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Bikernet Trike Riders

Trippin’ on Trikes

From Mild to Wild, From Old to Bold

Story and Photos by Paul Garson


By definition, depending on who you ask, a trike is anything with three wheels powered by a motor of some kind which basically leaves it up to one’s perspective…and imagination. Size, seating capacity, engine make, original build year and displacement, suspension, accessories, trim and colors are open for interpretation…and varying Federal and state regulations. We’ve seen them in the dirt, on the street, on the track and even in the air.

You can start with two-wheels, even four, or completely from scratch and conjure up your own thanks to a variety of aftermarket suppliers like Paughco or for instant gratification opt to supply a donor bike and have it professionally converted by one of the turn-key production conversion companies. What bikes are currently trike-convertible? The door is open for Harley-Davidson, Honda, Indian, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, Yamaha(aka Star) and Victory… or buy a factory purebred trike from Harley-Davidson in traditional form or go the “reverse trike” path via the big boy Bombadier’s Cam-Am Spyder or the relatively petit Piaggio MP3. Yeah, you got choices. Only your pocketbook can supply the ultimate answer and your inclination to “innovate” on your own.
Okay, you can say “build it and they will come” for trikes, but crunching the numbers and doing the demographic calculations, who’s ponying up for the three-wheelers? Not so many Millennials, but it is a function of time…make that the pressures applied by Father Time and Mother Gravity. That’s right, it’s mostly the Grey Beards who clamber or make that climb aboard trikes for obvious reasons. In addition, a trike is also a good way to keep on biking if you have sustained injuries. While many have ridden two-wheelers for decades, physical factors start making themselves known so a machine that can’t fall over makes sense. Plus you can pack a passenger in posh comfort and carry a ton of gear, expanding the horizon of touring.
You do need to approach the learning curve with humbleness no matter how long you’ve been two-wheeling. Remember you’ve built up years of muscle memory responding to the two-wheel design geometry promoting counter-steering and body positioning aka leaning while trikes respond to direct steering and there’s no leaning involved even though newbies often find themselves leaning but to no avail. The new triking skills come of course with prepping in advance and practice.

While three-wheelers of all kinds are traceable back to the late 1800s, the advent of “modern” trikes basically made a big splash in the 1970s along with dune buggies, mostly VW powered jump and bounce funsters. But there were also plenty of older chopper riders ready for the stability of three-wheels so individual shops started wrenching on them and garage gearheads were also banging away on them in driveways as was the case in my neighborhood. The same guy that had been selling bomb shelter kits in the ‘60s was grafting rear-mounted Bug motors into modified motorcycle frames and front ends. He made one with a Corvair Spyder Turbo engine that literally jumped off the ground, one day landing on the neighbor’s new Chevy Camaro which promptly ended his trike enterprise.
Delving into recent trike history pages, it appears that the pro’s took interest in trike construction back in 1985 after John Lehman then living in Canada built one for his wife Linda so she could pack her kids in a safer environment than two-wheels. In this case the donor bike was a Honda CB900 which offered plenty of oomph even for a heavier 3-wheeled chassis. Lehman Trikes is now located near Sturgis in Spearfish, SD with dealers world-wide. Another early go-trike getter was Champion when the famous sidecar builder gravitated to trikes in 2001. Other builders added their own innovations as trike design evolved including helpful things like a reverse gear.
There are now literally unknown thousands of production conversions as well as unique custom trikes in operation and over the years I’ve encountered a wide spectrum of what I call the “Tripodizoids” so here’s a few of them as you may be contemplating a firmer grip of motorcycling as the years keep on truckin’ by. But no matter age or condition, you many just want to try tripling your motorcycling experience.

Not the Orient Express but Close – Orient Autogo Trike
Near the very top of the A-list of historic trikes/motorcycles is the 1897 French-built De Dion-Bouton. Something like 100 were built, powered by a De Dion-Bouton 4-stroke, single-cylinder engine. The company started out building steam powered toys and cars before moving onto gas power, eventually coming up with the De Dion-Bouton engine touted as the first internal combustion lightweight engine. One of the first was nestled into a three-wheeler appearing for sale in 1896. The tidy, well-functioning engines proliferated world-wide employed by well over 100 different brands of early motorcycles. (photo by Markus Cuff)

“Grandfather” Trike – An Orient Putts Australia circa 1900
My fellow motorcycle journalist Jay Scaysbrook sent me this vintage image from Down Under proving that Aussies were early fans of trikes.

Seating for Three ‘70s Style
Spotted at the one of the annual Los Angeles Griffith Park Sidecar Rallies, it echoes the early ‘70s trike designs but done up with a bit more attention to paint and upholstery. Note Honda Comstar wheels and yes, this one has seatbelts.
HoppingFast Forward - They call him “The Frogman” – Venice, CA

Why this bike hasn’t appeared in a Max Max type film, I don’t know. Tim Cotterill stepped into another trike dimension when he crammed a massively violent 1000 HP super-charged 426 cu. in. Chrysler Hemi into a machine he calls the Rocket II …which means he had already built a Rocket I.

Tim’s a sculptor in real life, designing a variety of things, who then teamed up with another English artist Michael Leeds who had already built a hotrod roadster for Jay Leno, to go where no street legal trike had gone before, culminating in a three-year project to bring this beautiful beast to tire-smokin’ life.

“Sure, I could park it but where do I plug in my iPhone?”
All Rocket II’s ponies stampede through a 3-speed TorqueFlite tranny then onto to a pair of 20-inch rims rolling 18x31 Mickey Thompson doughnuts. Believe it or not, the Super Trike runs on everyday 91 octane pump gas. The Frogman has clocked 0-100 in four seconds while the speedo reads to 240mph. (Note almost spindly gearshifter.)

“Seize the Day Honda Goldwing Conversion”
The stats indicate that the most converted two-wheelers are the Honda Goldwing 1500 and 1800 with John Lehman considered “The Godfather” of the Goldwing Trike.
Harley-Davidson Prototype #1 – The Maybe Milwaukee Marvel
The Factory back in 2005-6 set out to develop four variations of a 3-wheeler, the advanced trike designs featuring a computer-controlled elecro-hydraulic system to regulate the lean of the vehicle through turns. Maybe they dropped the ball when they dropped this one from possible production. You can still take a look at it at the H-D Museum in Milwaukee.

Harley-Davidson Prototype #2
The secret code name for this 5th or 6th generation project was “Penster, but along with the other very cool trike concepts, developments was canceled, H-D going back to traditional trike design for their production model, its roots linked to their 3-wheeled Servi-Cars first appearing in 1932 and built all the way into 1975.

Champagne Class
Wine and Dine Tuxedo Custom Trike spotting hugging the curb at the annual Vintage Iron Clematis Street Bike Show held in West Palm Beach, Florida

“Big Red”
This Goldwing trike is special in more ways than one. It belonged to my twin brother Jack who after a long and decorated career in law enforcement in South Florida decided it was time to convert his leisure time two-wheeled Goldwing into a trike. Then one summer with his significant other Britoni as his passenger and a little color matched trailer in tow, they rode cross-country to Las Vegas where he promptly proposed to her and in this case what happened in Vegas just kept on truckin’ with the newlyweds trikin’ thousands of miles as well as being active in their local Goldwingers club.

Big Booty Trikes – Honda Trike Club Party – SoFla
The Goldwingers club members had gathered after a fun run down the Florida coast too observe the annual mass sea turtle egg-laying beach arrival.
Now that’s a Garage
Jack and Britoni triking a visit to the new Goodyear Blimp anchored down in its hangar in Suffield, Ohio.

“Field of Dreams” Factory H-D Trike – Michigan
I shot this bike at rest in a Door County field when touring the area with a group of fellow bike journalists aboard a variety of newly minted Harleys.
Harley-Davidson factory ads for their triple-threat machines include the motto “Long Haul Freedom- Comfort, Cargo and Head-Turning Style.” Currently H-D offers the “hot rod” styled Freewheeler and luxo Tri-Glide Ultra models. How much coin do you need…price tags start around $26K.

Indian Dispatch Tow Three-Wheeler
The Springfield company along with civilian and military machines built workhorses like the Dispatch Tow and Traffic Car models in part to compete for the delivery van niche market owned by Harley-Davidson’s Servi-Car. The Indian triple wheelers appeared in the early 1930s originally based around the Indian 101 Scout and with a choice of either the standard 37 cu.in. V-twin in or beefier 45 cu. in. The rear box could carry everything from ice cream to frozen fish to car parts and like the Harley-Sevi Car, featured an optional hook-up allowing it to be attached to the rear of a car when dispatched with a mechanic and tools to help broken down vehicles which when re-enabled would then tow the trike back to the dealership.

Triumphant Trike – 9th Born Free Rally SoCal
All that glitters can be gold since in this case as it was a show winner both for the judges and spectators. ‘60s Bonneville motor sounded the victory call for this wire-wheeled retro-wonder. Note the appropriate era correct candy red metal flake helmet.
Different Strokes for Different Folks- Also Found at Born Free
This take on a dragster-inspired trike features Honda 750cc Four-Banger power plus plenty of sharp, pointy spikes to warn off any tail-gaters.

War Chariot?
Wide rear stance and big auto tires shout hotrod but trike retains the classic springer front end plus some more spikes on the Old School style brakeless front wheel. 

Ford Cobra Power – Long Beach, CA
The parking lot at the annual International Motorcycle Show often has bikes on display just as interesting as inside the convention hall.
Bolting automobile V-8s intp bikes and trikes has been a popular pursuit for decades; major case in point being the Boss Hoss that employs Chevy motors, but in this case the trike builder went for a 5.0 liter Ford mill. Front end tin and solid wheels are Harley pieces. Just grab a handful of those super long tiller handlebars and hang on.

Spotted at Corsa Motoclassica Show and Go
Okay, here’s a couple three-wheelers but not quite trikes, but cool anyway. These UFO sidecar were spotted flying around the famous SoCal Willow Springs Raceway during the annual Corsa Motoclassica weekend of vintage racing and bike show.

Just Looking for a Motor to Upgrade to Trike Status
Full-fendered boom box bicycle made for mobile party when it appeared at one of the Long Beach, VA Veterans MC Swap Meets.

Pandemonium Panhead
Making its first appearance at the Born Free 9 event, Addams Family-ish styled trike by team of JP Rodman and Jim Harper relies on S&S Panhead retro power and offers a very cozy looking passenger compartment.

RoadsterCycle - New Neck Twisting Take on Trikes…
Call it a trike/go-cart/street tracker/urban assault vehicle all rolled into techno-artwork, in this case with the two-wheels up front, it’s termed a “reverse trike” like the Cam-Am Spyder.

It’s been five years since I first encountered Torrance, CA based Jack Flemming and his RoadsterCycles, but the machines left a lasting impression for both their engineering excellence and their seat of the pants fun-factor. In real life, Jack tests experimental helicopters but when he wanted something interesting for earthly pursuits, he decided to blend up his own hybrid vision. A fan of the legendary Yamaha V-Max, Jack set his sights on its 120 horsepower powerplant as the heart of the beast, then matched to his own fuel injection system, and plugged in the custom chassis based on computations for go-kart low center of gravity and hi-G Force corner-hugging performance.

Rocket Sled Comfy at 110 MPH
Jack fabbed the forward controls as well as the front end assembly which includes a torsion bar system that serves to stiffen up the suspension and prevents the bike from rolling in fast turns. (Jack has hit 110 mph, the RoadsterCycle remaining completely stable. He adds, “It’s the best barhopper ever, because it can’t fall over.”

Taking a Three-Wheeled Stance
U.S. made Wildwood disc brakes clamp down on all three wheels. And yes, that is a Simpson dragster parachute packed onto the backrest above the rear fender. Jack has also built machines powered by Harley V-twins, depending on customer’s preferences. His RoadsterCycle company also offers a selection of state of the art electrical components for a variety of modern and vintage motorcycles.

Jack and Lisa can share a RoadsterCycle thanks to the seat conversion feature. Bike weighs about 750 lbs., meets all DOT and U.S. standards and fully street legal, even in CA.

The Iconic “Easyrider” bike goes Trikes thanks to Paugcho
If you’re looking for Traditional Old School, OG or blast-from-the-past trike retro, gaze no farther than the equally iconic industry leader Paughco, now heading toward 50 years as a family run business. They’ve come out with a slew of trike chassis kits including the rigid application seen here.

Bling with Sting
Acres of chrome reflect the traditional apehangers, king and queen/sissy bar classic components. The straightleg or wishbone style frames will accommodate 4- or 5-speed trannies plus Paughco’s rear axle assemblies and then you can mix and match their other custom goodies and you’re good to go. (photos courtesy of Paughco)

Three-Legged Sportster
Paughco also gave the Sporty a new utilitarian look thanks to its bolt-on conversion kit that includes custom swingarm and rear axle that bolt directly in place of the stock swingarm assembly and utilize the stock belt or chain. Then add your wheels and tires and get to trike rocknloading. The conversion kits are applicable for 1986-2010 XLs.

“You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda Powered Trike” – Bye Bye Until Next Time


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