Trik Trike

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts
September 1 2012
red motorcycle trike

Learning how to repair, fabricate and weld on the family farm at an early age set Brad Watson on an important path. That childhood education led to an insightful career as an auto technician, but his real love was race cars and hot rods. His education increased tenfold as he began working at race-car shops building space-frame chassis and learning fabrication skills, TIG welding and machining techniques. He even spent time travelling as the team fabricator on the Indy-car pit crew of Jacques Villeneuve.

Although he has held a motorcycle license since he was 16 and always had bikes kicking around, he didn’t build his first chopper until about 12 years ago. He bought a Daytek frame and a few parts, but he made many of the bits for the bike himself. “It was something you could call a signature chopper, which is getting pretty hard to do these days because there’s a million of them that look alike.”

“I’ve been building stuff all my life, and I used to be into street rods in a big way for many years,” Brad said. “I always did all my own work except for paint and upholstery – those were the two things that I never knew how to do back then. When I got into building bikes, I had made up my mind I was going to learn to do it all. That was my challenge.”

Brad is one of those people who sets his mind to do something and doesn’t stop until the job is properly finished.

Front end of the Trik TrikeBrad, a self-taught mechanical engineer who has authored 15 mechanical patents to date, has since learned to paint and upholster. His first paint job was on an E-Type Jaguar that he restored; it was judged at Pebble Beach concourse as a 98-point restoration. He later bought a sewing machine, and in order to learn the craft, he began making barbecue covers, boat covers and anything else he could find to sew.

Fast-forward a dozen years to a new challenge. Watson spent 360 hours in CAD designing every single piece of this machine with the exception of the Nigel Patrick 120 cubic-inch engine and transmission (these he liberated from a previous build). Using his vast knowledge of road-racing vehicles, the front suspension is not only very functional, but stands out as a work of art.

With the help of CNC machines, Brad made almost every part needed to produce the Trik Trike. Brad has an aversion to exposed wires and cables, so while he was building the frame, every intersecting joint had holes drilled and filed smooth with pull wires inserted before he TIG-welded the frame together, so he could run necessary wiring through the many internal corners.

In keeping with the clean, uncluttered look, he manufactured the footboards to rotate. The clutch operates by pushing the left footboard forward, while the linked brake system operates by pushing on the right footboard.

While the design and mechanical fabrication wasn’t much of an issue for Watson, the bodywork presented a new challenge. With minimal experience pounding aluminum into smooth compound curves, Brad knew this would require some new equipment. Where most people would have bought an English wheel, an air planishing hammer and a panel-shrinking and -stretching machine, Brad decided he would make his own. He even crafted his own body dollies to fit particular curves. Then he had to learn how to use it all.

“The hood is made of seven pieces of shaped aluminum welded together and hammered flat. I’m proud to say there is absolutely no bondo in any of the bodywork,” Brad stated. He figures he has about 300 hours invested in creating the body, fuel tank (with internal fuel pump) and fenders.

Pushing his painting skill to the limit, Watson made a paint booth from tent poles and sheet plastic, set up outside on a calm day. His main concern wasn’t dust, as this can be sanded out, but bugs, “as they leave holes in the paint when you pick them out.”

I don’t know what might be up Brad’s sleeve next, but with this kind of talent, I’m sure his next project will be equally impressive.


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