Good Things Come in Threes
Motor Trike Leads the Way in Trike Conversions
by Michael Adkins
Motorcycle riders have been described by many as modern-day cowboys, trading reins and a stock horse for handlebars and a four-stroke engine. But these modern riders know that there’s nothing quite like the feeling of riding a motorcycle — the thrill of the open road, the road whizzing by just beneath their feet and the roar as they hit the accelerator.
For the road warrior who wants a touch of added stability, however, there is an alternative: splitting the difference between two-wheeled motorcycles and four-wheeled cars with three-wheeled motorcycles, commonly referred to as trikes. And when it comes to trikes, Motor Trike, Inc., based in Troup, Texas, is at the head of
Start It Up
Motor Trike was founded in 1994 by Jeff and Diane Vey. The two started the company in a 1,800-square-foot shop in downtown Troup, making kits to convert a few models of motorcycles into trikes. The company expanded its operations in May 1995, taking over a 12,000-square-foot facility that was once the site of a meat-packing plant. Today, Motor Trike’s facility now spans 108,000 square feet on 75 acres and employs 65 people, according to J.D. Vey, engineer/operations manager for Motor Trike.
In its more than 20 years of operation, Motor Trike has grown to become the country’s largest manufacturer of trike-conversion kits. Motor Trike works with a network of more than 250 dealerships worldwide to help customers create the trikes of their dreams. Motor Trike’s facility manufactures conversion kits for many of today’s leading motorcycle brands, including Honda, Harley-Davidson, Yamaha and more, as well as providing service and all major repairs for its products. (Editor’s note: Please see the sidebar on page 20 for the full list of Motor Trike-compatible motorcycle manufacturers.)
“They are one of the few true conversion companies in the United States,” said Don Hildreth, area representative for North American Composites (NAC). “And Motor Trike is a complete manufacturer/converter, from engineering all the design work, conversion and state-of-the-art painting under one roof.” Hildreth added that Motor Trike offers completely customized versions of its trikes.
In addition to its highly successful line of trike-conversion kits, Motor Trike also manufactures motorcycle trailers and a complete line of aftermarket motorcycle accessories for both two- and three-wheeled applications, including:
• Trailer hitches and harnesses
• Running boards
• Reverse gears for easier parking
• Light bars
• Onboard air compressors
• And more
All of these products are created on-site in the company’s Troup manufacturing plant. Motor Trike’s in-house production facility includes two subassembly lines, three robotic welders and 15 downdraft paint and prep booths. The in-house team specializes in welding, fabrication, assembly and fiberglass/composites production. Vey noted that “the fact that we design, build and process every part of our product in-house with our own engineering team is what sets us apart. We have great people that help us build great products, and that helps us ensure every part is built to the standards that we have established. If we have issues, we don’t have to go to an outside vendor; we can take care of the problem and make the change in-house.”
Shift the Gears
Being able to make changes on the fly has helped Motor Trike stay ahead of the game. Composites play a major role in this flexibility. The in-house composites department at Motor Trike includes a full team of fiberglass laminators, grinders and resin-transfer molding (RTM) operators, as well as five mechanical engineers who collaborate with the fiberglass research and development team to develop molds, fixtures and templates for the company.
Motor Trike uses the hand-layup method of manufacturing for its open-molded fiberglass parts. This method is used to help control the thickness, weight and quality of those parts. In the last few years, Motor Trike has added the capability of light RTM and open-mold fiberglass manufacturing to its operations, both with hard molds and reusable silicone bags, as well as injection molding. Not only has this increased the company’s ability to improve its own products, but it has also made manufacturing privately labeled parts possible.
In the past five years, Motor Trike has come to rely on NAC as a key partner for its composites needs. As Hildreth pointed out, Motor Trike purchases 100 percent of its raw composite materials solely from NAC.
“Our partnership started very slowly when we were looking for an alternative gelcoat to use,” Vey recalled. “Over the course of time, our NAC sales rep, Don Hildreth, has been working with us on alternatives for some small issues that we had been having. Over time, we have transitioned almost all of our composites business over to NAC. NAC and Don have been integral in Motor Trike establishing the RTM business, helping us produce better-quality parts in repeating, cost-effective methods.” In addition, Hildreth is credited with helping Motor Trike source product options that have reduced the company’s costs and improved its efficiency.
“I consider [Motor Trike] one of my true success stories,” Hildreth said. “NAC has helped MT in offering different strategies and types of composites and how to use them and taught seminars on how to help production.”
In addition, Hildreth has helped Motor Trike expand its offerings, Vey said. “We wanted to diversify our business and produce RTM parts for some outside customers if the opportunity ever arose,” Vey stated. “Don had another NAC customer that had a need for someone to make some RTM parts, and he facilitated that meeting and helped out both parties.”
Hit the Gas
Becoming an industry leader is a hard enough task for most companies. Maintaining that advantage is a whole different challenge — one that’s too much for some, but not Motor Trike. The company is currently looking at ways of improving its manufacturing operations, Vey explained. “Motor Trike parts, in general, are very difficult parts to produce,” he said. “All of our shapes and styles that make them look great also make them very difficult to produce. One major goal we have is to convert a lot of our fiberglass production over to RTM. Converting some of the parts over to RTM will be challenging, as many of the parts have multiple-piece molds and negative drafts. We plan on applying a lot of the newer technologies to be able to produce these more complicated parts and pieces.”
As Hildreth pointed out, “[The] biggest challenge is maintaining quality and service and adjusting to massive growth. They will meet this by continuing to improve their product, expanding knowledge and adding more buildings [to the company’s facility] as growth is attained.”
NAC will be there to help Motor Trike continue to set the industry standard, Hildreth said, by “helping select the newest products and changing the types of production for faster and more efficient production with constant training and seminars for employees.”
“NAC will continue to bring their knowledge and resources to help us solve our future composites issues,” Vey declared. “We look for them to be a large part of our success going forward.”
And that success shows no signs of slowing down, Hildreth said. “[The] future is going completely through the roof, due to their complete dedication to all customers and constantly striving to maintain the highest quality of standards.”
Innovation and change are the drivers of Motor Trike’s future, Vey said. “We are always developing great products, and we have several more in development right now,” he noted. “In the past year, we have added 17 light RTM workstations and nearly as many molds to begin producing RTM parts. We will continue to push the envelope on designs and see what we can do.”
That just comes with the territory for Motor Trike, which has made change — from converting motorcycles into trikes to constantly improving the processes used to do so — into an art form. “Motor Trike continues to reinvent itself using its engineering team and industry-leading designs,” Vey explained. “We have been evolving for 20 years and will continue to do so.”