Trikes At Any Age

Story by Elizabeth Bokfi// Photos by Elizabeth Bokfi
November 1 2007
New trikes that meet the transportation safety code

A yellow trike by Classic Trailers and Trikesthe smell of clover-blooms floated its way into my nostrils, filling my senses – a reminder of why I chose to ride a motorcycle in the first place. A sense of borderless living and weightlessness quickly replaced any traces of stress lingering from a hectic workday spent taking and making telephone calls. As the sun began to dip below the horizon, once again I analyzed my options for long distance touring. Two magazine issues previous, we examined sidecars as one way of stabilizing motorcycles for the physically challenged. In January 2007, the removal of a tumour had left me a BK (below the knee) amputee. I knew it would be months before I received my prosthesis. So, by repositioning the shifter to the right side and attaching a sidecar to my Harley Superglide, I was able to ride the spring season with no foot – just me, my stump and I.

After 7 months of wheelchair four wheelin’ and a round of chemotherapy, it was not long before I realized I did not have the stamina to long distance ride with the sidecar. There just seemed to be such a huge diversity of opinion on the topic of handling and set-up that I quite exhausted myself trying to sort it all out. The set-up – good. The look of the antique WWII replica Bimmer – funky. The handling through corners – exhausting. Several riders eager to test ride the unit commented all was well with the handling, leading me to conclude the problem was me – even after rehabilitation and the acquisition of my prosthetic limb, my physical capacity just wasn’t the same as before the surgery and treatment. Ultimately this left me feeling discouraged, and my bike sitting in the garage. Long distance touring was definitely out of the question. I began to think of going back to two wheels again, but atrophied leg muscle and the absent tactile sensitivity of a foot left me unable to lift a narrow big-twin off its stand at the local Harley dealership. Having ridden a sidecar this past season, it didn’t take long for me to consider a trike as my second alternative to two wheels.

Steam powered trikeAs with the differences between Harleys and Brand-X motorcycles, trikes exist on an island all their own. Whether due to health or accident reasons, trikes can offer much to riders with physical limitations. Stability gained from three-wheeled contact coupled with a reverse gear instantly hits the satisfaction mark for those riders experiencing problems with balance and leg strength due to a myriad of health conditions, such as heart attack and stroke. Trike riders that are accident survivors also rank high the necessity of having a good suspension system. Post accident surgeries involving the addition of nuts, bolts and steel plates to the human body in many cases wreak havoc with in-the-wind-comfort. Then, there are those riders that simply have experienced a decline in self-confidence due to age-related physical degeneration.

In its basic form, a trike, or tricycle, consists of a frame mounted to three wheels. A trikes’s wheel configuration may be either delta (one wheel in front, two at rear) or tadpole (two wheels in front, one at rear), also sometimes called “reverse trike”. One example of tadpole configuration is Bombardier’s Spyder. Although theoretically tadpoles tend to have more stability under sudden braking conditions than deltas, the delta configuration seems to be the most popular.

New trikes that meet the transportation safety code The concept of the three-wheeled motorcycle is not new. Long before the automobile, experimenters had built the first trikes – steam powered tricycles. One of the earliest trike developments was in the form of a steam-powered, three-wheeled tractor, built in delta configuration. Developed in 1769 by French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, the artillery-hauling unit could reach a top speed of 3 km/h. Following that were several others; in 1880 the Long steam tricycle and 1881 the Parkyns-Bateman steam tricycle, a petroleum-fired steam boiler, mounted onto a tricycle chassis. The most significant of trikes built came along in year 1888. Leon Serpollet’s coal-fired steam tricycle utilized a boiler mounted between the two rear wheels.

More recently, many a trike had been welded-up and parts thrown together in backyard garages; they were the attention-getters wherever they were parked – insurance less. Notoriety aside, it was not long before the benefits of stability were realized by those seeking to be more secure whilst in the wind. The problem – insurance. Inferior welds and unstable front ends together with bogus vehicle inspection certificates manifested into trouble. With the perceived high risk of injury, companies were reluctant and most times outright refused insurance coverage for this type of machine. Then – something miraculous began to happen, manufacturing companies began to surface that were dedicated to building trikes, which complied with transportation regulations. When there is a need, fill that need. Insurance companies also began to take a second look, offering insurance coverage to owners of machines manufactured under strict transportation safety codes.

Classic Trailers and Trikes

For James O’Rourke at Classic Trailers and Trikes, in Stayner, Ontario, there are some days that just begin and end with trikes. Meeting O’Rourke for the first time, I just happened to choose the day a shipment of kits were arriving from Texas, where they are manufactured. Utilizing conversion kits manufactured at Motor Trike of Troup, Texas, Classic Trailers and Trikes have been building trikes for three years, having laid the groundwork for that portion of their business 4 years ago.

It takes approximately 8-10 days for O’Rourke to build a trike for a client, depending whether or not Classic has the kit in stock. With 1800 Goldwing and Harley-Davidson conversions being the most popular, O’Rourke tries to keep those kits readily available. With the “trend to trike”, he estimates his business has produced 20-22 trikes this season thus far. With several more conversions pending, that number adds up to a lot of trikes. When asked for client demographics, he’s quick to respond.

“Of course, age is always in there. The customers buying are in their 60s to mid 70s. Younger buyers tend to have medical problems – with their back, legs, arms, sometimes balance.”

A 44-year veteran rider himself, O’Rourke currently owns 9 motorcycles, and oddly enough, none are trikes.

“I can’t keep a trike,” he laughs, “I always end up selling them.”

RC Trike

I was given the opportunity to test-drive a Honda Goldwing trike conversion. Not only was it my first time riding a trike; it was also my first time riding a Goldwing. The conversion had been made to a stock 2001 Honda Goldwing 1800 that was manufactured at RC Trike of Sainte-Eulalie, Quebec.

Production of the first RC Trike began fourteen years ago for Raymond Chasse, when he utilized a Ford Mustang rear-end taken from a scrap yard and fitted it to a Goldwing. Today, they continue to manufacture trikes converted from Goldwing motorcycles. Difficulties locating the rear components has led to expansion plans for RC.

“We are presently making plans to build an aluminum differential, production by next spring,” explains partner Manon Bachand, “and we are also planning production [of trikes] using the bigger touring models of Harley-Davidson. We’ve just had a lack of time to begin the new product.”

Aesthetically, there was no arguing the 1800 was a beautiful machine. What really impressed me was the performance. My Harley heart leaped forward a beat or two as the machine rode out the bumps along the road effortlessly. The ride was extremely comfortable, the centre air bag suspension taking potholes well in its stride. Unlike a sidecar, cornering was smooth and short-order turning was very stable. The one feature that grabbed my attention was the floorboard shifter. Having a prosthetic with a fixed foot means I am unable to flex at the ankle. The floorboard shifter allowed me to use my heel, both for gearing up and gearing down. Operating on the same principle as a heal-toe shifter, the design eliminates the need to hook your toes under the front portion of the shifter. This is a feature that would definitely be of interest to those wearing a prosthetic device.

The triking world has exploded to include a host of other makes and models that are as individual as their owners. For Kevin Berry, the last 23 of his 36 years riding motorcycles have included a number of Volkswagon trikes. For him, it’s all about comfort.

“I like the way they look; I’ve always liked something different. I’s just always been that way. I like the comfort of trikes. The VW trikes are unbelievably comfortable. It’s a totally different ride than a motorcycle.”

Berry’s first two trikes were Webster trikes, by Jack Webster of Go Home Lake, Ontario. According to Berry, Webster had built them only as a hobby, building approximately 10 in total.

“They had a VW 1600 engine in a fibreglass body. The one [trike] I own now is very similar to The Webster trikes that I had. It’s an Arizona trike; Georgia Trikes bought them out, which is no longer in existence. The popularity of trikes over the last ten years has grown immensely, largely due to older people looking for an alternative, or some other way to keep riding. They would give up biking because their stability on two wheels wasn’t there. Now they are turning to conversion trikes – motorcycles converted into a trike. “Myself,” Berry continues, “I prefer the low [VW] body style compared to the conversion kit trikes. Ones that are built from the fibreglass kits; they are comfortable sitting down low. My taste in preference is not shared by everybody, of course.”

Distinctly different, it’s clear that trikers take their breed very seriously. A riding club dedicated exclusively to trike riders, “Brothers of the Third Wheel” (BTW), illustrates this. With chapters in the United States, Europe and several Canadian provinces, it is the largest trike club in the world. In addition to rallies worldwide, they also publish their own magazine, Triker Magazine, 6 issues per year.

BTW Trike-In

Invited to a BTW Trike-In, I headed down to Belwood, Ontario on the Labour Day weekend. Great weather, great company and fun games. I met several trikers that had turned to riding trikes for various medical reasons, whether it was because of amputation or accident. A back injury resulting from a vehicular accident didn’t keep Bill Linnitt from staying in the wind. A lot of help from a lot of friends produced Linnitt’s ’97 VW 2165cc Superbeetle, which took 1st Place in Three Wheeler class at this year’s Canadian Biker Build-Off held in Welland.

When I asked WWII veteran and former dispatch rider Harry Watts why he’s riding a Piaggio MP3 scooter, he responded with a hearty laugh, “Because I’m an old man now!”. The Piaggio MP3 is a ‘tadpole’ style three-wheeler.

All who attended the trike-in wore their BTW colours proudly, and it afforded me the opportunity to snap some photos, and of course, have some good old fashioned fun. I discovered not only that possibilities were endless, despite a rider’s physical challenges, but also that after 8 years of being divorced; I had forgotten how to hang clothes on a clothesline. Next time I’ll pass on the clothesline event – better keep on ridin’… MMM



Classic Trailers and Trikes

RC Trike

The Trike Shop

Lehman Trikes

Can-Am Spyder Roadster

Cheetah Trikes

Brothers Of The Third Wheel

Piaggio Scooters


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