Lawrence Converts His Honda Reflex to a Trike

June, 2018

Actually, you’re paying over three thousand bucks for training wheels… very well-built, individually-suspended training wheels.  Your kit attaches to the under-carriage and various strong points on your frame.  The rig is massive enough to stabilize a Harley, so it’s plenty strong for a scooter.  A skilled mechanic had it together in two days of off again, on again work.

Training wheels.  Am I embarrassed?  No; I’m 72.  After two spinal surgeries and having a tree fall on me during this winter’s combination blizzard and hurricane, I have nerve damage.  I walk with a stick for God’s sake!  This is how I’m going to keep riding.

I’ve never crashed in 50 years, but I’ve twice had a bike down.  Both times, I was at walking speed or at rest, making a turn on an oil slick and then on sand.  It’s stunning how fast a bike can disappear from under you.  When it’s a motorcycle, your position astraddle the tank will slam you onto the ground.  A step-through scooter just drops away.  If that happens to me now, I might not be walking afterwards.

So today, dear reader, I picked up my trusty Honda Reflex from my mechanic with a set of shiny TOW-PAC training wheels on it.  My mechanically astute friend took it down the road and returned with eyes like door-knobs telling me for crissakes be careful.  I got on and found out why.  Here’s why:

1) PICK YOUR FEET UP!  A few inches behind your heels is a set of fenders.  Goose the gas and you’ll run over your own feet.  It’s a trike now.  Sit down.  Park your feet; you’re not falling over.  THEN goose the gas.  Forget that just once and you’ll break your own legs – or your bike will.

2) The first 30 seconds are going to scare hell out of you.  Turn a 2-wheeler and you bank into the turn.  Gravity has everything all lined up.  Turn a trike and you stay upright, swinging you into the outside of the curve.  That will cause you to over-steer, swinging you out even more forcefully.  It feels like you could easily flip the thing – and you spent all this money for safety!    Don’t be surprised if you’re driving home for the first time and thinking you just blew a lot of money – and you’re going to have to pretend for a while that you did just the right thing.  So that’s #2.  Expect that.

3) You’ll go straight easily and very soon, it will feel natural.  Cornering for the first time is terror-inducing.  For reasons already described, you over-steer.  Most importantly, the almost effortless way you bank a motorcycle into a turn is totally missing!  Turning requires effort, as if you were driving a miniature car with handlebars.  SLOW WAY DOWN on turns until you figure it out.  I’m sharing my first-day impressions with you because if you buy one of these rigs, I want you to be safe right away and not get convinced you made a big mistake before you’ve given the rig a chance. 

4) Here’s what I’m beginning to discover in my first day – riding home from eating Mexican and having the presence of mind to pass on the Margaritas.  Lean into the turn forward over the inside handlebar and push firmly away with the outside arm.  At first, you’ll panic in the turn.  It will seem your bike doesn’t want to obey – and you’re going to run off the road and crash. Your body, tall in the saddle, seems to have far too much leverage, forcing you to over-steer.  So gradually, you try going into turns forward-leaning into it.  Push away hard till you feel your sense of command returning.  That’s what it takes.  You really have to be the boss with trikes.

5) Turning at the light: While still at low speed,  point your bike instantly where you want it to go, then give it the gun.  On a winding road, take the inside lines to keep your path as straight as you can.  It’s already beginning to sink in after only one day.  Easy does it.  Steer with authority, lower your center of gravity if it feels right, and the bike will go where you point it.

6) Your bike is wider than it used to be.  I’ve already got a scuff on my left fender from coming into the carport just a little too close to a brick chimney.  I’ll be adding reflectives so at night, other motorists know I’ve got some width to me too.  Remember, you’re wider now.

7) You’ll never need your kick-stand again.  But that also means your bike can roll away from you if you just park and walk away.  My Reflex has a parking brake.  Otherwise, I’d need a door-jamb on a string to place under a tire to keep my trike from trundling away.

8) Don’t be surprised to pick up more road vibration.  You’ve got twice as many wheels on the tarmac now.  It’s not bad, but it’s there.

9) Some roads have really steep crowns to them.  Trikes don’t like that.  You can compensate carefully by lowering the stance of your right wheel and lifting the left by the same amount.  Just a little.  You’ll still have to compensate with continual pressure on your right arm.  Be the boss and you’ll be OK, but it is different than a regular motorcycle.

10) Expect more curb-side conversations.  People think my “new” trike is cool.  People are actually rolling down their windows at red lights to thumbs-up or yell, “Nice bike.”  You could get used to it.

So you’ve gotten my first-day impressions.  Am I glad I did it?  I think so.  After 50 years of riding, it was automatic.  Everything about it was instinctive – and now it isn’t.  But I’m a teacher and I know that new things aren’t intuitive but with practice, they become so.  If I don’t do anything crazy, I have a bike that will become almost capsize-proof, even with a flat tire.  It will never fall over – and I’ll never need to go find help to pick it up.  I can ride my daughter behind me without worrying my legs can’t support both of us at the light.  In short, if I approach this with an open mind, I get to ride a little longer.

Could I be as safe if I kept two wheels and cornered with half the care I use now?  Probably – if I were 20 years younger.  Now I have to be more careful.  So there’s DAY 1.  More soon.

AFTER 3 days & 60 MILES:

The feet-up commandment still – and always – applies.  Feet up… then go.  Forgot today on my way to work and nipped my heels.  I’m going to get a strip of rubber molding and protect the leading edge of the fenders.  Good for rocks and gravel bouncing up, and not a knife edge as the fiberglass has.

I took it up to 60 on the freeway for the first time.  You’ll notice more vibration with twice as many wheels on the tarmac.   It could limit my trips but my hunch is I won’t be ranging as far anyway.  Steering was fine and the techniques that work in turns at 30 work just as well at 60.   (Just go into a tight turn, say 90 degrees, at anything like 60.) I still find leaning into the turn helps, especially leaning forward and into the turn.  Lowers your center of gravity and you don’t have your body being pushed outside in a turn.  That tends to make you over-steer, which pushes you out even more forcefully. Bad scene.

It’s just beginning to become automatic – at least enough to make riding fun.

I’m getting past my initial panic, born of 50 years of riding, that going into a turn, the bike doesn’t know my mind.  It used to.  Want to turn right, you push down on the right handlebar.  The bike banks into a turn and you soar to the right.   With a trike, you push away on the right handlebar and the bike turns LEFT.  Because you’re actually steering the bike.  The effort isn’t really difficult.  But it has to be mindful… to make the bike go where you tell it.

Maybe the trike will know my mind eventually.  Meanwhile, in my 3rd day and my 60th mile, I know what I’m doing now and am doing it with growing confidence and enjoyment.

After 3 weeks…

Far more comfortable now.  I’m noticing my gas mileage drop from near 70 mpg scooter rig vs. 60 mpg with the TOW-PAC rig.  More drag; more windage.  More comfortable going past 55mph.  You never want to make a dramatic maneuver on a trike at highway speed.  Look ahead.  Plan ahead.  In this respect, imagine you’re driving a car.

Maybe it’s best to think you went from a scooter to a really small vehicle.  Same view out the front.  Same driving controls, same riding position.  But it’s also fundamentally different.  If you think a trike conversion makes sense for you, embrace the change.   I’ve ridden and liked several Chinese scooters but reviews suggest the imported scooter/trikes don’t have the quality yet – and a Harley or Honda trike is vastly more money than a TOW-PAC conversion.  For the money, it’s the best deal in town – and if you’ve liked your old scooter, you get to keep it. 

Lawrence Brown is a 72 year-old school teacher who’s been riding scooters and motorcycles for 50 years.  Preferring the Honda Reflex 250 – or several Chinese 150 & 250cc clones – he’s finally decided it’s time to “trikefy” his Honda.