It’s all about the lean.
Not to mention stability, safety and recapturing a whole lot of fun.
Bob Mighell, founder of Tilting Motor Works out of Snohomish, Wash., has developed a three-wheeled motorcycle conversion that delivers the tilt and feel of traditional two-wheeled bikes.
He worked on the idea for a decade — his first “prototype” was built using his boys’ Lego set. He began installing them last year, and Ruth Zebb of Green Valley was among the first in line. Her Honda Gold Wing conversion was delivered last month.
“This allows me to ride a motorcycle, feel like I’m riding a motorcycle, but have the security of three wheels,” she says.
Zebb, who has ridden for 18 years, went down on her bike last year on Mission Road and vowed she wouldn’t ride a two-wheeler again.
She found trikes (two wheels in back, one in front) and Spyders (two in front, one in back) too rigid.
“I didn’t want to be out riding a tractor, which is what they feel like to me,” she says. “I want my three wheels on the ground but I want to be able to lean my corners.”
Mighell’s invention allows that. The bike leans the same as a two-wheeler, and gravel and sand are pretty much non-issues for riders.
Mighell, a mechanical engineer who owned a medical equipment company for 20 years, got busy after he was unable to find anything on the market that would take corners safely and with increased stability.
He said a single front wheel limits braking and traction, and that during heavy braking 70 to 80 percent of the rider’s body weight shifts to the front. The answer was to add another wheel to take the load and to give the bike the capability of leaning into turns.
He said nobody is using the technology on big motorcycles and major manufacturers, including Harley-Davidson, are still tinkering with it.
Early on, Mighell said he took his idea to a local university where an engineering professor declined to help develop it. He told Mighell it had been done before and was found to be unstable.
Two years later, Mighell pulled up to the university in a street-legal tilting three-wheeler. He said the professor was so impressed he cut short two classes full of engineering students to have them come outside to take a look.
Mighell has six patents on the conversion — three issued, three pending — and is working with dealers around the country to do installations. His three-person company has done a dozen already and has reservations for 25 more. If everything’s in place — and nobody’s in line ahead of you — it takes about a week. In Zebb’s case, she bought a 2015 Honda Gold Wing and dropped it by Mighell’s shop, then had it shipped back to Green Valley.
The industry and fellow bikers are taking notice. Mighell, who was in Green Valley this week, took one to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota where it caught the eye of a group of Hell’s Angels, he said. They were impressed.
The benefits go beyond leaning into corners and a legitimate motorcycle experience. A hydraulic pump system, called Tiltlock, keeps the cycle vertical as it drops below 3 mph and prevents it from falling over. It’s good for veteran riders (Zebb’s bike weighs over 1,000 pounds) who are fighting weak knees or who just don’t want to wrestle with a big bike on two wheels.
The conversion is bolted onto the front of the motorcycle; there is no drilling, welding or cutting of the frame. Cost is $9,995 plus installation, or $12,995 with Tiltlock, plus installation, which takes about 10 hours.
As for stability, Mighell has proven it’s there. He holds the land speed record for three-wheel motorcycles, using his invention to hit 134 mph. Truth is, he reached 145 but didn’t finish the required loop because the engine blew, disqualifying the run.
But for Zebb, it’s not the speed. It’s all about the joy of getting back out on the road.
“After my accident, I swore I wouldn’t ride two wheels again, but I want to have fun,” she says. “This is doing it for me.”
Dan Shearer 547-9770