Think back through your own inner musings over the years, and we'd bet dollars to proverbial donuts that, at some point on your life, you've thought about buying a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The allure of riding Wisconsin's finest around your neighborhood and down the interstate may have drawn you in after seeing one on the road or being extolled in a movie. But you can't tell us you've never even thought about one.
Maybe you even went ahead and bought a Harley, and either got it out of your system or you're still riding one today. But more likely than not, you passed on the idea. Maybe you heeded the warnings of that doctor or nurse who told you horrific stories from their days in the emergency room of grotesque biker accidents. Maybe you were turned off by the criminal element that – let's admit it – is still part of the biker mystique. Or maybe you just never thought your ten thumbs and two left feet could manage to keep all that Americana on the straight and narrow.
That's where the Campagna V13R comes in. It's part Harley, part hot rod, and a whole lot of machine. To find out if it's the real deal, we hit the open roads around Montreal, Quebec, and tried it out ourselves.
Don't ask us why, but somehow, just as Detroit became America's mecca for cars, Montreal has become something of an epicenter for trikes. It's where Bombardier makes the Can-Am Spyder, and where Campagna Motors has built the T-Rex for the past decade and a half. And it's where a team initially called Cirbin started working five years ago on a three-wheeled roadster called the V13R. (We met up with the development team at a circuit about an hour east of Montreal a few years back, but the steering wheel on the prototype snapped before we ever got a chance to pilot it.) Cirbin eventually acquired Campagna, and today, it builds both models at its headquarters in Boucherville on the South Shore of the Saint Lawrence River, just across the bridge from the Island of Montreal. And that's where we headed to check out their new V13R on a rare sunny day in a part of the world where "summer" often boils down to a few brief months of bad skiing.
The layout options for a trike can leave a designer with more choices than a trip to Baskin-Robbins: the configuration can be like a car with one less wheel or a motorcycle with one more. It can place two wheels up front and one in the back, or vice versa – though, for stability's sake, the latter's not recommended. (Just ask Jeremy Clarkson). The engine can be mounted front, middle or rear. You see how complicated this can get, and of all the varieties we've seen – from the Reliant Robin to the Morgan 3 Wheeler – few use the same basic formula as any other.
The V13R is more like a roadster that's pawned one of its rear wheels in exchange for a chopper's attitude. Behind the two-passenger cockpit sits a 1250cc v-twin supplied by Harley-Davidson – the same Revolution 60° that powers the VRSC "V-Rod" family of choppers – driving 125 horsepower and 85 lb-ft of torque through a custom five-speed sequential manual transmission to a single, belt-driven rear tire. First gear is provided by the HDMC, while the rest is made specially for the V13R. That includes the reverse mechanism that takes a while to get used to, as it has to be engaged while the vehicle's rolling. Remember, most motorbikes don't have a reverse gear, so Campagna had to get creative.
Fortunately, while Campagna is forced to buy entire Kawasaki sportbikes to get the 1400cc four-cylinder powertrain used in the T-Rex, Milwaukee is glad to provide its Porsche-designed, water-cooled Revolution engine for the V13R alone. The powertrain sits amidships in a tubular frame over which Campagna drapes fiberglass bodywork that isn't quite what you'd call pretty, but is all kinds of badass. Especially with the optional chrome package as seen on our tester. Extra glitz certainly doesn't look good on every vehicle, and some customers opt for the murdered-out black powder-coating in its place, but to our eyes, against the sparkle of this trike's deep red paint job, the chrome looks just right.
Inside the cockpit, a pair of seats sit closer to the ground than anything this side of a Formula One racer, and like the pedals, they can be adjusted fore and aft. The steering wheel is fixed, so unless you've trained as a contortionist with the nearby Cirque du Soleil, you'll have to remove it (simple enough a task with the quick-release hub) in order to get in and out of the cabin. Part of the tradeoff of having no pillars or roof to come between you and the clear blue skies is that the structure had to be reinforced where you might otherwise expect to find doors.
Once inside, the cabin's a tight fit, but comfortable enough. The seats on our test vehicle, as we discovered, had been emptied of all but a thin layer of cushioning for a large fellow who had apparently driven it before us, so we felt every bump on Montreal's notoriously broken roads through the BFGoodrich rubber (205/45ZR17 up front, 295/35ZR18 at the rear) coating billet alloys on coil-over shocks, shuddering through the chassis and straight up our spine.
The V13R was also loud. Ridiculously loud. So loud, in fact, that we could hardly hear our passenger, even while idling at a stop. Most drivers and pedestrians we passed seemed to like the noise, save for a mother who (inaudibly) shushed us while pushing a stroller. Then again, our tester was also fitted with an aftermarket exhaust, an item that's the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to customizing this trike.
As it stands, curb weight comes in at 1,156 pounds – about 150 lbs more than the Morgan, for comparison's sake. So even with a ten-horsepower advantage, the Campagna takes an extra second to reach highway speeds: 0-100 km/h (62 mph) happens in 5.6 seconds, compared to the Morgan's 4.5-second 0-60 run, but the V13R's 122 mph top end is a good seven ticks faster.
Numbers are all well and good, but the V13R isn't a racecar. It's about the driving (riding?) experience. And the V13R feels monstrously quick. Find an opening in traffic, drop a gear, squeeze the throttle, and it positively slingshots forth with a tremendous roar and a rush of wind over your face. That's assuming you can keep that fat rear tire planted, because even at highway speeds, give it enough throttle – you don't even have to floor it – and that tail will step out to show you a better time than a friend with a high-roller card in Vegas. Fortunately the cross-drilled rotors at each of the three corners provides plenty of stopping power, though the late biting point on the pedal's travel took some getting used to.
It also took us a while to get comfortable with the revs that need to be dialed-in to engage the clutch. And after a prolonged stretch in undulating stop-and-go-traffic, the Campagna shut itself down and had to cool off before starting again – a problem attributed to a valve that had, as discovered that same day, been installed backwards. Chalk it up to teething problems.
The ultimate test, however, can't be measured or even experienced. Not by an adult, anyway, with his or her sense of responsibility and a jaded comparison to this vehicle or that. It all comes down to the schoolyard. And we're not speaking (or writing) abstractly here. We actually motored by our old school – yeah, that place where the principal told us we'd never amount to anything if we didn't "apply" ourselves – and picked up a friend's kid after the final bell. His look of sheer overwhelmed elation said it all. And that was before we told him we'd be driving him home from school. The words "wicked," "awesome," "holy" and "favorite" came up a lot. (At least that's all we could make out over the engine's racket). And his enthusiasm was with good reason: There are organs and limbs we'd have parted with if someone had offered to pick us up in one of these when we were young.
Negotiating the school lot's minefield of minivans, however, only served to highlight how small – and how impractical – the V13R really is. There's no roof, little in the way of a windshield, which requires drivers in many states and provinces to wear helmets and/or protective eyewear, and a trunk under the hood that's barely bigger than the glovebox on some cars. There's a pair of optional outboard hard saddle bags that fit on either side of the engine for an extra $1,699. Which brings us to the price: At $47,999 (U.S. dollars, before delivery, plus a whopping six grand for all that chrome), the V13R comes in around the same ballpark as the Morgan. That ain't cheap, even by Harley-Davidson standards.
In other words, the V13R isn't for those mothers in their minivans dreaming of driving something sportier. That's what Mercedes-Benz SLK and Mazda Miata salesmen are for. At the end of the day, few (if any) of those kids lusting after this trike would actually buy one once they graduated and started earning the kind of cash that could afford them such an extravagance.
So, just who is the Campagna V13R for? Well, the first of the 65 or so units sold to date are said to have been delivered to an Arabian prince. Others have found their way to Japan, but most will likely remain in North America. We heard of one veteran who, after losing a leg while serving overseas, couldn't ride his chopper anymore, and he was elated to find something he could drive down to Sturgis with his biker buddies. Of course, your reason for searching out a midpoint between a car and a bike will hopefully be less drastic, but if a Harley still strikes you as one step too far, the V13R could be just the right horse – make that a steel horse, plus carriage – to bet on.