrtrikes.net ) had a nice display present in a back lot and was offering demo rides on their MC trike conversions. Their kits were rather innovative, featuring NASCAR style tube frames supported with airbag assisted independant suspension.


    Here I am zipping away on a Gold Wing that in two wheel guise I could otherwise never flatfoot. Now I don't have to...

    So why an article entitled "Beginner Trikes"? These things are a far cry from what the MSF trains with. But there are simply some cases where a person just can't handle even a 250cc motorcycle, be it a physical handicap or simply a poor sense of balance. But that's no reason to give up on any dreams or ideas concerning getting into the wind. I'm going to leap right into this third wheel topic with my DOT approved helmet on (despite the included pictures, let the hazing begin...) and list some pros and cons of triking as well as the obvious differences between trikes and bikes, and in the end you can decide if there is any dissimilarity between "trikers" and bikers.

    First off is the cost. Most companies that offer trike conversions for motorcycles do so for flagship models, so if you're going this route it gets rather heavy on the pocketbook. For starters you need to donate a $10,000+ bike to the cause, and then drop at least another $5K into the trike kit itself. If you don't have the skills and/or a fully equipped shop at home for the necessary conversion work, then you'll be paying out approximately 40 hours of labor for the swap. But fret not, there are companies that can swing kits for smaller bikes. Lehman Trikes made a kit for a 750 Magna, and U.S. Trikes in Maryland designed a kit for the Honda VLX 600. Jack's Salvage in Florida even did conversions on the 450 Rebels for a time, although I believe he discontinued this practice due to the rarity of 450 Rebel frames and swingarms (Jack's has recently belted out a few 250 trikes at the time of this reprinting). VW Beetle based kits can be just as pricy as a bike/kit conversion if you buy them new, however used VW trikes can be had in the local classifieds for under $5,000 but can often be far from new in appearance. E-Bay is a good bet for used trikes, especially if you're hunting down a Harley Servi-car. The self fabricated trike companies that design their own chassis also fetch automotive grade MSRP-new prices on their products. So cost can weigh heavily on whether or not a trike is in your future, but if you don't mind a smaller MC-base for conversion or a used fixer upper great bargains can be had.

    Next up we have registration and insurance. Some states treat trikes as motorcycles, others treat them as automobiles. So registration is definitely something you will have to look into. For those states that treat trikes as automobiles, you get the advantage of extra letters on a personalized plate (as automotive plates typically have more digits than MC plates). For all the pro-choice helmet law advocates, any mandatory helmet laws would not apply to trikes in states that treat them as automobiles so you can excercise your "threedom of choice." Not that I would ever condone ditching the lid, but for those that do the long arm of the law won't stretch over a trike in said states. Just be wary of crossing any state lines...States that treat trikes as automobiles also won't require a class M endorsement, so even if you're a repeat "MSF flunkie" you can still jump into triking in these locales. And just like any other motorcycle or car, a trike still has two axles for the toll booths, except you won't fall down in an oil spot while digging for pocket change. Insurance companies often demand an appraisal to place a value on any trike for comprehensive and collision coverage, and may still want one if you plan on basic liability-only coverage. On a MC conversion they may simply make a "custom parts/modifications" ammendment to the existing policy and simply add the value of the trike kit to the base value of the bike itself. Again it's different from company to company. VW kits and custom chassis fabrications may be treated as custom builds, so always look into insurance and registration before jumping blindly into trike ownership.

    Now that we have the issues of finances and legal mumbo-jumbo out of the way, we can carve right into the meat of this topic: Riding a trike! The unit I sampled was a late model 1500 Gold Wing trike. Let me start by saying that I've never been able to ride a 1500 or 1800 Wing as I'm too short to flat foot either, my only Gold Wing experience is on older four cylinder 1100 and 1200 bikes. So riding the latest technology in touring bikes was a real treat in its own right, granted I didn't get to sample half of the features on the big Wing.

    Somewhere within the vast array of instruement clusters was a 6 position ignition switch, after a few glances I saw the key sticking out so I gave it a turn. True to any FI Honda Gold Wing motor, she fired right up and was purring like a kitten. After recieving a few basic handling pointers from J&R Trike's Ray Martin (which in a nutshell is to use your upper body and shoulder strength to keep your long arm straight when in a turn), I squeezed the clutch lever and eased the Wing into gear. It was kind of wierd doing that for the first time without any feet on the ground.

    So there I was, coasting away on three wheels for the first time since I was three years old, except this time said three wheels were powered by a modern fuel injected internal combustion engine rather than foot pedals. Getting the motor trike to turn is where the trikes are separated from the bikes. Forget what you know about counter-steering, and if you're not already a biker or have not attended a MSF safety class don't worry about that often heavily debated topic as it doesn't apply to trikes. This is due in part to the independant suspension. The trike, like a car, will lean against the curve rather than with it as a motorcycle does, and this leaning forces the front end back into a straight position much as an automotive front end would perform. The faster you try to go in a turn and the more the front end wants to straighten out. While I didn't get to thoroughly test the theory of motorcycles being capable of making faster turns than trikes, it felt like the theory is accurate. One portion of the parking lot offered a negative camber turn, the surface sloped down away from the apex of the turn so this offered a little extra challenge as it would make the trike lean even more in that turn. I tried several variations of the technique that Ray offered to negotiate this maneuver, one was trying to lean into the turn to counter the trike's lean. It seemed to work a little better for me, but without an extensive obstacle course to navigate I can't say which method works better. I'll just take Ray's word for it and simply stick to using your upper body and shoulder strentgh and keep that arm straight. In other words, like any other motorcycle you'll want to get some generous controlled practice time logged in parking lots and residential streets prior to entering city traffic for the first time.


    Note the straight arm in a left turn, this is the basic upper body/shoulder strength issue in negotiating trike maneuvers.

    I've both read and been told that turning is less strenuous on trikes with solid swingarm or OEM motorcycle suspension (such as a Lehman Trike rear end where both rear wheels travel up and down together rather than separately as is the case with independant suspension), but like anything else in the custom mod world it's give and take: independant suspension offers a smoother ride but more work in turns while a solid swingarm suspension offers less work in turns but the entire rear end moves over bumps in the road for a rougher ride. Six of one, half a dozen of the other...Braking was nice, despite the extra 200+ pounds the trike kit adds to a big bike's OEM heft. I'm not sure if J&R uses drum or disc brakes, but whatever they use they work great. That extra weight on those fat rear tires (that's tire-zzz, with an s) with their generous contact patches (again with an s) really seems to assist the front brake's "75% stopping power" substantially, without knowing the actual numbers I'll guess the brakes are closer to 50/50 for stopping power. Once again, like a regular motorcycle, you'll want to use both brakes as one is not as effective without the other. While I didn't experiment with this theory, I would also suggest never try to use only the front brake. If locking a front brake can cause a spill on a regular motorcycle, I don't think it will help out much with two wheels in back that aren't braking, I would theorize that locking a trike's front wheel can have similar effects as the front could still flop over into a full lock and then you have what could be the triker's equivelant of a highside. Weight wasn't something I had to contend with either, at least for the parking lot maneuvers I engaged in. I didn't have the opportunity(?) to try any rear wheel slides in loose gravel or oil so I can't comment on emergency recovery. Probably a good thing, as I didn't bring along an extra $25,000 to pay for a damaged Gold Wing trike.


    Negotiating a negative-camber turn

    In summary, trikes are as different from motorcycles as motorcycles are as different from trikes. The idea of never planting my feet down was one that I had to remind myself of frequently. Coming to complete stops and retaining both feet on the pegs was pretty far fetched until now. You would never have to worry about losing your footing with loose gravel or oil on the road and capsizing while stopping at intersections. Vertically challenged folks can actually ride those big touring rigs without the worry of ever being able to stand one up at rest. If you happen to be physically limited and think that riding a motorcycle can never be in your future, think again. If your sense of balance makes you so nervous that you've managed to repeatedly fail the MSF course, you still have an alternative to motorcycling. Or perhaps you're simply looking for something different, but still want to be somewhat motorcycle-oriented. The feeling of the wind in your face is still the same, trikes simply perform and handle differently. All in all, you still have that "threedom of choice" to get out and ride. It's different, and in my book different is cool.

    Stay upright (which isn't difficult on three wheels) and keep it in the wind.




    "Customarily Minded Trikes of the Month"

    Following the suit of adding a third wheel, this month will feature an additional Customarily Minded machine as well. First up is an automotive based trike. You may immediately recognize the donor vehicle to this project. If not you didn't pay much attention to Motor Trend and other auto mags back in the 1980's or else it's just before your time. The mid engine automotive chassis and body was retained, at least up to the windshield. The chassis itself was stretched to accomodate the "motorcycle" portion which appears to be Gold Wing in nature along with Road Glide fairing. A few relocated controls and a fabricated seat round off the operator's end between the motorcycle front end and the automotive body.



    Next up is a motorcycle conversion trike, with a slight twist. Taking a bike from Harley Davidson's Touring stable (I believe it's a Road Glide base, but don't hold me to the details), this customizer added a second trailing axle, which technically makes it a penta-ike? A designed to spec fifth-wheel tongue was added to accept a scaled down semi trailer, now making it a nano-ike. A custom "stax" styled exhaust system, roof mounted trumpet horns, fiberglass sleeper, and outboard mirrors completes the 18-wheeler theme. The trailer is constructed of light weight materials and is easily disassembled for transport. Nay, this trailer is not intended for regular use, it is merely for parade duty and is actually transported on a mother truck/trailer combo from location to location, along with the "moto-lorry" itself too.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Beginner Trikes started by Shadow Shack View original post
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