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Triking it

Posted: August 18, 2011 10:29 a.m.
Updated: August 19, 2011 5:00 a.m.

If you’ve recently traveled to a vacation area that’s popular with motorcyclists -- Myrtle Beach or the Blue Ridge Parkway come to mind -- you might have noticed the latest trend in the biker world, a development that only a decade ago would have been considered unfathomable:

Tricycles.

Tricycles?

Yes, that’s right. That iconic name in motorcycles, Harley-Davidson, the most macho transportation brand in the United States, is making three-wheeled motorcycles.

You know, of course, that Harley -- its aficionados never use the full name, just the first word of the brand, which sorts of screams “manly” -- speaks to a longing in Americans across the country, even those who have never straddled a motorcycle and never will.

Harley is a lifestyle -- the lure of the open road, the freedom to leave behind the chains of a workaday world, the urge in us to cast aside the tentacles of convention and venture into unknown territory. On a Harley, there’s always the mystery of a new day unfolding somewhere on a serpentine road, the wind in your face and a new adventure around the next turn.

You might have a certain scruffy image of Harley riders, maybe hearkening back to the heyday of the Hell’s Angels, those hard-drinking, scofflaw ruffians of the biking world.

And while the brand has made great inroads in attracting what used to be called “yuppies,” Harley has always been considered, well, tough.

And now they’re selling tricycles?

The rugged three-wheelers first came out in 2009, the result of a generation of Harley riders approaching their golden years. All of a sudden, their sense of balance wasn’t as good as it had been when they were younger and friskier, and balancing a 500-pound bike at a traffic light wasn’t a cinch.

After all, riding a hog -- that’s what Harley mavens call the big machines -- isn’t easy. It can be bone-jarring, and if you happen to make a wrong move, you can vaporize yourself pretty quickly.

And so recognizing an aging market base, Harley decided to trike it.

Not too much romance to that, is there? Going back to the days of “Easy Rider,” many boomers have always kind of imagined Harley riders to be ultimate cool -- the baddest, toughest guys on the road.

You ever recall passing one of those biker bars on a rural road and thinking, “Man I’m not going in there ‘cause I might get my rear end whupped.”

So what do you think happens now when the tricycle riders pull into one of those biker dives?  Barkeep: “What’ll it be? Shot of bourbon? Boilermaker?”

Harley tricycle rider: “No thanks, I think I’ll have a spot of tea and crumpets. With a tall glass of Maalox on the side.”

One thing hasn’t changed: Harley riders still have their wives and girlfriends riding behind them. Biker babes, some have called them.

Only now, slipping past middle age and their hair going gray, their tushes are a little too wide for the seat and a couple parts of their anatomy have started sagging south rather than pointing east, if you know what I mean.

But here’s the bottom line:

I think the trikes are great. I take my hat off to those guys who recognize that their reflexes aren’t what they were when they were cleaning out barrooms with their fists or putting in 800-mile days riding coast to coast.

They aren’t sitting in a rec room wilting away or spending their time lamenting over their lost youths. They’re out there on the open road -- three wheels instead of two, and who really cares about that? -- chasing that dream, following the center line, headed towards the next state and whatever might lie beyond.

So I hope if you’re a Harley trike rider and you’re reading this, you’re not thinking of heading my way and going upside my head.

I’d hate to be bopped with a crumpet.

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