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Trikes as nice (or better) than two

The conversions are popular with enthusiasts who want an option to larger touring motorcycles as they get older.

By JORGE SANCHEZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

They look like motorcycles, drive like cars and are frequently seen on the roads, steered by people reconnecting with the pleasures of motorcycle riding.

Conversion trikes for motorcycles are finding a niche market among senior riders who still want to ride a motorcycle. The process transforms a big touring motorcycle, such as a Honda Gold Wing, to a stylish three-wheel vehicle that's still mostly motorcycle, but with one big difference.

"You don't have to struggle to hold it up with your legs at a stop sign," said Ann White, a Floral City retiree who owns a flashy candy apple red tri-car, which is a trike and a sidecar built as one three-wheeled cycle.

"Trikes are more comfortable and safer," said White, who declined to provide her age. "They give you more stability."

A trike conversion takes a big touring motorcycle, mostly Gold Wings and Harley-Davidsons, and rearranges the rear end to give it two back wheels, rear fenders and a carpeted trunk. From there, lots of options are possible, but it is the three-wheel concept that allows many riders to feel the thrill of motorcycling.

In Floral City, Tony Sparacino owns Trike Conversions by Tony, where the two-wheeled touring bikes are converted into trikes. The shop, with six employees, turns out about 16 conversion jobs a month, he said. That shop fixed up the trike for White.

The process takes about three days. Using one of the several conversion kits available from his suppliers, Sparacino and his crew remove the back wheel and attach the trike kit to the motorcycle. The process also involves some touch-up painting.

Modern trikes actually enhance the original lines of a motorcycle, giving it a customized appearance.

Among the features are custom taillights, more comfortable saddles for driver and passengers, a bumper hitch (for a matching trailer) and gadgets such as cruise control, disc brakes and CD players with surround sound speaker systems.

Including the motorcycle, a conversion trike can cost from $15,000 to $24,000.

The trike is still operated like a motorcycle: The throttle is in the handlebar, and foot pedals operate the gear shift lever and rear brakes. Sparacino said it is possible to move the foot controls to the handlebars.

Sparacino said his customers are typical residents of Citrus County -- that is to say, senior citizens.

"People are looking for other things to do with their money instead of keeping it in the stock market, where it does nothing for them," he said. "They're also tired of staying home and watching TV."

His shop, on U.S. 41 S, has been in business two years. Sparacino describes his business as "astronomical."

He said the elderly riders who thought their handlebar-hugging days were a thing of the past have found a new way to kick-start their motorcycle glory days. They are impressed by the trikes' handling. They apparently hug curves due to a low center of gravity and have a tight turning radius.

"For those people 60 and over, or those with a disability in their legs, this gives a way to ride and get some enjoyment," Sparacino said.

Linda Galloway, who rides along with White on the flashy tri-car, agreed.

"The Gold Wings are too big and heavy for older people, which makes them dangerous," said Galloway, also a retiree who declined to provide her age. "But a trike eliminates all that."

White and Galloway share the red tri-car, and Galloway is usually the driver with White nestled in the passenger's seat.

The sidecar can hold their four dogs (Yorkshire terriers Daffy, Skip and Geronimo, and a poodle, Little Annie) who also enjoy going for a motorcycle ride. The sidecar is fully enclosed, and has a fan to keep them comfortable.

White and Galloway put their custom tri-car on a trailer, hitched it on the bumper of a 36-foot motor home and toured the country last summer. Since the trike has a reverse gear, they can just climb aboard and back it off the trailer.

As for maneuverability, Sparacino says the trikes actually take a corner better than a standard touring motorbike. He says the three-wheel configuration is as stable as a car.

"It would be practically impossible to flip one of these over," he said.

Galloway, a veteran bike rider, agreed the trikes are stable and safe.

"Yes, they handle very well. But, it's like anything else," she said. "A lot depends on who is behind the handlebar."

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