Champion Trikes

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Champion Trikes

Trike conversions allow folks who would like to ride motorcycles - but want or need the stability of three wheels on the ground - to still enjoy the sensory experience and freedom of the road that motorcyclists love. As a result they are becoming more popular with aging baby boomers, plus some states don't require a motorcycle-license endorsement for trikes.

We gleefully accepted an invitation to try out a Champion Trike conversion on a Honda GL1800 Gold Wing®, which with its powerful, silken-smooth engine and transmission with reverse is ideal for three-wheeled conversions. The Gold Wing's SOHC, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine design offers perfect primary balance, and it delivers loads of power throughout its operating range. A smooth clutch and 5-speed gearbox carry the power aft, and fuel injection gives instant starts along with excellent drivability.

At interstate speeds the flat six just hums along, with lots of power in reserve. There's plenty of acceleration for passing and climbing hills; the trike's extra weight doesn't seem to phase it. Increased wind and rolling resistance from the rear fenders and wheels, however, along with the added avoirdupois, do have a negative effect on fuel economy. We averaged about 32.3 miles per gallon, sub-par for a Wing, but with the 6.6-gallon tank that's still about 213 miles range to empty.
Honda uses a sturdy twin-spar aluminum frame, and the stock chassis configuration is retained all the way rearward to the passenger's backrest and trunk. A beefy 45mm conventional cartridge fork with 5.5 inches of travel steers a 130/70R-18 front tire, and dual discs with three-piston calipers provide stopping power.

The stock rear subframe and swingarm are replaced by a new subframe that holds the rear axle and suspension and carries a pair of 205/70R15 tires on aluminum wheels. Swapping the stock rear brake caliper for a pair of VW automotive units changes the brake feel, and requires somewhat more effort than stock. Honda's linked brakes are also separated during the conversion, and the ABS (if equipped) doesn't work with dual rear calipers.

Our test trike had Champion's optional independent rear suspension, which is engineered for a better ride and handling than a solid rear axle. The optional system is beautifully executed, with premium coil-over shocks, forged aluminum upper and lower control arms, and high-pressure cast components. We compared it back-to-back with another Champion GL1800 trike fitted with a solid axle, and the independent layout has a noticeably better ride over rough, uneven surfaces.

Our test unit also came with Champion's Variable Sway Control (VSC), which adjusts the rear suspension's firmness with the touch of a switch. For solo riding on rough pavement we used the softest setting, but we turned it up to the max in the twisties to reduce leaning in corners. The VSC makes a palpable improvement in both situations.

Trikes require a little getting used to, as it's necessary to think about clearance for the rear wheels and fenders as you pass and maneuver. Turning technique is also different. They don't lean in corners so you don't counter steer, and extra steering effort is needed compared with riding a similar motorcycle. Our test trike had the Easy Steer option, which is one of Champion's most popular extras. It consists of a new triple-clamp assembly, which adds 4.5 degrees to the stock rake and extends the wheelbase slightly but seems to reduce turning effort.

During the trike conversion the stock saddlebags give way to wheel wells, but a lower rear trunk is added, and this results in more usable storage. Champion says there's 6.75 cubic feet of trunk capacity, and it offers two large toiletry kits that fit above the wheel wells on each side. If you pack well you should be able to carry enough gear for two people on an extended trip without needing a trailer.

If long rides are your thing you'll love the Gold Wing conversion. Honda's rider and passenger ergonomics are retained, including cruise control and all the other gadgets. The big, adjustable windscreen and large fairing block the wind effectively without buffeting. That allows the sophisticated stereo sound system to be heard well, even through a full-face helmet if you don't use headsets. Passenger accommodations are almost throne-like, with a roomy seat and cushy backrest to keep your pillion happy. All this makes it easy to ride all day in comfort.

We were favorably impressed with the Champion conversion and how well it integrated with the stock motorcycle. Fit and finish are excellent, the paint looks like factory original, and every component added appears to be of OEM quality. One of the nicest things you can say about an aftermarket conversion on a Gold Wing is that it looks like it came from the factory, and this one does indeed.

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For the complete article of the riding impression(s) and technical specifications, please purchase the July/August 2011 back issue.