Make a Harley lean on three wheels

We watched with wonder as the big Harley bagger cut steady arcs around our parking lot, pushing lean angles to the floorboard-scraping maximum. It’s not every day you see an 800-pound Harley with twin wheels up front that lean into corners like a traditional motorcycle spinning laps outside your office. Thanks to Tilting Motor Works founder Bob Mighell, now we have.

We first met Mighell at the 2014 Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show in Sturgis where his 2010 Street Glide with two tilting front wheels was attracting a lion’s share of attention. While vehicles with two wheels up front that lean aren’t anything new, as Piaggio has been marketing its MP3 since 2006, seeing a functional system on a Harley definitely piqued our curiosity. Mighell stopped by our offices in Medford, Oregon, on his way back to his home in Snohomish, Washington, after an 8,000-mile road trip around the U.S. where he busily demonstrated his invention while seeking to establish a dealer network.

Mighell’s brainchild is a bolt-on conversion that currently fits Harley-Davidson Tourers, Dynas, Softails and Honda Gold Wings, with more motorcycles in the works. The conversion consists of leaning linkage, two coil-over shocks, wheels, tires, 13-inch discs teamed to six-piston calipers, hydraulics, front fairing, fenders, and mounting hardware. The system includes a patented steering knuckle said to keep the geometry of the bike correct regardless of lean angle. There’s a second version that includes an automatic self-leveling “TiltLock” system that will right the bike at a stop so riders don’t have to put their feet down. The “TiltLock” uses an accelerometer chip added to the circuit board that measures whether the bike is level or not. Mighell explained that if the bike isn’t level, a hydraulic pump and motor activate two hydraulic cylinders on both sides of the centerline to return the motorcycle to an upright position. Installation of the conversion requires removal of the stock front fork and wheel so the tubes on the system can slip into where the fork was mounted. There’s a steering shaft as well. The rest of the front end bolts on using three points on either side of the frame. The unit adds about 120 pounds to the front of the vehicle.

Mighell says “The advantages for having two wheels on the front of a motorcycle is that under heavy braking, 70-80% of your weight transfers to the front of the bike. Now you’ve got an additional wheel up front. We’re running 13-inch diameter discs and six-piston calipers so the stopping on this is just phenomenal. The other advantage over a single front wheel is with a single front wheel, if you go into a corner and you hit a patch of gravel or oil on the road, the front end can slide out. With two wheels, you can drift one of your wheels through a gravel patch and still maintain control.”

Tilting Motor Works makes leaning three-wheel conversion kits for Harley Tourers, Softails and Dynas and reportedly has one in the works for the V-Rod as well. 

We witnessed this selling point in action when Mighell hit a patch of wet leaves while doing a riding demonstration in our parking lot. The front end slid on the slick surface but, because of the stability of two front wheels, he didn’t tuck the front end like you would have on a standard motorcycle.

One of the beauties of Mighell’s creation is riders still countersteer like a conventional motorcycle and lean angle is said to remain the same. The suspension system stays neutral throughout the lean angle so the vehicle still has full suspension travel. Maintaining the fun and form of a standard motorcycle was high on Tilting Motor Works’ priority list.

“The front end steers just like a regular motorcycle and has full lean until you’re dragging your floorboards. So you have that full countersteering when you go around the corners, but when you come to a stop, there’s a locking function so the bike will actually lock up at a stop so you no longer have to put your feet down,” said Mighell.

During the demo we did notice steering looked a bit heavy and the tilting three-wheeled Harley did swing a bit wider in turns because of the width and weight of the front end.

But Mighell has gone to great lengths to prove his conversion works, including riding to Sturgis and back from his home in Washington. He’s also taken a three-wheeled Yamaha V-Max out to the Salt for Bonneville Speed Trials, where he set a couple of speed records. In 2012 he set the record for fastest three-wheeler over the measured mile with a flying start at 132.245 mph, and in 2013 he went 134.708 mph over the measured kilometer with a flying start. Mighell stated that Bonneville is the ultimate testing grounds for the stability of his design, which didn’t exhibit any of the head shake conventional trikes are prone to at speed.

More recently he showed off his tilting three-wheeled creation to Jay Leno. Apparently, Tilting Motor Works passed the audition as Mighell is scheduled to go back in February to tape a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage.

The traditional trike market is more popular than ever, which bodes well for Mighell. The fact that his design performs much like a standard motorcycle gives him a marketing edge for aging riders who still crave a machine that countersteers and leans into turns. But his conversion doesn’t come without a price – $9,995 in fact. Plus installation. And that’s for the standard tilting wheel version. The version with the hydraulic locking system, set to launch later in 2016, sells for $12,995 plus installation.

But with the amount of Baby Boomers out there who aren’t keen on the idea of being seen on a conventional trike yet, there is a market. It’s that particular demographic that would have the means to buy one, too. Big name manufacturers have also demonstrated recent interest in “Leaning Multi-Wheel” technology, as both Yamaha and Honda unveiled three-wheeled concepts: the Yamaha LMW 08H and Honda NEOWING. While those two still reside in the conceptualization phase, Mighell has a product on the market ready to lean in and ride.