Testing the New Champion Trike

By Koz Mraz

My first set of wheels was a trike and I remember that Christmas morning well. The smell of pine, piles of packages and there she was, my metal flake blue road to freedom. I took her down a flight of stairs within an hour. Once I out grew 3 wheels I never looked back, until now. Pacific blue pearl with a 1584 cc twin cam 96 V-Twin, 80 watt Harmon Kardon stereo, front and rear disc brakes and reverse gear, I am calling this baby Big Blue. Perhaps the old riddle makes more sense now – what walks on all fours, on two and then three? Answer: Man, from babe to a walking stick. Not that I am implying Trikes are just for older folks but actual sales demographics do back that up. The aging baby boomers and the Trike market have grown concurrently and almost every motorcycle manufacturer has some alliance with an OEM.

In fact while the market slumps Trike sales are up. The “Trikers” I talk with usually have ridden motorcycles all their life and still love to ride.

They just don’t want to struggle with 850 lbs of Electra Glide plus another 4-500 pounds of humans and cargo. Can’t say that I blame ‘em.

Westminster H-D,  Champion Harley-Davidson Trikes

My indoctrination as a Triker was on a Champion/Harley sold by Westminster Harley-Davidson. Westminster H-D is the authorized Harley/Champion Trike dealer for Orange County. This was a stock Ultra Classic Electra Glide front end with the Champion Trike conversion. Westminster installs the conversion at their expanded service department.

Customers can purchase a new bike at Westminster or even bring in their existing Harley and Westminster does the conversion. You can even rent a Trike to see if Triking is for you. Westminster H-D is authorized to install a Champion Trike conversion on ANY cruiser of your choice, metric or otherwise.

Champion has been making trikes since 2002 and in the motorcycle accessory business for over 15 years. Craig Arrjo started in 1985 making motorcycle side cars then moved into trailers then trikes. Their trikes now outsell sidecars 20 to 1. Located conveniently close to Westminster H-D I took a spin through their manufacturing facility. With an expansive 43,000 sq feet of space their attention to quality and detail is obvious. Jim Pinto came on in 2006 as VP/ General Manager. With his international expertise and implementation of lean manufacturing Champion operates on a Build to Order model, in other words they build for the demand. Jim has implemented a just-in-time inventory control system.

I got a good dose of tech talk from Bill Fugard the head of dealer services and support. Their Trike design utilizes a rigid “Zero-Flex” suspension system which is a very stable platform. They have also developed an EZ Steer system which increases the stock rake (angle of the forks) by 5 degrees which significantly reduces the “trail.” Trail is what contributes to handling characteristics of our motorcycle. The less trail we have the better our bike handles. Of course a popular option is reverse gear available for 6-speed and 5-speed EVO engines. In fact even FLH two wheelers can have reverse installed, now that ís cool. Rear automotive style disk brakes come standard and all their Trikes are fully CARB approved. Champion is the only full line CARB approved manufacturer in California. They kick out over 36 Trikes a week and demand is even higher, thatís impressive. Champion’s Engineering Group has developed a new, independent suspension system which will debut in the fall of 2008. This new system is designed with safety, comfort and performance in a compact, aluminum package. Enough tech talk, lets ride.

You’ll Own the Road

Since I’ve got Big Blue for an entire week me thinks I’ll take a vacation. The cargo space is amazing, there are hidden channels that fit my tripod and accessories plus space for a big duffle, extra helmet and small backpack. I haven’t even touched the Harley Tour-Pak, creature comforts abound. The first thing I learned about riding a Trike is forget everything you know about riding a Bike. I kept chanting the mantra “Feet on top when you stop.” It’s completely unnatural not to put a leg down at a stop but that’s a Triking No No. You will surely bang up your ankles on the frame. You get used to it really quick and in fact it’s cool not having to balance at stops. From the driver’s seat it still looks like a motorcycle and it’s easy to forget the massive ass end on this baby so the rule of thumb is your outstretched arms define your necessary space. There will be NO lanesplitting on a Trike. This also means staying in the middle of the road at all times. We motorcyclists tend to ride on the left or right in the road avoiding the oil slick in the centerline.

Heading down PCH for my first test run I soon realized cornering and turning are another consideration unique to Triking. There is obviously no leaning into turns, you just turn the handlebars and you turn the bike. There are some centrifugal forces at work here and getting used to that also takes a little practice.

I hit an empty parking lot and was doing tight figure eights right away, the turning radius of a Trike is downright amazing. Soon doing wheelies, doughnuts and burn outs were a piece of cake (just kidding). With the stereo blasting, cruising PCH I owned the road. I was getting the biker wave from other Harley riders and people just thought it was cool.

Leaving the beach and Westminster Harley behind I hit the highway to Palm Desert. Big Blue purred ferociously, exactly how a Harley should sound. I really like the molded look of the floorboards and the cool lights on the front, the Trike looks seamless. Cagers and sport bikers alike are giving me the thumbs up. It was the easiest 120 miles of my life. I’m rockin’ the beats in cruise control and Big Blue eats the highway for breakfast lunch and dinner. I am rolling over road work and pot holes with wild abandon.

Overall acceleration, handling response and braking are impressive. Stopping in Cabazon for a cup of Joe now I see why the T-Rex owned the Jurassic highway for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With all that power in its two big strong rear legs, Big Blue’s T-Rike rears also leave a serious footprint.

The Harley 96 V-Twin was chewing up asphalt and I just couldn’t stop riding and rolled right into Salton Sea. The result of an irrigation plan diverting water from the Colorado River gone terribly wrong, this man-made lake is 35 miles long and 15 miles wide. It’s the largest body of water in California and is now saltier than the Pacific Ocean. The problem is that the fish are dying and if it gets any more alkaline all the fish are expected to die. Algae blooms have also taken over Salton Sea and it stinks. Once a water sport paradise replete with a marinas, motels and restaurants it is now completely abandoned.

Ok, open freeway is obvious triking terrain but what about some serious twisties. The 10 freeway connects to Highway 38 to Big Bear Lake and I’m gone. This is where it gets interesting. Remember the “forget everything you know about motorcycling” bit. The Zen of motorcycle riding is the rider and bike become one and we counter centrifugal forces by leaning, but that’s just not so on a Trike. You will want to lean into a corner instinctually but it’s about just steering. Again it feels weird at first but like everything else a Trike its great fun. With the physics down I was digging into corners with real confidence and knew the Trikes capabilities and response.

I pushed the limit in some safe zones and found that when things do start to slide it’s the front wheel that hops and just backing off the throttle instantly stabilizes tracking. At some point the sheer weight of the rear starts pushing the front wheel forward in turns but that’s in extreme riding situations. The fear of tipping this bike seems absurd and almost impossible. I tried it. Once in Big Bear Lake I stayed at the Best Western Chateau, a big a relief from the desert heat. The Best Western Motel chain has a biker friendly policy that offers riders designated parking, a bike wash area and wipe down towels. A way better deal than the Salton Sea Motel offered. Reverse gear rocks, I could park any where in this hilly terrain without concern. Remember to leave the bike in first gear because there’s no parking brake.

Riding down the mountain was even more fun. The bikes weight and engine compression allowed a fun confident run without much braking. It is amazing how much burning asbestos you can smell from the cagers. Hitting the flatland at night I motored the last 110 miles home on the freeway. Motorcycling at night can be intimidating because you can only see 30 feet in front of you. At 70 miles an hour that goes by real fast. On a Trike even if you hit a 2×4 on the freeway you’re not going down, I liked that sense of confidence. Not to mention you’re lit up like a Christmas tree and people seem to actually get out of your way.

Any Reason to Ride

I can’t get off Big Blue. I would replace my car with a Trike; lugging out the FLH and duck walking it for a run to the grocery store is out of the question. But firing up the Trike is as easy as the Camry. Even watching groups of riders waddling and weaving down crowded PCH looked strange to me now. I am respected by other vehicles as another automobile, visible, they always seem to know I am there. Even if actually bumped by a car on the freeway I probably won’t go down. Again, that’s comforting. Big Blue has a hitch and Champion makes a gorgeous matching trailer that holds 24 cubic feet of storage.

This really scares me because Alaska doesn’t seem that far away now. Twice in 7 days and 1000 miles, two motorcycle cops blew past me to pull over the bikes I was following. It’s as if a Triker can’t possibly be breaking any laws. I know this is starting to sound like a sales pitch, it can’t be all that and a bag of chips, right?

First of all, the normal front/rear tire motorcycle ride response becomes a more of a side to side experience. Three wheeled triangulation has many stability advantages and it obviously becomes more car like. That can be good, and not so good.

More importantly the centrifugal forces at work affect the passenger. I rode as a passenger and she drove the Trike hard. The standard Harley FLH backrest does not sufficiently cradle or secure the passenger. In extreme cornering you’ll want comfortable secure seating with armrests, handgrips or you hang onto me, baby.

Finally, the Harley 96 is gutsy and pulls great when needed. But at full throttle, wide open, I couldn’t get past 85 miles an hour. Not that you really need to go any faster and that’s probably why I avoided two tickets. Westminster suggests the Stage 1 Screamin’ Eagle upgrade to customers and I agree.

Mr. Macho’s Safer Self

Now the real truth will be told. I have NEVER had a female stranger/new acquaintance ask to ride with me in all my years, all my bikes. I do not drive dangerously, that flight of steps on my first set of wheels set me straight. And every time I review a new bike my girlfriend seems to be getting her hair done, or the cat’s going to the vet or her laundry’s piling up. That all changed when I rode a Trike. All the macho bravado of my unbearably loud, incredibly uncomfortable chopper vaporized in a senior moment. I suddenly became approachable, this kinder gentler version of former Mr. Macho exuded a comfortable safer self. Girls wanted rides. Not just my girlfriend, but other guy’s girlfriends. Then the inexplicable, unexplainable happened, the attractive young female stranger was willing to ride with me after a short conversation at a coffee shop. This happened everywhere I went, mountains, sea or sand, I don’t get it? This is why I started riding 30 years ago! Truthfully, I totally get it. Sitting on the back end of a lowered, stretched out chopper is not that much fun, I’ve had to do it myself a few times. It’s not the best seat in the house and you’ve just handed your life to someone else. That seems to disappear on a Trike. It’s the ultimate convertible, no seatbelt; flying free in the wind with the added security and stability of three wheels it becomes much more appealing to female passengers. Full circle back to my first set of wheels makes perfect sense. We start on four, move to two, maybe three is a charm… Ride safe.

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