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Add another wheel and you’ve entered an entirely new class of vehicle.
While they certainly share similarities with their 2-wheel counterparts, 3-wheeled motorcycles and other types of 3-wheeled vehicles do have some distinctions you’ll need to be aware of.
What is a 3-wheel motorcycle called?
3-wheel motorcycles come in a few different forms.
The name will mostly depend on their design.
The more car-like a 3-wheel motorcycle is, the more likely it will be referred to and treated as an “autocycle.” Think enclosed seating area, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, etc.
The more like a motorcycle a 3-wheeler is, the more likely it will be treated as a motorcycle and referred to as a “trike” or “3-wheel motorcycle.” These would include a saddle for the rider, handlebars, foot controls, etc.
Continue reading for more details.
Types of 3 Wheel Motorcycles
All three wheel motorcycles and other three wheeled vehicles are not the same.
Differences in the design, body style, engine, seating, and more will have an impact on how it operates, how it handles, and the legal requirements for riding one on public streets.
The main types of 3-wheeled vehicles include:
- 2-wheeled motorcycles with an attached sidecar.
Keep reading to learn about each of these vehicles and how they handle.
What is a Trike?
A trike is a 3-wheel motorcycle with 3 distinct wheel tracks.
Some trikes feature dual wheels in the front, while others have 2 wheels in the back.
Like a 2-wheel motorcycle, trikes will also have:
- Handlebars to steer.
- A saddle for the rider and passengers.
- The engine positioned in the center of the trike under the rider.
- Motorcycle control layout.
Many trike motorcycles feature all-wheel drive in the dual set of wheels.
Many others feature convenience alterations such as a single brake pedal, automatic clutch, or automatic transmission.
Some popular examples of trikes include:
- Can-Am Ryker.
- Can-Am Spyder.
- Harley Davidson TriGlide.
- Harley Davidson Freewheeler.
- Honda Neowing.
Again, riders of trike motorcycle should wear all the necessary riding gear including:
- A DOT-compliant helmet.
- Protective pants and jacket.
- Motorcycle riding boots or shoes.
- Protective gloves.
- Face and eye protection.
- Hearing protection.
Do you Need a Motorcycle License for a Trike?
Most states require a 2-wheel motorcycle endorsement or a 3-wheel motorcycle endorsement in order to ride a trike motorcycle.
In many cases, you’ll be able to operate a 3-wheel motorcycle if you hold a standard 2-wheel motorcycle license.
However, if you take the skills test on a 3-wheel motorcycle, you will typically be restricted to ONLY operating trikes.
The following states allow you to ride a trike with a standard driver’s license:
- South Carolina.
Regardless of whether you need a motorcycle license to operate a trike, it is still important to learn about the basic operation and build the skills necessary to be a safe rider.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a basic rider course for 3-wheel motorcycles. Successful completion of this course may satisfy the written knowledge exam and skills test requirements for your state DMV.
Learn more about the requirements for getting a 3-wheel motorcycle license.
What is an Autocycle?
An autocycle is a 3-wheel vehicle that features:
- Car controls like a steering wheel and gas and brake pedals.
- Bucket seats and seatbelts.
- Open or enclosed design.
- Forward or rear mounted engines.
Autocycles, like the Polaris Slingshot, handle more like passenger cars than they do motorcycles.
Depending on the design of the autocycle, the appropriate safety gear will vary.
For most models, a DOT-compliant helmet is recommended.
Do you Need a Motorcycle License for an Autocycle?
In most states, a standard driver’s license is all you need to operate an autocycle like the Polaris Slingshot.
Alaska, Massachusetts, and New York require a motorcycle endorsement to operate an autocycle.
However, for registration and insurance purposes, these vehicles are typically treated like motorcycles.
Motorcycles with a Sidecar
A motorcycle with a sidecar is simply a two-wheeled bike with a sidecar with a 3rd wheel attached to its frame.
The sidecar’s wheel rides slightly in front of the motorcycle’s rear wheel, and the tires follow two distinct tracks.
All the motorcycle protective gear you would wear on a 2-wheel motorcycle should be worn on a motorcycle with a sidecar.
Most states will treat a motorcycle with a side car as a 3-wheel motorcycle for licensing purposes.
3-Wheel Motorcycles vs. 2-Wheel Motorcycles
3-wheel motorcycles like trikes and motorcycles with sidecars are much more stable than a 2-wheel motorcycle since there are 3 tires on the ground at all times.
In many cases, 3-wheels have more comfort features than a traditional bike as well.
One of the biggest differences is how they handle turns.
Since you cannot lean on a 3-wheel vehicle, you cannot countersteer like you would on a 2-wheel motorcycle.
To turn a 3-wheel motorcycle, you’ll need to turn the front wheel in the direction you want to turn.
In some circumstances, like during a tight turn or when a turn is approached at too high of a speed, one of the wheels may lift off the ground. You’ll need to get used to turning properly to avoid tipping over.
Another thing to keep in mind about 3-wheel motorcycles is your choice of lane positions.
2-wheel motorcycles can split a single lane of traffic into 3 portions and choose the best position based on the current conditions.
Due to their size, 3-wheel motorcycles should ride in the center of the lane.
Just like a 2-wheel motorcycle, you should spend time practicing your riding skills and learning to ride a 3-wheel motorcycle.
The MSF offers a 3-wheel motorcycle training course similar to the Basic Rider Course for 2-wheel motorcycles. This is a great place to start for new riders and may satisfy some of your DMV motorcycle testing requirements.
Trike and Autocycle Insurance
Trikes and 3-wheel motorcycles are classified just like 2-wheel motorcycles for insurance purposes.
In most states, autocycles are also covered with a motorcycle insurance policy.
In most cases, you will need to carry your state’s minimum liability coverage in order to register and legally ride your trike or autocycle.
Depending on what type of trike you have, you may also consider:
- Collision coverage.
- Comprehensive coverage.
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
- GAP insurance.
Start comparing motorcycle insurance quotes today to cover your 3-wheeled ride.