Motorcycle Trikes are IN
By Walter F. Kern
Riding on three wheels can be fun too
At an Americade Rally, I test drove a Motor Trike. This is a brand of motorcycle trike conversion that fits a variety of motorcycles. Motorcycle trikes are new to the general public and even some motorcyclists. Basically, a trike is a motorcycle with the rear wheel removed and replaced by two automotive wheels attached to a rear differential with shaft drive and wrapped in a fiberglass body. The result is a beautiful eye-catching machine that attracts people wherever it goes.
Trikes are not new. Harley-Davidson sold its Servi-Car 45ci trike between 1932 and 1972. Many were used by the police. You may also have seen them used as ice-cream wagons. Recently, many companies have been formed to sell conversion kits to fit most popular touring bikes.
Trikes have been made from car foundations as well, notably ones with VW engines.
A trike may have one wheel in front and two behind or two wheels in front and one behind. Most are steered with handlebars but some use steering wheels.
At Americade, Jeff Vey, CEO of Motor Trike, Inc., personally took people out for demo rides. Jeff is a stickler for technique. He lets you drive under his direction in a parking lot until he's convinced you can handle the bike on the road. If he's the least bit unsure of your ability, he will not let you solo. For some strange reason, he let me take a Motor Trike out on the road. I rode it four miles up and back on a winding road. From this ride and the personal attention I received from Jeff, I decided to have my 1998 Gold Wing converted. Jeff has his plant in Troup, TX but has a nationwide network of dealers who will do the conversion for you. I decided on Leola Motor Trike in PA.
When I went to pick up the trike, Ron Myers, the owner, told me war stories about mishaps that had occurred as people tried to drive their trikes home. Some ended up in the ditch across the street. One guy came back and pleaded with Ron to drive it back home for him. Hearing these stories, I was a little concerned about the trip back to New Jersey so I decided I would take back roads until I got more familiar with the trike. I headed up Route 202 from the Lancaster, PA area. I hit almost every traffic light. I soon learned to love the fact that I didn't have to put my foot down at the stops. I didn't have to worry about balancing the bike as I stopped and started. I was beginning to enjoy myself. The metal-grate bridge over the Delaware River at New Hope, PA was a piece of cake. I even encountered lumber in the road in front of me and could easily steer over it without incident.
The hardest thing to do was unlearn some of the skills I used for riding on 2-wheels. On a motorcycle, you push the left handlebar forward to go left and the right handlebar forward to go right. That's called countersteering. On a trike, it's just the opposite. If you're traveling 60 mph in the fast lane on a bike and you see an obstruction ahead, you instinctively push the right handlebar forward to veer the bike to the right. If you encounter the same situation on a trike and you let your instincts take over, you will turn the trike directly across the center line into oncoming traffic. That's precisely what happened to me after about three hours into the trip. I was whipping along about 50 mph and was suddenly aware that I was headed straight for an oncoming truck after I had a mental lapse. It was a bit unnerving.
I also found I had to slow down to get through sharp curves. Once I was in a curve, I had to continue to push with force to keep the bike in the lane. I know there is a technique to taking these curves but I haven't fully figured it out yet. ( Note: I finally figured out that the easiest way to steer a trike is to pull the handlebar grip back. To turn right, pull the right handlebar grip back. You can also help the turn by also pushing the left handlebar grip forward but the main emphasis should be on pulling.)
Well, my overall impression of the Motor Trike is positive. I was able to drive it 135 miles without hitting anything and I only had one close-call.
Recently I met two trikers who had never ridden a motorcycle at all. They took to triking right off since they didn't have any residual skills to unlearn or modify.
My guess is that more people will be taking up trikes. Some of these people will be old-time motorcyclists who gave up riding years ago because of injuries. Some will be people like me who are tired of balancing a bike in heavy stop-and-go traffic and want to enjoy motorcycling without being worn out at the end of the day.
Riding on three wheels can take some learning
The real reason I wanted to have the Gold Wing converted was to provide a trike for my wife, Jane*. She had a few medical problems that caused her quite a bit of pain when using her leg for riding. I felt that converting the Wing would provide her with a stable platform where she could continue riding.
I'm finding more and more motorcyclists opting for a trike so they can continue enjoying the sport even though they may have some disabilities.
Jane did have a few problems learning to ride the trike. She had never ridden a Gold Wing and was not used to the feel of the clutch and throttle. She drove the trike down the drive, tried to turn right but was too wide and so she chose to turn left. She went to the first cross street and did a U-turn narrowly missing the curb and proceeded up the street to a park entrance just three houses up from us.
She turned the bike right into the drive but didn't have the wheels straightened when she gave the trike too much throttle. The bike veered to the left, climbed the curb onto the grass and knocked down a pole and sign before she could get the presence of mind to stop it. Needless to say, she was a bit discouraged and embarrassed by her maiden voyage.
There was damage to the bike but it was still rideable. She was able to get in about 30 minutes of practice in the parking lot that same day which restored her confidence a little.
Since then, she practiced on the trike with me on the PC-800 while we communicated by CB. She didn't make any more mistakes. We started riding in the neighborhood, then on the local highway, then through heavy traffic, and finally on a high-speed road at 65 mph. I became confident that she would be able to handle the trike. It just took practice, practice, and more practice.
A picture of the completed Motor Trike is shown above.
* Jane died in a tragic automobile accident in 2008 that had nothing to do with motorcycling. She was a front seat passenger on a trip with two of her friends when the accident occurred.