LEESBURG — As their muscles weaken and knees begin to give out, aging motorcycle riders are finding it more daunting to balance the hundreds of pounds of chrome on two wheels.
So more and more baby boomers are switching to three-wheeled motorcycles that are easier to maneuver and easier to control in stop-and-go traffic. Central Florida bike festivals are taking notice and welcoming the so-called trikes including the
Bikefest, which will make room for the bulkier machines during the 16
annual three-day rally that revs into high gear Friday.
"In my case, the equilibrium wasn't there," said James Misciagno, president of The Villages Goldwingers in the mammoth retirement community northwest of Orlando and who is looking forward to Bikefest. "I felt uneasy on a two-wheeler. As you get older you tend to lose your confidence — trikes take all that [fear] out."
Several manufacturers offer "conversion kits" to turn two-wheelers into trikes and more companies are starting to build trikes from scratch includingHarley-Davidson, which offers the Tri Glide Ultra Classic with a base price of $30,499.
Although overall sales of motorcycles, a category that includes trikes, have declined over the last several years industry experts say they see an upswing in popularity of three-wheelers. Still, many of the trikes on the road are the result of conversions from two-wheelers.
Melvin "Tiny" Adkins, a Eustis resident and member of the Brothers of the Third Wheel, an international group of trike riders, built his trike four decades ago when three-wheelers weren't common.
"Very few people had trikes," said Adkins, 63. "That's what attracted me to it."
Leesburg Bikefest organizers saw a need to accommodate the increasing number of trike enthusiasts.
For the last decade, trikes weren't allowed on Main Street after a few three-wheelers clipped parked bikes as they squeezed their way through the narrow street, said Joe Shipes, executive vice-president of the Leesburg Partnership, which puts on Bikefest.
"Some pop out to 60 inches — or five feet — and some are wider than that," Shipes said.
But as the biker population ages and more trikes take to the streets, organizers decided to reconfigure motorcycle parking to allow trikes on the main drag during the biker bash, which is expected to draw a crowd of 300,000 through the weekend.
"With that trend, we're trying to meet that demand," Shipes said. Bikefest will allow trikes up to 53 inches wide on Main Street.
At Daytona Beach's
, more people in recent years have been roaring into the 10-day rally on trikes, said Kevin Kilian, chief operating officer for the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Accommodating trikes at what is considered the world's largest motorcycle event — drawing an estimated 500,000 people — is not a problem, Kilian said. Most of the streets are set up for cars to drive through and don't have parked motorcycles down the center of the road like takes place in Leesburg, he said.
Trikes are more comfortable because of their large size, especially for those who have packed on a few pounds as they've gotten older, said Mike Estok, who builds and installs trike-conversion kits at his son David Estok's TriKing Trikes manufacturing facility in Daytona Beach.
Estok, 68, said they've built about 300 kits, which cost roughly $10,000, since his son purchased TriKing Trikes four years ago. Most of his customers are 55 to 75 years old and have a decent nest egg. He expects to build more kits as more boomers retire.
Trikes aren't just for seniors. They also accommodate amputees and people with disabilities, said Imre Szauter, government affairs manager for the American Motorcycle Association. It doesn't take too much strength to steer the motorcycles, he said.
Adkins agrees. He rides comfortably on his trike despite having two artificial knees. He also has friends who have artificial limbs or immobile arms who still can use trikes.
"I have friends that had
and can only use one arm," he said. "They can still ride."