How to Ride a Trike

Text: Wayne Peterson • Photography: John Kimpel

Trikes are only for old people and children, and definitely for the unbalanced who can't keep a two-wheeler upright. Right? Wrong!

Faulty or preconceived notions often hold us back from trying new adventures. We form opinions based on what we've heard, or seen, but seldom from personal experience. For me, I had put trikes into that box of preconceived notions and never tried to think outside of it -- that is, until I rode a Lehman Conversion and ripped that box wide open.

An impending trip on a Harley Tri-Glide was to be preceded by a Riders Training Course at Lehman Trikes in Spearfish, South Dakota. Lehman is the leader in the development and conversion of two-wheel motorcycles into three-wheel trikes. All Lehman instructors are trained through The Evergreen Safety Council (www.esc.org), who also train the instructors at participating Lehman Conversion dealers.

Trikes 101

I am struck by the words of our instructor Kevin. "It's easier for us to teach people who have never ridden motorcycles, to ride a trike, than to teach people who have ridden 30 or 40 years." This goes against everything we ever learned. Experience, we've been told, is always the best teacher. But not with riding a trike; here the experienced must be untrained from two-wheel thinking, to three-wheel riding.

Step one in this back-to-school program is a 10-minute instructional video, an excellent though brief overview of everything we can expect to encounter on a trike. Additionally, there's a detailed 50-page safety manual, highlighting the science of trikes, along with some common sense two- and three-wheel safety approaches. Then, after a bit of Q & A with the instructors, we are ready to hit the road - or at least, the parking lot.

First Rule

Never, ever, put your feet down. There are three wheels, so you won't tip over. But most certainly you can "mouse trap" your feet under the body or rear wheels - not an enjoyable experience.

Second Rule

All units have a hand brake, just like the one in your car, and you must release it before moving out. Without a kickstand, there's nothing but the hand brake to keep the trike from rolling into Grandma's Corvette.

Third Rule

The wheelbase of a trike is the same as that of the two-wheeler, but because of its bodywork, it's slightly longer and a whole lot wider. To determine just how wide, once seated, stretch out your arms -- that's the width you must allow for when cornering.

Fourth Rule

A trike involves "direct steering." Point into the direction of travel, lock your outside elbow into the turn, and then roll on the throttle through the turn - this differs from a two-wheeler where you counter steer and lean through a corner. Using the Point, Lock, and Roll system, we went into, and out of, every type of corner quicker than when riding any comparable two-wheeler. And what's more, we did so with increased confidence from not having to brake or steer around light road debris, such as sand and gravel.

Fifth Rule

Look into and ahead of your direction of travel. Good advice, whether on two, three, or four wheels.

Sixth Rule

Use both front and rear brakes. On a two-wheeler, your rear brakes are 30 percent of your stopping power. On a trike, though, two rear wheels mean twice the stopping power, so you don't want to override your front wheel. Even in panic stops, the trike stops quickly and keeps straight.

Unlearning Old Habits
With Hands On Experience

Our initial road experience starts in an empty parking lot, where our instructor Kevin walks us through everything from getting into the saddle, to slow turns. It's here where the two-wheeler habits are likely to emerge and conflict: while it's clear visually that you have three well-planted wheels beneath you, the mind conveys "motorcycle." Begin slowly and lean. On a trike, you can lean until you're kissing the asphalt, as nothing is going to happen.
Another potential conflict can emerge from experiences with, and observations of, sidecars, as these too are three-wheelers. With a sidecar, the outside rear wheel will lift and put you over the high side. But on a trike, this won't happen. The big difference is that with a sidecar, there are two wheels on one side, with the third on the other, shaped like an L. With the trike, there are two wheels in back, with one centered in front, shaped like a V. Geometry alone suggests the trike is well-balanced, sturdier, and least likely to tip.

What's important to remember, regardless of the vehicle, is to keep your front wheel straight and pointed in the line of direction. Common sense on any machine. The trike maneuvers we practiced were figure-eights, panic stops, quick turns, and even cranking the handlebars in both a hard right and a hard left, while in motion. On a two-wheeler, this maneuver could only be accomplished by opening the throttle and doing donuts, or by going slower and falling over; but on a trike, no problem! The instructors cautioned us against one slow speed scenario, which is when "head wobble," or a shimmy in the handlebar occurs. But once you pick up speed to about 10 - 15 mph, it disappears, and after a few hours of riding, you won't even notice it.

In the Real World

After marking our place in the parking lot a few times, we head out on the long and winding road with our other instructor, Clay. The first goal is to conquer our fears. Fear of tipping over on corners. Fear of losing control while going too fast into corners. Fear of misjudging the brake system and smacking some poor four-wheeler. And mostly, fear of looking stupid. But we quickly learn that we need not have feared anything.

Within 30 minutes, I achieve a level of comfort and confidence like I've never felt on any other machine. Out in the real world, we have a chance to put all of our learning into practice. The corners flatten out like pancakes, the stopping is on-a-dime, high speed driving is stable and predictable, and encountering gravel is a breeze. Between Kevin's parking-lot training and Clay's road riding, we become very competent trikers.

You Too Can Ride a Trike

After watching the video, reading through the safety manual, and most importantly, getting true hands-on experience riding, I now understand why it's harder to instruct an experienced rider than a complete novice. As experienced riders, we bring a number of habits and expectations from riding two-wheelers, all of which must be unlearned. Additionally, there are preconceived notions that tend to be inaccurate and fostered by ignorance. But the bottom line is this: whether you're 75-years-old, or whether you were born in 1975, a trike is for anybody who wants performance, comfort, and a perpetual grin. Test drive a trike and you won't regret it.
(www.lehmantrikes.com)