Harley Davidson Penster Tilting Reverse Trike

Harley Davidson Penster reverse tilting trike

Remember the drawings for the Harley Davidson Leaning Trike Patent we showed you way back in 2007? Well, the Harley Davidson Museum takes the wraps off of the real trikes (code name "Penster") behind those drawings.

Harley Davidson Penster reverse tilting trike

Harley Davidson Penster reverse tilting trike

John Buttera, the legendary custom and race car builder, originally hailed from Wisconsin, and I guess he got to know some of the guys at Harley Davidson because they hired him to do some design and prototype work for the company. In 1998, he built the original version of this tilting reverse trike, which is shown below, and over the ensuing years, the Motor Company refined the design until it was pretty much ready for production. The final orange 2006 version you see here looks exactly like the patent drawings. This might have been in the Harley showrooms, but instead, we got the Tri-Glide.

There was a lot of speculation when these drawings came out about when or if this would ever see the light of day. Well, it's out there now, at the museum, but it is no longer destined for the showroom. Too bad. They might have had a jump on the trike market and beat the Can-Am Spyder to the punch.

All photos credit: Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson Penster prototype by John Buttera

Harley Davidson Penster prototype by John Buttera

Harley Davidson Penster prototype by John Buttera

Harley Davidson Penster prototype by John Buttera


    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      It wouldn’t have been too hard for the designers to tweak the appearance but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Besides, the Can-Am Spyder isn’t a beauty queen either. I bet this was a hoot to drive.

      • Ken says

        I like the promise that it appears to have. Not sure why all the bantering is going on in the below comments, but I would like to focus on the rideability of this bike. I would love to see how the suspension articulates and handles on a road track. LOVE. However, I do think the riding posture of a standard bike, or a quad, would make more sense as I think my lower back would be destroyed by the above bike. The standard, or maybe even sport bike riding posture would allow you to use your rear legs to throw the rear of the bike around like you would on an atv making a reverse trike a total thrill to ride! Just think of the drifting you could do in the corners with that set up! It would be crazy fun!!!

        • steved says

          Coincidentally, yesterday I had the pleasure to test ride the 3rd generation prototype of the 3-wheeler designed by Tilting Motorworks of Marysville, WA. that was shown in the January 2011 issue of Motorcycle Consumer News.


          I have 45 years of riding experience on many makes in all disciplines and I have to say that the rideability exceeded my expectations. With the exception of the low speed handling below 5-7 miles an hour (which I would be able to master with about 15 more minutes of seat time in a parking lot), it handled beautifully and was a hoot to ride. It countersteers just like a conventional 2-wheeler except a little heavier. The kit was installed on a stock Road King, and the real beauty of it is that it can be installed and removed without any permanent modification to the stock motorcycle, maintaining the motorcycle’s classification for insurance and licensing purposes. Put the kit on with dirt tires for winter riding and convert back to a solo for the summer!

          The engineering and fabrication in this proof-of-concept are top notch. The designer, Bob Mighell, is leaving from Sacramento, CA today, and will be riding it over to Sturgis to ride it around there and show it off. If you’re in the area next week, keep an eye out for him.

  1. Baxter Blue says

    Wish they would have used this design, rather than the DEATH TRAP “TRI” design.

  2. hoyt says

    “but instead, we got the Tri-Glide
    but instead, we got the Tri-Glide
    but instead, we got the Tri-Glide”

    punk or metal chords accompanying that chorus sums up that decision

    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      Harley goes with what they know. This trike, among other exhibits at the museum, shows Harley has the talent and skill to build this kind of forward thinking product, it’s just that, when the ultimate decisions about where the money will be spent, have to be made, they fall back to the safe alternative.

      One of the reasons behind the Collection X exhibit, might, in a way, be an attempt to show the Motor Company’s other side. I think some of us might like to see that other side in the showroom once in a while, but, given present circumstances with the economy, it may be some time before they again get the chance to do it.

      • Kevin says

        the reason the European brands have been so successful in this economy is because they have been making hew, exciting, different designs. They are giving people what they want, and building new markets themselves.
        So this may actually be the best time to introduce such a vehicle. Might bring in sales form people who wouldn’t otherwise buy a Harley.

      • Nicolas says

        If some Chinese (?) company can sell tilting scooters for $1499 as advertised on the top left of the Kneeslider page, I believe that HD can safely try and sell a tilting 3 wheeler with one of their engine on it.
        I know that there are huge costs related to developpment and EPA and DOT certifications, but HD has the most expensive components already available in house (engine, and basically the whole rear end of the vehicle), and the ressources and talents to go through the process. If the Chinese can do it for $1499, I’m sure HD can do it for not much more than their current pricey cruisers.

  3. rohorn says

    I’m seriously beginning to think that Harley does product testing by exposing consumers to various concepts and:

    If their pulse rate goes up, they can it.
    If their pulse rate drops, it gets further development.
    If their pulse rate fades into oblivion, it becomes next year’s model.

    That said, this does make me want to visit this exhibit. On a Buell.

    Yes, TriGlideCide does sound punktastic…

    • Decline says

      Funny that is more or less how I have always felt GM does their cars. Maybe they are in it together.

  4. Kevin says

    This is the only time I will ever say a ‘Harley product” looks better than something else. This looks better than the CanAm Spyder. By far. Very elemental. The exposed pushrod front suspension and single sided swing arm on the maroon/brown one looks awesome.
    Unfortunately Harley can’t put any of their decent designs into production. The longer the wait, the more they kill their image to outsiders, so when they are forced to build something else(because the baby boomers die) they will have no market.

    I agree with rohorn.

  5. todd says

    As far as I understand, the trike that got built was a John Buttera, not a Harley. The orange and silver one that H-D “built” looks like it is a 3D rendering. H-D may have played with the idea but I don’t think they put any more investment into it other than paying Mr. Buttera for the rights to the design, the resultant 3D styling exercise, and the patent application.

    I’m sure it looks like H-D did something new and different but, really, they just paid someone else to.


    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      That “3D rendering” is currently on display in the Collection X exhibit in the Harley museum.

      • todd says

        the orange and silver one? OK, there is some rippling in the vinyl that doesn’t always get included in a 3D model.

        My bad. Good to know they built it. Maybe it will get some positive attention at the museum.


  6. says

    I don’t understand why HD can’t still press this product to market. Is it that it fails to comply with their “core values”? The last two pics of the model with inboard push rod activated front suspension and a single-sided rear swing arm really got my attention. It’s the kind of thing that HD needs on its showroom floors to generate some new traffic.

    I agree with some of the other comments in that HD’s product development strategy is obviously quite flawed. While the Motor Co. continues to state that it’s selling to the young crowd, I just don’t see it, at least in my area of the world.

    Put something like this on the showroom floor along with some two wheeled products that can actually go around a corner, and I think you’ll begin to see a lot of riders that may not have otherwise thought about owning a Harley Davidson stopping in to have a look.

  7. hoyt says

    putting an old dude on a Tri-Glide is more dangerous than the same old dude buying a Road King in the latest color.

    Instead of safely injecting more vibrancy into the old dude, (by putting them on a torquey, tilting 3-wheeler), HD produced the Tri-Glide. I’ll never forget seeing a helmetless old guy doing a u-turn on one of those heaps in front of on-coming traffic on a divided highway. Absolutely frightening.

    There is no way a Tri-Glide would entice the old dude’s grandson to ride HD more than the above tilter.

  8. Azzy says

    Shame, this would be an HD I would like to own, especially if it came with the VRod engine.

    Oh well. Wonder if Honda will make one then?

  9. Tin Man says

    Harley is not in bussiness to please the Haters, they are in bussiness to make a profit. How can anyone second guess the MoCo ? All the decisions that are ridiculed on the Net have turned out to be correct. Yes, Wall Street put HD in the trick bag for a while, but not the product. The most copied and coveted Bikes in the world just keep marching on. Get over it!!

    • rohorn says

      Cut the crap. I BOUGHT my FIRST harley (XR1000) around the same time they were going bankrupt. Bought more after that, but before they became a fashion outlet. I’ve earned my right to point out their failures.

      Back when they sold motorcycles for individuals instead of lifestyles for the vaguely animate, they at least tried to sell something to those looking for some excitement – or at least accomodated those who could build their own excitement. Their time in that market is long gone – the customers aren’t. They are the lazy ones, not me.

    • Kevin says

      All the decisions are correct? What are you talking about?
      They purchased MV Agusta for hundreds of millions of $ to get modern tech, then only a few years later sold it for half the price without getting anything from them. Good decision? No.
      For years they choked Buell. Every time Buell could have mad a very profitable bike harley caused it to be way more expensive, underpowered, undersold, etc. Every time Buell could have brought new, riders into their dealerships Harley choked them. How is that a good decision?
      When Buell finally had a decent looking future harley killed them. Look at the result. Buell is already looking to accomplish more than it ever did under Harleys dictatorship.
      Harley had the chance to modernize with the V-Rod engine, but they absolutely killed the design by making it big, heavy, underpowered, ugly, and expensive. Good decision?

      Harley is not in the business to make an advanced product or advance technology. They are here to rebadge their 1920s bike as a 20XX and sell it to the sheep.

  10. FREEMAN says

    For whatever reason, this trike got the boot. No sense crying about it and how terrible HD is. The fact is: HD is a successful company that keeps thousands of people employed. I seriously doubt anyone who is not into their bikes would buy one. There are plenty of other bikes out there for them to select from. We are all upset Buell was canned, too. But then there would be no EBR if it had not happened. Imagine how I felt, owning a bike that was put in a crusher by Eric Buell himself and sold as an autographed scrap cube. Can we all get over it and move on? The same crap gets posted every time there is an HD related post.

    • Jack says

      Can HD replace some of the management and move on? I can’t believe all of the engineers and decision-makers are just wanting to stay ‘safe’. The ‘Motor Company’ right?

      Polaris will change things.

      • bblix says

        Jack, you’re statement is correct with respect to the engineers. But a little off target with respect to “management”. Engineering HAS new management (a former VP from Honda) and little has changed. Oh, sure, they’re “systems” are different, but it’s the old H-D in new clothes.

        It’s hard to change company culture. There is no doubt an “Old Guard” in H-D that plays against some of the more radical changes. There is also a lot of public sentiment to back it up too. Often a Brand is it’s own worst enemy against change. If a Brand deviates too far from the storyline people expect it’s met with blank stares and no sales. Happens all the time.

        The group posting here is outside the mainstream of the motorcycle buying public. The mainstream of the motorcycle buying public imagines that a H-D is what we’re seeing now.

    • BobG says

      Amen for the 100th time. We all should be embracing two wheelers, no matter if you like a manufacturer or not. Simply don’t buy their product. We really need to be standing together and supporting motorcycles regardless of what we ride.

  11. B*A*M*F says

    I love tilting trikes but to me, this is not one I’d much want to stare at. It might be great to ride, but it wouldn’t cause me to linger and look wistfully in the garage. I wouldn’t call the Piaggio MP3 an exemplar of handsomeness, but it looks more finished than this.

    Make some narrow track tilter that makes me think of an XR1200 or Nightster, and it would grab one’s attention in a positive way.

    Either way, kudos to Harley for building it, or at least funding someone else building it (even if retroactively).

  12. rfileger says

    I’ve got some older friends who just can’t deal with the weight of a two wheeled Harley and would have NO interest in a conventional trike but let them ride a Tilting
    Three Wheeler reverse trike and I bet they’d absolutely love it. I’m over 70 and I’m completely enthralled with the TTWs. The stability is unparalleled

  13. Hawk says

    It’s my opinion that this is the result of Harley’s “aquisition” (sounds so much nicer than “stole”) of the intellectual property rights from the defunct Carver. Rather than use it, the bury in in a museum …. along with Buell and a host of other great ideas.

    “We don’t want it … but you can’t have it.”

    Unbelievable …..

  14. Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

    Harley isn’t building this trike, but since the first prototype was built by John Buttera, there’s no reason another skilled builder couldn’t do much the same thing. If there really is an opportunity here, another shop could jump on it and see what they come up with, or even another company for that matter. The guys over at Victory seem able to try a lot of things with Polaris behind them, they might be a good candidate.

    When someone else, whether a company or an individual, decides not to do something you think should be done, you have every opportunity to prove their decision wrong by doing it yourself. Not every garage builder or rider has the wherewithal to put something like this together, but some do, and it would be interesting to see the result.

    • john t says

      I wish I could put on paper what I feel in my stomach about this leaning trike thing. By that I mean in a concept drawing…. I truly believe someone will get this right one day and create a very desirable vehicle . I am constantly dreaming of the perfect form of a hybrid cycle/car thing and I know one day someone will get all the stars aligned. I think the Morgan is very cool but too low for our roads and I have driven the Can Am Spyder and was very disappointed with its strange handling qualities. It the Can Am Spyder can be mated with the proper leaning mechanism I think the question will be answered with a fun to drive and very desirable machine

      • Decline says

        The “perfect cycle car hybrid ” so far I think is the t-trex (was? Not sure what has happened to them) sure it is more car than bike but just absolutely brilliant, especially in it’s dimensions which is where most trikes fail. Get those right though and the reverse trike just becomes amazingly stable.

    • says

      I really love the Buttera version. I believe you are right that someone may be inspired to make their own version.

      But, when you mentioned Polaris, I had a slightly different idea than a Victory version: How cool would an Indian trike be with the flowing skirted fenders that made them an icon?

  15. Dr Robert Harms says

    Hold on for a minute——- the patent was for an ‘energy storing lean control device ” that could be applied to a TTW, not for a TTW. If you inspect the patent application and compare it to the pictures above (as well as I can tell), the bike pictured may not actually incorperate that device. Further, as built, the front supension differs from the patent application bike depiction . I suspect the bike pictured built may resemble the patent bike but may not actually tilt.

    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      I don’t follow what you’re saying. If you look at the second image of the orange trike and compare the front suspension to the patent drawings, it’s the same. The original Buttera version is definitely different and may not lean, it’s hard to say from the angle we can see.

      As far as the patent application, when I follow the link from the original post, it says it’s for “leaning suspension mechanics,” and goes on to explain how it works. I didn’t see anything about energy storing lean control device. Are you looking at the same application?

      • todd says

        Judging from those same photos it looks like, in order to tilt the Buttera trike, the shock push rods would need to change length as it tilts. The outside one would need to lengthen while the inside one would need to shorten. You are right that it’s hard to tell and there is no mention of it but that’s my guess.

        I’ve been wrong before.


  16. Anon says

    Mental Exercise: Since it leans, can you initiate a turn by counter-steering? Or does it turn like a sidecar rig, but leans independently?

    I got nowhere.

    • B*A*M*F says

      When I rode the MP3, it handled basically just like a motorcycle. Countersteering initiated turns as it would on a two wheeler.

  17. Azzy says

    So for those of us who cant take the tour of these oddities in person, is there a virtual tour available?

    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      Funny you should ask, I was thinking the same thing yesterday and see they have an online membership that gets you in and you can tour the exhibits from your computer, but, … you go through the process, pay your membership fee, $40, and then you get a confirmation email, that’s it. Everything else comes in the regular mail which according to the reply, takes 2 to 3 weeks. Unfortunately, you need a member number to login and that doesn’t come with your confirmation email. I’ve already called to see if we can speed that up.

  18. HoughMade says

    An economy like the U.S. has now is no time to go out experimenting with a whole new market segment especially when the startup costs are so high. I suppose we would all like to see companies being bold and innovative all the time, every day, but it’s not always a good idea. Japanese manufacturers have been limping along with a very few truly new models for a few years…and I don’t blame them. Revenues and sales may be turning around, but a huge drop followed by small gains does not mean there is recovery (that goes for the economy as a whole). I would love to see the overall economy improve and se what innovation that brings to the entire industry.

    • Kevin says

      The reason the Japanese manufacturers are limping along and the European brands are growing is because the Europeans ARE introducing new bikes in new market segments. This is EXACTLY what brands need to do to get market share. Since most manufacturers are not even updating a 10 year old bike selling a unique bike will get people talking about your brand and get mroe people in your dealerships.
      The European brands have created the streetfighter segment and have been very successful. The jap brands are not venturing and are suffering.

      • says

        It’s easy to gain market share when you had a tiny portion to begin with. Neither Honda nor H-D can make much money with small niche bikes. They need volume. Guzzi, Ducati and even Triumph are small concerns in comparison.

        • hoyt says

          it’s not easy. You said it yourself…these companies are small, relatively speaking. This dialogue is a prime example of big corporation complacency because they start listening to f’in wall st. too much (or whatever stock mkt)
          Japan Inc. is also dealing with the biggest disaster in our lifetimes

          @Freeman, @tinman…
          Your blind defense of HD is more tiresome than the routine criticism. Although HD was not as innovative as Indian, HD has NOT always been about focusing on cruisers only

          • FREEMAN says

            Let’s just say I’ll defend the jobs of any blue collar any day. I think we can all agree that it does not benefit anyone to put more folks out of work as some that comment on here would have.
            Furthermore, there are plenty of other motorcycle companies that are making what other’s want. If HD doesn’t have it, then buy it elsewhere or build it yourself or put your hard-earned dollars into someone else’s pocket to build it for you. Be a doer. You can have what you want. I don’t understand why we get our panties in a bunch over what (insert major motorcycle manufacturer here) doesn’t make. It’s pointless.

          • hoyt says

            This has nothing to do with putting the working man/woman OUT of work; quite the opposite. It is clear you don’t get this perspective.

          • FREEMAN says

            @ hoyt:
            You’re right. I don’t understand. I even said that and if you read my comment fully instead of focusing on the second sentence you would know this. How about you enlighten me?
            Help me understand why so many complain about ANY manufacturer NOT making something they think they should make and why they don’t bother focusing their energy on helping themselves instead, which was the real point of my comment.

          • hoyt says

            This has nothing to do with other OEMs or “do-ers”, either.

            It is about HD playing it safe way too much of the time. No one says they need to scrap everything.

            The Tri Glide lasted how long in their catalogue? There is no way that death trap turned a profit in its short production run after x spent on it to bring it to production. How’s that for keeping blue collar jobs Freeman? How the F was that thing allowed to pass any DOT to begin with?

  19. Dano says

    Having ridden the Spyder, Piaggio MP3 and the Honda 360 (two on the rear) machines I will say without a doubt that the Paiggio MP3 is the most fun, most stabile one of the bunch. HD would have had a hit with this one had they decided to go forward with it. As stated, with any luck someone will have the where with all to manufacture something as nice looking that will be fun to ride and tour on.
    Paul, a year or so back you had a video done by someone that built their own tilting three wheeler and it was a nice start that required some refinement. They had a camera on the machine and flew down a real rough road. They may be able to benefit from HD’s efforts.

  20. rashomon says

    There were some steering oddities with the Harley design, someone who rode one extensively told me. It was using electronics rather than simple physics to control aspects of its handling, and, if you pushed it hard, the rider said, it got distinctly weird. In any case, senior management chose not to take a chance with it.

  21. Simon says

    Well, I was wondering if they’d ever build the thing when I saw the initial drawings for the patent application here on Kneeslider, and frankly, the prototype “Penster” looks better than I expected, but I am not surprised that we got the Tri-Glide instead. HD has always been conservative in its decisions, and there is probably a greater market out there for the Tri-Glide, judging by all the trike kits I keep seeing for Gold Wings by aftermarket companies, than there is for something like the Penster. Either way, I wouldn’t have bought one, not for the kind of money they’re asking for the Tri-Glide. (Hell, a Miata makes more sense for that kind of dough. I’d still have sports car handling, good mileage, and a roof to keep the rain and snow off.)

    My own tastes are perhaps a bit different from that of many Harley riders. I had an Electra Glide, I also had a Super Glide, and went back to Sportsters because I prefer them. I think the best looking bike they’re making now is the Blue Pearl Iron 883. (Put a 1200 kit or larger in one and you’d have a pretty nice bike.) I still think they’re missing a bet by now coming out with smaller, more affordable bikes, as they used to offer back in the 60s. The Buell Blast was not entirely a bad idea, just poor design execution. Offer up something like a Harley version of an old Ducati Diana and you’d really have something that might just jack up sales to a while new generation of young riders who might, eventually, be able to afford moving up to the bigger bikes. (And then they’d trade in the small ones and I’d buy one used for a good price.)

  22. hoyt says

    It might go somewhere if you can find an answer to the decision to build the Tri Glide instead of something like the above tilter..

    Wait, yeah, it won’t go anywhere

  23. biggyfries says

    I am familiar with Buttera’s work on varoius custom cars and serious (Indy) racers, so I have a lot of built-in respect for his work.
    I admire the construction and high standards that went into these trikes–I am skeptical about three wheelers, and even though they work okay, they are not great because of the inherent problems with three tracks. The best three wheelers were probably some of the more successful sidecar racers, they were fast and sophisticated, but they paled in comparison to the singletrackers, the motorcycles. They are just about done in motorsports anyway, and are now a novelty only.
    My point is not to just be a jerk about these trikes, just wanting to suggest it might be a waste of effort and resources to develop these type of vehicles. Their future is not bright.

  24. Eagle says

    I wonder if Harley Davidson knows about the OCC reverse trike it just built? It looks almost identical to this one.

  25. says

    Gotta wonder if didn’t make production for… issues of handling, cost, liability… Neighbor of mine has built one that leans all three wheels. Serious prototype, Hyabusa engine, nice chassis, lights, etc. Have some stills and video if yer interested.

  26. mickey says

    been waiting for this to come out.. too bad.. i guess i have bought my last H-D.. well its off to the Can-Am dealer….

  27. Spyder says

    …I’m guessing Harley did this just to get the patent in place before any competitor did…and if John Buttera asked to be credited on any aspect of the design, it would have been immediately shelved…don’t forget, this is not the first tadpole-trike that Harley has commissioned…they asked Bill Badsey to design n fabricate a prototype in the 80’s…he did his usual stellar job, and Harley was set for production, but refused to credit Badsey for it…Badsey wanted the cresting to say Badsey/Harley Davidson, as was done with the Buell/Harley Davidson collaborations…they sued Badsey in an attempt to seize ownership of the design and lost…project shelved, prototype sold…one of the most foolish things the company has ever done…they could have had these on the road 30 years ago, instead we waited, and Can-am got there first…I agree it’s no beauty queen, but at least the Can-am is properly designed, I have strong reservations about the Penster…the Penster’s wheels are too far from the mass centre of the machine…with not only the power unit but the rider’s weight so far rearward, biased over the single wheel, I can see the tilting action becoming the only thing that saves you from its’ inherent tippiness…even the T-Rex, with the riders between the front wheels, can be stood on two with a minimum of effort, due to the engine’s weight offset to the rear…

  28. says

    Well guys you all are close but not quite there…the reason that Harley did not release the tilting trike is because they could not get around Mystery Designs “utility patent” on a tilting trike. I think that the trike shown here and the other tadpole trike they built look great but they could not put them into production without dealing with the patent that Lawayne at Mystery has!

  29. Kevin says

    WTF, why dose Harley do this, I would like to know. they make things like this and then do nothing, this is a trike that is just plan a knock out I like both but the dark red is the best.