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February 26, 2010

News & Features

Beefing up: Aging bikers are turning to trikes to stay on the road

Associated Press


Lou Dial rides his three-wheeled motorcycle during a club ride in San Diego. (Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES -- Arthur McCoy didn't let the amputation of a leg because of cancer stop him from riding motorcycles. The solution to his disability came in the form of a third wheel.

McCoy is among a growing group of aging motorcyclists taking up trikes: three-wheeled motorcycles that provide the stability and nearly all the comforts of a car while still allowing riders to feel the wind in their face.

"For us older folks, it's better on three wheels than two," says McCoy, now retired from a maintenance job. "You don't have the tendency to fall over."

Making trikes
  • A few of the three-wheelers on the market:
  • • Harley-Davidson offers a $30,000 Tri Glide trike that comes with cruise control, optional reverse gear, GPS navigation, stereo speakers, hand warmers, headsets and other luxury features.
  • • Piaggio & C. SpA, maker of Vespa scooters, has a line of three-wheeled scooters with two wheels in the front.
  • • Canadian motorcycle maker Bombardier Recreational Products' Can-Am Spyder Roadster features two wheels in the front and one in the rear.

A motorcycle rider since the 1960s, the 71-year-old says his customized trike has made it possible for him and his wife, Dora, to go on long-haul trips to Arizona, Texas, Arkansas and Virginia at least once a month. They are members of Brothers of the Third Wheel, an international club for trike enthusiasts.

Motorcycle industry experts say they expect to see more trikes on the road in the coming years as baby boomers, the largest group of motorcycle owners in the country, age out of their two-wheelers.

"Boomers are a very important segment of the motorcycle market," says Ty Van Hooydonk, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council. "They are staying more active than past generations."

Trikes allow riders with arthritis, back pain and other ailments to go on long-distance rides comfortably. Some come with reverse gears so riders don't have to push the motorcycles into a parking space. And their ample size makes them hard to miss.

"People in cars tend to ignore motorcycles. Trikes are fairly big and therefore more visible," says Jim McGrath, 75, whose bright red, low-riding Rewaco trike measures 12 feet long and 6 feet wide.

McGrath's daughter Sharon Sisemore, another trike rider, added that in heavy traffic she doesn't have to worry about putting her feet down to balance.

"There are several advantages, and you still get to have the 'knees in the breeze, bug in your teeth' feeling," says Sisemore, 51.


Arthur and Dora McCoy pose with their three-wheeled motorcycle during a club ride in San Diego. (Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

Recognizing the rising demand for trikes and the fact that many of its customers were aging, Harley-Davidson started selling three-wheel versions of its popular touring bikes last year. The company won't say how many trikes it has sold, but it hasn't been able to keep up with demand, Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richer says. He noted that 23 percent of trike buyers are women, and trikes are gaining street credibility.

"Fifteen years ago, people didn't know what to make of it," Richer says. "Now it's become a form of personal expression. The stigma of three wheels is gone."

Bob Thompson, 59, of Anaheim, who has a degenerative bone disease that's led to seven back surgeries, says a trike has helped him go beyond his physical limitations. The retired salesman sometimes relies on a cane for walking. So he says he gets on his Honda Goldwing, a two-wheel motorcycle converted into a trike, "every chance I get."

"If I didn't have it, I'd be stuck at home," Thompson says. "My trike gives me absolute freedom."


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