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A DAY OF LIFE WITH A LAS VEGAS TRIKE
by Douglas Chasar
It's a no-brainer when your publisher asks if you want to play hooky and spend the day doing a test ride for a custom trike builder. Though I've never had the inclination to ride a trike, the opportunity beats spending the day actually working, so I jump at the chance. Curious to see what's in store, I access www.lvtrikes.com and browse Las Vegas Trikes' website. The trikes are two-seaters, so I expand an image, tilt my screen in Wendy's direction and invite her along for the ride, which she enthusiastically accepts.

Two days later we find ourselves driving out to our rendezvous with Las Vegas Trikes, the sun burning red near the horizon colored by smoke drifting in from the southern California wildfires. By the time we reach Mesa, the sun has climbed high enough to shine golden light through the haze. The bright sun takes the chill off the morning air, and the day promises to warm no more than 15 degrees below the century mark.

As Wendy and I wait for Jeff and Raymond, Rumble's chief photographer, two men open the trailer decorated with the Las Vegas Trikes logo and roll out a pair of machines. The first is a kandy finished cobalt blue Thunder cradling a 330-horse power Chevy V-8 engine and the second is lime-green Cyclone with the same 350 engine, though featuring a Weind 144 Supercharger with Matching Manifold and the performance upgrades to pump out a full 500-horse power. We walk up and introduce ourselves, greeted by Don Center and Rich La Fontaine.

Don was the inspiration of Las Vegas Trikes, building custom trikes in New Mexico before catching the attention of an investor at Daytona in the spring of 2002. Rich boasts a quarter century of mechanical and engineering experience, and jumped at the chance to become involved with Las Vegas Trikes. The two now tour the country promoting these one-of-a-kind machines.

Around the lot...

At first glance you can tell these machines mean business. If the Chevy V-8 doesn't scream power than the Beard racing seats should tell you you're in for one heck of a ride. Closer inspection of the trikes reveals the attention to detail Las Vegas Trikes puts into each machine. Braided hoses conceal wires and cables. Welding seams are polished and rendered invisible. Custom wiring brings all the electronics together including a neon package, which Don insists must be seen at night to do it full justice. With its origin in surgical equipment manufacturing the parent company of Las Vegas Trikes took Don's original trike designs and refined them to surgical precision.

I climb into the seat and wrap my hands around the grips realizing there is no throttle or clutch. The trikes have an automatic transmission and accelerate using a pedal on the right with a brake on the left. Since I always operate a car's pedals with my right foot only, I begin habitually searching for the brake on the right before making the mental transition. Also, the handlebars don't turn like a motorcycle, nor do they rotate like a car's steering wheel. It will be days later before my mind congers the proper analogy. I finally realize, the trussed, three-foot handlebars swing back and forth in a wide arc similar to a boat's rudder. That is, if you can imagine a boat with the rudder towards the bow rather than in the stern.

Before we take off, Rich gives a final warning reminding us to always keep in mind, the rear is over six and a half feet wide, though the front is narrow like a motorcycle. He then sends us on out way saying, "You're not going to hurt these trikes, don't baby them. Just take 'em out and have a good time."

To Fountain Hills...

As we make our way out of Mesa I'm getting used to the Thunder's handling. By the time we reach Highway 87 and head north, it's like we've been riding Las Vegas Trikes all our lives, and I'm ready to open up and see what this machine can do. Encouraged by light traffic, I shout for Wendy to hang on and stomp on the accelerator. Before I know it Jeff is little more than a dot in the rearview. Bringing my attention back to the road, I'm startled as the Cyclone roars past. I imagine Jeff wearing the same adrenaline enthused grin as me, while Raymond's struggling behind him trying to snap a decent photo at near, if not over, 100 mph.

For several miles we continue to shuffle along at break-neck speed - Jeff passing me, then me pulling out ahead of him, and so on. The brisk morning air against my face reminds me of plunging through the air, the ground rushing up, during a free fall from an airplane at high altitude. Traffic is almost no issue, as these trikes have the power and torque to accelerate around anything even at 80mph. In one scary moment I nearly over-correct while passing an 18-wheeler. My heart pumping, blood surging in my ears, I end the cat and mouse game dropping my speed to a more manageable (and legal) 70 mph.

We cruise along Highway 87 at a more casual pace, soaking up the sun and enjoying our panoramic view of the landscape tracing the Salt River, making me wonder who would bother to install the optional DVD player offered by Las Vegas Trikes. Before long, we reach Shea Boulevard turning left to head west into Fountain Hills.

The first fuel stop...

Our plan is to visit Rumble's office before continuing to Saguaro Lake, but first we make a quick stop for gas. Well, the intent is to be quick. Rich has warned, "You have to plan an additional 20 minutes just for fuel stops. Everyone wants to look, and you wouldn't believe how many people carry cameras in their cars and ask to pose with the trikes." His words prove true as the first curious individual approaches beginning to probe for information about the three-wheeled machines. While Jeff fuels the Cyclone, I move the Thunder into place beside the pump very pleased with the maneuverability in a tight area. The reverse gear doesn't hurt. Satisfied with the eye-full and the information we've provided, the first onlooker walks away and another couple steps up to admire the trikes. Attempting to stick to a time line, we soon give thanks for the interest in the machines and say farewell.

Steph's delighted screams...

From the gas station, Rumble's office is a short ride. When we arrive, Steph is in the parking lot ready to greet us. "I heard you coming," she says, bubbling with excitement. What's the use of taking a joy ride if you can't share the fun, right? Raymond jumps off the Cyclone offering Steph his seat. I back the Thunder out of the road, again thrilled at having reverse gear. The Cyclone rips down the road. Wendy steps out from behind me to stretch her legs and I follow her lead. We're standing next to the trike in front of Rumble's office discussing this and that regarding the trike's performance and the thrill of the ride. A trio of hot rod enthusiasts walks up and begins asking about the trikes. Steph's delighted screams pierce the distance, echoed by the rumble of the Cyclone's 350 engine. By now we recite the information like the canned speech of a politician. Come to think of it, a DVD player would be quite useful for playing the Las Vegas Trikes promotional video.

Moments later, Jeff and Steph race up to the parking lot, identical grins splitting their faces, Steph's eyes sparkling with the thrill of the ride. Before the first trio heads on their way, another group walks up to admire the trikes. "We've been here to long. They're gonna start coming out of the wood work." While the onlookers circle the trikes like a pack of voracious wolves, Jeff and I decide to swap machines putting Wendy and me on the more powerful Cyclone. Hey, I'm not complaining!

Once again we apologize to the crowd for having to leave, but they seem just as eager to hear the trikes fired to life and punched into motion. Indeed the Cyclone's 500-horse power engine packs a punch. Built for racing, this trike has only two speeds, fast and faster. Maintaining residential speeds is no easy task as we wind our way out of Fountain Hills. The Cyclone feels like a racehorse chomping at the bit just waiting for the gate to open. Once we turn onto Highway 87 heading further north, I let the machine have its way. Stomping on the accelerator opens up the Cyclone's breather making this beast scream as it eats up the open road. It's hard not to keep the pedal down if for no other reason than to hear the adrenaline-pumping roar from the engine.

Saguaro Lake...

Before long we reach the intersection with Bush Highway and turn east towards Saguaro Lake. The highway is characterized by long open stretches of road as well as sections that wind around as they climb and dip through the hills. We travel Bush Highway more casually than Highway 87, but not so slow the turns and dips don't offer a level of excitement. With Jeff riding in front of me I can see he's not slowing around the curves and has no problem controlling his machine. Confident the Cyclone can handle the road just as well, I keep on the accelerator. The trike holds the corners perfectly. The wide rear wheelbase provides excellent grip and stability. The Beard racing seat also does its job holding me in place as we swerve back and forth.

We reach a picnic area along the Salt River and stop to enjoy the view. Clusters of green shrubs are fed by the river trickling at the foot of steep rock formations punching straight into the blue sky. As we share our thoughts and feelings of the ride up to this point, a convoy of SUV's rolls in, all adorned with red and blue strobes and the insignia of the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office. I know I've ignored more than one sign posting the legal speed limit, and I now notice the sign warning that we have stopped in a restricted parking area. These machines attract attention, though, attracting local law enforcement is never good when you know you've committed a few minor infractions.

After an initial flood of anxiety, I realize it doesn't take a half dozen officers to cite two trikes for violating speed and parking regulations. The troop exits their vehicles and begins the barrage of questions we are growing used to. How big is the engine? What's the horsepower? How fast will it go? Who makes it? Several minutes later, satisfied we've provided sufficient information, the interrogation subsides and the officers spend another few minutes circling the trikes in silence broken by the occasional exclamation.

Raymond's turn...

After leaving the recreation area, Raymond insists he has taken enough photos for the day and it's his turn in the pilot's chair. Grudgingly, I oblige. Feeling brave, I take the seat behind Raymond while Wendy rides behind Jeff. From the passenger's perspective the ride is just as fun, perhaps more since you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. I was missing foot pegs, though, and without handlebars there's really nothing to hold to keep from bouncing around. At our last fuel stop, I was able to reclaim the Thunder while Raymond took the Cyclone with Jeff riding behind him. I only have to say I'm glad it was Jeff and not me behind Raymond while in control of the more powerful trike. With that much power, Raymond couldn't help but open up the breather and let the Cyclone scream. At one point I could swear he popped the front wheel off the ground.

Before we get ourselves into trouble, it's time to take the trikes back, but we take the long way around. At every intersection, or simply cruising along, we encounter countless cars with the occupants straining to get a better look. Several offer a thumbs-up or a quick blast of the horn in appreciation and admiration. Las Vegas Trikes definitely offer a unique riding experience. On one hand you have the wind in your face, an open stretch of road leading you on, and the power to instantly take you to that ethereal point where the road tapers into the horizon. On the other, simple amenities like a backrest, reverse gear and the ability to stop without having to put your feet down only add to the enjoyment. And though the attention and admiration is appealing, the ride itself is where I find my pleasure.

When we return, we're all smiles toying with the idea of taking one home that night. Rich tells us the reaction is the same every time, "You just have to get on one and ride."

Ride safe, ride often...hell, just ride! - dpc



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