Servicing trikes can give you a competitive edge

Dave Koshollek
Publish Date: 
May 23, 2012
By Dave Koshollek

TRIKES HAVE BEEN AROUND for a long time. When they debuted back in the early 1900s, they were destined for primarily commercial purposes, used to transport items such as parts and police gear. Harley-Davidson called its three-wheeler the “Servi-Car,” and production of that model ran from 1932 to 1973. The last 15 years of Servi-Car production were sold almost exclusively to police departments. If you’re a geezer like me, you remember cops and meter maids riding them around town doing parking enforcement.

The truth is, my first motorcycle was a stock’47 Servi-Car that I bought for $175. Being the cool dude that I was, I promptly discarded the metal box/rear fenders and front fender in pursuit of the chopper look, which meant scrapping anything “insignificant.” In the process I reduced weight by about 150 lbs., which allowed me to obtain an eye-watering top speed of 63 mph!

Flash to the trikes of today and we find they’re no longer utilitarian — they’re designed for two-up recreational travel and they can easily exceed the speedometer’s century mark. With the exception of Harley-Davidson’s Tri-Glide, the motorcycle-powered trikes we most commonly encounter (not counting the Can-Am Spyder which is unique unto itself) are conversions built by taking a motorcycle chassis and fitting it with a rear section that adds a differential and two wheels in the rear. This three-wheeled design creates a solid stance that requires zero balance from the rider and a vehicle that can be fairly easily maneuvered around corners.

When it comes to trike servicing and repair, the good news is that trike conversions are relatively simple affairs. Looking into a handful of companies that manufacture trike conversion kits, it appears that just about any technician with a moderate level of mechanical expertise can install and maintain trike components using basic hand tools. And if you do run into an obstacle, the trike conversion manufacturers are available most weekdays by phone to lend a hand.

One piece of equipment that the typical motorcycle shop will want to look into is a lift to raise the trike for eye-level servicing. If you own a 1,500-lb. capacity Handy-Lift motorcycle lift, you can upgrade it for trike servicing pretty easily with the company’s B.O.B. 1500 Trike Extension kit that costs about $400. If you own the older 1,000-lb. lift, as I do, you’ll want to keep that for two-wheeled vehicles only and purchase a newer/stronger lift for the heavier three-wheelers.

Another piece of equipment to consider is a dynamometer capable of testing a trike. With all Harleys running electronic fuel injection since 2006 and most other brands EFI-equipped even earlier than that, it’s likely the trike you’ll be servicing will be injected. Most trike conversions add around 200 lbs. of weight, which significantly increases the load on the engine. It makes sense to retune the EFI so the engine doesn’t run too lean. Using a dyno equipped with a load control system and air/fuel ratio module is the best and safest way to reprogram fuel injection.

Dynojet Research manufactures the 250ix chassis dyno that can test motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, go-karts and trikes. It pretty much has you covered for anything in the wheeled powersports category. Base price starts around $24,500. If you currently own a Dynojet 200i or 250i motorcycle dyno, you can get a trike upgrade kit and install it yourself for about $7,900.

According to Will Fong at Dynojet Research, there are only about 70 of the 250ix dynos in the U.S., which tells me it should be pretty easy to capture the local dyno-tuning market in the combined trike/ATV/SxS/kart category. Scott Hammer, service manager at Superstition Harley-Davidson in Apache Junction, Ariz., confirmed my suspicion. Not only does a “trike capable” service department attract business, it keeps customers coming back for more. According to Hammer, 100 percent of the locals who purchased a Tri Glide from their dealership bring the trike back to his guys for all of their service and repairs. Hammer reckons the older age and wealthier demographics of the average trike owner help account for this better than usual service customer retention.

Are trike conversions, service and repairs in your future? That’s your decision. One thing is for sure, trike sales continue to grow, and that presents an opportunity to grow your service business. If you have the space, your shop might be a good place to make that happen. After all, trikes are just motorcycles with a little extra junk in the trunk.

This story recently appeared in the Dealernews June 2012 issue.