A look behind the curtain
Since the dawn of two-wheel transport, trikes have been viewed as an oddity, a second-class cousin not worthy to be thought of as a “real” motorcycle. But the days of three-wheel 45 c.i. Harley Servi-Cars and hacked-up Volkswagen experiments are a far cry from today’s trike experience. With an aging riding demographic, the trike has taken on a new face, one being fully embraced by the biker community—no more whispers, no catcalls, no embarrassment. And while there are trikes available that are sold as a complete package, one popular alternative is a conversion; take a bike that you already own and give it a facelift by adding an additional wheel. Thunder Press decided to delve into the conversion process, focusing on Champion Trikes & Sidecars. Here is what we discovered about this expanding market that is keeping people in the wind.
Fifty miles north of Houston is Cut-N-Shoot Customs, a Champion Trike dealer in Conroe, Texas. A small two-man shop, Cut-N-Shoot is owned and wrangled by Randall Johnston, a certified trike conversion specialist. Johnston has been in this location for three years and has more than 12 years of experience in the motorcycle industry. An avid trike fan, Johnston also manages the world’s largest online trike forum (triketalk.com) and hosts eight regional trike gatherings in the U.S. each year. While Cut-N-Shoot carries several brands of trike conversion kits, Champion remains a favored selection due mainly to the company’s reputation. According to Johnston, “Champion is the oldest and largest trike conversion company in the world. They offer only the best in quality and the finished product holds its value extremely well.”
The most common question asked by those new to the three-wheeled experience is apparent—How difficult is the transition? According to Randall, while it is a different riding experience, the learning curve does not take long to master. And once riders get over the initial jitters, confidence in such a stable platform builds and then the comfort factor kicks in—after that they are a triker for life. When Thunder Press asked about the sudden popularity of trikes when they had been looked down upon for so many years, Randall responded, “Older riders still want to ride but tend to be more social these days, packing a passenger, meeting with friends. And the comfort level combined with the storage capabilities fit right in with the needs of older riders.”
Champion Trikes & Sidecars has been headquartered in Garden Grove, California, since 2009 (before that they were located in Huntington Beach) in a 40,000-square-foot facility employing approximately 50 people. According to National Sales Manager Bill Swift since the company ships worldwide, the need for access to port facilities, rail and trucking is vital. Swift went on to explain that the trike market is very robust overseas with three-wheelers being extremely popular in Asia.
Champion acquired Lehman Trikes USA (based in Spearfish, South Dakota) in 2012 after Lehman fulfilled a three-year supplier contract with Harley-Davidson to manufacturer the Tri-Glide Trike. (After restructuring its York, Pennsylvania operations, Harley went on to manufacture their line of trikes in house.) While they continued to produce trikes under the Lehman name, Champion recently made the decision to relocate the Lehman manufacturing facility to Garden Grove. The move, according to Swift, was an effort to keep everything under one roof, maintaining a decent price point and being able to offer the product at a reasonable cost. When questioned about the current depressed state of the motorcycle industry and all the hand wringing from the negative voices, Thunder Press was told that Champion has confidence in the market and will continue to develop conversion kits for new models.
When Thunder Press showed up at Cut-N-Shoot Custom, on the lift being converted was a 2015 CVO Ultra Electra Glide with an OEM paint scheme of gold and black. (According to the shop owner, the most popular bike used for Champion Trike conversions at his facility are the Harley Ultra, the H-D Electra Glide and the Honda Gold Wing.) The stock swingarm, wheel assembly, fender, shocks, saddlebags and Tour-Pak had been removed. The Champion bolt-in conversion kit with the independent suspension package, coil-over, high pressure gas shocks, variable sway control (to keep the trike flat while cornering without wallowing) and 11 ½” disc brakes were in the process of being installed. The swingarm that replaces the stock two-wheel unit is Champion’s “Zero-Flex” product while the independent suspension is a proprietary double A-Arm design that utilizes forged upper and lower control arms (massive) and high-pressure cast components that provide strength while reducing weight (all good). According to Bill Swift, the most significant engineering development for trikes in recent years has been the independent suspension, improving both comfort and handling. The differential is a Dana 30, an automotive gear set (used originally on four-wheel-drive Jeeps) that runs off a pulley using the stock Harley drive belt. This transaxle unit is road proven and pretty much bulletproof—a standard in the trike industry and an impressive construction assembly.
The new rear box, a Renegade model with integrated fenders, was sitting on the shop floor and seemed to be an exact color match for the bike on the lift. Nearby was the stock Harley-Davidson Tour-Pak complete with passenger backrest, armrests and rear speakers that would later be bolted back into place atop the Champion Renegade box along with the customer’s original seat. The box is fabricated from reinforced fiberglass, features over-the-wheel storage capable of packing 500 pounds, and uses H-D OEM tail and signal lights to preserve the classic FLH styling. Perfect color matching is accomplished by shipping a side cover to the Champion factory and allowing the pros to work their magic. Upgrades for the body assembly include a carpeted interior, a trunk light option, fender protectors, a trunk mat, a light bar assembly and lower accent panels with a lighting package.
Since no changes are made from the seating positions forward, no modifications or adjustments are required concerning handlebars or floorboard placement. But the installation of a rake kit is generally recommended to make for easier steering and a better handling experience. This CVO had received a nine-degree rake kit install.
When asked about performance, Randall stated that you normally see about a 2–3 mpg drop due to the weight but that the conversion does not affect performance at all. When asked if there was any routine maintenance required Johnston replied, “Nope. Once it’s assembled, it’s done.”
Another popular option is the installation of a reverse gear kit for obvious reasons. Tire size is 205/70R-15 and making for an easy install, the electrical connections between the OEM wiring and the Champion body are simple plug-and-play. Overall width of the finished trike with the Renegade box is 54.5”. The overall length increases to 97.25”.
There are six trike kits available for various Harley-Davidson models (including a stripped-down open body without the large storage box), two for Indian and several for the metric brands. Although the trike kits are available directly from the factory for shipment to an individual, Champion’s three-year unlimited-mileage warranty on parts and labor only applies when the kit is installed by a Champion-approved dealer. And while Champion also produces sidecars for the motorcycle industry, Johnston told Thunder Press that the ratio of trike conversions to sidecar installations is 9–1. The company even manufactures a pull-behind trailer for motorcycle use.
As witnessed during the photo shoot of the completed trike, the fit and finish of the Champion conversion is superb. The color match was spot on and the end result flowed seamlessly without interruptions in the lines—a most handsome machine. So with the stigma of rolling an extra wheel a thing of the past and the ability to convert an existing bike into an impressive (and comfortable) piece of machinery, there is no doubt that you will see more trikes on the road than ever before. So scoot over a little and make some room—seems they are here to stay.