2009 Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide Ultra Classic

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts, Roger Parsons, Liz Clubine
July 1 2009

Picture of the Harley Davidson trike It comes as no surprise that the motorcycle industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades, this past economic downturn notwithstanding. Not everyone can experience the wind in their face and the freedom that a motorcycle affords on two-wheels for a number of reasons, but three-wheels, however, is a different story.

Part of the reason for the huge increase in motorcycle sales over the years are baby boomers getting back into the sport after taking many years off for family, mortgages, career and life in general. However, not all of those returning to the sport, or those just getting into motorcycling for the first time, feel comfortable on two wheels, especially if taking a passenger is part of their plan. There are number of other reasons a person might prefer a trike to a motorcycle and the maturing demographic of the massive boomer generation also plays a part in the decision making. Balance and stability issues, either from injuries or disabilities, the strength required to hold up a heavy bike and possibly the perceived benefit of the added safety that three wheels might provide could all be reasons to buy a trike. The number of women entering the sport is at an all time high and it’s no coincidence that this segment makes up a significant portion of trike purchasers as well.

Harley-Davidson saw a huge potential and an already established growth in the expanding three-wheeled market and chose to design a new vehicle accordingly.

The Motor Company is no stranger to the trike world, producing the Servi-car in 1932 for police, mail delivery and other commercial services. The Servi-car enjoyed an amazing 41-year run up to 1973, but the lack of three-wheeled production had halted for the iconic Milwaukee brand. During the last half of 2008, Harley-Davidson introduced their version of the modern trike–the 2009 Tri Glide Ultra Classic.

The Tri Glide Ultra Classic, as the name implies, is based on the top-of-the-line Ultra Classic Electra Glide and features such amenities as an 80-watt Harmon/Kardon 4-speaker sound system that integrates a CB radio and passenger-to-rider intercom system, electronic cruise control and vented fairing lowers. But from the passenger seat back and below, the similarities to any other modern Harley-Davidson end. Although not apparent at a glance, a larger engine and the optional reverse, round out the most significant changes to the Tri Glide.

With the 2009 Harley-Davidson touring motorcycles getting a newly redesigned frame, the engineers at the Motor Company thought it best to go one step further with the Tri Glide and made even more modifications to the three-wheeled chassis. The extra demands from the steering forces and the vehicle weight meant a ‘ground-up’ design of the new chassis. Changes in steering geometry that include; an increase in total rake, from 29.25 degrees to 32 degrees, the reduction of 69.85 mm of trail to 100.08 mm, and a fork length increase of 45 mm when compared to the Ultra Classic. Harley claims these changes will decrease steering effort by 25 percent, but no matter how you look at it, it is still arm strong steering.

Like almost all trikes on the road these days, the Tri Glide doesn’t lean into corners and therefore counter steering doesn’t come into play. To take on any corners, regardless of vehicle speed or size of corner, the handlebar has to be physically turned. Gentle sweepers don’t expel very much energy from the rider, but taking a ninety-degree corner at any speed takes a significant amount of force to point the front wheel in the desired direction. The Tri Glide has a steering damper as stock equipment to help minimize the possibility of a wobble while slowing down, and this damper may increase steering effort somewhat. Leaning into the turn and out of the protective pocket of air that the batwing fairing and the windshield provide does seem to make the turn less strenuous.

Also as a result of the Tri Glide not leaning, corners have to be taken slower and the front tire chatters around tight corners as inertia tries to push the trike in the original direction. A condition associated with all trikes as the laws of physics does not exempt three-wheelers.

Parked Tri-glide red TrikeWhile the weight of the Tri Glide is significant at 516.9 kg (1139.6 lbs) without battery, fuel or oil, getting the Tri Glide to running order increases the heft to a whopping 532.6 kg (1174.1 lbs). In order to get things rolling, Harley has used the Twin Cam 103 (1,690 cc) engine. At 101 ft lbs of torque at just 3,500 rpm, the air-cooled, fuel injected engine, along with the six-speed Cruise Drive transmission, won’t win any races, but the driveline duo perform a fine job of getting the Tri Glide up to speed. Passing another vehicle at highway speeds, however, can be painfully slow and requires a downshift, or two. I actually found stepping down to third gear a good choice for a brisk pass.

In the fuel consumption department I didn’t know what to expect with the larger-than-normal Harley V-Twin and a heavier than normal vehicle. During my test riding of mostly country roads, I averaged 7.16 L/100 km (39.44 mpg) out of the 22.7 litre tank. This should give a range just shy of 320 km. The low fuel light came on at around 267 km leaving plenty of kilometres to find a gas station. Good thing, because you sure wouldn’t want to have to push it.

As with any vehicle of this mass, it’s unlikely you will be pushing it backward if you happen to park in a downhill parking spot, or a level parking spot for that matter. The left switchgear houses the easy to use reverse controls, if you have the optional reverse. Yeah, you read that right, this 532.6 kg vehicle doesn’t come standard with reverse. Reverse is an electric motor mounted on the rear differential that can really get you out of a bind if you don’t have a few strong friends with you that are willing to push. The optional reverse will add $1,520 to the final sale price. While my demo did have reverse installed, I’m sure the first time you are stuck you’ll realize that it is worth every penny.

Final drive is by way of Harley’s tried and trusted high-strength belt mated to the newly designed rear axle assembly. The rear axle distributes the resulting power to both of the rear seven-spoke cast aluminum wheels shod with a pair of Dunlop Signature P205/65R15, a common size of car tire.

The ride is compliant in the front while the rear can get a little choppy with the big five-inch wide tires hitting twice as many bumps as a motorcycle rider is used to. Rear suspension, like the other touring Harley bikes, is controlled by dual adjustable air shocks. While I didn’t load the trike up with a passenger and fill the available storage areas with weight, I would have to think it might be like a pick-up truck–a rougher ride when the box is empty, while the weight of a full load compresses the shocks, making the ride smoother.

Something I had to get used to is that the Tri Glide follows the angle of the road. Instead of the motorcycle’s natural tendency to always stay perpendicular to the horizon on a straight stretch of road, the dual wheels on the rear of the Tri Glide follow the camber of the road. While the same thing happens to a car, it seems much more pronounced on the trike.

The Tri Glide uses dual discs up front being clamped by a pair of 4-piston calipers while the rear has a disc on each wheel and single piston calipers. The front brakes could use a bit better grasp on the rotors, but a firm squeeze on the lever does slow the Tri Glide quite adequately. The rear brakes take a very firm push on the pedal to effectively activate both rear calipers in order to slow the trike down. Once I was accustomed to the required pressure on the brake pedal, the rear brakes do a very good job of bringing the Tri Glide to a stop. The parking brake, located on the right side in front of the rear fender and could be quite a stretch for some to apply, is integrated for use with the rear brake calipers.

The Tri Glide makes an outstanding touring machine, especially if one were to base their touring requirements on storage space. In addition to the standard Tour-Pak, the trunk provides .127 cubic metres (4.5 cubic feet) of cargo space, for a combined total of .186 cubic metres (6.56 cubic feet). In terms of total weight, the trunk can accommodate 22.67 kg and the Tour-Pak is rated for 13.6 kg, for a total of 36.28 kg (80 lbs), a pretty significant number indeed.

Also on the list of touring requirements is comfort for rider and passenger. Being based on the Ultra Classic, the basic design of which hasn’t changed for many years, and for good reason, the Tri Glide has a deeply-sculpted, comfortable pillow seat that offers good lower back support. Ergonomics from seat to handlebar to floorboards is perfect for a straight back and relaxed all-day riding position. As all of Harley touring models, I find the top of the windshield an awkward height. I’m either stretching to look over it or slouching to look through it and, without question, would opt for a shorter version.

The passenger also has floorboards as well as a wide comfortable pillow seat and a full backrest courtesy of the Tour-Pak that offers some adjustability fore and aft.

One very important concern to always be aware of is the added width of the rear end, something that the regular motorcyclist is not familiar with and may take for granted while pulling up to the gas pumps, squeezing in-between parked cars or trying to miss the proverbial dead skunk in the middle of the road. The rear fenders take up a noteworthy 1114.55 mm (43.8 in) of width. Care must be taken in tight confines and when throwing your leg over the seat as scuffing a fender is a common occurrence if you’re not careful. Riding in the left tire track is no longer the case for fear of a fender sticking out over the yellow line and in the way of on-coming traffic. If a mishap does arise, the fenders are separate from the trunk body and easily removed for repair or replacement. Fit and finish on the Tri Glide is top notch, just as it is with all other Harley-Davidson models.

While I had ridden a couple of trikes previous to the Tri Glide, those test rides were a few years ago so I can’t compare fairly. And being a motorcyclist I can’t compare the Tri Glide to anything that I regularly ride. In saying that and accepting the Tri Glide for what it is–a trike–I thought that it worked very well and once I got over the idiosyncrasies of trikedom, I actually found it somewhat enjoyable. Although I must say for the record, I will be staying with two wheels, hopefully for a long, long time to come.

The stability of three wheels doesn’t come cheap. The Tri Glide Ultra Classic retails for $39,269 in basic Vivid Black while a Dark Blue Pearl or Red Hot Sunglo version will set you back $40,289, plus…umm…reverse. For more information go to www.harleycanada.com, or your local Harley dealer. MMM






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