2009 Harley-Davidson Tri Glide Ultra Classic Road Test [American Rider]
December 12, 2009
Filed under Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Harley Motorcycles, Road Tests, Sidecar + Scooter + Trike Motorcycle Reviews
[This 2009 Harley-Davidson Tri Glide Ultra Classic Road Test was originally published in American Rider magazine]
Back in 1967 I bought a three-wheeled ’56 Harley Servi-Car from a car dealer who was selling cheap. I was living in Monterey, California, at the time, and it was an entertaining round-town machine. However, the only trip I took on it, 120 miles up to San Francisco and 120 miles back, convinced me the three-speed three-wheeler, powered by a 45-cubic-inch flathead engine that put out about 25 horsepower on a good day, weighing close to 1,400 pounds, was not a good touring machine. I soon sold it.
The last Servi-Car came off the line in 1973, and now 36 years later the Motor Company has presented another trike to the world, this one designed for touring and joining the Glide family: the Tri Glide Ultra Classic, or FLHTCUTG. It has six speeds, a 103-cubic-inch OHV Twin Cam engine that knocks out some 70 rear-wheel horsepower, and weighs in with all fluids on board at a little under 1,200 pounds. Quite a difference from the old Servi-Car.
Nothing slapdash about the Tri Glide. Obviously people at Harley had been looking at the proliferation of trikes in the past 15 years and realized this could be a profitable niche. The folks on Juneau Avenue looked around for someone who could help in this project and lit on John Lehman. John built his first trike as a personal vehicle a quarter of a century ago, and has been selling trike kits for the past 20 years. Harley got in touch with him and asked if he would like to be part of the project. Does a cat like cream?
Harley ships the front half of an Electra Glide Ultra Classic off to the Lehman factory in Spearfish, South Dakota, with the engine and six-speed gearbox stock, but a tougher police clutch is installed, and the frame is strengthened to cope with the extra stress.
Riding a two-wheeler on the road requires virtually no effort, other than a mild counter-steering input. With a trike the rider has to work that handlebar, and maneuvering along twisty roads at speed will build up your arm muscles. To reduce the amount of effort the rider has to put into the handlebar the Tri Glide’s forks are altered, a new triple clamp gives increased rake, now 32 degrees, and legs are lengthened about 2 inches, reducing the trail to 3.94 inches, all of which helps. Added to that a steering damper cuts way down on any tendency the trike may have to chatter when starting off.
Conversely, when the Tri Glide is rolling along a freeway at a cruise-controlled 80 mph you can (almost) get into the back seat and take a nap.
The Lehman crew bolts on a new swingarm that has both sides angling out towards the ends of the solid axle, with air-adjustable Showa shocks. Fifteen-inch, seven-spoke cast wheels, each with a disc brake, hold 5-inch 205/65 tires, by Dunlop, of course. The most noticeable aspect of the trike design is that it is a three-tracker, as opposed to the single-track motorcycle; with the wheels in three different tracks, you will hit that dead skunk in the road. For parking purposes a hand-brake is down on the right side, and a pull upwards makes darned sure this trike isn’t rolling anywhere.
Lehman uses a solid axle in his “no lean” design; a swing axle with independent suspension on the two rear wheels provides more movement. People will discuss the pros and cons of these two approaches until the end of time, but I found that the solid axle worked well for me.
Final drive is by a belt, the Tri Glide using slightly lower gearing (higher numerically) than the Electra Glide, 32/70 verse 32/68, to help cope with the extra poundage. Sixth gear is definitely an overdrive, and at 80 mph the engine is running a leisurely 3,200 rpm. My unit also had the electrically operated reverse gear, an option costing $1,195 but well worth the money. A bracket protecting the differential, and a reverse gear, limit ground clearance to 4.7 inches, so this does not make a good off-road machine.
Lehman’s main job is to build the large frame that goes over the axle, and then do the molded plastic bodywork and fenders. On top sits a standard Harley Tour-Pak, good for holding a lot of stuff. Below, in the new body, is a huge trunk, more than twice as big as the Tour-Pak, which more than makes up for the lack of saddlebags.
The wheelbase of the Tri is 66.65 inches, while the overall length is almost 106 inches, and the width from fender to fender is 55 inches—no splitting lanes on this baby.
I rode a big loop up from the York plant through New England and New York on the Tri Glide, through all sorts of weather and over all sorts of roads. This is definitely a touring machine, with the fairing and leg shields providing good protection against the elements. Packing is a dream; the trike had way more room than I had stuff.
On the two-laners that I prefer, sixth will seldom be engaged, with third and fourth being favored. I paid attention to the black-on-white speed limit signs, and those black-on-yellow speed advisory signs. If an advisory read 40, I adjusted my throttle and gearing appropriately. Any trike has a tendency to pick up the rear inside wheel when cornering hard, but the only time I actually succeeded in doing that was while practicing tight turns in a parking lot. Pay attention to the signs, and you’ll be fine. Lots of power pushes this heavyweight along freeways in the fast lane, if that is your choosing.
Up in Vermont’s Green Mountains there are a lot of twisty roads, and an uphill hairpin may require second gear. No problem. The downhills are not a problem either, as the Tri Glide has plenty of braking power. ABS is not an option on this model, as the four discs will do any stopping job with ease. Don’t forget that your front discs still provide the main braking force.
Every year more trikes are appearing, as their stability appeals increasingly to women and older riders. They’ll never take over the two-wheel market, but they do create a significant niche. And now that your friendly local Harley dealer can sell and service a three-wheeler, and provide a warranty, the ridership should expand even more.