The History of Trikes

We talk with industry leaders to uncover the past.

Trikes have been around, in some variation, since at least the 1970s. However, not everyone knows the history of the trike or how the vehicles evolved into the modern trikes and conversion kits of today. To find out, Wing World decided to talk to motorcycle industry leaders about their work with trikes and what they know about the trike’s history. The next time you hop on a Gold Wing trike, remember these stories.


Speaking with Jaime Kreager

Marketing Coordinator
Lehman Trikes & Champion Trikes

WW: How do Lehman and Champion both fit into the history of the trike? When did Champion start selling trikes?

JK: Well, Lehman started in 1985. John Lehman created a trike for his wife, Linda. She wasn’t comfortable with the kids on the back of the two-wheel motorcycle, so he and some friends went into the garage and converted a Honda CB900 into a trike. That’s basically where the company started, [and] when people took notice of the trike he had created. So Lehman Trikes officially started in 1985 out of John Lehman’s garage.

That was in Westlock, Alberta, in Canada, and by 2004 we moved down to the United States. We’re completely located in Spearfish, S.D., now, with a worldwide dealer network. 

Champion started in 1990. They actually started off with sidecars, and then they got into accessories — the EZ-Steer rig kit, the Reverse Steer, those types of things — and they got into the trike market about 2001.

Right now, are you selling more premade trikes or conversion kits?

The conversion kits are pretty popular. However, there is a market for the complete turnkey trike. We just came out with a Victory trike that we’re marketing as a complete trike.

What would you like people to know about trikes?

With trikes, they do offer that sense of safety. For those folks that want to get out and ride, maybe they’re having knee problems or back problems, something that’s keeping them from riding that two-wheeler, trikes definitely are the way to go if you want to continue to ride. 

And they’re a ton of fun! There’s a bit of a learning curve if you’re used to a two-wheeler, but for folks that haven’t ridden a lot, they take to them right away. 

We’ve got customers who have put well over 200,000 miles on their trikes and they’re still going strong. They absolutely love their trikes. We’ve also got a lot of women who want to ride, who don’t want to be on the back, but they can’t hold up a bike. A trike provides a solution for them that a two-wheel wouldn’t. 

With trikes, a lot of people can get out and enjoy — well, we call it “threedom” — and be part of a riding group. They can get out and get riding without worrying about the things you have to worry about on two wheels. 


Speaking with Herb Anderson

Rider, Director of Business Development
Hannigan Motorsports

WW: When you say you’re a rider, you mean you ride motorcycles and trikes.

HA: I ride motorcycles, both two- and three-wheelers, yes.

Tell me about your work with Hannigan and Lehman. You were with Lehman first?

That’s how I found my way into the trike industry. It would have been over 20 years ago now, I guess. I started working for Lehman and functioned as a rep setting up the dealer network in the Western states. I quickly became the sales manager for the company, so I was responsible for all of Lehman’s sales at that time.

When did you start working with trikes?

I started working with trikes when I went to Lehman, because Lehman was the first of the modern trike companies.

When did you start riding trikes?

I didn’t start riding trikes regularly until I started working with Lehman trikes. I had demo-ridden trikes before, but that was the first time I was around trikes on a regular basis.

At that time, were you working with premade trikes or with conversions?

At that time, every trike out there was a conversion. Nobody was making a complete trike at that time. Nobody really made motorcycle trikes until John Lehman started building them in the early 1980s.

Was John Lehman the first person to trike a Gold Wing?

I believe he was the first to trike a Gold Wing. However, the very first motorcycle he triked was a Honda CB900.

That was the gift for Linda, right?

That’s correct, yeah. Linda was wanting to ride, so he built her a trike. They had two kids and that way the family could travel together. He built that first one for her and then somebody wanted to buy it, so they sold it and he built her something else. Then somebody wanted to buy that and then he got the idea that he could make this into a part-time business, and it just kind of went from there. John not only started a company, but also a whole industry.

When you ride, what’s the difference between riding a motorcycle and riding a trike?

You’re saying the difference between riding a motorcycle and riding a trike, but I’d say the difference between riding a two-wheel motorcycle and riding a three-wheel motorcycle. Bikes and trikes are both motorcycles.

The biggest difference between riding a two-wheel motorcycle and a three-wheel motorcycle is the steering. On a two-wheel motorcycle, you counter-steer and use body position to direct the motorcycle where you want it to go. On a trike, you use direct steering and turn the handlebar to point the front wheel where you want it to go.
 
Of course, right along with that is the fact that a two-wheel motorcycle leans when you turn it and a trike stays flat. 

What else would you like people to know about trikes?

Well, I’d say that people should know that trikes provide an alternative way to enjoy the motorcycling experience. They have a lot of advantages compared to two-wheelers. One, of course, is stability. Another advantage is that you’re a little bigger and you have visibility. You’re more visible to other road users. 

You have a higher load carrying capacity, so if you want to go touring, you have more space to carry things and you can carry more without overloading the vehicle. If you get in slippery conditions, if it’s raining, you don’t need to be concerned about sliding out in the same way. Gravel becomes a non-issue. 

The comfort issue, people would regard it as being higher, particularly for the second rider. The person on the back has more freedom to shift weight, move about, turn and look at something, take a picture. It doesn’t affect the handling of the motorcycle in the same way. 

Those are all some of the reasons that people go to trikes. Also, for a lot of people, it’s a unique vehicle. There’s a sort of coolness factor associated with it. For those people who like to do special paint jobs on their motorcycles, it gives them a bigger canvas to work on in terms of being able to put pictures, graphics and other art on their motorcycle. 

The other thing that people should know is that it’s easy to ride together with your two-wheel friends. Trikes and bikes can travel together very nicely and you can continue to be a part of the overall motorcycling community.


Speaking with Doug Lindholm

Managing Director
Roadsmith

WW: Roadsmith has always been a trike shop, yes? It looks like Roadsmith’s been working with trikes since the early 1970s.

DL: Different kinds of trikes back then, but yes, we originally started working with the Volkswagen-powered trikes. That’s what trikes were before we had motorcycle trike conversion kits.

So how were those early trikes different?

In those days we built them usually as complete-build vehicles. A Volkswagen Beetle-type drive line with a fabricated frame and motorcycle front end on it. Now we’re doing the opposite of that. We’re taking a motorcycle and putting an automotive rear end on it.

When did the trike industry begin switching to motorcycle-based conversion kits?

That was the big change in the early 1990s. Lehman Trikes, Motor Trikes, Trike Shop, they were all coming out with motorcycle trike conversions then. It worked out to be a better business model and, frankly, a better trike, too. You were able to take a mass-produced motorcycle, with the drivelines and front ends already done and modify it to make it a three-wheeler. With the original Volkswagen trikes, you had to build it from scratch and you didn’t have the sophistication of the modern-day motorcycle. They were like kit cars, almost.

Do you work with Gold Wings often?

We work with a lot of Gold Wings, as well as Harley-Davidsons, Indians and Victory trikes. 

Roadsmith started the Trike Owners United Ride (T.O.U.R.) in 2013. What prompted you to create an event specifically for trike enthusiasts?

At some of the bike rides, you always see the trikes put in the back of the ride for some reason. I thought it would be a good solidarity-type thing for trike riders to have their own ride. No bikes allowed, just trikes. I think, if nothing else, it brings together all the different trike brands so you can see them all together. It gives people a good feeling to see that there are other trikes out there; that they’re not such a minority. Trikes are much more popular and present than they used to be.

What else would you like people to know about trikes?

Our company’s always prided itself on innovating new ideas into the trike business. We were the first ones to have independent suspension on a trike. When we came out with that, people said it was crazy. There was supposed to be a solid axle and that’s the way we do it. Well, you look now, just about everybody makes an independent suspension now. 

We innovated the auxiliary gas tank for Gold Wings and a lot of companies do that now, but it was a unique idea at the time. For Harley-Davidsons, we designed an electric reverse system. It’s cool to look back and see some of the stuff that was crazy when we started, but ended up sticking and is still around today.

And, of course, we’re always looking for the next thing, too. I don’t know what it is today, but we always have ideas.

Speaking with Austin Monroe


National Sales Manager and Director of Marketing


Motorcycle Tour Conversions Inc.

WW: MTC had the first convertible trike kit, yes?

AM: Yes.

Were people DIY-ing their own convertible trikes before the kit?

I’m sure people were doing it, but it wasn’t a common thing. I don’t think the idea of having the additional outrigger-style wheels instead of a trike was really something that was commonly thought of.
 
After we developed the first kit in 1997 and started selling it in 1998, people would see it and that’s when the homemade boom started. 

How did those first convertible kits sell? Did you know you had a hit product right out the gate or did it take time to build interest?

With any business, it takes time to build interest. Our first boom was local, around the Morris, Ill., area where we were located. There were a few sales and people saw that the kit was a lot less expensive than a trike, and that it rode almost the same as a conventional trike. 

What really boosted sales was going to shows. People would look at bikes with this kit on and say, “What is that?” Then they would walk up to the booth and check it out, want to try it out. The shows were where the kit took off, along with word of mouth.

Do you sell a lot of kits to Gold Wing owners?

Definitely. The Gold Wing 1500 and the Gold Wing 1800 are our No. 2 and No. 3 most-converted motorcycles.

What would you like people to know about convertible trike kits?

What people need to know about convertible trike kits is they may not look the same as the trike, but once you hop on and try it out, you’ll realize the ride is almost the same. The way that Voyager pre-loads the kit gives you the right amount of downward force for making turns easy and making the wheels able to handle bumps separately from the motorcycle.

Really what I want people to know is that they should try both trikes and convertible kits, just so they know their options.


Speaking with Gregg McNabb

Owner


Gene’s Gallery

WW: When did Gene’s Gallery first start working with trike equipment?

GM: We started doing trikes in the early 1990s and we started with Motor Trike, and then over the years we’ve expanded with Hannigan, Champion, California Sidecar and the new R18 trikes.

You work with both trikes and reverse trikes, yes?

Yes.

What prompted you to work with the Honda Gold Wing?

Gene started the store, and I bought a Gold Wing for us to ride and enjoyed it. Then Gene decided to retire, and Tammy [McNabb] and I purchased the store. That was 25 years ago now.

What accessories do people most often buy for their Gold Wing trikes?

The most common accessories are the driver backrest, the passenger armrest, highway pegs, the passenger-adjustable pegs and bigger air wings. After you get the basic comfort items done, then people dress their trikes with chrome and lights and things like that.

How has your work with the Gold Wing trike changed over the years?

One of the biggest changes is the amount of quality that everyone has in their kits now. In the early days, they were pretty rough. It was a learning experience for all the manufacturers. I’d say reliability’s been the biggest improvement.

What else would you like people to know about trikes?

Trikes have extended the riding longevity for many people in the Gold Wing community. If there were no trikes, many people would have had to quit riding years ago, for health reasons or other issues like bad backs or bad knees. The trikes have extended the whole sport and without trikes, we’d all be doing something different.


Speaking with Jeff Vey

Owner


Motor Trike

WW: How does Motor Trike fit into the trike’s history? You all started in the ‘90s, during the second wave of triking, right?

JV: We started in 1994. John Lehman was the godfather of the Gold Wing trike, and from there we started doing them. After us, then California Sidecar started doing them, and then DFT started doing them, and then Champion, Roadsmith, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.

So you were the first people to start making trikes after Lehman?

Yes we were.

Why did you decide to work with trikes? What interested you about the trike?

I was working for Roadway Express and I got a call from one of my customers who was starting to do trikes, and he asked me to design the crating so that he could ship the unit. I went down, designed the crating for him, got it all squared away and then he said, “Do you want to take it for a ride?”

And I said, “No. You ruined the motorcycle.”

The debate went on for about six or seven months and then one pretty day in May, I was down there in a suit, making business calls and I stopped in to see how this customer was doing. He had a tiny little business. He said, “Just give the trike a ride.”

I said, “I’ll give it a ride and then we’ll put it to bed. I never want to hear about it again.”

So I drove it. I was in Troup, a little town in east Texas, and I drove it out of Troup, and there was an off-camber turn with an S-curve that was marked at 25 miles an hour. I drove it at 25, came back at 35, went back at 45, came back at 55, tried it at 65, and I was amazed at how well the trike handled and how well it rode. I put it through all sorts of paces and it blew me away.

About four months later I bought that customer’s business. We bought it in August of 1994, started with two employees in an 1,800-square-foot building, and now with the grace of God and some incredible employees, I’ve got 80 employees and a 100,000-square-foot plant in Troup.

Motor Trike is the largest producer of Gold Wing conversions in the U.S., yes?

Yes.

What do you think makes the Gold Wing such a popular conversion vehicle?

It’s an outstanding platform for a trike. Outstanding. It’s a great motor, good transmission, it has features and benefits that have evolved over the years: the radio, the creature comforts, the safety features like the ABS. It’s just a refining of the bike over the years. We had the 1500 for 12 years and now we’ve had the 1800 for 13 years. It’s just a great platform for a trike.

As always, the final question: what else would you like people to know about trikes?

A lot of people used to think they had to settle for a trike. What they have learned, and what they are still learning, is that the trike will outperform the Gold Wing as a two-wheeler. It will ride better, it will handle better, it has more storage, and it just — every parameter that you can measure on a two-wheeler, the trike will do it better.

And that’s why you see more and more and more trikes out on the road.


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