Triking One For The Team | Going Gently

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Dick’s Burgers is the PNW’s grunge analogue to the chipper neon of In-N-Out. When Smalldaughter took over the cockpit (the better to get dad to hold a chocolate shake at her elbow), I surmised Harley’s canny strategy for spousal buy-in. The pillion is not only comfier, it also has rear volume and channel controls for the 80-watt Harmon-Kardon four-speaker stereo—the better to keep her chauffeur in line.

Shipyard Larry pulled into Dick’s on a Wing-based trike. He goes about 6-foot-3, with two canes and a patch that reads “IF YOU DON’T LIMP, YOU AIN’T SH*T.” He can’t really ride his chopped Trumpet anymore. We discussed the tough-guy biker topics of kids and dogs. He said his grandkids love trike rides.

At a nearby hilltop park, where I stopped so Smalldaughter could have a swing, I laid down in the grass, trying not to think about my leg, and watched the clouds leave without me. A 50ish voice intruded politely.

“This is just beautiful,” he breathed, gesturing toward the Tri Glide. “What’s it like to ride?”

“It’s …” I thought for a moment about being stuck on this non-bike, about blowing half a summer on crutches, then surprised myself with the truth. “It’s … kinda neat, really.”

Beaming, he flashed vintage orthodontia through last week’s Mazatlan tan. “I knew it! Sure is beautiful…”

Well, it is nice paint. Scratch-resistant Vivid Black—the Viagraest color of all.

The next day, with Pretty Wife riding her small GS, we embarked on a family expedition. A two-ferry peninsular swing brought us to the solstice-timed WetleatherTM Goat Roast on Vashon, where pulling up on more than two wheels risks impromptu corporal punishment. First, the spankings…

With WetleatherTM approximately the only cohort aging more swiftly than Harley’s fishtailed Boomer demographic, we indulge in fewer capering goat dances, practically no streetbike races in the dirt and much more standing around, sipping acacia juice and grumbling like winter bears. It ain’t nowhere near the end of the line, but we can see it from here. For all the good-natured rebukes, I found myself quietly talkin’ trikes to a surprising number of old, bold riders. Stealth sidebars included steering (heavy, and non-counter), mileage (car-like) and the clumsy joys of “heel-and-heel” shifting with a cam walker fracture boot.

The essence of Tri Glide is a prosthesis for riding, like wearing glasses or a knee brace. Jeer all you want, X-Boy, but it’s been a long time since humans jogged to a job where we hunted with spears. We are physically imperfect creatures. We do what we can.

Trikes also excel at summer tramping. Smalldaughter and I stuffed food, clothes and gifts into the trunk; staged camera, water and snacks in the top box; strapped bedrolls, tent and crutches up top; then bailed south toward Portland. Our destination that day was a friend’s wake. Engineered to sound mellow, the Tri held its own at Ken’s memorial rev-off. Even amid a fury of shrieking triples, zinging sixes and ringing two-smokes, all bass notes rise to Heaven.

It was a timely reminder to get over myself. Is the point to be revivified once more by the kiss of the wind, or to look cool while we pass the guy in front of us? Either way, the difference between bungeeing crutches onto a motorized milk stool and never riding anything again isn’t 100 percent.

It’s infinite.

We stole through Portland’s exurbs with the glint of rural freedom in our eye. Holding her arms out like wings, Smalldaughter yelled for more speed, cheering every time we hit a rise in the road. Although the 103 Twin Cam was more than willing to run up our speed, everything—wind protection, mileage, handling, stereo tunes and my attitude—worked better at 60 than 70. Tri Clydesdales do one thing no mere motorcycle can: pull lateral Gs. Squealing with laughter, Smalldaughter braced her arches against the footboard backs as we

slalomed. She didn’t care that we weren’t on a “real” motorcycle.

How much better was that than not riding? All the way better.

Smalldaughter’s enthusiasm matched the endless summer day. Running the lines I used to scout in a beat-down diesel lift truck, we hove east toward Mt. Rainier National Park, where even Ansel Adams couldn’t do the landscape justice. Turning off at Morton, we burbled northward until blocked by a narrow-gauge tourist train at the entrance to Elbe. Behind us, a chubby sportbiker twitched impatiently. Places to go, man! On the way out of town, he wailed past on a double-yellow straight, nearly clocking a farm truck’s grille.

Highway 7 to Eatonville is generously endowed with all-natural curves. Pushing a Tri Glide until its tubular handlebar shakes leaves a rider three options: 1) Slow down (yes, really, and right-damn-now); 2) plow the front wheel into the outside bar pit (sub-optimal); or 3) lean down hard over the inside handlebar and goose the snot out of it at 3000 rpm. If the highway gods and its open differential smile upon you with favor, this will break loose the rear in a brief spasm of golf cart athleticism.

If not, see #2. If Pretty Wife is watching, better stick with #1.

We caught Mister Sporty Pants at the third set of twisties and gave him a shot of our incendiary road floods, which are Harley’s functional equivalent of log truck air horns. His form immediately deteriorated. Somewhere out there is a young man, wearing blue-and-white racing leathers, on whom late-model Suzuki sportbikes are entirely wasted. Although he urgently needed a countersteering demonstration, we couldn’t show him that day. Trikes don’t work like that.

Do as I say, not as I gimp.

Sometimes, on a rural road under the sun, you can feel your personal rings seat as you settle into the rhythm and flow. If you require a state-of-the-art “masterbike” or a sense of personal superiority to bring that through, maybe you’re doin’ it wrong. Backing off the young man on the sportbike, I silently wished him a long, happy road.

Looking straight into the western sun, I nearly missed My Precious sitting pretty behind a bob-wire fence on the outskirts of McKenna. There aren’t many ’39 Ford pickup trucks spatted up in root beer float colors. I’d never even seen an unjunked one outside an old trade poster. I thought about her constant maintenance; pondered “Armstrong steering” and foolish parking brakes, ill handling and puny horsepower; considered the stacks of money I didn’t have. No honkin’ Hailwood Replica but oh my, was she a pretty thing. She could keep me enjoying the road for a long, long time.

Of course, I have no great history with trucks, either.

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