- Comfortable riding position
- Plenty of power from 103 Twin
- Unique riding experience
- Suspension can’t smooth out the bumpy ride
- No counter-steering hard to get used to
- Priced like an exotic sportbike
Most riders bracket the term “motorcycle” with air quotes when referencing three-wheelers, yet these models continue to grow in popularity. Can-Am’s Spyder has made the most inroads within this peculiar three-wheeled segment, but Harley-Davidson’s Tri-Glide trike has served as the sole V-Twin production option from a major manufacturer. Now for the 2015 model year, The Motor Company expands its three-wheeled offerings with the all-new Freewheeler.
Peel off the Tri Glide’s Batwing fairing and Tour Pack luggage/passenger accommodations and you get the Freewheeler. At least that’s the sweetened condensed description, as there’s other changes from the touring model – like the Freewheeler’s 12-inch mini apes and stripped down front end, with chrome nacelle and bobtail fender. The new model also sheds 135 pounds from the Tri Glide, so I guess that claimed 1045-pound dry weight is relatively light by comparison! Think of it this way: If the Tri Glide is an Electra Glide with three wheels, than the Freewheeler is something akin to the Fat Boy trike-ified.
(Above) H-D claims the Freewheeler’s lighter weight and new bars, which are positioned closer to the rider, decrease steering effort and make the bike easier to handle.
(Middle) The brakes are a linked system, with an independent dual disc six-piston caliper arrangement up front.
(Below) A comfortable seat and riding position are high points of the new Freewheeler.
My only experience riding trikes was, oh, back in 1980, give or take. But as I recall, that Big Wheel hauled ass and was a sweet handling mount. It even sounded good, until my mom cut the clickers out of the back wheels… Fast forward three decades or so, add a thousand pounds of rolling mass with 100-plus lb-ft torque at the back wheels and the experience should be more or less similar, right?
H-D reps wisely discerned our crew of journalists would require instruction on the nuances of trike handling before turning us loose on public roads. As such, we had to navigate a low-speed orange cone slalom in the parking lot and do a three-point turn, successfully engaging the Reverse in the latter maneuver. We were also reminded, over and over, not to place our feet down off the footrests while the bike was moving, as they could easily get snarfed up by those pesky rear wheels (the bane of many a motorcyclist riding ATVs too…). As I awaited my turn to qualify, I saw cones tipped, curbs kissed and three-point turns extended by a couple points. I followed suit, and was genuinely surprised when after I rolled to a stop the H-D technician smiled and said: “You put your foot down.” Even though I watched him say the same thing to everybody in line before me. Yeah, this whole trike thing could be interesting…
Many people transition to trikes for health considerations, like shot knees that make holding up 700-pound bikes a less than reliable proposition. Another group selects trikes because they’re uncomfortable or afraid to approach conventional two-wheeled motorcycles. The irony with that latter group is that riding a trike is less intuitive and at times quite unsettling.
At speed a two-wheeled bike turns by leaning, with the rider countersteering the wheel in the opposite direction of the turn. Even those riders who are blissfully ignorant of the physics involved intuitively countersteer every single time they ride a bike or motorcycle. In contrast, a trike doesn’t lean, at all, so riders must steer the wheel toward the direction of the turn like a car (if you’re countersteering a trike, you’re drifting… which sounds fun, but beyond my ken.) For motorcyclists, this fundamental difference makes the first miles aboard a trike a memorable experience.
My first corners at speed behind the Freewheeler controls saw me wincing, as my brain couldn’t 100% accept the new handling dynamic. It worked, but didn’t feel right at first. Other big differences require similar adjustments. For example, misjudge a corner and need to correct? On a two-wheeled bike, lean further and ride it out. On a trike, steer harder, cringe and pray (if so disposed), then go slower next time. I also realized, usually milliseconds into the aforementioned steer harder reaction, that I feared flipping a half-ton motorcycle over in a catastrophic high-side.
H-D claims the Freewheeler’s lighter weight and new bars, which are positioned closer to the rider, decrease steering effort and make the bike easier to handle. After those squeamish initial corners, I discovered the Freewheeler can carry far more cornerspeed than my courage was capable of mustering. I was even able to hang, briefly, with some of the front-running, two-wheeled H-D riders in our group. I soon backed off, however, as some steep roadside shoulders got a little too close for comfort… Plus every time I felt like I had things figured out, one of my inside rear wheels would clop over a road divider as a humbling reminder that the back end was wide – really, really wide. That rear end seemed to find every bump and road imperfection. I suppose that extra wheel delivers 50% more input, but the suspension was unable to dampen it out resulting in a sometimes jarring interface. Having made all these remarks, I will say my confidence improved the more I rode, to the point where I felt pretty comfortable triking around at a leisurely cruising pace. I enjoyed it.
The novelty of a trike’s handling was such an overriding part of my Freewheeler experience (in case you didn’t notice) that it’s easy to forget the engine. H-D equips its new design with the air-cooled High Output 103 Twin. The powertrain, including the six-speed transmission with cruise control, is a familiar holdover from the 103 design that debuted in many of the 2014 Touring models. I never wanted for power and the 103 delivers Harley’s near-trademarked signature sound.
My first corners at speed behind the Freewheeler controls saw me wincing, as my brain couldn’t 100% accept the handling dynamic.
The brakes are a linked system, with an independent dual disc six-piston caliper arrangement up front. The dual rear stoppers, which link to the front, get things slowed down quick enough with a dab on the foot brake. Overall the system does a fair job, particularly considering how heavy the bike is.
Out on the road, I found the riding position relaxed and seat quite comfortable. The seat is moved forward an inch compared to the Tri Glide, with the handlebars closer as well, but I didn’t feel cramped at all. While I didn’t spend a ton of time in the saddle, I can understand the appeal of why folks with bad knees or other infirmities would tap out a more stationary riding option like a three-wheeler. There’s a definite perk to not having to worry about constantly holding up your bike. The Reverse gear and parking brake eliminate the need to find a flat spot and doing that kickstand doublecheck to make sure the bike is secure. These all represent mere convenience for some riders but they are a necessity for many others with those aforementioned health issues, people who wouldn’t be riding otherwise.
As a touring rig, the Freewheeler ain’t ideal, but then again hardcore touring folks should be riding the Tri Glide anyway. As it stands, having a bike with a trunk proves quite convenient. It can easily stow a helmet and riding gear, or any other various sundries H-D folk might wish to ferry about, like, say, a case or three of beer. H-D reps promise two full-face helmets can hide in the trunk as well, but I’ll have to take them at their word, because a colleague and I couldn’t get our two helmets to fit. Of course, his esteemed crown requires an X-Large helmet compared to my Medium, and our Tetris skills are rudimentary at best. Oddly enough, the one overriding impression I had about the trunk was purely aesthetic as it reminded me of rumble seats on old hot rods. You know, like the ones from my childhood Hot Wheels collection. Wow, Big Wheels/Hot Wheels… this nostalgia thing is powerful medicine.
Any sentimental attachment I have to the Freewheeler, however, gets knocked way, way, way far out of my head when I comprehend its $24,999 MSRP. Want any color other than black and its $25,499. People, you can buy the Kawasaki H2 for the same price! But I suppose that’s like comparing apples to oranges – if the apples were V-Twin-powered trikes and the oranges were supercharged literbikes, with cutting-edge technology and face-melting 200-hp performance. (And does it rub salt into any festering wounds that this Freewheeler is $6K more than Erik Buell’s now defunct 1190RX… Alas!) But seriously, the pricing is hard to stomach, particularly in the context of this trike being an access point for riders with health limitations. Then again, like its 1045 pound weight, the Freewheeler’s MSRP looks downright reasonable compared against the $32,999 Tri Glide Ultra.
Look, trikes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if they get folks out and riding they’re good news in my book and the world is better for it. I prefer the regular two-wheeled variety of motorcycle – the ones that lean, and don’t need no stinking air quotes – but I can honestly say the Freewheeler is the best trike I’ve ever ridden. Well… I don’t know, that Big Wheel obviously made more of an impression than I may have realized. How about this: the Freewheeler is the best “motorcycle” trike I’ve ever ridden.