TRT – the Tilting Reverse Trike Harley Conversion from Too Kool Cycles

TRT lean angle

Jim Harrell was thinking about trikes for some time, even before the blond on the cell phone rear ended him and his wife at a traffic light, but with a new collection of bumps and bruises it was getting even more difficult to ride, so, Jim finally decided, now was the time. He surveyed the options already out there, from Hannigan, Can-Am and others and became more convinced than ever, without the ability to lean in the turns, a trike just doesn’t work. He set about designing a conversion for late model Harley touring bikes and the Too Kool Cycles TRT, tilting reverse trike was born.

TRT tilting reverse trike from Too Kool Cycles

A lifelong rider, Jim rode a BMW K1200LT just before returning to the big Harley. He no longer needed a high speed Autobahn cruiser and the Harley worked really well for slower speeds and weekend rides exploring the back streets of Charleston, Savannah and Georgetown.

Tackling this sort of project requires a bit of preparation, but Jim has a lot of hands on experience rebuilding engines, building race cars, restoring British cars and building custom pan head and knucklehead bobbers, so, he felt he was ready to create the trike he had in mind but couldn't find anywhere else. Jim also thought a lot of other riders getting up in years might like what he had in mind, too.

TRT tilting reverse trike from Too Kool Cycles

He had several requirements for his design:

First, while riding a Can-Am trike, he was really uncomfortable with the forces acting on his body in the turns and knew leaning was necessary, not only to feel right, but for safety, as well.

Second, Jim says this concept is aimed at the aging segment of the rider population, where the mind is willing, but the "ol' bod" keeps resisting.

TRT wheel closeup

We "oldsters" would prefer the lean/tilt sensation but without having to put our feet and legs down to support these rascals when we stop because they are getting heavier and more awkward as we get older. To achieve this, I have designed a unique locking mechanism that at slow speeds (~ 6mph or less) locks the bike vertical and negates the need to put your feet on the pavement for support.

Third, with Jim’s background building all kinds of street and race car suspensions, he wanted to improve on the ride quality. Long A arms and coil over shocks coupled with a little longer wheelbase have achieved that goal. Jim’s wife confirms the trike rides much better than the original bike.

TRT front suspension

During the design and build phase, Jim knew he needed to limit the lean, but how much? Initially he thought 16 to 18 degrees would do it, but the first road test at that angle through a local roundabout was an eye opener when he discovered the road camber designed in for drainage used most of the available lean and gave him a "puckering" moment. Now at 25+ degrees of lean, all is well.

TRT tilting front suspension

Is this a kit someone buys and goes home and assembles? No. If someone is interested we will do the installation and functional testing. Right now it’s intended for late model Harley touring bikes, but versions for other models and makes are in the planning stages. The package in no way molests the original bike. You can unbolt the complete snout and put the original single wheel and forks back on in several hours.

I have 300 plus miles on road testing from Interstates to back roads with special emphasis on the roundabouts and the congestion of downtown Charleston SC. As with anything, tight conditions take some getting used to, by design the bike does drive vertical, only at slow and low speed and thus does not attack the rider with the unwanted physical dynamics. Once up to speed the bike performs very well with no problems. It’s different though with two front wheels out there and the bike tilting.

TRT under construction

Think about that, a complete tilting front end conversion yet completely reversible right back to stock. Sweet. The whole project looks very professionally done. I like the midget racer nose that covers the front tilting mechanism, an area that would really take away from the appearance if left out in the open. One of Jim's friends created that and did a great job.

TRT rider view

I talked to Jim for quite a while and it was clearly evident he's proud of his trike, rightfully so, and hopes to build these for other riders who would appreciate the extra wheel, but don't want to give up the feel of leaning in the turns. He estimates a conversion could be performed on a customer's bike in 5 to 7 days and that includes painting to match. Price isn't firm yet and will vary depending on options, but his range is somewhere between $8,000 and $12,000, very reasonable in my view, especially since it can be removed, the bike returned to stock and the entire tilting unit moved to a new bike. He doesn't have a website just yet, but will very soon, where you'll be able to get more information and arrange for an installation.

The design process begins, from idea to completion

Earlier this year, I said I knew some builders with projects already under way, not waiting for the perfect moment to begin, they just decided to get moving and started building. Jim Harrell is one of them. Look around. The economy is still not perfect, but here's a brand new, designed from scratch, tilting reverse trike conversion, and it's on the road. Nice work, Jim! Very, very nice.

Jim Harrell and his TRT conversion

Jim Harrell and his TRT conversion

Comments

      • hmmmm90s says

        Um, I’d like to hear more about that, but my first reaction is to call BS. I think i understand the physics of countersteering pretty well, and it is only possible if the machine is free to roll around the front tire’s contact patch, which to my eye, this clearly isn’t able to. My understanding is that countersteering is only possible in a two wheeled system. No other trike or sidecar outfit i’ve ever seen can countersteer — what’s different about this?

        • todd says

          Sure it can, why not? If you turn the bars to the left when riding straight the bike will want to tilt over to the right. After the initial tilt (lean) you immediately correct and steer into the turn (centripetal force) to keep it leaned over against centrifugal force. Just like a “real” bike.

          -todd

        • Chrome says

          Met the owner with his prototype at a Tony Foale seminar in LA last year. Slick bike. Foale loved it and said it handled great. Definitely countersteers. Wheels are tilted a few deg out to account for varying turning arc.

  1. Leston Cochran says

    I’d like to know more about his <6mph tilt locking mechanism…. Is it dynamically controlled via accelerometer or gyroscopic tools or is it more simple?

  2. Tin Man 2 says

    Very nicely done, but I question the price. I’m sure a production version could be marketed for alot less money if the demand is there. The nose is a nice hand built piece but a Fiberglass mold using the same nose piece from Speedway would be more cost effective. I,m always surprised the big manufactures don’t jump on this concept, I’ve rode the Spyders and I own a sidehack, I do not like the dymanics at all. Lets hope this design takes off and becomes available in a kit form.

  3. Scotduke says

    Great engineering, not sure about the looks. In theory HD should be particularly interested in this. There are a lot of ageing HD riders who will be reaching a point where they need the security of three wheels. Whether it could go into production is something else.

    I do wonder if any of Piaggio’s tilting scooter technology will end up on the Aprilia or Moto Guzzi motorcycles, built by the same group.

  4. akaaccount says

    So I’m guessing the motor company wasn’t granted that tilting trike patent they applied for a few years go. Either way this guy’s design is probably much better

  5. Hawk says

    I may be incorrect but I seem to recall that Carver had a leaning suspension some years ago. I’d heard that when they went bust, the intellectual property rights (patent) were still retianed and that Harley-Davidson wanted to buy (steal) the patent. Why, I could never understand because they were never serious about trike (Lehman) conversions and seemed to totally ignore the Can-Am designs.

    Being in the targeted age group (I have a GoldWing resting in the garage due to back surgeries and now ride a Burgman), I’ve been wondering why Can-Am has not pursued a leaning suspension. I must agree that the current design leaves my cold when even a mild corner attack is trying to pitch me off.

    This design, clever as it may be, is still too expensive to target a mass market. Perhaps Mr. Harrell would be better off to take his design (and patent) to an established manufacturer?

    • says

      The Vandenbrink Carver design is different with two powered, non-titling wheels in the rear and a tilting cockpit & front tire. It’s a much narrower design that’s enclosed. There was an attempt to bring it to the US called “Venture” then changed to Persu Mobility that included plans for electric/hybrid versions. The last I read of that was from 2008.

      It was a really nice, though likely more electronically/mechanically complex solution. BMW has a similar concept called CLEVER. I don’t understand why They didn’t stick with it or develop with Carver. Seems like just the thing that would have taken off in Europe with Bimmers wherewithal.

  6. B*A*M*F says

    Your average person who wanted to keep riding and needed a less powerful bike in tilting trike form would have just bought a Piaggio MP3 500. My hat is off to Mr. Harrell for making the bike he wanted.

    I personally enjoyed riding the Piaggio MP3 on a tour of the hill country around San Antonio when they first came out in the US. It essentially felt like riding a normal 250cc scooter that had more grip and could brake in much shorter distances. I imagine this is even more amazing to ride.

  7. says

    I’m fairly sure the Carver doesn’t do countersteer. It’s a hydraulic tilt and and turns the front wheel proportionally with the tilt.

    I really wonder how this trike works steering around obsticles at freeway speeds. I love the low speed lock (and wonder just how that happens). And I think it couls look better (what can i say, it looks really odd to me) if he had an ID guy help with a restyled nose piece.

  8. Yeti2bikes says

    I would love to see this concept on a purpose built platform where the entire machine was designed around the front end instead of looking like it was an add on.

    Great design work though.

  9. B50 Jim says

    Great concept, clean execution. It should corner like a weasel as long as the rider has the gumption to hold on. I like the vintage speedway nose; like someone grafted the front end of a ’50s midget racecar to the bike. The setup reminds me of something I saw years ago in a magazine — two bicycles grafted together via a linkage that allowed them to lean. The rider(s) rode it just like they’d ride a single bike and it worked the same, so this setup should countersteer normally, although it might have a “heavy” feel with all that hardware to move. All in all, it’s a great solution to the old problem of what older riders do when we’re not confident on two wheels but have plenty of riding years in us. I’m not to that stage yet, but it gets harder every year to put my B50 on its center stand, and it’s not a heavy bike.

  10. Bob says

    another one
    http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2007/11/20/tilting-v-max-trike-by-tilting-motor-works/

    Both these bikes can countersteer and TMW bike has video to prove it.

    If the suspension can allow the center of gravity to move to the left of right of the effective contact patch for the whole vehicle (not just one tire), then the sideways force created by the countersteer will move the effective contact patch out from under the cg.

    All the talk about flywheel precession is a distraction. Yes, it is a real force, but, it’s too small to create the rate of tilt you experience in reality. The previous season, MotoGP.com had great slow mo videos of the GP bikes going through esses. You could see the steering input and the leaned bike changing direction and as the front tire lifted as they got on the throttle subsequent large steering inputs to the elevated tire didn’t significantly alter the attitude of the bike.

    There’s a good yahoo group devoted to tilters:
    http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/tilting/

    The sweet set up for a vehicle in motion appears to be free to caster (FTC) where you control the tilt of the vehicle and let the front tire(s) steer themselves… really

  11. Decline says

    Not my taste at all but hats to him for being able to design and build it. I love reverse trike designs but the only one I ever felt really got it all correct more or less was the trex….but then it is also more car than motorcycle.

  12. Tim says

    The MP3 is on my shortlist for when I dont want to do two wheels anymore. Hopefully they’re still available in 2050.

  13. Billy B.Tso says

    brilliant mechanical engineering, great job! to be able to build such a bike is an amazing achivement! well done!!
    ….from a personal perspective on the end look of the ‘extra’ body work, sorry not for me – the previous era old f1 racer nose – doesn’t click for me with the rear hd component….i would almost prefer to see the beautiful frame work exposed.

  14. Jim P. says

    It isn’t readily obvious from then pictures but it seems that the truss to which the shocks are attached must rotate around a point on the centerline of the cycle. If this is true then I question the need for a locking mechanism for low speed operation. I have been working on a similar suspension and found that during leaning both shocks are compressed slightly, storing potential energy, and would tend to return the vehicle to its upright position. This suggests that the upright “un leaned” configuration is stable and shouldn’t require a lock.

  15. BoxerFanatic says

    I like Tilting Motor Works solution… it seems to make for more compact vehicle. The front of the bike pictured above is pretty huge.

    I still want to build a recumbent reverse trike, backed by a BMW HP2 Sport engine and drivetrain, with the pilot seated in front of the engine.

  16. rfileger says

    Paul,

    For quite some time now these vehicles have been categorized as TTW for Tilting Three Wheeler NOT TRT. Why not maintain some consistency.

    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      In this instance, the TRT designation is Jim’s name for his trike. I am following what he chose to use when writing about it.

  17. Tom says

    “…knew leaning was necessary, not only to feel right, but for safety…”

    He’s claiming the Can-Am is more dangerous because it does not lean? The Spyders have been out in the real world for a couple years now; can he point us to his data that backs up this advertising bullet?

    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      When Jim was evaluating other trikes, how he felt while riding them played a big part in his design. His view, as he told me, is from the perspective of an older rider and since he felt rather insecure on the Can-Am during turns of any speed, that translates to a safety issue for him and possibly for others like him. It’s subjective.

      While a younger rider may be able to ride all sorts of bikes and trikes without issue, an older rider may have less upper and lower body strength to counteract the forces of a turn. If you feel less secure on the trike, you’re going to feel unsafe, even if there is no data to indicate a problem.

    • texasjoe87 says

      Tom, the Can-Am is inherently more dangerous because it does not lean. It is equipped with stability control to counteract its natural tendency to flip during hard cornering. A tilting vehicle has no tendency to flip over; it works the same as a motorcyle. Check out this video by Can-Am about the stability control system on the Roadster to see what I’m talking about. I would never ride one precisely because they do not lean.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbCg2xIJ2CU

  18. says

    Excellent design and build quality and i’d say good aesthetics also. Love the speedway nose and added wheelbase makes sense. I would suggest that once all is said and done that the cost will be closer to the high end. Out of many people’s budgets. I’ll admit i am a dyed in the wool sidecar guy. One can ‘sidecar’ a bike like that for notably less dollars and get added utility, storage space and far quicker/easier return to solo bike. I feel most folks if they take the time to acclimate do not find the sidecar experience (no leaning) unsafe or scary. This trike kit makes a great alternative for those with the funds to take this route.

  19. Paulinator says

    I like the tadpole, TRT, TTW concept. I’m even warm to the old VWs with girder forks and metal-flake paint. This one is beautifly built, too, I might add. But…if stability and safety is attained thru leaning, then why the wide gauge wheel track? MP3s get away without that.

    • jim harrell says

      Thanks for the compliments. The wide track is there for several very important reasons. Back in the day I did numerous street rods and one that caught my eye was a 39 Buick. Its front A arms were extremely long thus affording a rather “mushy” smooth ride. That stuck with me. Fast forward and packing the noggin with all kinds of info we built several road race cars that had long front suspension A arms because they offered a wider window range of geometry control – castor, camber, toe – allowing reduced unwanted gains in each catagory. This coupled with longer A arms offer a lot better ride quality while shorter control arms, narrower track, tends to make for choppy ride. Keep in mind improved ride quality was a target goal. My wife on the first ride confirmed the improvement. AND this was built for comfort for us oldsters. This is not a GP / Moto hot rod.

      • Paulinator says

        Thank you Sir. Your thorough resume is truly impressive. Glad you shared your project and your knowledge with us.

        Cheers!

  20. B50 Jim says

    He chose a Harley for its best feature — lots of usable torque over a wide rpm range in a relatively slow-turning engine. As for its appearance, that’s a matter of individual taste. I’d like to see the nose extend a few inches more ahead of the front wheels to balance everything behind the wheels. I’m highly impressed with the craftsmanship on that hand-hammered aluminum nose; not everyone can work with that stuff so well.

    As for the posters wondering why it has to lean — try hanging onto a trike in a fast corner while hanging off to stay on the bike. That’s fun and OK for younger riders, but we older pilots aren’t so flexible; that’s besides those of us with back problems, sciatica, old injuries from crashing dirt bikes, etc. Being able to stay properly seated and still take a corner at a good rate is worth the price of a leaning trike kit.

    • jim harrell says

      Well, the comments, questions, puzzlements, pontifications and compliments have made for a very interesting read. First, Harley with great distain prefers to call the “crash bar” an engine guard. It remains on the bike for several reasons: a) it supports the fog lamps, b) supports the highway pegs removed for ease of working and c) offers a proposed datum for future add on fairing.

      There was mention of some safety issues. For sure I am far from the last word regarding other motorcycles and safety. Motorcycle riding is inherently dangerous just because of who is in the other lane-going or coming. BUT if you look at some promos and some YouTube footage you will readily see that a tilting bike offers very well proven safety over rigid upright trikes whether two front wheels or two back ones. Elementary physics clearly offers the deviding line.

      Whether countersteer or not can be distilled down to such an infinitesimal magnitude that it happens and the rider doesn’t even know it is happening as the design and dynamics of the vehicle will execute the physics and it is just another day.

      The execution of the design presented here is just one of many options. The net of the exercise was to achieve essentially two goals; a) tilt and b) to not have to put one’s feet down at low slow speed. The last being driven by demographics of us oldsters.

      When you have a pile of steel, saws and welders and you run out of napkins to draw on its time to get on with it. If it doesn’t work or in this case if it didn’t work just cut it up and start over or adjust till it does. This coupled with the question of possible pricing unfortunately does not lend to economies as everything was one off. I wanted an aluminum body where a production unit of such would be cost prohibative. No power buys were made while such lends to lower costing. Net though it is hand made in America with 90% plus American made parts and regardless it will remain that way.

      Thanks to all who have commented regardless of what side of the line you might stand. It has been a hoot to hammer this critter out and its a ton of fun to ride and lots of people have criks in their necks for doing a double take.

  21. Dobermann says

    Looks like a Frankenstein. Something putted together using parts from different machines and styles…

  22. AlwaysOnTwo says

    Awesome attitude before and after a masterful execution. I’m betting you went through a large pile of napkins!

    Of course from your commentary it is obvious that you are not totally oblivious to the steering and handling issues encountered in bike vs trike. So I’ll only point out that the tilt/no tilt compromise goes away if the cg and rc are both low enough and in proper relation. Not possible if you want to retain the look of the bike for which you have a preference to ride, so not arguing on your solution at all. Just sayin, for those that like to pontificate on a particular argument, that you could drop the seat behind the motor, eliminate half the ground clearance and come up with a front engined HD 3 wheeled go cart that would be stable and not in need of tilting. The challenge then would be mounting the hydraulic seat lift to get those old bones upright (assuming you survived the suspension and not being seen by others as more than a speed bump).

    Great project, excellent job!

    • jim harrell says

      Always on Two, you cracked me up!!! Needless to say roll centers, center of gravities, roll couples, anti dive, ackerman, etc. etal have been encroaching heavily on the cranial cavity for nyh on to 50+ clicks on the pavement.

      What really amused me was the ol’ bones on the floor predicament. Well while I started on this endeavor back in mid June 2011, I then spent a good portion of the rest of 2011 looking at ceilings while having several operations including two knees replaced all driven by age and insurance deductables inside a year.

      But now ol’ bones can’t kneel anymore and getting to the floor is seriously problamatical. So intervening my next project is either a custom hydraulic/linear actuator creeper that raises and lowers ol’ bones OR a 110vac lift with a sling that I can sit in and propell myself down to and up from mother earth. What ya think?

  23. Hawk says

    jim harrell, I salute you. Having had various parts replaced (like knees) and others reinforced (like vertebrae) and a heart replumbed, I can empathise with your mobility problems. My parked Wing in favour of a Burgman is testament. It grates to have to ask the kid at the service (?) station to check my tire pressures.

    To see you continue with a project like this … well, I’m amazed.

    • jim harrell says

      Hawk, you have a great candidate for a conversion. Wing’s ride lots nicer than most others if not all. I know well what you have been through. Previously had a hip then in 2011 I did a lumbar lamnectomy first, then look see of the rear, then a gallbladder, then the two knees. I am convinced the hallucinogenics altered my mind.

      After the interruption of the need for an elevating contraption(s) whether a creeper or hoist so I can finish my Morris Woodie, I want to do a leaning hack. They have been done as early as the 20′s. I have lots of napkin sketches that will make such a smooth / kool ride.

      Riding rigid hacks is no different than other conventional trikes. They want to throw you off. My sketches allow for lean with adjustable air suspension. Trick it out and the squeeze can dvd, cd, snooze, knit, read, nap and be fresh for the next destination. Ya no?

  24. jim harrell says

    Hi All, I want to acknowledge the most important common thread going from “napkin sketches” to the final launch is that it has taken lots and lots of people who had an interest in seeing this hatchling sprout wings and fly. Our soon to be launched website: tookoolcycles.com and a contact e mail of: kool@tookoolcycles.com will offer first specific acknowledgement to those who participated as well as a really kool video just produced of the “trt” traveling down the highway.

    Thanks to everyone…..jim

  25. says

    I just don’t get the whole tilting trike thing. Why? It just seems like all the disadvantages of a motorcycle over a car, with none of the advantages.

    Oh, and that thing is horrid looking.

    • says

      read the comments starting from the top, by half the page down you should have an answer to your question.

      in your eyes perhaps, in others’ not so much.

  26. Pierre says

    Sweet !

    That’s a nice tourer, seems a bit bulky but good looking.
    It must be easy to eat a lot of miles with it.
    I’m just wondering how it would behave in case of a frontal collision – if the structure doesn’t hurt the driver.

    Anyone noticed that the front grid is exactly the same as a kendo mask (a “men”, although a bit bigger and upside down) ?

  27. JOhndo says

    Really impressive whats been done to this bike. Amazes me the stuff people invent from their garage…

    On a side note, from the front the nose looks a bit strange to me.

  28. says

    Harold,
    Have you ever pondered the possibility of keeping the front wheels standing straight up while leaning the bike on its rear wheel? Such an arrangement would bring cornering speeds up very near those of high end sports cars due to the increased contact patch of vertical tires combined with weight transfer afforded by leaning.

    In that way you could have the best of both worlds.

  29. Jason says

    Everything looks very similar to the bike we showcased in Vegas
    a few years ago. We had the spindle joints like that as well and
    when one failed changed the design so it wouldn’t be unsafe.
    Maxing out the joint when going over bumps in a corner will stress
    the joint and it will fly apart.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9afOP-z2sA