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Home > Tech Tips > Trikes

Build a Harley Trike With Reverse For Under $8000?

By K-Man

Our friend Tom Garcia thought his riding days were 4 years ago he got into a bike accident and lost his left leg. He didn't have the money to buy a trike conversion kit or some $30,000 factory trike. What he did have was a 1200 Sportster with a wrecked front end, a little insurance money, and the desire to ride again.

But we had an idea - why not use a car transmission in place of the rear axle and fancy reverse setup? These days, they're small, light, and have reverse, which Tom now required. After doing a little investigation at a local junk yard, we found out that an early 90's Volkswagen Gulf 5 speed would fit the bill.

We built the swingarm frame out of 2" square tubing, and welded the old swingarm pivot onto it to attach it to the frame. We also made custom mounts and supports for the transmission. For suspension, a couple of old take-off progressive suspension shocks of a heritage softail was used, and the mounting brackets drilled to allow multiple positions. The upper seat support/frame extention was fabricated out of 1" schedule 80 pipe.

We purchased an early 90's Gulf 5 speed transmission for $300 - we don't know the exact year because the junk yard didn't either, but it most likely was a 1992. The left CV axle had to be modified to fit; the right setup worked fine as it was. To drive the transmission, a 46 tooth sprocket mounted to the transmission shaft was installed . The shaft was splined, so the hub off the original clutch was used, and welded into the center of the sprocket. It was then hardened using hardening compound to keep the splines from stripping. A 530 o-ring chain connects the sprockets on each transmission. The wheels were aftermaket aluminum wheels picked up on closeout. VW disc brakes and calipers were installed, actuated by an aftermarket master cylinder.

To cover the entire rear assembly, we used the end of an old military coffin I had purchased at an auction years ago for $50. The rest of the coffin was saved and will be used to make a trailer in the future. Simple 6" flat trailer fenders to cover the wheels, and 1/2" stainless rod and TIG welder skills were used to make the spider web design in back. The tail lights/turn signals are tombstone tail lights with dual filament bulbs. The paint is a simple gloss black, with some gold highlights on various accessories.

Overall the project went together well, but there was a few hiccups. We didn't harden the splines for the rear sprocket the first time around, and they stripped out. Also, we thought the transmission input to output ratio would be 1:1 in 5th gear, but it was a little off. We ended up putting on the largest front sprocket we could find, and dropping the rear sprocket down from 50 to 46.

The final result was a pretty cool little machine with a graveyard theme. It has 25 speeds forward, 5 in reverse. In reality, most of these will never be used. You shift the tranny into the gear you want while at a stop - most of the time it's in 5th gear. You shift the Sportster transmission like normal, but use a jockey shift setup. This gives it a maximum top speed of about 85. 1st gear on the tranny can be used to if you get it stuck, kind of poor man's 4wd drive. It goes down the road great, and other than the problems listed above, very few issues have come up. The whole cost of the trike rear transaxle setup was around $1200, using materials we had on-hand and scrounged. Another $800 was spent on the front end and wheel, and when adding in the value of the Sportster, the total project cost was around $8000.


Using a 1996 Harley 1200 Sportster


Tom Garcia


  • 1996 Harley Davidson 1200 Sportster
  • 5 degree wide-glide triple trees, 4 over tubes
  • VW Gulf transmission, 25 speeds forward, 5 reverse
  • Hand-made swingarm, mounts, bodyword
  • Aluminum wheels
  • Disc brakes
  • Graveyard theme
  • Left side prostethic rest
  • Hand/shift


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