Gender-Bending Three-Wheelers | CRANKED

The Undecided Ride

The 2011 Campagna V13R joins the 1769 Cugnot Steam Trolley in a long line of gender-bending three-wheelers that confound motor vehicle departments the world over.

DMVs aren’t the only ones confused. Bikes like the Can-Am Spyder, Piaggio MP3, Scorpion Prodigy and the venerable J. A. Prestwich-powered Morgan defy classification within the motorcycle community as well. I think everyone can agree that a traditional sidecar rig is a motorcycle and a Toyota Yaris is an automobile. Somewhere between those stark blacks and whites lies a muddled gray area where a motorcycle stops being a motorcycle and becomes a car. But where?

The V13R’s powerplant and drive train put it firmly in the motorcycle camp: a Harley-Davidson V-Rod-derived 1250cc, liquid-cooled, eight-valve, 60-degree V-twin spewing out an un-Harley-like 122 horsepower and 85 lb.-ft. of torque. The transmission is sequential, motorcycle-style, but uses an I-pattern hand-shift. A toothed belt delivers the fuel-injected power to the rear wheel. So it’s a motorcycle, right?

Not so fast, Honus: That bulging Adam's apple, side-by-side recumbent seating and steering wheel say this transvestbike is more Motor Trend than Motorcyclist. The V13R's front half looks car-ish, but this thing's no Yaris. The bizarro-world begins with pulling a pin to slide the entire pedal assembly fore and aft instead of adjusting the seat back. The lack of doors means you have to remove the quick-release steering wheel to squeeze into the driver's compartment. This is not your father's Servi-Car.

Then there’s reverse: Campagna has developed a planetary gear that attaches to the ’Rod’s output shaft. Flipping a small lever ahead of the stick shift results in a switch-hitter with five speeds forward and reverse. Can’t decide? A quick blast up to the V13R’s claimed 135-mph top speed forklift-style should help you pick a team.

All that weirdness is just to get out of the parking lot. On the highway, with my butt skimming 6 inches above the pavement, no air bags, no bumpers, no windshield and no power brakes, the V13R puts my somnolent, Dancing With The Stars-dulled senses on red alert. Going to the Piggly Wiggly for a quart of milk has never been so exciting.

Sitting behind the tiny windshield, the V13R driver is more exposed to the elements than a Gold Wing rider. The engine growls a few inches behind my head and the suspension gives a little half-step to the right each time I shift. The tiniest input receives an instant response; no street car was ever this tight. There’s a whiff of law-breaking surrounding the V13R, like a motorcycle.

Stopping requires an insistent foot on the pedal. Push with conviction and four-piston Wilwood calipers clamp down on drilled rotors, putting the kibosh on any uncalled for rotation of the 205/45ZR-17 front tires. The rear brake uses a ventilated-disc with a single-piston caliper to slow the 295/35ZR-18 tire. With so much rubber in contact with the road, the V13R stops hard enough to make your face flutter.

Motorcycle saddlebags hang off the stern like pollen to a hive-bound bee. The hood opens to reveal a removable plastic tray large enough to hold a hundred or so condoms—all the luggage you’ll need in this chick magnet. There is no spare tire, no spare anything on Campagna’s road-scalpel. Call AAA or get a room.

Beautifully made, with base prices starting at $48K rising sharply to $60K, the V13R’s fiberglass bodywork, paint and mechanicals ooze hand-crafted pride. The Canadians building this sleek, little cart care about their work and it shows. I know, I know, 60 thousand dollars is a lot of money for a motorcycle; hell, it’s a lot of money for a car! If the V13R can make your atrophied heart pump blood again, does it even matter?

Motorcycle or car? I’d have to say yes. I do know the V13R is fast, quirky and impractical, so it’s definitely female. Nothing in life is ever black or white. I blame Cugnot for blurring the line between motorcycle and car until the only clarity remaining is the ride/drive/whatever.

What is a motorcycle? Must it have two wheels, or do three count, too? One thing bikes don't have is a steering wheel, like Campagna's V13R.