2008 Trike Buyers Guide
April 17, 2008
Filed under Sidecar + Scooter + Trike Motorcycle Reviews
You’ve seen them on the road and probably heard the rationale.
With three wheels, a tricycle is more stable than a motorcycle; there’s no dropping your trike in a parking lot. Come to a stop and you don’t even need to put your feet down to keep it balanced. And think of the weight you’re saving by getting rid of that heavy, bothersome kickstand!
Of course, it’s not all that simple. With the extra wheels and bodywork a trike is considerably heavier than a motorcycle, and will use more fuel. Because trikes weigh more, a reverse gear is a handy option. With two rear wheels a trike will need a heavy differential that allows each wheel to rotate at a different speed in turns. If the two wheels are in the front, that simplifies the drivetrain for rear-wheel drive, but complicates it for front-wheel drive.
With a wide-set pair of wheels in the front or back, a trike will not lean like a motorcycle, which means it must be steered by levering the handlebar and that will likely require considerably more effort to turn, especially at low speeds. Adding rake to the fork can lessen (but not eliminate) this problem. My limited experience with trikes reveals that, like an automobile, there’s a bit of body lean toward the outside of the turn so the rider must compensate by leaning to the inside.
Trikes tend to be of two persuasions, either purpose-built or conversions. With a conversion, the manufacturer starts with a standard motorcycle and converts it to a trike by adding paired wheels, usually at the rear. The other approach is to build a trike from scratch with a purpose-built frame, often holding an outrageous automobile engine such as a big ol’ V8 with hundreds of horsepower and an automotive transmission. Because they have fewer than four wheels, trikes are usually licensed as motorcycles, and thus regulations that apply to them aren’t as stringent as those for automobiles. Check your state laws for the particulars.
Here’s a quick look at the various trike manufacturers, concentrating on those conversions powered by big V-twin engines. We also cover the purpose-built rigs, which are often more outrageous machines.
We’ve heard of Champion Sidecars for many years, but the company also manufactures trike conversions for many Harley models, the Honda Gold Wing, and Yamaha’s Road Star models. They feature a “Zero-flex” swingarm, a special suspension system, and disc brakes. The Harley versions use a belt drive with a differential. You can order either a turnkey unit, or have your bike converted by one of the more than 100 Champion dealers nationwide. Champion’s EZ Steer Kit ($1,095) consists of a set of 4.5-degree raked triple trees that purportedly lightens the steering. Reverse is also available ($1,395 to $1,445).
If you own a Harley, Honda GL1500, GL1800 Gold Wing, or a Valkyrie, you’re a candidate for a DFT Trike conversion. For Harleys they offer a rear-end kit that weighs about 175 pounds and is a fully bolt-in installation that requires no frame modifications. It retains the stock wheelbase, drive system, and braking system. DFT also offers bodywork and independent rear suspension, but the kits do not come with wheels, tires, or paint. Several body styles are available for various Harley models including the Sportster and V-Rod. Prices range from $9,495 to $10,298, depending on body style.
Lehman started in 1985 and manufactures trike conversions for Harley-Davidson, Honda, Suzuki, and Victory motorcycles. Six Harley conversions are available, some of which are called the Renegade (not to be confused with a brand by that name), and they include full fiberglass bodywork. To convert, the stock rear portion of the bike is replaced with Lehman’s swingarm, rear axle, and differential, a system that accommodates Harley’s belt final drive. If you provide the bike, a Lehman dealer can convert it to a trike for about $11,000. Lehman has now partnered with Baker Drivetrain to offer a reverse gear, and the company offers a full warranty, finance, and insurance.
Lehman Trikes USA
Motorcycle Tour Conversions Inc.
If you want to ride a trike but not all the time, Motorcycle Tour Conversions’ Voyager system consists of a framework and a set of wheels that can be bolted to most Harleys, Gold Wings, BMWs, and some Suzukis. The Voyager system allows for about 6 to 12 degrees of lean so it’s not totally rigid, but the bike will have to be steered like a trike. The company states it takes three to four hours to bolt the Voyager frame in place, but once installed the wheel system can be attached or removed in 5 to 15 minutes for unfettered two-wheel riding. The kit runs $4,095 in basic form, or $5,700 with lights, wiring, and fiberglass fenders. Painting is also available.
Motorcycle Tour Conversions Inc.
Let’s say that you want the benefits of a trike conversion, but don’t want to spend a huge amount of money. Mystery Design offers a fixed axle that can convert your chain- or belt-drive bike into a three-wheeler relatively inexpensively. Prices start at $3,200 for the suspension with a fixed axle (no differential). They fit all 1984-and-later Harleys, as well as Yamaha’s Road Star and its variants, plus there’s a version for shaft-drive bikes like the Honda Valkyrie and six-cylinder Gold Wings, and VTX models. Each trike kit comes with an independent suspension. The Tiltster option is a tilting mechanism that allows the bike some degree of lean. Fenders, wheels, and bodywork are available at extra cost.
Motor Trike offers conversions for a number of Harley models including the V-Rod, in addition to a selection of metric models and Triumphs. They state their Harley rear-end conversions are maintenance free, and that their ladder-bar suspension splits the difference between solid-axle and independent suspension systems, thus eliminating head shake on their rigs. Standard features include an air-ride, three-link suspension, and all trikes come with aluminum wheels and a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. Options include an onboard air compressor, trunk carpeting, upgraded wheels, a trailer hitch, a windshield, and fender bras.
Precision Cycle Works
This company is best known for building alternative custom V-twin motorcycles, but it also has a line of trikes called the Tri-Cycle. They’re powered by the S&S 96-cubic-inch V-twin air-cooled motor with a pair of 300-series rear tires with billet wheels, and a 21-inch front wheel. Their trikes also feature a six-speed transmission in a stretched Softail frame with a 40-degree rake. They use the Mystery Design rear axle, composite tanks, and fenders, and they’re DOT compliant. Prices start at $32,995 with one-color paint. Options include custom paint, various S&S engine options, an open primary, an inverted fork, and various wheel styles.
Precision Cycle Works
Boss Hoss Cycles
The Boss manufactures really outrageous V8-powered machines, both bikes and trikes. The three-wheeler is available in three body styles that include a ’57 Chevy, a ’32 Ford Loboy Coupe, and a 2000 Sierra truck that offers 10 cubic feet of space in the bed. These turnkey machines are powered by a lusty collection of car motors including a Z24 GM 350-cubic-inch engine. Additionally, for 2008 the 502-incher is being replaced by the 355-horsepower LS2 motor, with an optional 385-horsepower rolling-rocker-cam version optional, or a 6-liter aluminum mill with 425 horsepower. Boss Hoss uses the GM Turbo 350 Hydramatic transmission. They have 27 dealers in the US, and prices start at $42,000.
Boss Hoss Cycles
Cheetah offers big ol’ V8 engines in three-wheeled chassis, and places the radiator out back so it doesn’t clutter up the styling. The Solo Chopper ($34,000) is a hardtail design with an adjustable solo seat; it’s powered by a GM 350-cubic-inch V8 and features a 350 turbo transmission with wide rear radial tires. The Chopper ($36,000) has the same specs but features a QA1 coil-over rear suspension. Alternatively, the Chopper SS ($38,000) has a GM 350-inch/300-horsepower V8 engine with all the above plus a Sturgis front mag wheel, front disc brake, and stainless wheelie bars.
Cheetah Trikes Inc.
A trike builder for 27 years, Kopavi offers a tube-steel frame with a Ford rear end and an automatic four-speed transmission with reverse and overdrive. Optional power starts with a Chevy 4.3-liter V6, or you can upgrade to V8s of 350, 502 or 572 cubic inches. These trikes are aggressively styled and include sway bars and a four-link suspension for stability, coil-over shocks, 55mm male-slider Ceriani forks, aircraft fittings, a trunk, an 11-gallon aluminum tank, and a rear-mounted radiator to clean up styling. Stopping power comes from dual vented disc brakes and 17-inch wheels.
These trikes come with a stainless-steel frame and are available with a variety of engines ranging from a V6 to a 502 V8 with more than 500 horsepower. The majority use the 350 Chevy mill with 250 horsepower. Transmission choices include a three- or four-speed automatic. These trikes will carry from three to five persons, depending on the configuration. For true luxury you can order heaters and zip-on doors. Renegades are available in six models ranging from 1,760 to 1,900 pounds. Prices range from $24,500 to $42,000.
Renegade Trike Corp./Ecstasy Cycles