Madness is sprinting across the continent in a three-wheeler kit car
On a cool and clear day in New York City, two grown men stood in front of the Red Ball parking garage on the east side of Manhattan, ready to roll. They took a few deep breaths and stuffed themselves, one at a time, into the roofless cockpit of a three-wheeled kit vehicle that looked better suited as a prop in an absurdist superhero movie than as a means of driving across the country.
But there was a record to break—one as absurd as the vehicle they had just mounted. So off they went, on October 19, jouncing over a patchwork of poorly maintained pavement as they headed for the sparse world beyond America’s most crowded urban island. Traffic held them back for a while, and when they finally exploded into New Jersey, they were greeted by the prospect of heavy weather ahead. And that was only the beginning.
In general, such is the story for people crazy enough to attempt driving from coast to coast without stopping. But most do it in cars that offer protection from precipitation and road noise, and usually a few inches between driver and front seat passenger. Brian Daughdrill (the Georgia attorney who had built the motorcycle-based Triking three-wheeler in his home garage) and Lochie Ferrier (the MIT undergrad student who had volunteered to go along) had no space between them. Their arms touched, and sometimes, they had to ride with their arms draped around one another for extra space. By the time they crossed the Ohio state line, the skies above half of Pennsylvania had doused them with gallons of frigid rainwater.
Why do it?
Let’s back up a bit. There’s more to the story than two zany guys eager to embark on a decidedly uncomfortable adventure. The root of this whole thing is a man who fits the comic book villain motif into which three-wheelers so neatly fold. Alex Roy, whose trademark shaved head, leather jacket, and rose-tinted aviator glasses set him apart as someone who expects to be asked, “What are YOU up to?” will gladly tell anyone willing to listen about his exploits driving a souped-up BMW from New York to Los Angeles in a mere 31 hours and 4 minutes. That was a decade ago and he set a record. Some measure of fame—or notoriety, rather—followed.
But ask him about his decision to set the three-wheeler record several years after his car record had been beaten by Ed Bolian, and he might wince as he recalls the pain that he and his co-pilot, Zach Bowman, endured to claim something no one else was after.
Daughdrill had read about the three-wheeler dash and been inspired. So he called Roy and asked him for pointers, which Roy was only too happy to provide. But when he asked Roy to come along, the record-holder’s memories of wet face, freezing cold fingers, and numb posterior checked his impulse to join in yet another cross-country enterprise.
Daughdrill was dissuaded. He wanted to know if he had what it took to assemble a pile of parts into a running vehicle and to defeat Roy and Bowman’s lonely 2015 record of 41 hours and 49 minutes to travel 2800 miles between the Red Ball garage in Manhattan and the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach, California—the route made famous back in the 1970s by Brock Yates in his outlaw Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash races.
Building and testing
The process started in earnest when a crate containing DIY three-wheeler parts arrived at Daughdrill’s house from Triking’s factory in England arrived in autumn 2016. The kit came with a body shell, a steel chassis, brake and suspension parts, and a leather-covered board that was to serve as a seat. Daughdrill had to scrounge up the rest of the bits on his own, including the motor and wiring harness from a 20-year-old Moto Guzzi Bassa, fuel tank, walnut dashboard, and all the rubber vibration isolators he would install.
The Triking didn’t come with detailed instructions, so Daughdrill spent the next year and a half looking at pictures, calling Triking, and just figuring things out. The wiring harness lay on his living room floor for weeks as he tagged wires and plotted out how to connect everything. The finished product looked like something that had been beamed in from the interwar garage of an English gentleman.
Daughdrill then spent a few months driving his contraption around Atlanta and its environs, racking up more than 1000 miles on the odometer as he learned its quirks and noted its problems. The Triking worked well, but one thing he hadn’t anticipated until he and Ferrier were almost ready to go was the effect another person’s weight would have. In a vehicle that weighed fewer than 1200 pounds fully loaded (with just a driver), the extra 150 pounds Ferrier added made a difference in the way the suspension worked. Fuel economy took a 10-percent hit—an important consideration when he was trying to keep his non-rolling time to a minimum. More fuel stops meant more down time, which meant a longer elapsed time.
As is often the case with this sort of endeavor, there are a million things to consider, and only so much time to deal with them. Daughdrill prepared as best he could, had a final pre-run check performed at Brooklyn Motor Works, and headed for the Red Ball. Daughdrill had planned, replanned, planned again, been over the route that he and Ferrier would take and called each gas station to confirm its business hours, even going so far as to review satellite imagery to confirm where it was in relation to the Interstate. The only thing left was to go head to head with the real world.
Highway to Hell
Getting into and out of the Triking took more time than either of them had counted on. One person had to wriggle out, then the other. Precious minutes ticked by. They also hadn’t decided who would do which tasks at the fuel stops, so they lost time figuring out their order of operations. Nighttime was cold, wet, and tiring. As Daughdrill recalls it, dawn couldn’t come fast enough. He wore a half-faced helmet, making it difficult to sleep when he was off driving duty (Ferrier reportedly slept like a baby in his full-face helmet). Oncoming trucks threw huge sheets of water at the Triking as they roared past through water pooled at the road’s edge.
Then there were the mechanical issues. One of the three brake reservoirs inexplicably emptied itself along the way, and at one point—Ferrier says it was was when they were tearing down some mountainside in the middle of the country—the brake pedal sank to the floor. After a top-off, it didn’t cause any more problems. At another point, the clutch pedal mechanism worked itself loose and had to be repaired. Then the electrical outlets Daughdrill had wired in to power phones and GPS went out, and they had to stop for a replacement. On the last leg of the journey, the driveshaft began vibrating, so they had to slow down their approach into L.A.
When they arrived at the Portofino and caught their first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, their elapsed time was 43 hours, 56 minutes. They had missed Roy and Bowman’s record by a little more than two hours. But in the end, the whole thing had been a learning experience, preparing them for another attempt in the future.
“The whole thing was like a giant shakedown, and it gave me a good idea about what needs to be done before I attempt this again,” Daughdrill says. “My wife has no idea I’m contemplating it. Needless to say, she’ll be less than thrilled.”