Dartmouth Engineering Alum Breaks Speed Record with Tilting Three Wheeler
Ready to race with the Harley Davidsons, brand new Ducatis and a 1940s Vincent Black Shadow that could have been a museum relic, thrill-seeker Bob Mighell ’85 Th’86 revved up his prototype of a Yamaha V-Max, souped up with three wheels—two up front and one in the back—that lean in tandem with the trike for added stability. At the annual BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, Mighell gunned it as fast as his tilting wheels would take him down the mile stretch at an average record-breaking speed of 132.339 miles per hour. In August he beat the old land speed record for three-wheeled motorcycles by more than 10 miles per hour—not bad for his first race.
“I asked some of the other racers what I could do to gain a few miles per hour and one guy suggested that, at speed, I take my left hand off of the handlebar and hold the side of the tank in order to lower my profile and reduce my drag,” says Mighell, who’s been riding motorcycles, street bikes, dirt bikes, dual sport bikes, you name it, since he was a kid. “So that is what I did. My fastest single pass was done with only one hand on the handlebars.”
Lately nothing is stopping Mighell, it seems. He sealed up his first customer order in his company, Tilting Motor Works, shortly after the race. For more than 10 years now he has been perfecting the design of his two-wheel front end, with two patents and a third pending for three prototypes built and test driven over 35,000 miles. Mighell is now producing his first commercial conversion kit, retailing for just under $10,000, to replace the single front tire on a traditional motorcycle with two tilting wheels that bolt to the frame. And for just under $2,000, he also sells the optional additional tilt locking system to allow the vehicle to be self supporting at a stop, a design that he received help on from a student engineering team at Dartmouth a few years ago. Mighell’s unique design allows all three wheels of the trike to tilt as the vehicle turns, steering, leaning and handling like a motorcycle, with greater safety and stability features.
“The idea for making a tilting three wheeled vehicle arose from the desire to make a safer and more stable motorcycle with the same exhilarating ride characteristics,” says Mighell, whose kits will be sold and installed for an additional cost through a network of motorcycle dealers as an aftermarket accessory. “The aging of the motorcycle rider demographic and the increasing demand from women riders make this an ideal product in a prime market.”
With two companies now—the Washington resident is also CEO of World Medical Equipment, which refurbishes operating room equipment—Mighell has another bucket list item checked off, until next year.
“With a shaft drive bike, my record at Bonneville Salt Flats was set in top gear at redline, but she could go no faster,” says Mighell. “Next year we are going to swap out the engine with a little more horsepower, convert it to chain drive and play with our ratios. Then we will add a turbo—160 to 175 miles per hour should be attainable.”
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