Road Test Review
Trikes, with one wheel in front, two behind, have been around the motorcycle world for more than a hundred years; the earliest picture I can find is an 1895 DeDion.
But touring trikes are a much more recent phenomenon, dating from the late 1980s. This Victory Crossbow is one of the most recent to be seen and admired.
The ride is not bad, either. I could move along quite briskly, although I did pay attention to those yellow-and-black speed advisories when I was on the curvier roads; such discretion is in the nature of trike riding. But in the open the Crossbow was perfectly happy keeping up with the 85-90-mph traffic on rural Interstate 5. Or going over 6,100-foot Greenhorn Summit on CA 155 in the Sierra Nevada Range, with slush from a recent snowstorm and even a bit of ice in the corners; I would not have tried that on a two-wheeler.
What makes the Crossbow stand out is its main feature, a styling exercise, as was the Victory Vision Tour it is based on. Readers might remember that two years ago I did a tour test of the VVT in Death Valley; the Crossbow is also an excellent choice for a trip there, whether one is at Dante’s View, 5,475 feet above sea level, or at Badwater, 282 feet below—fortunately, the Pacific Ocean is about 150 miles away.
I entered the park via the Owens Valley and CA 190, which is the most impressive way to arrive. Crossing the south end of the Inyo Mountains a spectacular road curves down from Darwin Plateau into Panamint Valley, demanding a good deal of attention. This is the kind of road where it is advisable to stop before admiring the views.
The first consideration of the Crossbow has to be the looks. It is an eye-catcher, and on the highway I was ogled all the time by people in passing cars. In town at red lights, pedestrians in crosswalks would stop and gawk and ask questions—forgetting or ignoring the fact that the light was going to turn green. The appearance is dramatic, from the curvaceous fairing to the semi-free-standing trunk to the voluptuous rear fenders and the large swallow-tail rear light. And the big V-twin, with 44 cooling fins, is prominently displayed. This is not an anorexic motorbike.
The Victory company, based in Medina, Minnesota, supplies the bike to the Lehman Trikes folks in Spearfish, South Dakota, where the trike rear-end is grafted on. John Lehman began constructing trikes 25 years ago, building the first one for family fun, and then realizing he had the makings of a successful business. This Crossbow is not a kit bike, but sold only as a complete unit, and has a full warranty.
The trike is big, and heavy, but in-line with the size and weight of other big-engined trike conversions, almost 1,200 pounds with a full tank of gas. GVWR is 1,674 pounds, so carrying capacity is the better part of a quarter ton. Fender to fender the width is 55 inches—with the two fat 15-inchtires covering 52 inches. Wheelbase is 65.7 inches, same as the Vision. Do bear in mind that with this three-track vehicle, if there is a pothole in the road, you are likely to hit it.
Fortunately, the roads in Death Valley are in excellent condition since heavy trucks are not allowed. Occasionally violent storms arrive which might wash out a road, but this year everything was in great shape, whether going up to Scotty’s Castle or over to Beatty, Nevada. Going to Beatty means a 4,500-foot climb over Daylight Pass, which the Crossbow handled with ease and aplomb.
The stock 106 (1,737cc) 50-degree V-twin engine is undersquare, with a bore and stroke of 101 x 108mm, and has both air and oil cooling. Chains with automatic tensioning drive the single overhead camshaft in each cylinder head, where hydraulics maintain the correct clearances for the four valves. Fuel is injected through 45mm throttle-body bores, and compressed 9.4 times. Using rear-wheel figures from the dyno report on the Vision I tested two years ago, the motor puts out almost 103 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm, and 87 horsepower at 5,470 revs. That is more than enough to move along smartly, and it works great powering the weight of the trike.
Primary drive is by gear, with a hydraulically operated wet clutch feeding power to a six-speed transmission. When toed into first gear the tranny often made a loud clunk, but once the clutch plates were freed up the rest of the shifting was smooth and precise. On a flat highway the sixth gear, essentially an overdrive, keeps the engine revs at 60 mph down to a modest 2,200 rpm…which means at 90 it was only turning 3,300. On the back roads I was usually riding along in fourth, sometimes third. Final drive is by carbon-fiber belt.
From there it all changes, as the belt turns the axle using an “open” differential, which spins the wheels equally when going in a straight line, but spider gears allow the inside wheel to slow down when cornering. All part of Lehman’s much advertised “No-lean” design, based on the fact that the wide stance of the rear wheels keeps everything on the road. Any sensible trike rider will start cautiously and learn when he or she should slow down. When in doubt I cheerfully stepped on the rear-brake pedal for an instant, and the two discs slowed us to a more comfortable speed. With all the extra weight at the rear of the trike this was a very sane maneuver. There are four discs total, which do a more than adequate job of bringing this 1,200-pounder, plus riders and baggage, to a timely halt. The fore and aft brakes are not linked, as they are on the Vision.
The differential sits about 5.5 inches above the road, so this is no boonie-basher. I have been known to take street bikes up the rough dirt road into Echo Canyon, but I refrained this time. Though I did do the well-graded Twenty Mule Team Canyon. Lehman’s very strong frame extension vees out from behind the transmission to join with the axle, and a single air-shock fine tunes the rear end. I was running it at about 33 psi and had no complaints for comfort.
Riding a trike is very, very unlike riding a two-wheeler. A trike is the mating of two contradictory vehicular concepts, with the want-to-lean front end, and the nonleaning rear. Turning is affected through the handlebars, and the faster one goes through a turn, the harder one works, pulling on one end of the bar, pushing on the other. With the Vision’s standard 29-degree rake the Crossbow is a fairly turnable beast, but like any trike does require some upper-body effort.
As with all trikes, the Crossbow is sensitive to camber, the slant that road engineers build in to keep the rain from pooling on the pavement, and the debate among trikers as to appropriate rear wheel pressure to best cope with the camber will go on long past Armageddon. The manual recommends 26 psi in the rear, but I happen to know that this figure is one which the lawyers for the American Tire & Rim Association recommend. Since few of those lawyers have actually ridden a trike, and the general triking public feels that 18-20 psi is a far better pressure, I knocked the pressures down to 20 and was quite happy.
One of the triking realities is that riding on the right side of the road will generally cause the front end to edge toward the right, requiring a light hand on the bar to keep things going straight. On an unused two-lane country road I tested the theory. On the right side the Crossbow tended to go right; on the left side, the Crossbow went left; smack in the middle with the front wheel on the dotted yellow line the Crossbow went straight. As any trikester knows, one should keep a hold on the bars as a three-wheeler does not have the gyroscopic stability of a two-wheeler.
The Vision motorcycle has an optional reverse, powered by the starter motor, and this is standard on the Crossbow. However, since it was designed for a two-wheeler it operates exceedingly slowly on a gentle gradient, and won’t even work if the grade is too steep. This is a bit frustrating, but I quickly learned to spin the trike around and coast backward into a slanted parking place. An efficient parking brake is handy to the right hand.
Death Valley and environs are perfect trike-testing grounds, with hundreds of miles of smooth pavement, and some righteously twisty bits like the climb to Dante’s View. That last half mile to the 5,500-foot top is a definite upper-body builder road with a dozen tight, tight, steep, steep turns. Whereas the 30-mile run down from Scotty’s Castle to the site of the well once marked by an old stovepipe, which drops 3,000 feet along the way, could probably be done in 20 minutes if one were so inclined.
Cargo space is compromised by the styling, but there are still 5 cubic feet. The trunk holds a good deal, but in order to maintain the proper look the fenders have complicated luggage compartments, the left side with a long tunnel, the right suffering less room. Travelers will quickly learn how best to pack these spaces. Unfortunately, the fender compartments did not prove entirely waterproof. The styling also creates a curious windflow, as the air slides past the fairing, hits the rear fenders andcomes straight up—so if the rider is wearing something like a loose three-quarter length jacket, a breeze might freshen his or her underarms.
Speaking of gas tank, my main grievance with the Crossbow is the gas tank design from the Vision. It is a two-part tank filled from a right-side opening, and on the motorcycle the bike would be leaning to the left on the sidestand, letting the air be pushed out as the gas came in. On the Crossbow the tanks are flat, and it is hard to get that last half gallon in—especially if you are using a pressurized hose. I figured 5.5 gallons instead of six, and used an average of 27 mpg over 1,400 miles. Bucking a headwind the consumption fell to 24 mpg, while the high was 32. When the warning light on the dash came on, usually between 120 and 130 miles, I paid attention.
After 1,500 miles I have to say the Crossbow works well, and does impress. “That’s the best-looking motorcycle I’ve ever seen,” said one voyeur.