He may have been handed lemons, but Tim Kapitan has transformed life's bitter fruit into a sweet new motorcycle dealership.
An avid motorcycle enthusiast, Kapitan, now 62, required hip-replacement surgery several years ago and found that holding up his heavyweight cruiser bike was all but impossible.
But, as a result of those wonky hips (that are now, thankfully, better than new), Kapitan built his first three-wheeled motorcycle, and Griffin Trikes was born.
Trikes have always been a part of the motorcycle landscape. But, in recent years, fuelled largely by an aging population of riders who still want the motorcycle experience but have physical limitations, trikes have quickly become the fastest-growing segment of the motorcycle market.
"We're getting a lot of customers who are feeling physically limited," Kapitan said. "They are finding that their bikes are too heavy, or they may have medical challenges, but they don't want to give up riding.
"Female riders also make up a large percentage of our customers. They also have concerns about how heavy a larger motorcycle can be, and find trikes enhance both confidence and comfort levels."
From an insurance perspective, nothing changes: A trike is still classified as a motorcycle, and Griffin ensures all modifications meet or exceed Manitoba safety requirements. Trike riders require a motorcycle licence to operate their machines but, if you only intend to ever ride a trike, you can opt to take your road test on three wheels rather than two in Manitoba.
Griffin Trikes initially set up shop in the town of Oak Bluff three years ago, but the company has recently moved into a spiffy new store at 310-400 Fort Whyte Way, just two kilometres west of Kenaston off McGillivray Blvd. They'll be hosting a grand opening celebration all day Saturday, complete with live bluegrass bands, free drinks and hot dogs, door prizes and special pricing on parts and accessories.
Kapitan, who operates the dealership with his son, Josh, said getting Griffin Trikes where it is now has been both challenging and rewarding.
"We've had lots of help from friends and family, and are especially thankful for the support we've received from Scotia Bank," he said. "We're proud of what we've accomplished. The first impression when people walk through the doors is 'wow, what a nice place.' That makes all those long days and nights totally worth it."
And wow, what a nice place, indeed. Inside the brand-new building, Griffin Trikes not only converts motorcycles into trikes, but also sells a variety of clean, low-mileage motorcycles and a huge assortment of parts, apparel and accessories.
According to Josh Kapitan, who oversees the majority of the company's conversions, it typically takes about 40 hours of devoted shop time to convert a traditional motorcycle into a trike.
"Smaller bikes, like the Harley-Davidson Sportster, are relatively easy to convert -- they're basically bolt-on kits," he said. "But, on some of the larger motorcycles, a fair bit of fabricating is required."
Griffin works with five different manufacturers who provide the kits and ensure they are the correct fit for the motorcycle being converted.
"Any kit we order is custom-fit as per the VIN number of the bike we are converting, so it's built to match that specific motorcycle," Josh added.
Griffin employs two full-time techs. Darcy Epp is a veteran Harley-Davidson master technician, while Curtis Rhodes is a recent graduate from South Winnipeg Technical College. Epp recently travelled to Kentucky for training on the conversion of a BMW trike. When the massive machine is completed, it will be the first of its kind built in Canada.
While I was getting the grand tour of the new shop, Ray and Judith Vasas of North Kildonan rolled up on a beautiful cherry-black Honda Gold Wing trike. Ray is a retired school-bus driver and has been riding motorcycles for more than 30 years. Back in 2007 the couple sold off their Harley-Davidson touring bike and purchased a used Honda Gold Wing, complete with a trike conversion. They enjoyed the triking experience so much that they bought a new Gold Wing trike in 2009, loaded with all the bells and whistles.
"I'm 67 years' old and my knees are wearing out," Ray said. "When you're riding a large motorcycle, especially with a passenger, it can be hard to keep the bike upright."
With three wheels, however, those stability issues are non-existent, he added. "It's much easier to ride, especially at low speeds. And with the reverse-gear parking is a breeze."
It's also a more enjoyable ride from the passenger seat. "On the highway, the ride is very comfortable and very stable," Judith said. "I can actually fall asleep."
Ray relies on the trike exclusively for transportation in the summer months and rides it rain or shine.
"There are many more trikes on the road these days than even a few years ago, and we are lucky to have a dealer like Griffin Trikes," he said. "They are really knowledgeable and I think they are going to do great."
For Ray and Judith, their trike has allowed them to continue enjoying the motorcycle experience. "We've still got the wind in our faces, it's a safe and comfortable ride, we've got tunes and it always gets us there on time," Ray said.
So, if you're out in the wind tomorrow, make sure you stop by and check out Griffin Trikes. It's always big fun when a new motorcycle dealership opens its doors and, even with three wheels on the ground, the guys are hoping the local motorcycle scene supports their new endeavour.
"We want motorcycle enthusiasts to feel at home here," said Tim Kapitan. "Whether you ride on two or three wheels, we are in this business for the pure enjoyment of riding and want to share that enthusiasm with Manitoba riders."
And in case you were wondering what a Griffin is, it's a legendary creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle.
Watch for Willy's upcoming road-test of a Griffin-built trike.