Monday, January 30, 2012

#98 3 Wheels on My Wagon (May 2010)

This issue I decided to try and change the way some of you feel about the much-maligned (in this country) custom trike. In the USA, when you think of a trike, the first thing that pops into most minds is the vision of the Lehman® type of setup, the big bike with lots of plastic, huge chrome wheels and the geriatric pilot. Other companies, such as Boss Hoss®, have even bigger and uglier versions with excessive chrome and width that hasn’t really been cool since the 1959 Cadillac lineup. Together with that, and the poor man’s version -- the “training wheels” setup -- it’s easy to see how the average chopper jockey (if such an animal exists) would be totally turned off by these behemoths, relegating them to the very old or infirm that cannot ride a ‘normal’ two wheeler any longer.
But it was not always this way. In Europe, the custom trike was, and still appears to be, an accepted member of the chopper family. I’m sure most of you remember the trike that Russell Mitchell built for the “Biker Build Off” Discovery channel series. Yes, it’s huge, but it retains a lot of the coolness factor of the European designs. When Russell made the rear end available for sale, USA sales were pretty low, while the exports to Europe went well.

What makes the euro versions different? Well, just as the USA versions all look like someone took a servi-car and pumped it up to twice the size, the euro trike has always been a stripped-down, bare minimum chopper. Usually it’s a converted car rear end, solidly mounted to a regular bike front frame loop with the minimum of fluff behind the drivers seat... no huge boxes and the like. Also, as can be relied on with the Euro scene, it’s certainly not limited to V-Twin style power plants. You’re just as likely to see a Japanese 4 out front as any other type.
Back when I was riding my five year old Triumph T160 around, a friend constructed a cool little Triumph trike using a 3TA (350cc twin) powerplant. The little engine had a problem with the bikes mass, so a 5TA (500cc) top end was added, and it did fine after that. Something that can’t be gotten away from is the fact that they are totally different to ride. You have to physically turn the bars to steer, and the whole feeling of flying that you would normally get from riding a wellsorted motorcycle is just not there. That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun though, just different. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about trikes that “lean” as you turn. I’m not sure if anyone remembers the Ariel 3, a 50cc “moped” brought out by BSA in 1970… same concept… strange execution. It’s March as I write this, and I’ve just returned from Daytona after attending the Willies Tropical Tattoo bike show that we co-sponsor down there. I was happy to see a stripped-down trike entered there. Look for a feature to appear soon in these hallowed pages.
All I’m asking is for you to keep an open mind on the subject. Trikes aren’t just for the old and crippled. You may even get to like them some… if we see some of the right kind.

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