While trikes, or three-wheeled motorcycles, have been around for decades, they are currently experiencing a surge in popularity with manufactures such as Harley-Davidson, Can-Am, Polaris, and even Honda getting into the fray.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why trikes are becoming a popular mode of transportation but one reason could be that they are more stable than a two-wheeled motorcycle and therefore much easier for older riders to maneuver. The addition of a third wheel means no more balancing and supporting the weight of the motorcycle (and your passenger if you have one) at stops or when duck walking in traffic situations or low speed parade cruising. There's a large population of baby boomers who have been riding motorcycle for years but are getting to the point that their legs aren't as strong as they used to be and their knees may get a little wobbly supporting a heavy motorcycle at a stoplight. Not having to worry about balancing a 600-plus pound machine can be a real stress reliever on older riders or those with knee/hip injuries. Best of all, a three-wheeled motorcycle can put someone who was considering giving up motorcycling back in the saddle.
Riding a trike is quite a bit different than a riding a two-wheeled motorcycle. On a trike all your steering is done through the handlebars pushing the bar either to the left or right, whereas on a motorcycle you counter steer and then lean your body and the motorcycle in and out of turns. For veteran motorcycle riders this steering versus leaning concept can be a tough nut to crack, that's why it's often easier for beginners or those that have never ridden motorcycles to pick up riding a trike much faster than those who have been on two wheels for years.
With more and more younger people looking for inexpensive modes of transportation that offer easy commuting and good fuel economy, many are turning to motorcycling. And because trikes are so easy for beginning riders to get accustomed to it can also help explain why three-wheeled motorcycles are gaining popularity.
Even though trikes/three-wheelers have increased in popularity, there's still contention as to whether or not they're actually motorcycles. Many two-wheeled enthusiasts try to push the trikes out of the motorcycle category and into its own subset of vehicles.
Below are our favorite options for those who are interested in getting a trike or three-wheeled motorcycle.
Wild Three Legged Hogs
Harley-Davidson's first trikes came about back in 1912 in the form of the Motorcycle Truck. With its two wheels up front and single wheel in the back the Motorcycle Truck featured a large cargo box between the two front wheels to allow users to store and transport items. Moving forward the MoCo introduced the Servi-Car which had one front wheel and two in back with a rear storage/cargo compartment. The Servi-Car was often used by auto dealers as means of transporting cars to and from their customers. The Servi-Car would be hitched to the back of the vehicle being delivered or picked up, and would provide means for the employee to ride to/from the dealership.
These days Harley's trikes are like the luxury cruise ships of the open road, offering a smooth and comfortable ride. Currently Harley has two trike models, the Tri Glide Ultra and the Freewheeler. The Tri Glide Ultra (TGU) is a full touring rig similar to the Electra Glide Ultra Classic except the TRU has one more wheel.
Benefitting from Harley's Project Rushmore upgrades, the Tri Glide is powered by H-D's High Output, Twin Cooled, Twin Cam engine, and is backed by a six-speed transmission with electric reverse. Smooth and easy shifting is optimized by a hydraulic assist and slip clutch. Other Rushmore features include the redesigned Batwing fairing with Splitstream venting, linked brakes with ABS, Daymaker LED headlamps and fog lamps, brighter Tour-Pak lighting, brighter turn signals, brighter brake lights, and a steering head with stiffer front forks. The Tri Glide Ultra is designed for long trips on the open road with ton of comfort features and storage options.
Atop the center of the frame is a large, one-piece, two-up seat with a deep rider bucket and passenger backrest with arm rests. While the batwing fairing and short windshield provide great wind and weather protection, the center vent in the fairing allows for better temperature control. Lower fairings help block rain, wind and road debris and also offer convenient storage for small items like a wallet, cell phone or sunglasses. Additional storage can be found in the large tour-pak and trunk. The Rushmore infotainment system makes it easy to see what's going on and manipulate everything with its large, full color touch screen. The switches are positioned where you intuitively want them to be and can be reached without removing your hands from the grips. Another great feature is the voice activation for your music, phone, and GPS.
If a fully loaded luxury trike isn't your thing, then maybe Harley's stripped-down, hot-rod three wheeler, the Freewheeler is more your style. Even though the Freewheeler comes sans fairing, lower fairings, and tour-pak; and is more boulevard cruiser than world traveler, it does pack a trunk with more than enough space for a weekend getaway. Actually the designers didn't just ditch the touring accoutrements and call it a day, the Freewheeler is actually 2" shorter than the TGU thanks to its redesigned rear section which has the trunk and seating area moved forward to provide a smaller footprint and more sportier and agile ride. Aside from its stance, the Freewheeler is also a bit lighter (about 133 pounds) than the Tri Glide but is still a beast of a machine weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds-thankfully the H-D engineers did their homework and made both bikes easy to ride and maneuver.
With its smooth flow from front to back, chromed nacelle, and[mageProductLink sku="072-0601-2163" title=""] 12" ape hanger handlebars[/mageProductLink] the Freewheeler is a really sharp looking bike sporting the traditional H-D styling people love. Similar to the Tri Glide, the Freewheeler is powered by a 103ci Twin Cam mill and 6-speed trans. However, instead of the Rushmore Twin Cooled setup found in the Tri Glide, this bike is air cooled and comes with an integrated oil cooler to help manage engine heat. With no fairing to block the wind the Freewheeler offers that true "in-the-wind" feeling of riding a motorcycle but with the added benefit of an extra rear wheel for stability.
Not So Itsy Bitsy Spyder
Where the Harley Tri Glide and Freewheeler follow the classic cruiser styling and the more traditional single front, dual rear wheel setup, the Can-Am Spyder takes a more modern approach to three wheeling with its aggressive body work and tadpole (two front, single rear), or reverse trike, wheel configuration. The flat profile of the rear tire looks like it's straight off an automobile, however, it's actually a 225mm wide motorcycle tire specially made by Kenda.
With a host of models to choose from, Can-Am offers the widest selection of three wheelers ranging from the sporty to the more tamed tourer. In fact, with a ton of options you can specifically dial in a trike to meet your wants and needs. Powerplants for the Spyders range from the 998cc Rotax V-twin powering the Spyder ST-S, to the three-cylinder 1330cc Rotax Ace engine in the Spyder RT-S Special Series.
Choosing a Spyder model can be difficult, but if it were up to us the F3-S Special Series would be at the top of our list. The Spyder F3-S Special Series is one stealthy machine with its triple black appearance accentuated by 6-spoke, black chrome wheels, black suede perforated seat, all black body work and blacked-out drivetrain. But this menacing machine is more than just looks, it sports the peppy 1330cc liquid-cooled Rotax Ace engine which puts out 115hp and 96ft-lbs of torque and delivers a range of about 250 miles from the 7.1 gallon fuel tank.
If you're new to motorcycling or shifting gears intimidates you, you can opt out of the manual shift and go for a semi-automatic transmission-both versions come with a reverse gear. The semi-automatic is extremely easy to operate with shifting done with the left hand. Upshifts are made by the thumb and downshifts (if you want to down shift, the vehicle will automatically drop to 1st gear once stopped) is done with the index finger. If you're looking to get the most out of your tank of gas hit the Eco Mode button on the left hand control and it will indicate when the best time to shift is for optimal fuel consumption. Other electronic goodies include a Vehicle Stability System that integrates anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control.
Even though the F3-S Special Series looks like a sporty roadster, there's still room to pack a little bit of gear in the 6.5 gallon front storage compartment. This means you can use it for a quick run to the grocery store or toss in a small travel bag for a road trip. Comfort is optimized with Can-Am's UFit system which allows the rider to tailor the bike to their height or riding style with five peg position options and five handlebar options. The adjustability alone makes the Spyder one of the most versatile three wheelers on the market for every rider from beginner to advanced, male or female.
One very important factor that will appeal to new riders is that in some states (California being one of them) you don't need to have a motorcycle license to legally ride a Spyder, all you need is a valid driver's license. Also, some states will allow you to use a Spyder to take the motorcycle skills test when it comes to the riding portion of the licensing procedure.
Three Wheeled Weapon
If you ever wanted to cruise around town like Batman in the Batmobile, then the Polaris Slingshot is right up your alley. With its dual bucket seats and steering wheel, the Slingshot is way more of a car than the Spyder or either of Harley's two trikes are motorcycles. But if you want the feel of wind in your face an open cockpit design, and sporty handling, the Slingshot fits the bill perfectly.
The Slingshot is available in three models, the standard Slingshot, the Slingshot SL, and the top of the line Slingshot SL LE. For the true Batman experience we would opt for the SL LE model with its Black Pearl sinister paint scheme and bright red accents.
The chassis is comprised of a lightweight, high-strength, steel frame and features a 2.4 liter, DOHC, Ecotech engine mounted at the front and mated to a five-speed manual transmission. By far the most powerful of the bunch, this three-wheeled speedster shoots its occupants across the tarmac with neck-jarring horsepower and torque, 173/166 respectively. Not for the faint of heart, the Slingshot is definitely a thrill seeker's dream machine with its seat height less than a foot above the road. But don't worry, three point seat belts and overhead roll bars above the driver and passenger seats help wash worries away as you eat up winding switchbacks.
Driving the Slingshot is smooth and easy with its electronic stability control, and the speed sensitive, electronic, power-assisted, rack and pinion steering setup. The double wishbone front suspension is outfitted with sway bars to control body roll while the coil-over, gas-filled shocks suck up bumps and keep the 225mm Kenda tires and premium 18" wheels hooked to the street. At the rear is a light-weight, single-sided, aluminum swingarm with a 20" wheel and 255mm tire. Rear suspension is handled by a single, coil over shock.
Inside the cockpit your find adjustable, waterproof seats, a tilting steering wheel, lockable glove box, and a media center with 4.3" LCD screen. The media system features Bluetooth integration, a backup camera, and a host of controls for the six speaker audio system. Behind the seat area is two lockable trunks that provide enough room to store a helmet and backpack.
A real "HEY LOOK AT ME!!" machine, the Slingshot is definitely not what you want to be driving if you often find yourself on the wrong side of the law. On the flip side, due to its uniqueness and awesome styling, you'll more than likely always be escorted to the front of the valet parking section at any fancy hotel or restaurant.
And now for something completely different. So we've covered traditional trikes with one wheel in the front and two in the back, reverse trike with two-wheels in the front and one in the back, and a three-legged car/motorcycle/whatchamacallit; now we're going to dive into the future with Honda's latest concept, the Neowing.
Even though the Honda Neowing might have a tadpole wheel configuration like the Slingshot and Spyder, it stands far apart from these vehicles in the fact that it's a leaning three wheeler. Where the other three trikes lack the active body movement of tipping a motorcycle in and out of turns, the Neowing looks to fill that void (much like Piaggio's MP3's) with its two wheel, leaning front suspension setup. Heck, even the back of the bike with its single-sided swingarm and wide Dunlop motorcycle tire should get knee draggers to raise an eyebrow, as it indicates a truer motorcycle like riding experience than those flat car-like tires. Honda debuted the Neowing this past October during the 44th Annual Tokyo Motor Show, and it's still a concept so details are still sparse. What Honda has hinted at however is that the Neowing is a hybrid cycle with a 4-cylinder boxer gasoline engine and a second electric motor.
Sporting aggressive lines, angular bodywork, and a headlight/front grill combination that looks like an intimidating insect-like head, you could almost picture the Neowing ripping into those in its path like a praying mantis. At the rear of the bike the dual exhaust straddling either side of the machine adds a bit of symmetry to the single-sided swingarm but still provides a fully exposed view of the left side of the rear wheel. Based on the fact that the Neowing is more truly like a motorcycle and not a leaning scooter like Piaggio's MP3's we could definitely see interest from hardcore motorcycle enthusiasts-and maybe even acceptance into their circle.
Three Wheeled Motorcycle Image Gallery
(Click for full size images)