Drifting - Trike style

Words: Chad Luckhoff ǀ Photos: Darren Townsley &  Elize Mare Photography | Videos: Supafly Design & Media

For the second time this year, the members of the Gravity Trike Sliders (GTS) met at their regular hangout, a hill outside of Krugersdorp on Johannesburg’s West Rand.

Photo credit: Darren Townsley &  Elize Mare Photography

With their Spartan trikes in tow, they set out down the 1.1 km road, snaking their way to and fro. Running from one edge of the road to the other, gathering speed down the hill and with one leg out in a counterbalance fashion, the troupe rumbled down the gradient. This is trike drifting and it’s a scene that is rapidly gaining momentum across the world, including South Africa.

Drifting is not a new concept. Rally drivers and speedway motorcyclists have been pitching their vehicles into corners with an exaggerated angle of attack for almost as long as man has yearned for speed. But not everyone has the budget to build a high horsepower race car, so the next best thing will have to suffice. In this case, custom-built, big-wheel tricycles with PVC coated rear wheels to promote a slide.

The origins of trike drifting point to New Zealand, where locals would careen down the long and winding roads on their trikes, deliberately sliding around the corners with the rear-end hanging out – emulating their longboarding and auto drifting brethren. Although the movement is still new and fresh in South Africa, its popularity is growing to the point where a GTS downhill meet will see more than 30 enthusiasts and numerous spectators in attendance.

GTS was started by Stephen 'Speedmutant' Erasmus, Wynand 'Nismo' Rossouw, Darren 'Supafly' Townsley and a few friends, who had seen drifting overseas and thought that trying something similar would be fun. They set about sourcing parts and as much information as possible on these custom machines, which is still quite limited, and built a trike or two.

Their next challenge was finding a suitable venue. It goes without saying that the road needs to be part of a hill because without motors, these trikes rely solely on gravity to get them going. The road would have to be quiet enough for them to play on without risking their lives and causing an obstruction to traffic. The final requirement would be a few corners. While it is possible to drift these trikes in a straight line, adding a few bends into the mix adds to the excitement. The search for new venues is ongoing and any suggestions are welcomed.

This past weekend’s run saw a number of new faces joining the fold, each bringing with them a unique touch of flavour to the fold. Assorted trikes and various engineering approaches make these runs a valuable occasion to pick up on some innovative ideas and further the reach of this fast-growing sport. It’s not uncommon to see familiar faces with updated and modified trikes, in their quest to go faster and slide for longer.

Photo credit: Darren Townsley &  Elize Mare Photography

While not a competitive event, riders still try to outdo each other with longer slides, carrying more angle and attempting higher speeds with more 360-degree spins. Depending on the venue, speeds can reach in excess of 70 km/h, necessitating safety gear for those who wish to repeat their performances and not merely do this as a once-off.

The group embraces an open-arm policy, welcoming young and old to try out the sport. Youngsters are regularly invited to come along and try their hand, as the founders are of the firm belief that they would rather have them on the hill with supervision than out and about, mixing with the wrong crowds and scenes.

Besides the initial start-up costs, which can range from a few hundred rand for the resourceful, creative enthusiast to a few thousand rand for a ready-built trike and safety gear, the costs are minimal. There is no cost to run on the day, except for a set of brake pads, the fuel needed to tow the riders back up the hill and the transportation costs of getting the trike to the venue. Running costs are at a minimum too, with no fuel or tyres needed.

These social rides usually happen once a month and new venues and hills are constantly being scouted. If you know of a quiet, downhill road that may suit the riders, feel free to get in touch with them or come join in on the action to see what it’s all about first hand.

More information
To keep up to date with the scene, like the Gravity Trike Sliders page on Facebook and check out the picture feeds on Instagram.