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Words: Guy Allen; Pix: Stuart Grant
The novelty might eventually wear off, but there’s a fair bit of fun to be had causing utter chaos in traffic with the latest transport of delight – in this case a gleaming red Gold Wing trike. Yup, that’s right, someone found a way to make a ’Wing even bigger. Who would have thoughtit possible?
You pick up on the bumbling mental processes ofthe car-driver next to you in traffic. First they spot the front end, andthey’re thinking, “Gee, that’s a big one.” Then the quick ones notice anabnormality – something deep and reptilian in their psyche rings the alarmbells as they spot the big back end. “What the…?”
You can see the questions forming as their browsv(some of which seem to have a worrying Neanderthal aspect) furrow. The listgoes: “What the hell is that?” Then, “How much is it?”vAnd of course: “What sortvof fruitcake would buy one?”
Sure enough, the bloke who retails them, Geoff Bull at Jeffrey Honda in Victoria, can answer that last question.
“Their biggest market,” he reveals, “is people who, for whatever reason, are finding it a struggle to hold up a big bike.
“They don’t want to give up riding, and this is away of extending their motorcycling careers.”
Anyone who has seen the Ulysses Club in action will attest to the fact this is a good thing. Staying on the road with their motorcycling mates has literally saved plenty of lives.
UNDER THE PAINT
Designed and manufactured by Champion Trikes inthe USA, the kit is a fair bit more than a couple of car wheels tied to a beam axle. Champion, and the local blokes via Jeffrey, will sell you something along those lines, for about $20,000. However, if you add an extra $5000, you get a much more sophisticated independent rear end, plus a modified front, which is what we’ve tested.
Okay, so what’s under the paint? Clearly, up frontyou have Old Faithful of the touring bike world, Honda’s mighty Gold Wing. A freshened-up version has just been launched, though you can still buy the superseded model shown here.
Powering the lump is the company’s ultra-reliable 1832cc boxer six, which is capable of firing the 400-plus kilo solo assembly at the horizon at anything up to 200km/h. It might be big, but it’s also powerful and quick.
A five-speed transmission and shaft drive complete the powertrain.
It’s at the end of this little lot that the fun starts. Gone is the stock wheel and, instead, a new drive is hooked up to (of all things) a Suzuki truck differential. The individual rear drive shafts are suspended from twin-wishbone assemblies, mounted on motorcycle-style coil over pressurised gas shocks. They’re adjustable for ride height.
Braking is supplied by twin discs running auto-style single-piston calipers. The Honda ABS is removed and the braking is changed over to independent systems front and rear.
The wheels are a very common 15inx 7in sizing, accepting 205/70 tyres. Those dimensions are popular enough to enable an enormous choice of rear rubber. The rims are a Champion-branded alloy design.
As for the panels, you obviously lose the stock panniers. Instead, the flared guards are nicely moulded into the standard bodywork at the front. Out back you get a decent-sized boot. It will hold two XXL full-face helmets with heaps of room to spare, so the trade-off in luggage space is positive.
Up front, the triple trees get swapped for what’s called an EZ-steer system, which adds 4.5 degrees of rake. That in turn shortens the trail and is intended to sharpen up the steering a little. Keep in mind, though, that you also have a longer wheelbase (up from1690mm to 1841mm) plus that substantial track at the rear.
If you can squint and ignore the big back end for a moment, much about the trike is familiar and reassuring. It is, after all, based on one of the best-sorted touring bikes on the planet. So that means you get the good seating, fairing and comprehensive electronics package, including cruise control, sound and satellite navigation.
Then there are the little luxuries like heated seats and grips plus, in case it all goes pear-shaped, the airbag.
There are three rules to handling any trike. One: keep your feet on the footpegs (solo riders have been known to forget this and run over their own foot – painful and embarrassing); two:remember to keep to the centre of your lane; and three: no lane-splitting!
Get the whole plot rolling and the inexperienced will be a little disconcerted by the car-like rocking and rolling you inevitably get from the back-end. Plus you’re steering a three-track vehicle and, as a result, will find it harder to dodge potholes.
One of the first things you notice is that the performance is hardly changed. The ’Wing shrugs off the extra weight with ease. There may be a slight fuel consumption penalty, but I’m guessing it will be slight unless you’re really pushing on.
Point the thing at a corner and you may end up being pleasantly surprised. Though longer than stock, it’s still relatively short by trike standards and, with the EZ-steer system on board, very willing to change direction.
Trikes can have a tendency to understeer in corners, with the front end wash-out becoming worse the more you stick throttle into it. In this area the Gold Wing/Champion combo scores very well. If you really push hard it will start to understeer, but it responds immediately to a little discretion.
That, combined with a really well set-up independent rear end, makes it an exceptionally benign handler. In fact, I’ll stick my neck out and say it’s the pick of the motorcycle-based trikes I’ve so far ridden. Plus, it’s nimble enough to offer an attractive alternative to longer auto-based trikes.
Highway-speed stability seems fine, even when you switch over to the opposite camber to overtake.
Performance and gearing all seem to mesh well and you might end up being surprised at how quick this thing is. Your harder-riding solo mates are likely to get away from time to time, but they won’t be far away. I certainly don’t see it holding up a group ride.
Comfort is as you’d expect from a Gold Wing, with a few extra bumps because of the additional wheels, but overall the ride is very civilised. Something you and the passenger will have to become accustomed to, however, is the car-like tendency to lean a little to the outside of a turn.
While it’s a real shame to lose the ABS, braking is very strong thanks to the high grip offered by those rear tyres. They also make the rig feel secure on wet or slippery surfaces.
TAKE A SEAT
As we’ve already indicated with the kit prices, this is not a cheap exercise. So the big question is, what’s it going to cost for a brand new one off the showroom floor? You might want to take a seat. With a freshly un-wrapped Wing, the kit installed, with all the set-up and colour-matching done, you’re up for $59,000 on the road in Victoria. Given the price of a new Wing, that’s not quite as silly as it first sounds.
As a colleague of mine recently pointed out, knee reconstructions and hip replacements cost plenty, too.
While that price tag is more than enough to scare a lot of people, Geoff reports he’s so far had a couple of sales. Pricing aside, it’s a well-sorted and finished package that has confidence-inspiring road manners.
The final test is whether you walk off after a ride with a grin on your dial. And yes, after a couple of hours playing with it in the hills, I did…
– Well designed
– Good handling
– Supremely comfortable
– Loss of ABS
– It ain’t cheap
Type: 1832cc, liquid-cooled, four-valves-per cylinder, four-stroke, horizontally-opposed
Bore x stroke: 74mm x 71mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Fuel system: EFI
Final drive: Shaft
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Aluminium twin spar
Front suspension: 45mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Twin shocks, adjustable for rideheight
Front brake: Twin 296mm discs with three-piston Nissin calipers (no ABS)
Rear brake: Single disc with single-piston caliper (no ABS)
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Wet weight: ADR standard (400kg-plus)
Seat height: 740mm
Fuel capacity: 25lt
Max power: N/A
Max torque: N/A
Bike supplied by: Jeffrey Motorcycle Centre
Warranty: 24 months/unlimited kilometres on bike, 36 months/unlimited kilometres on trike kit
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