Three Wheeled Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide
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Maybe you’re just getting into motorcycling and you want a safer way to test it out; maybe you’ve been riding for a while but have come to realize riding on just two wheels isn’t for you; or maybe you’re physically unable to ride on just two wheels? Or maybe you admire the commanding presence a three-wheeled motorcycle has on the road. Whatever your reason, you’re ready to purchase a trike.
To start, lemme just put it out there: Trikes are definitely more expensive than a regular two-wheeled motorcycle. First, there are more parts. Second, to own a trike, someone (read you or your trusted motorcycle mechanic, in most instances) usually has to first take a standard two-wheeled motorcycle and convert it to a three-wheeled machine. This means there’s more labor involved in creating a trike. Third, in the U.S. motorcycle market, trikes are, for the most part, a luxurious form of motorcycling.
This means they’re big, have beefy suspensions and have all sorts of bells and whistles like heated handlebar grips, cruise control, integrated GPS, gallons of storage and loads of comfort. And we all know motorcycle and motorcycle parts manufacturers are not just dying to hand over accessories like these! They all cost (more) money.
So you want a trike and you know for a fact you can afford one: Let’s get started. Essentially, there are three methods to purchasing a trike. I’ll present each route and then tell you about some of your options should you decide to follow that path.
The first and easiest method is the OEM route, or buying a trike that was manufactured in the factory. In the auto world, OEM stands for “original equipment manufacturer.” This is the easiest method because it’s just like buying any other motorcycle from a dealer who purchases his units directly from the manufacturer. Plus, these units come usually come with a factory warranty.
Can-Am, an imprint of Canada’s Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP), manufactures the Spyder roadster, a unique trike with two wheels in front and a solo powered rear wheel that was first introduced in 2008. Can-Am offers the RS (read sport) and RT (touring) Spyder and baseline specs for both models include: a 998 cc V-Twin liquid-cooled engine, EFI, 5-speed manual or semi-automatic transmission with reverse, 3-wheel braking, 4-piston calipers up front and a 1-piston caliper on the rear wheel, and ABS.
Oddly, it seems the MSRP of each model reflects the dry weight; the RS weighs 699 pounds and carries an MSRP of $16,499, while the RT weighs 929 pounds and will cost around $21,399. But wait, turns out the poundage and price simply increase as one adds bells and whistles to his or her trike: the RT is available with an electronic adjustable windshield, cruise control, heated grips, full touring saddle, floorboards, and passenger arm rests—surely making it a comfortable motorcycle.
Of course, one has the option of even more upgrades—including AM/FM radio, electronically adjustable rear air suspension, and integrated GPS—if one chooses either of the Spyder RT Audio & Convenience, RT-S, or RT Limited models. Each Spyder comes with a two-year warranty.
Besides piggie banks and analog clocks, Harley-Davidson also makes the most popular V-Twin motorcycles in the United States. In 2009, the Milwaukee-based company introduced its first factory-built trike in the Tri-Glide, and in 2011 it offers the Tri-Glide Ultra Classic and Street Glide Trike, which are both derivatives of models—the Street Glide and Electra Glide Ultra Classic—from Harley-Davidson’s touring class of motorcycles.
When you buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a large percentage of the final price tag is the brand itself and the styling that comes with it: chrome, a naked V-Twin engine, classic lines, loud pipes and those optional dangly leather things that hang from the handlebars. To that end, the Street Glide Trike starts at $27,499 and the Tri-Glide Ultra Classic starts at $30,499. Each of these trikes comes with a 1,690 cc air-cooled engine and six-speed transmission with cruise control. The most immediately noticeable difference between these two trikes is passenger seating.
One type of motorcycle that is often left out of today’s trike discussions is the classic sidecar motorcycle, which have actually been around for ages. One company that makes a great sidecar motorcycle is Russia’s Ural, so named for that nation’s central mountain range. Ural motorcycles feature a flat-twin engine that displaces 749 cc, and all of its sidecars are equipped with a trunk.
The company offers a nice range of models, from more basic units to those heavily tailored for rugged riding. Some motorcycles from Ural are powered by just the primary rear wheel, or the non-sidecar rear wheel; however, Ural is introducing certain models with on-demand sidecar drive, like the Patrol and Gear-Up. Ural motorcycles are heavy, and they carry vintage styling.
The company has purposefully stayed out of the technology race; only recently has it begun to offer models using disc brakes. Its more basic models retail for $9,999, while its flashy go-anywhere models retail for $13,799. With prices like these, motorcycles from Ural obviously run counter to my point above that trikes always cost more money than a comparable two-wheeled model—which is good. Ural offers a two-year warranty on its motorcycles. (On a related note, and unfortunately so, Harley-Davidson will cease making sidecar motorcycles after its 2011 model year orders are filled.)
The second method of attaining a trike is buying a factory-converted trike from a company like Lehman Trikes. Lehman has been in business since the mid ’80s, concentrating on converting units from Honda and Harley-Davidson into trikes with a differential rear-end with internal solid axles, giving the swing-arm a one-piece, reinforced design.
Today the company offers conversions on Road Glide, Road King, Softail and Sportster units from Harley-Davidson; the GL1800 Gold Wing unit from Honda; and Boulevard from Suzuki. What’s more, Lehman offers a factory-direct conversion of the Kingpin and Vision from Victory, a motorcycle Lehman dubs the Crossbow. Trikes from Lehman range from $17,000 to $40,000.
The Trike Shop offers its Roadsmith brand of trike conversion kits, which you could purchase through a dealer to have outfitted on your own motorcycle. The Trike Shop, like Lehman Trikes, also has a listing of already-converted trikes on its website. Currently, this company offers trike conversion kits for Harley-Davidon’s Sportster (’04 and newer), Touring (’96 and newer) and Softail (’85 and newer) models; and also Honda’s Gold Wing (’88 and newer), VTX1800R and S, and all Valkyrie models.
Pricing on The Trike Shop kits top out at about $9,000, but the company also offers a bevy of add-ons for each of its kits, including an auxiliary fuel tank, tire upgrades, and paint job add-ons. Unlike trikes from Lehman Trikes, Roadsmith trikes are outfitted with an independent suspension.
So, what do you think? Is there a three-wheeled motorcycle in your future?
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