By Bud Wilkinson
Jim Batterton has a sensible goal for his business. “I don’t have any aspirations of becoming huge, but I would like to be able to support myself doing something I enjoy,”
said the 60-year-old Batterton, who gets enjoyment from converting heavyweight motorcycles into trikes. He owns Kent Road Motor Sports in Cornwall Bridge, a one-lift shop that builds and sells trikes and both wholesales and retails used motorcycles.
If you’ve ever ridden Route 7 between Cornwall Bridge and Kent, you’ve ridden past his shop – probably without even realizing it. RIDE-CT certainly has many times. It’s tucked in the basement at the rear of a new building that sits on the west side of the road, just north of the Cornwall Inn. The address is 240 Kent Road. There is a sign out front, but that patch of Route 7 requires that so much attention be paid to traffic while riding that it’s easy to miss it.
Batterton actually began buying and selling used bikes part-time about five years ago, operating from a barn he owns nearby. He then started building trikes two to three years ago. He was working as a blaster at the time, but lost his job 18 months ago. It wasn’t until last December, though, that he made the commitment of making Kent Road Motor Sports a fulltime business.
Batterton’s shop, which he showed off one recent Sunday afternoon, is packed with used bikes of all makes, styles, sizes and vintages as well as bikes awaiting conversion. He makes trikes “affordable” by finding used Honda Gold Wings that are in good condition and transforming them. Pointed nose-to-wall inside the shop and awaiting conversion were a green 1999 Gold Wing GL1500 with 29,000 miles on the odometer and a 2006 Gold Wing GL1800 with only 6,000 miles. On the nearby lift was another Gold Wing that was nearly finished for an owner seeking the stability of a trike.
“I’ll build anything. I prefer Hondas because I’ve done more of them,” he said, explaining that it usually takes 30 to 40 hours to make a trike from a motorcycle. He uses conversion kits from two companies – Champion and CSC (California Sidecar). “I probably built 20 this year,” he said, explaining that to become a CSC dealer, he had to go to the company’s plant in Virginia for a tutorial. “They train you on each model,” he said.
Besides selling conversions of bikes that he’s bought, Batterton does alter bikes for any owner who wants to go from two wheels to three. The price starts at $10,000, which includes the kit, installation and paint. Trikes can be built two ways – with a straight axle or with independent suspension. Which is better? “It’s opinion really,” said Batterton, noting that a straight axle trike “doesn’t ride as well but it sure handles.”
With baby boomers aging, and experiencing aching backs, unstable hips and sore knees, trikes are growing in popularity. Batterton rides one because of a mishap that he had on a motorcycle. “I laid it down in the driveway and my wife wouldn’t ride with me after that,” he said of a Gold Wing that he owned.
Batterton, a Waterbury native, started riding when he was 20 and has owned many bikes over the years. “I quit riding for many years and then my brother-in-law became a Honda dealer,” he said, explaining how he returned to riding. His brother-in-law owns Tom Clark Motorsports in Pittsburgh and is the pipeline for some of the used bikes for his shop.
Operating a trike is much different from riding a motorcycle. “It takes three hours to get used to them. It’s not going to happen in 20 minutes. A lot of people feel intimidated,” he said, providing a checklist of rules for riding one:
– Keep your feet up. A trike won’t fall over when you come to a stop light.
– Keep it in the middle of the road. “Don’t ride in formation because you’ll take a fender off,” Batterton said.
– Don’t lean. “All your turning is with your upper body. You’re not leaning,” he said.
In building trikes, Batterton often modifies the donor bike to make it easier to operate. “You do a lot of things like rake the front end. It’s best to move the front end out. It makes it easier to steer,” he said.
Batterton welcomes visitors to Kent Road Motor Sports and offers trike demo rides. “I certainly encourage them to take it out for more than a 20-minute ride,” he said. Even if someone who stops in doesn’t take a trike for a test ride, they’re welcome to hang out and talk bikes. Batterton understands the motorcycle mentality. “It’s a passion,” he said.
(Originally published in “The Republican-American” on Nov. 19, 2011.)