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Harley's Tri Glide Ultra Classic: a real factory three-wheeler

By Arv Voss, April 11th, 2009

Not since the legendary Servicar, which happened to be the longest-running production Harley-Davidson model (1932-1973) rolled off the assembly line, has the Motor Company manufactured a factory-produced trike.

In appearance, the new FLHTCUTG Tri Glide looks like an Ultra Classic Electra Glide from the front to the back trailing edge of the 103 cubic-inch motor -- and it actually is, except for a few nuances such as the rake angle, front stabilization damping strut and braking set-up.

The Tri Glide Ultra Classic is not a production afterthought, but rather is based on a new chassis that has been specifically designed for a three-wheel application, while providing the same classic styling and touring capability of Harley-Davidson's Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

In developing the Tri Glide, the H-D engineering folks set about creating a frame and associated chassis structure designed to specifically handle the steering force loads and overall increased weight of a three-wheeler.

A new rear-axle assembly was designed for the Tri Glide, utilizing an aluminum center section with steel axle tubes. High-strength and low-maintenance advantages of belt final drive are retained, along with the smooth operation of a rubber-cushioned, compensated rear drive. The rear suspension features dual air-adjustable rear shock absorbers.

Power for the Tri Glide comes from a Twin Cam 103 V-Twin engine with Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection. The motor is Black powder-coated with a chrome treatment, and delivers 101 lb.-ft. of torque. It mates to the same 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission used on Harley's other touring bikes. Two-into-One-into-Two Dual mufflers with tapered end caps exit below the trunk.

An optional electric reverse is available for an extra $1,195 and is integrated with the rear differential assembly, which is engaged with a handlebar-mounted reverse module. Bringing the Tri Glide to a halt are Brembo dual front disc brakes and a Hayes Brake dual-disc rear brake system with a lever-actuated, integrated park brake. Throttle control is electronic.

In terms of styling, the new body componentry incorporates clean lines that blend well with the existing Ultra bodywork, which includes the traditional fork-mounted "bat-wing" fairing and auxiliary driving lamps. The fairing contains complete instrumentation and a Harmon/Kardon 80-watt Advanced Audio System with CB radio and passenger intercom system. Adjustable air deflectors on the fairing and vented fairing lowers allow the rider to control wind flow for comfort.

The Tri-Glide rides on matching front and rear black and machined seven-double-spoke cast aluminum wheels. Up front is shod with a H-D Dunlop MT90B16 tire, while the 15-inch rear wheels are 5 inches wide and are fitted with P205/65R15 tires.

My test Tri Glide Ultra Classic was finished in Vivid Black with Silver striping. The base price was set at $29,999, but my test unit also featured the optional electric reverse and Smart Security System, which along with dealer prep and handling bumped the price to $31,794.

SUMMARY: The FLHTCUTG -- pronounced "flat-cuty-gee" -- just kidding; the traditional Harley-Davidson model coding isn't really a word, it simply stands for the new three-wheeled 2009 Tri Glide Ultra Classic. I'm not a big fan of trikes, but this one is by far, one of the best non-traditional motorcycles, since it was engineered from the outset with its specific purpose in mind, rather than being an aftermarket modification that results in a trike.

The Tri-Glide provides great stability over traditional two-wheeled transport. In other words, you don't have to put your feet down when stopped. There's also no counter-steering involved. Passengers tend to feel considerably more secure on a trike, since it obviously doesn't lean.

The bigger, 103-inch motor is a definite plus over the basic Ultra Classic's 96-incher, due to the significant weight increase. The Tri Glide tips the scale at 1,139.6 pounds dry, rendering it exceptionally stable and pleasurable when traveling in a straight line, but it is a force to be reckoned with should one have to make a sudden turn. In fact, turning even under ordinary conditions requires more force than a conventional bike, and leaning won't help. The Tri Glide is essentially for the more casual tourer at heart.

The Tri Glide is an extraordinary three-wheeler if you want or need a three-wheeler. The electric reverse gear is a bit quirky and "clunky" in operation, but it certainly beats no reverse at all when you're pushing a rig that's over half a ton. It is certain to fill an important niche in the marketplace.

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