Riding a true trike, remembering a true friend

 

When my friend Mike first showed me this 2016 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler he had traded for, he made a point to speak about the specialty windshield he’d had etched and installed. Mike had battled several forms of cancer off-on since 2012, and at that time was in the throws of another bout. He reflected, “I’ve survived so far by the grace of God, and thought I’d share it on the windshield. I don’t know what will happen this time around, but I’m confident God’s got me.” Mike’s faith was strong, and in his heart he knew where he was going should his current battle claim his life, which it did in December of 2023.

But not before he had a chance to straddle the saddle a little longer, with this H-D trike.

The Harley-Davidson Freewheeler has been the company’s base model trike for a number of years, and is still listed in their lineup for 2024, along with their Road Glide 3 and Tri Glide Ultra. Mike’s 2016 ran the popular and reliable Twin Cam 103 c.i. (1687 cc) mill, while the new models sport the Milwaukee Eight 114 c.i. (1868 cc) motor. Older or new, these are torque monsters, more than adequate for hauling the freight of the large trikes and their rider(s).

Mike, his trike, his grandkids, daughter and daughters-in-law.

I must admit, I had never ridden a true trike before, as in single wheel up front, dual wheels/dual axle in the rear. I’ve taken Can-Am Spiders for a spin, we’ve reviewed the Polaris Slingshot before, but my first time on Mike’s trike was an education. Lena, Mike’s wife, recently let me borrow their trike for a couple of weeks, so I spent my first day familiarizing myself with the handling and maneuvering characteristics.

Riding a trike is wholly different than riding a bike.

The first time I threw a leg over the Harley trike to throttle out, I had to figure out how to back it out of Mike’s and Lena’s garage. It’s got a reverse button on the left handlebar grip, but it took me a minute to learn how to engage it- with the bike in neutral, press once to see the “R” indicator in the speedo housing, tap again to engage, then thumb it to back up. Okay, got it now. Reminds me of how the Honda Goldwing’s reverse has to be engaged, if I remember correctly. The H-D trike also has a nice left side parking brake which was easy to engage/disengage. Once I had those elements sorted out in my head, I was ready to ride.

2016 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler motorcycle trike, on a rare gorgeous February afternoon.

The Freewheeler runs a 6-speed gearbox, a 6 gallon fuel tank for longer distances, and a large-capacity, lockable rear trunk for those extended road trips. At an alleged 39 MPG, the trike can make about 230+ miles on a full tank. With the windshield Mike had installed (not stock on the older or current model Freewheelers), this trike is ready to eat miles and hours on the road. And that’s exactly what my friends did in the past year, until Mike just couldn’t ride anymore. While multi-day road trips became untenable for them, Mike and Lena enjoyed many day trips around the Southeast, and the Freewheeler transported them in comfort, style and reliability. “It kept us in the saddle and on the road together for a few more months, and I’ve got precious memories I’ll cherish the rest of my life because of it,” Lena told me.

Pulling out onto the back country roads we both live on down here, I quickly experienced what Mike once told me about the trike- “You don’t lean a trike, you steer it.” Certainly true. In the first set of curves I encountered, I found myself pushing and pulling hard on the bars- in a left-hander, I was pulling in the left grip while pushing out on the right, and vice versa in right-handers. Push-pull, push-pull, in each curve. I had to slow my pace a bit too, as I discovered in the first few curves that I was nearly floating the inner rear wheel in each. Coming in too hot. Obviously, like an automobile, the rear axle and pair of wheels want to drive straight ahead, and you’ve only got the single front wheel, forks and handlebar to change direction.

Steering is a workout.

Trike riding is a wholly different exercise in handling and maneuvering.

Like nearly every large displacement Harley I’ve ever ridden, shifting is clunky, noisy and heavy, but definitely solid. 6th gear seems to act as an overdrive, as there were many times out on the open road that I would be running about 80-85 mph, and realize I still had another gear. Long miles and moments on the road in 6th, the Freewheeler just rumbles along, tuned for torque and touring like it is. No wonder Mike and Lena made frequent day trips on it in the time Mike could still ride. This trike is equipped with a steering damper underneath the triple tree, to mitigate any steering head gyrations that can accompany the geometry of a trike at speed.

I mostly rode the Freewheeler locally, on the occasional afternoons it wasn’t too cold or rainy to ride in Jan-Feb. One Friday was predicted to be sunny and in the low 60s, so I rode the trike down to Eatonton, Georgia to visit my mother and her brother my Uncle Bobby for lunch. Between the ride down, the 2 hour lunch eating and laughing with them, and the ride back, I had enjoyed a good long day in the saddle of the big 3-wheeler. Funny, even after riding the trike for many days, I still occasionally found myself about to put my left foot down, as if I was on a 2-wheeler. Muscle memory, I suppose.

Cockpit view, rolling north on Ga. 441, just south of historic Madison.

I tell ya, if I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t safely hold up and balance a standard motorcycle anymore due to age, illness, injury, whatever, I’m with Mike, I’d extend my riding years with a trike like this. Of course, I’d have to be at least able-bodied enough to wrestle these bars side to side. Slowing down in corners helps, but it’s still a workout. Worth it, in my opinion.

I returned the trike to Lena’s garage after a couple of weeks with it, and we chatted about her plans in the coming year. “I’m not selling it for awhile,” she noted. “I’ve got too many memories of our last rides together to get rid of it yet. At some point, yes. But for now, having it here in the garage comforts me. And who knows? I may get out and ride it some myself this year.”

I hope you will, Lena. Mike would be proud.

Rob

For more on the 2024 Harley-Davidson trike lineup, check them out here:

Harley-Davidson Trikes

*Check out Rob’s ride footage, without ever leaving this page:

Law Bike

24 Comments

  1. George Fundis

    I concur with everything you said about this Trike. I have a 15 that was customized a bit with all the chrome and bling. I traded in my 18 Ultra Limited Low because I’m 70 and my wife wouldn’t ride with me anymore due to health reasons and meds. What a game changer, now I can’t get her off of it. She doesn’t have to worry about it tipping over on a bad hill or turn and trying to lift it up. I still lean into the turns and put my foot down when I stop, but I’m learning to enjoy the ride like the old days when we met.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      George, that is fantastic! So happy you’re still in the saddle, and your beloved with you. Lord willing, I’ll still be riding then in my life, as well.
      Blessings on ya,

      Reply
    • John Elliott

      I’m kinda in the same boat I’m fighting cancer an can’t walk an i want to be in the wind so bad an can’t afford it my wish is to have a trike somehow before it’s to late i need to feel the wind in my face once more

      Reply
      • Yolanda

        What part of this beautiful country are you in?

        Reply
      • Michael Weisberger

        to al I’m going through the same problem now. can’t walk. cancer. & Nerve problem.it,s not easy. good luck to all mike

        Reply
        • Rob Brooks

          Prayers for ya, Mike. Courage,

          Reply
  2. chris

    I have a 2023 bought new in July of 23,,, had the 5 k svc done Jan 2024,,, I absolutely LOVE this bike,,, stable, fast, corners or straight it ride on rails,,

    Reply
  3. Joe Hay

    I love my 2022 Freewheeler. I’m 66 with both hips and left knee replaced. The 03 Fatboy wasn’t working out for me.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Glad you’re still in the saddle, Joe!

      Reply
  4. Bob

    I know exactly the situation. My wife had a stroke in 2019. We couldn’t do two wheels anymore. Found a 2016 Freewheeler with lots of accessories including a passenger seat with armrests. A little trouble for her to on and off but we put the miles and memories on it till she passed in 2022.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Wow, so thankful you got to share those miles & smiles with your wife those last years. Cherished memories.
      Blessings on ya, Bob.

      Reply
  5. Richard D Burton

    My wife has a 2020 Freewheeler and she absolutely loves it. We put a batwing fairing with a Rockford Fosgate stereo system on it, had it wrapped in a very feminine color with a matching seat and color matched diamond stitching. I love seeing the look on her face when we’re putting down the miles.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      That’s the best part, Richard- seeing the joy in your wife’s face.

      Reply
  6. Michael J Sherman

    I had a 2016 and now have a 2023 Tri-Glide Ultra. I have enjoyed the smooth ride and comfortable seating. Put almost 40,000 + miles on my first Trike. Now just waiting for better weather to come, and I’ll be on the road again.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Keep on riding and rockin’ Michael!

      Reply
  7. Kevin z

    Nice article . I got over myself and tried out a Triglide 3 yrs ago. I was impressed with the power of the 114 , bought one and have made it my own while putting 27 k over the last 3 years. The GF and I rode over 1000 miles straight through to Milwaukee for the HD 120th celebration. GREAT Ride!
    Of the three in the lineup Triglide , RoadGlide 3 and Freewheeler , the RG 3 handles the best in my opinion.
    Whatever you ride, get out there and ride it!

    Reply
  8. Amy Ringle

    I have always wanted a trike. I have never ridden a motorcycle and thought a trike would be the way to go. Now I’m almost 55 with stage 4 breast cancer settled in my lungs. I am sad that I will never have the chance to learn to ride or even afford one. But I admire everyone who chases the dream. Keep on riding!

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Prayers for you, Amy. Courage for the fight.

      Reply
  9. SANDi Griffin

    Does Harley make any with automatic transmissions? My husband passed away 2 years ago and I have serious leg problems. Just miss the days we could ride. Life’s about memories right? And the Lord right? Thanks Sandi

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Hi Sandi,
      Indeed it is, in our humble opinion- memories, and walking with the Lord.
      As far as we know, Harley does not make an automatic transmission. Honda does however for their Goldwing, which can be had in trike form as well.
      Blessings on ya, Sandi. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  10. Paul Satterthwaite

    I liked my 2019 Tri Glide but found it could use some improvement. I stage 3’d it with better injection and cam. I put a improved suspension on, which reduced turning effort and smoothed the ride. The trike feels quick and stable.
    I still ride a nice Softail as well.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Good upgrades, Paul. Rock on,

      Reply

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