We’re getting on in years, we motorcyclists, and as we age some of us find riding more of a chore than a joy. As bad knees, bum hips, and a host of other age-related maladies take the fun out of riding a two-wheeler, more riders are turning to trikes to satisfy that open-road jones. As the owner of a couple of dodgy knees, I was curious to see what it would be like to live with a trike, so when Lehman offered to send me a new, zero-mile 2010 Monarch II test unit, I cleared out a space in the garage.
A really big space, as it turned out, because the Monarch, which is based on a Honda GL1800, is huge—over 9 feet long, and 4-1/2 feet wide at the hindquarters. Along with its claimed curb weight of 1,148 pounds, the Monarch racks up some pretty impressive numbers just standing still.
None of those numbers mean as much as the ones produced by the GL1800 powerplant, which propels the Monarch very quickly to highway speeds, and beyond. In fact, once under way the Monarch might as well be a Gold Wing. It’s smooth, quiet, and as comfortable as your favorite chair, with all the familiar Gold Wing amenities at your fingertips.
But there’s where the similarities stop. The Monarch steers like a car with broken power steering. It requires constant pressure on the handlebars throughout a corner, and the faster you’re going, or the tighter the corner, the more the front wheel resists turning. I soon learned to either slow way down in the twisties, or take the longer, straighter, less interesting route to my destination.
The Monarch’s rear axle is solid so the trike doesn’t lean alarmingly in corners; the tradeoff is in ride comfort. If, for example, the left rear wheel hits a bump, that side of the trike pitches upward; that motion also affects the steering, and often requires a correction at the handlebar. A really rough road can get the Monarch doing a hipshake that feels like it’s trying to buck you off.
Again, the solution is to slow down, or stick to well-paved straight roads, where the Monarch comes into its own. On the interstate there’s no finer device for spinning an odometer. Dial up the stereo, turn on the heated grips and seat, and watch the amazed looks on motorists’ faces as you glide past.
Adjusting to riding the Monarch boils down to this: steer, don’t lean; don’t put your feet down at stops; never forget the back end the rig is a lot wider than what you can see from the saddle; and use the rear brakes and those fat car tires for really quick stops.
As daunting as all of this might sound, it took me very little time to get used to riding a trike. Within the first 50 miles I felt right at home, and the strangeness quickly turned to familiarity.
I soon discovered that three wheels offer some advantages that two don’t. As a motorcyclist I always look ahead at the condition of the pavement before I pull up to a stop light, on the lookout for oil or antifreeze I might slip in. On a trike? No problem. The same goes for rain. Although the fat rear tires are more prone to aquaplaning than narrow bike tires, the fact that you have three wheels takes a lot of the stress out of riding in wet and windy weather.
Luggage doesn’t affect a trike’s handling the way it does a two-wheeler’s. The lower trunk is huge, and in concert with the Gold Wing top trunk the Monarch holds plenty of gear. But if you want to carry more, you can lash it to the top trunk’s lid without affecting handling the way a load carried that high would on a motorcycle.
I’ll catch grief from some of my riding buddies for saying this, but when the Monarch is in its element—which is to say relatively straight roads, or gently curving backroads—I like it as much as a motorcycle, maybe a wee bit more. Part of the attraction stems from my natural affection for eccentric forms of transportation—I grin like a fool every time I see a sidecar—but I also appreciate that a trike reduces some of the hazards of motorcycling without subtracting substantially from the appeal of riding.
Not everyone who chooses a trike over a bike does so because of physical limitations, and although I’m not ready to trade my V-Strom for a Monarch any time soon, I can see why some riders would make the swap. Part of why we ride is to be different, and if that's what you’re looking for, you’ll find it for sure in the saddle of a Lehman Monarch.