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THE UNDER $20K TRIKE SMACKDOWN

5 Trike Shootout

Words: The Triking Viking Photos: Ron Sinoy
1/29/2014


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(This story was originally released in 2012 and there is some really good content and comparison that are relevant. Enjoy! The Triking Viking )
 
When we were planning this Trike shootout, it was clear we couldn’t fairly compare a Gold Wing Trike against machines that cost less than half that amount. There’s not a lot of middle ground in the Trike offerings and that’s partly due to the buyers and riders. Trikes like many of their two-wheeled bagger brethren are usually converted from luxury and top-of-the-line motorcycle models, like the GL 1800 and Electra Glides. Trikes beg for the open road and all of the creature comforts afforded by Touring machines. Not everyone wants, needs, or can afford the cost of the bike plus conversion or buying a factory-built Trike.
 
 
In light of the economy and the growing interest in three-wheelers, we found there are many affordable Trikes built with the same quality and engineering as the big boys. We wanted to see for ourselves what else was out there and the results surprised us. The major players in the Triking world worked hard bringing the feeling and passion of the uber-Trikes into the garages of the masses. Sadly, we weren’t able to get every Trike manufacturer involved on our timeline. We wanted to have all the Trikes at the same time so our varied and experienced test riders could truly evaluate and compare fit and finish, performance, comfort, and to compare notes along the way. We are in the works getting manufacturers like Hannigan, CSC (californiasidecar.com), DFT (dfttrikes.com), Motor Trike (motortrike.com), Roadsmith (trikeshop.com), and Mystery (mysterydesigns.com)getting involved. This scene is growing every year and major manufacturers like Harley-Davidson, Victory and Kawasaki have stepped up their efforts to cater to the growing trend. Motorcycle aftermarket companies are finally getting it, in large part because of our coverage, persistence, and your phonecalls and questions at bike rallies. It’s not a fad, or the current cool thing to do Triking is not going anywhere.
  
With that out of the way we made the calls, cleared our schedules and prepared for the head-to-head showdown, “The Under $20K Trike Smackdown,” because as you can guess all the trikes here cost under $20,000. Very few three wheelers fell into that category only a year or two ago but manufacturers are now actively making reasonably priced trikes giving regular guys’n’gals a chance at Threedom Freedom. We corralled some of the usual suspects, some new recruits, and put our under $20K Trikes to the test. We had three men and two women as testers and we ended up swapping trikes with each other multiple times.
 
This year’s lineup was very impressive and included the following five trikes. Prices are as tested, as some of our test units had optional accessories and paint.
 
THE TRIKE SMACKDOWN LINEUP UNDER $20K!
 
 
 
Champion Westminster Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Solid Axle: $17, 995
 
 
Lehman Storm Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Solid Axle: $16,495
 
 
Champion Honda 1300 VTX Independent Suspension: $17,895
 
 
Can Am Spyder RS-S Roadster 990: $19,199
 
 
Frankenstein Custom Chopper (by Threedom Cycles): $19,985
 
 
We tossed in the Piaggio MP3 just for fun but it wasn’t officially part of the test here: $8,899
 
 
The group of five Triking Vikings met up at Harley- Davidson of Westminster (California) to saddle up and pick our swords. These trikes were lean, mean, and ready for battle. I (Gary) grabbed the Frankenstein; Molly “Triker Chick” Kight swooped up the Harley Sportster; Sorena Lowe mounted the Lehman Storm; Toph Bocchiaro, Editor of the number one bagger (with 2 wheels) magazine and the only nationally distributed trike (3 wheels) rag, was anxious to ride the Can Am; and Craig Franz, Owner of Westminster Harley-Davidson, commanded the Champion Honda. Our first jaunt was to Dana Point Harbor.
 
The first leg of our journey was primarily freeway giving us a chance to see how these three wheel¬ers would fare on a longer tour. Dana Point Harbor is the best year round whale-watching destination for migrating whales: Gray whales from November through April and Blue whales visiting from May through November. The harbor is uniquely close to the spots where these animals are most often seen.
The harbor and nearby point are named after the author Richard Henry Dana who visited there in 1835 while he was a sailor on the two-masted ship, the Pilgrim. A replica of Dana’s ship sits right next to the pier.
 
Frankenstein Chopper
 
 
 


 
My first mount was the Frankenstein Chopper-trike with a 113ci S&S motor, barking through straight pipes. It’s a monster. I don’t think riding to Sturgis was on the radar of builder Mike Faria, owner of Threesome Cycles and Frankenstein Trike dealer and builder. In fact, FrankenTrike turned out to be more than even he bar¬gained for. You see Mike has a prosthetic leg, the result of an unfortunate accident, and Mike figured 3-wheels was the answer. So based on a Frankenstein rearend & solid axle he proceeded to build one bad, stretched-out chopper.
 
 
 


Replete with Alloy Art chrome handgrips, and tiny Baxter Industries footpegs and shifter this thing screams bling. This trike is not for the faint of heart; it’s a bad to the bone, blurry-mirrored E-ticket ride, exactly what Mike wanted. Except he didn’t realize that prosthetic legs don’t secure well on skinny and slippery chrome footpegs and Mike’s leg not only fell off at speed, but he ran it over. Needless to say, he decided to trade his FrankenTrike for something less aggressive.
 
 
 
 
Frankenstein Trikes make a wide variety of solid axle trikes for most Harley models. We knew Mike was a Frankenstein dealer and wanted to toss his barbarian chopper into the mix. Mike’s FrankenTrike is not a production motorcycle and because he took it to the extreme, represents what a builder can do. But, that’s why I wanted to ride it. The solo seat is virtually useless, my hands buzzed, and I burned my jeans on the straight pipes, but I looked damn good. It was, hands down, the coolest looking and wildest ride of the bunch and made the cut because building a custom trike for less than $20K is now possible.
We decided to get some photo-ops and while stopped all five riders filled out a 14-point evaluation form on the trike we just rode.
 
We switched rides and then headed up CA-74 (Ortega Highway) towards our lunch destination: The Lookout Roadhouse. Ortega is a sportbike paradise with steep, twisty and curvy fresh blacktop.

 
Lehman Storm Vulcan 900
 
 
 
My second steed of the day was the Lehman Storm based on a Kawasaki 900 Vulcan platform. It features a solid axle, and it is a comfortable, beautifully designed trike. I was surprised at how easily the Storm maneuvered through the tight and twisty road. The Storm comes standard with Lehman’s 5-degree raked triple tree front end; normally an option on a trike conversion. This modification significantly lightens steering, making it “quicker,” by reducing trail. Also included is a frontend steering dampener. The Storm conversion works on ’09-12 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 bikes. Vulcans can be purchased from a dealership then shipped to Lehman in Spearfish, South Dakota for the conversion. The Storm is currently a 49-state legal motorcycle.
 
Starting at less than $15,000 for a ’09 Classic (new old stock), the price point increases slightly for the Classic LT (Light Touring) which includes a Kawasaki windscreen, touring backrest, and two-tone paint. Our demo Storm was a 2011 SE (Special Edition) that included special paint, wire wheels and whitewall tires. This pushed our test model to an MSRP of $16,495. The Storm exhibited insignificant headshake and barely any pogo effect on uneven freeway roads. The Storm had a comfortable rider triangulation and was adequately powered (I didn’t ride two-up; others did and loved it).
 
 
The overall aesthetic is fabulous: this trike flows from the front to rear. The wire wheels and whitewalls complement the retro, sweeping design of the bodywork. There is even ample storage in the rear section that’s the width of the back end and easily housed a full-faced helmet. Personally, I am not a fan of the wide beach-bar style handlebars and the women riders remarked that an extended reach was required in tight turns. Self-cancelling blinkers would be nice as well but these two small issues are Vulcan 900 criticisms and have nothing to do with Lehman. One of the female riders also commented that the back passenger grab rails were a bit high, meaning she had to crouch down to feel tucked in behind the rider. The Storm has, as all the other trikes tested here, a Five-speed transmission and although it fared well at freeway speeds, I found myself searching for Sixth gear. Many Kawasaki accessories like windscreens, sissybars, seats, etc., are available. Coming in at the lowest pricepoint, the Storm was a big favorite among all the riders.
 
 
The Lookout Roadhouse is a rider’s paradise not just because of the great mountain roads, and mountaintop view of the low-lying Lake Elsinore, but the restaurant offers sumptuous breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and a great selection of beer and wine. The Lookout is one of my favorite Southern California motorcycling stops. Open since 1968, the Lookout’s website (lookoutroadhouse.com) touts a, “Great ride, Great view, Great food, Great people and Lousy service.” Of course just down the road is Hells Kitchen (hellskitchen-ca. com) another popular motorcycle hang heavily trafficked on weekends.
 
Champion Honda VTX 1300
 
 
 
Champion Honda VTX 1300 was the only rear independent suspension equipped trike of this bunch. The Can Am has independent suspension on the front wheels. This independent was a dream to ride, and for me the combination of the powerful VTX 1300 engine with the independent suspension was sublime. This Champion trike also employed the company’s EZ-Steer, a raked triple tree kit that adds in this case 5-degrees (depends on the motorcycle platform) to the rake of the forks.
 
 
 
The VTX also employs a Five-speed tranny but I never felt the need for another gear at freeway speed. With an extremely comfortable driver seat and abundant storage Sturgis doesn’t seem that far away.
 
 
 
Toph and Sora had two-up riding time on the Champion Honda and were very impressed with its overall ride and comfort. Aesthetically, in my opinion it harkens back to the dated Harley Servi-Car look. But hey, my favorite looking trike was the monster Frankenstein chopper.
 
 

 
Can Am Spyder RS-SRoadster
 
 
 
We included a higher priced touring-capable Can-Am in the last shootout and this time included the Spyder RS-S because of its under $20K pricepoint. It qualifies as a Trike because it has three wheels—but the configuration is opposite of the norm with two wheels in front and one in rear. Unlike traditional trikes that are based on existing motorcycle platforms then converted to three wheelers, the Spyder was designed from the ground up as a three wheeled machine.
 
 
 
Without question the most technologically advanced of the lot, the Can Am employs a Stability Control System, Traction Control System, Dynamic Power Steering, and Electronic Brake Distribution that works with the ABS integrated three wheel braking system. The right brake pedal controls both the front and rear brakes; there is no brake control on the handlebars. The Can Am brakes were the best performing in this test.
 
Our tester Spyder had the optional ($1,500) semi-automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the left handlebar to control gear changes. No clutch is needed. Upshifts can be done at full throttle, while downshifting is either manually controlled by the rider or the computer will automatically downshift much like a car’s automatic transmission. The rear wheel is belt driven and the two front wheels employ a double A-arm with anti-rollbar, and gas shocks with five-position cam adjustment. These three wheelers do not handle anything like a traditional trike and in fact all the riders were surprised by the fast, initial steering response. At first the steering seemed loose and unruly and it would tuck into corners and rebound out, a common term that was used was it felt “twitchy.” I had ridden Can-Ams before and knew to let the bike do its job and what at first seems disconcerting becomes natural and intuitive. But, I do agree with the group: this is a three-wheeler that takes getting used to. Riding position on the Spyder is very upright for both seats. One rides on the bike rather than in the bike and the rider’s leg position is more sporting than relaxed. The 998cc liquid cooled, V-twin Rotax engine puts out a claimed 100hp with 28/32 mpg. The Spyder is a hot rod with that superbike spec motor. It easily light up the fat rear tire. It was also the only trike in the group that had a reverse gear. It’s driven off the motor and can be fun going fast backwards in its own right.
 
 
 
 
The Spyder has a large front storage trunk and passenger handgrips out back. It’s hard to compare the Spyder Roadster to the other trike conversions, as it has a totally different geometry and chassis designed from the ground up and its only commonality with other trikes is that it has three wheels. Switching trikes again after lunch we started riding back down the curvaceous ribbon of new road.
 
 
Gassing up at the bottom of the mountain we swapped bikes for the fourth time and continued on to the famous biker hangout, Cook’s Corner (cookscorners.com) in Trabuco Canyon.
 
 
Again, we tallied our scores and discussed each rider’s opinions and observations. The Triking Vikings mounted their last steed and we headed back to Westminster Harley-Davidson and enjoyed the last leg of our daylong journey.
 
Westminster Champion Sportster Conversion
 
 
 
Champion conversions are exemplary fabrications in form and function and aesthetically the Sportster trike is no exception. This Sporty employs Champion’s Zero- Flex suspension swingarm and dual coil-over shocks. Also the overall length of the Trike was lengthened to 91 inches instead of the 85.40 inches of a factory Sportster. The look is low long and lean. The Champion Sportster with its 1200cc motor pulled nicely and handled like a nimble sports car. It was fun the first 5 minutes of riding and as the hours went by the Sportster became ridiculously fun.
 
 
Many trikes tend to be rather utilitarian—large lumbering masses with a ton of storage and the cushy seating of an SUV. This Champion trike with no storage at all brought out all that’s bad in me, and Sorena, and Toph. The little hot rod was more akin to an ATV and just wanted to be ridden quickly.
 
 
What’s even more intriguing is an end user can just purchase the conversion and literally bolt it onto any ’04-later 883/1200 Sportster. All the parts are shipped in five boxes anywhere in the US and with a little mechanical knowledge in about six hours’ time you can Trike your bike. How cool is that!?
 
 
 
The entire kit has an MSRP of $4,995-5,995 (depending on options) with shipping anywhere in the US under $300. Instructions on removing and replacing the entire conversion is included and available on-line. The factory Harley seat is hard but is easily swapped for more rider/passenger comfort.
 
THE ENVELOPE PLEASE 
 
When all was said and done and points tallied in fourteen categories, The Champion Honda VTX 1300 was the smackdown “winner” in this shootout, simply because the independent suspension was the most forgiving of all the contenders. It won in the comfort category plus it had the largest storage capacity. Although I wasn’t impressed with the outdated design Molly actually liked the wide, retro look. She said, “it makes my butt look small.” Rider’s comments: “comfortable seat and riding position,” “floats on the road,” “plush and refined.”
 
Second place was the Lehman Storm Kawasaki Vulcan 900. It was without a doubt, the most stylish, best handling of the traditional trikes, and had large storage capacity and won hands down as the best priced overall. Based on price and quality this trike would win many people over. It gives up 400cc’s to the VTX but is a little smaller, lighter, and more agile. Comments: “easy to ride and loved the floorboards,” “loved the ride, very light steering,” “thumbs up for a including a parking brake.”
 
In third place was the Westminster Harley-Davidson Champion Sportster, rated as the most fun to ride. This is as barebones a trike as you can get. It’s light, maneuverable, and quick. Comments: “lots of spunk,” “zippy and responsive,” “pegs a little far forward for short riders,” “perhaps not the best choice for two-up but handles excellent,” “an all-American go-cart!”
 
Fourth was the Can Am Spyder RS-S. Every rider purported handling idiosyncrasies compared to a standard trike, but as previously as stated, it’s undisputedly the most technologically advanced. In addition, the more seat time you put on the Can Am the better it gets. The thing is fast, stops on a dime, and has a huge forward-placed trunk. But the Spyder ranked low on the riding position and cramped cockpit. Comments: “belongs in a sportbike category,” “paddle shifters work GREAT!,” “super sensitive steering,” “twitchy,” “amazing power,” “cramped cockpit.”
 
Last but not least was the Frankenstein Chopper Trike by Threesome Cycles. It was more form and styling than a traditional cruiser-style trike. Neither Molly nor Sorena could reach the controls, so only the guys had a chance to ride it. Truthfully, it handled surprisingly well on the mountains and we all looked really good on it. We had a hard time getting Toph off the Frankenstein. I think he wore the tires off it he rode it so hard in the mountains. This is the trike to own if attention is what you’re after.
 
 
 
 
It’s hard to believe the Triking Viking crew has ridden and tested so many different three wheelers over the course of the past year. There truly is a trike for every man and woman; it just depends on what you’re looking for. Our test units here point that out. Do you want a trike to tour on and ride long distances? Do you want the latest in technology and power? A stripped-down hot rod? For that reason, our results should be taken with a grain of salt. They are all great trikes and extremely affordable for the amount of riding pleasure and quality these trikes offer.
 
Trikes are the ultimate convertible with no seatbelt. Flying free in the wind with the added security and stability of three wheels appeals to a wide variety of riders. More and more trikes are appearing on the highways, byways, and at events across the country giving riders the chance to enjoy Threedom Freedom.
 
FTW! (Freedom Three Wheels): Von Frost-The Triking Viking  
 
Trike Terminology:
Solid Axle Suspension: type of beam-axle suspension system utilizing a single shaft to connect both wheels. Some manufacturers offer this type exclusively.
 
Independent Suspension: broad term for a suspension system that allows each wheel on the same axle to move vertically (i.e. reacting to a bump in the road) independently of each other. Requiring more parts to manufacture, Independent setups are usually more expensive than a Solid Axle setup. Many companies offer both Independent and Solid. Some make claims which system is better and why.
 
Frame Rake: angle in degrees of the steering neck from the vertical cord.
 
Overall Rake: angle in degrees of the fork tube from vertical. Overall Rake equals Frame Rake if the triple trees have zero offset. Raked Triple Trees will change Overall Rake without changing the Frame Rake.
Trail: a mathematical relationship, measured in inches or centimeters, between the front tire’s contact patch on the ground and Frame Rake. Named as such because the tire is trailing (or behind) the steering axis. For simplicity, trail (on a motorcycle, Trike or grocery shopping cart) is the distance measured between a vertical line from the center of the front axle (this is the same as the tire contact patch) to the ground and the intersection of the centerline of the steering neck and ground. Trike Trail measurements generally fall between 3 and+ inches, even for two wheelers. Trail is also the leverage the tire has (and vice versa) on the steering.
 
Less Trail: more responsive handling, especially at slow speeds, but at higher speeds can develop a dangerous wobble; twitchy and responsive.
 
More Trail: steering will feel heavy at all speeds, but adds stability to the Trike; harder to turn requiring more muscle
Triple Trees: the group of parts connecting the forks to the frame (neck; steering axis); holds each fork tube. Triple Trees can have angles more, less or equal to the steering neck.
 
Raked Triple Trees: triple trees that, in the case of Trikes, increase the angle of the fork tubes and therefore Overall Rake. Raked Triple Trees are the easiest and safest way to change frontend geometry and important for trikes, Trail.
Pogo Effect: side-to-side motion and wobble inherent in a triangulated geometry. Affected by Rake and Trail, fork length, and suspension setup.
 
Headshake: wiggling of the front wheels/handlebars at slow speeds caused in part by the stationary rear wheels and small frontend Trail; also referred to as the “Shopping Cart Effect.”
 
Steering Dampener/Stabilizer: a straight damper resembling a telescoping shock absorber, operating in a similar manner. One end of the damper mechanism mounts to the triple tree, the other to the frame thereby providing frontend stability.Company Contacts:
 
Can Am - spyder.brp.com
 
Champion Trikes - championsidecars.com
 
Frankenstein Trikes - frankensteintrikes.com
Lehman Trikes - lehmantrikes.com
 
Threesome Cycles - threesomecycles.com
 
Westminster Harley-Davidson - hdwestminster.com

Piaggio MP3
 
Oh yea, and the Piaggio MP3 Three Wheeler? This strange creature intrigued me and since I was the only test rider you get my biased opinion. It’s actually a fun, comfortable, well-powered scooter with a 500cc motor (I hit 90 mph on the freeway). This little three-wheeler employs unique, independently sprung tilting front wheels making the MP3 more a motorcycle than trike. While parked the MP3’s front wheels lock upright, but while moving the MP3 leans into corners. You still need to put your feet down at stops though. My problem is trying to understand what the MP3 is really best at. As mentioned, you need to put your feet down at stops and if you’re going to corner like a two-wheeler, why not just ride a two-wheeler? One benefit is increased rubber in contact with the road, helping with turning (and safety) on wet roads. With over 83,000 MP3 scooters sold worldwide those Italians must have some method to their madness. It also gets a claimed average of 56 mpg.
Piaggio - piaggiousa.com

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