Three wheels should be more stable than two.
But a three-wheeled Harley Davidson bike known as a “trike” is under fire from riders who say the vehicle’s complex breaking system has caused unexpected — and sometimes deadly — swerves off of highways.
“Trikes with experienced riders don’t simply run off the road into gullies when people are on their way to work or their morning commute,” said Paul Edelstein, an attorney who represents Harold Morris and Laura Share, two New York riders who suffered catastrophic trike accidents.
Morris says he was thrown off of his Harley trike twice, once in February of 2019 while driving on a Florida highway and a second time in June of 2020 while cruising in Western Pennsylvania. In that second accident, Morris suffered multiple broken bones and internal injuries. His long-time girlfriend, Pamela SinClair, was killed.
“All the sudden the bike was going off to the left,” Morris said. “At the hospital, they actually gave me last rites three times in the first four weeks.”
Laura Share’s accident was eerily similar. As with Morris’s two crashes, the weather was fine, no other vehicles were involved, and there was no sign of excessive speed. She says she was preparing to exit a highway near Rochester, New York, when the trike suddenly veered off the road. She suffered a broken pelvis, a broken clavicle, broken ribs, and a broken sternum.
“I was thrown off,” Share said. “It bothers me that they won’t take ownership of the problem.
Harley Davidson did not answer questions from the I-Team and in court filings the motorcycle manufacturer has denied all wrongdoing.
But in 2019, the company voluntarily recalled more than 12,000 trikes from 2019 and 2020, citing a problem with the way the brakes can engage the rear wheels.
According to a notice filed with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), certain 2019-2020 FLHTCUTG, and FLRT Trike motorcycles were equipped with software that “may respond incorrectly to a faulty rear wheel speed signal by activating one of the rear brakes.”
Since trikes have two rear wheels —instead of a single one — synchronized application of brakes is critical. As the recall notice said, “unintended activation of one rear brake could lead to an unexpected change in vehicle direction which may increase the risk of a crash.”
A NHTSA rep declined to answer questions about whether more than 12,000 Harley trikes involved in the recall are safe to drive — or whether the recall remedy was sufficient to fix the problem.
“For guidance, we do not comment on pending litigation,” wrote a NHTSA rep who did not provide a name in his or her email to the I-Team.
After getting the recall notice, both Share and Morris had their trikes serviced by the same dealer, but they say the recall repair did not prevent their accidents.
Stan’s Harley Davidson, the dealer that carried out the recall repairs, declined comment.
Robert Bosch, LLC, the company that made components for the trike’s breaking system, also declined comment siting a policy of not commenting on topics in litigation.
Morris is concerned Harley Davidson now considers thousands of trike motorcycles safe – even though he says the recall intervention failed to keep his breaks from locking up.
“They’ve got a problem and they aren’t willing to admit it to save people’s lives,” he said.
Court records and accident reports from around the country show Morris and Share aren’t the only ones who’ve experienced problems with Harley inexplicably pulling off highways. The I-Team found court records or police accident reports that detail similar accidents in Florida, North Carolina, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
Earlier this summer, Morris was present as experts from Harley Davidson plugged his wrecked trike into a computer that reads mechanical fault codes in order to examine what – if any – problems it had experienced prior to the deadly crash.
Video from that examination, showed a laptop screen with more than a dozen fault codes. Some of the fault codes involved issues with turn signals, acceleration, and the trike’s radio speaker. But there were also codes seemingly related to the anti-lock braking system. One of the codes read “traction control fault.” Another read “rear break configuration error.” Yet another read “Lost Comm w/ ABS.” It is not clear if those faults were recorded before or after Morris’s trike underwent repairs associated with the recall.
Either way, Edelstein wants other owners of 2019 and 2020 Harley Davidson trikes to be aware of their safety issues.
“There are 12 thousand bikes that we are aware of that this could happen to. I have 2 people that I know it did happen to.”