Harley Builds 3-wheel Motorcycles – Harley Magazine Review of the 2009 Tri-glide

The rumor mill never seems to slow down when it comes to Harley-Davidson and its future bikes. I guess that kind of passion and curiosity is what drives the MoCo. The rumor of a factory Harley-Davidson trike making a comeback after more than three decades is true. The new Tri Glide Ultra Classic will be available at your local Harley dealer in limited numbers as a 2009 model. 

Let’s start with what the machine is and isn’t. It is a genuine Harley-Davidson covered by a full factory 2 year warrantee. It is manufactured by Harley in association with Lehman Trikes of South Dakota. It lists for $29,999 (in the US) and is available in the 48 contiguous US states and Canada. It is well engineered, looks good and is a blast to ride. It isn’t a warmed over Lehman trike. I don’t know why this project was internally nicknamed “Boomer” but it was, and now you know.

What’s involved in riding a trike verses a bike? Well, let’s just say that they are exactly the same only different. Quite different. Same throttle, clutch, shifter and brakes. But the handling is more like a car because trikes don’t lean, they steer around turns. So get used to pulling on one side of the handlebars and pushing on the other through the turns. And, thanks to all the extra weight out back, you’ll have to slip the clutch a bit more and give it a bit more throttle coming off a stop than with a bike. Plus you can keep your feet on the floorboards all the time, even at a full stop. And always remember that your machine is a lot wider than a bike, even a bagger, when going through narrow spaces. And just because you missed the pothole in the road with your front tire doesn’t mean you’ll miss it with your rear ones. And. . . well you get the idea. Trikes and bikes are simply different.

Out on the road the Tri Glide is impressive. I have ridden several old and new trikes over the years and feel this is the best of the breed. Superior handling, a healthy power train and top notch fit and finish – and this was on a pre-production model! The low and high speed handling is more neutral than I expect from a trike. I suspect the purpose-build frame and specific fork geometry and rear suspension has a lot to do with that. Once you get used to slipping the clutch slightly from a dead stop and push/pull steering on the handlebars, riding the Tri Glide is a blast. I predict these machines will sell out quickly with a waiting line once word is out on how much fun they are.  Anyone who has ridden a two-wheel motorcycle will quickly take to the Tri Glide and will be confidently cruising the highways and slicing through zig zag turns on back roads in no time.

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In our discussions with Harley’s marketing and engineering staff we heard how the main goal for the Tri Glide was “to extend riding access” which we took to mean extending the riding season (trikes handle better in snow, ice and rain than bikes do) as well as making people more comfortable riding a stable three-wheeler than a less stable two-wheeler. The Harley staffers told us their target customers tend to be more experienced riders.  One of the senior people confided in us “A lot of people who try a Tri Glide for the first time are pleased and surprised with the ride.” After we put some miles on one we have to agree,

Unlike any other current model Harley-Davidson that I am aware of, the host portion of the new Tri Glides are built on a new assembly line in the York factory. It is then shipped to the Lehman factory in South Dakota to be finished. From there, the complete machines are shipped to Milwaukee where they are forwarded on to the dealer network. When we asked about the relationship between Lehman Trikes and Harley-Davidson we were told that Lehman is actively involved in the process, but the Harley Tri Glides are quite different than Lehman’s own Ultra-based trikes. While the Lehman version uses a modified stock Harley FL frame and one-piece rear body section, the Tri Glides use unique, purpose-built frames and separate rear body sections and fenders. Harley assured us the current association with Lehman is not based on a buy-out or a joint venture. Harley views Lehman as a supplier.

OK, so what else is unique or unusual about the Tri Glide? We have already touched on the specific-to-this-model frame with increased fork angle and less trail for better steering effort. It has an electronic hand control to activate the optional electric reverse motor. The front forks are longer than those on the two-wheel Ultras and have an external steering stabilizer for a more consistent ride.

The front wheel is a 16 inch hoop, the rears are 15 inchers. The wheels and brake rotors all match. Machines with this much weight need good brakes, and the front dual Brembos are up to the task.  The 103 cubic inch engine mated with a heavy duty police-style clutch offers sufficient power to get down the road quite smartly. The Tri Glide has a unique transmission case and rear mounts are also different from the stock Harley Ultra two-wheel version. There is a standard oil cooler to help keep engine temperatures down, and the new for 2009 mufflers compliment the modified header pipes.


The Tour Pak is rated for up to 30 pounds of cargo, and the trunk, featuring hidden hinges and a lockable latch, can handle an additional 50 pounds in 4.3 cubic feet. We like the rear fenders are separate from the trunk and attached to it. Typically the trunk and rear fenders on most trikes are built as one unit making repairs or replacement quite expensive. 

Apparently Harley management had been considering the possibility of adding a trike to the line-up for some time but there were many issues to deal with. These included safety concerns, marketing options, and manufacturing challenges. When we asked about the stability of a Tri Glide in various real world riding conditions, one of the Harley engineers responded by saying they designed it with several goals in mind. “We wanted it to slip” he said, “before it would tip.”

2 critical measures the trike had to pass were the lane change maneuver at highway speeds, and the steady state turn (in tight circles at increasing speeds). The trike accomplished both with room to spare. Harley management ok’d the project when they realized the Ultra-based Tri Glide can go faster and corner harder than a stock Harley Ultra motorcycle “so we felt a comfort zone there.”

All the 2009 Tri Glides will be based on Ultra Classics. But Harley isn’t saying whether this might change in the future to expand across other models using V-Rods, Dynas or Sportsters as the base. However, given the fact that Harley considers the Tri Glide a new separate model platform, I’d bet there are more variations in the works. Personally, I’d like to see a water-cooled V-Rod powered trike.

Harley is planning on building only 2500 Tri Glides for 2009 in three color options – Vivid Black, Dark Blue Pearl or Red Hot Sunglo, and plans are for them to be available in Harley dealerships in August 2008. MSRP is $29,999, which is significantly less than a similar Lehman Harley Ultra, and the Tri Glide comes with a 2-year factory warrantee. Want one? Better get your name and deposit to your dealer ASAP. They are going to go fast.

Interested in learning more about Harley motorcycles, from Sportsters to Softails and touring FL motorcycles? Check out motorcycle bulletin board and Harley forum www.aimag.com, run by American Iron Magazine, where this article was first published.

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