Triking One For The Team | Going Gently

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
–Dylan Thomas

I have no great history with trikes.

My first one, red and white, came from Monkey Wards and had a temperamental habit of getting its straight-linked pedals ahead of my fat little legs on steep downhills, whacking me in the calves and tossing me over the high side in a toddler-style Fosbury Flop.

Yeah, I rode fixies before fixies were cool.

I was still a single-digit tyke when dad brought home a pair of Honda ATC 90 three-wheelers. If you recall the zero-travel suspension and solid-axle steering of those adorable deathtraps, it’s probably because you carry a good-sized scar to remind you. In my case, it’s a 3-incher across my left thigh.

Still, when the editor says “break a leg,” what’s a literalist to do? My busted ankle meant scrubbing half the summer’s motor-cycling and testing Harley’s new trike instead.

Since the 2009 model year, Harley-Davidson has offered its FLHTCUTG Tri Glide Ultra Classic, a triple-tired Big Twin for aging bikers with rusty frame gussets. In Milwaukee’s lineup, the Tri Glide displaced the factory sidecar rig, which moved units at approximately single-digit rates. While 2009-’10 tri-wheelers were assembled by Lehman Trikes in Spearfish, South Dakota, the 2011 run moved to H-D’s York, Pennsylvania facility. The current model is thus the first all-Harley, native three-wheeler since the putt-putt 1932-’72 Servi-Cars.

I crutched into Eastside Harley-Davidson’s showroom in Bellevue, Washington, to pick up a zero-mile Tri Glide that retails at $30,499. While they bolted up an accessory rack ($189.95) suitable for lashing on my walking sticks, I eyeballed my new ride. The Tré motorvates with a luscious 103-cubic-inch Twin Cam V-twin. A classic Batwing fairing shields its leather sofa cushion, sumo-grade footboards and steamlined luggage.

It looked fine to me, but GM Scott Cook wasn’t feeling the gimp love.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked Pretty Wife at least three times as I stumped around, examining the beast from all angles. “Is he gonna be okay riding?”

Her Mona Lisa smile was the silent reply of one who pays the life insurance premiums.

Leathered up like The Gimp in Pulp Fiction, we sallied forth directly into the teeth of a late spring storm. The Leisure Glide shares excellent weather protection with its two-footed progenitor. Six-footers will get damp knees and a dribble over the tops of their helmets only. The characteristic it does not share? Being a motorcycle.

The first thing a three-wheeler course teaches you is never put your boots down. This prevents the Massey Ferguson-style embarrassment of running yourself down from behind—like so many of us did on those little Hondas of yore. Still hurts when I limp about it. The first thing you learn on your own is to dispense with the instinct forcing you to steer down the wheel tracks. Just plant your nosewheel on the grease stripe and leave it there.

Second, trikes do not lean. Not even slightly, although H-D’s people claim a round-shouldered front tire is necessary to lighten steering, and because there is a non-zero amount of sideward tire roll during cornering. I grew to dread the notion of heavier steering as I built my arm strength over the next few days. During a hard stop, you stomp the brake pedal with Kenworth authority to haul down car-sized rear tires. Skinnier tires might allow chassis drifting and improve fuel mileage, perhaps at the cost of appearing overly retro—if that’s even possible in this age of Road King Classics and the 48. Bring on the wide whites!

While it’s no motorcycle, the Gimp Glide is every inch a Harley in the universal attention it attracts. On our first two-up foray, a darkroom denizen of the North City Tavern lurched across 15th Ave. to discover whether Harley’s triple threat had reverse. At my admission, he exploded into mirthless laughter.

“Ha! All you Harley guys make fun of my Gold Wing ’cause it’s got reverse!”

I smiled my gimpiest smile. “Maybe we’re just tired of being called ‘bar hoppers’ by Honda riders.”

I let out the clutch, but he stumbled backward before I could gout-test his toes with the rear wheel. Can’t be too harmless, lest they take my rumbling Rascal for granted…

Mumbling casually along on the fly Tri evoked memories of college days on the Palouse. Shifting at 2200 rpm, two hands firmly shepherding the front end, stomping a pedal to slow and “apexing” wherever traffic engineers painted the line: These weren’t memories of my ’86 Yamaha or even my ’52 Beeza.

They were memories of a grain truck.

Or of an army deuce, famous for the emergency brake you couldn’t release (or even see) without opening the driver door. Similarly obscured, the Tri-Brake hides under the right passenger footboard, fouling it upon release. These are trivial things. Real men don’t fuss about buttery shifting. We make our gearboxes do the whining for us. We smoke parking brakes like mesquite chips.

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