Let’s Revisit that Three Wheels Thing For a Moment

Last week we mentioned our love for cool “rides” of all sort, regardless of the number of wheels. In the interim a couple of things have occurred that make us want to go back and explore more fully the variety of three wheeled devices out there prowling the world’s highways and byways. First, of course, we had the chance to check out this 1933 three wheeled Morgan while being treated to Dave Markel’s classic vehicle collection in nearby Skippack. It clearly occupies that indistinct region between cars and motorcycles. Steering wheel, seating, and windscreen much like a car but with two front wheels (plus one rear) and a J.A.P. motorcycle engine. Somewhat incredibly, in recent years the Morgan car company has built a modern version decked out with a huge S&S V-Twin. Very interesting. Interesting enough that Jay Leno has one but really, is it fish or fowl? Perhaps both. Perhaps neither.

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While frankly scratching our heads a bit over the Morgan, this appeared on our used bike showroom floor. It’s a Piaggio MP3-500 and the fine folks at Piaggio happily label it a scooter.

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The MP3 series comes in a variety of engine sizes but all share a technologically innovative front suspension that allows the “scooter” to have motorcycle-like dynamics but with “exceptional braking and unrivaled stability” attributable to the paired front wheels – so sayth the Piaggio marketing wonks. Like the Morgan, two front wheels equally disposed around the vehicle centerline and a single rear wheel. Hmmm.

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If you’ve been a careful observer of the powersports industry in recent years, you have probably seen more than a few of these. First introduced in 2007, this is the Bombardier Can Am Spyder. Like the Piaggio, the rider straddles the (insert descriptive word here – scooter, bike, Spyder, ???) in motorcycle fashion and steers with a handlebar. Like the Morgan, it has a car-like front suspension and does not rely on body english nor lean angle to generate cornering forces. On the other hand it does offer the “wind in the face” riding experience with the advanced technology of electronic stability control and ABS. Unlike the Piaggio, it is not possible to drop one on it’s side in the parking lot. Score one for ego protection. And, like the Morgan, Jay Leno has one in his collection. Score one for coolness. Bombardier has the gumption to call the Spyder a “Motorcycle.” Agree?

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If you are of a more traditional bent, perhaps you are more comfortable around a traditional “trike.” Available as a conversion of a conventional bike or as a factory built unit, trikes still have a hearty following within the motorcycling community. With a single front wheel and two at the rear, trikes are very different dynamically from the three wheelers discussed above.

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Then , if you REALLY, want to explore the traditional there is always the sidecar. People have been hanging “side hacks” on standard motorcycles since very early in the 20th century. Talk about different riding dynamics! Sidecars behave entirely differently depending on whether you happen to be turning either toward the side with the “chair” or away from it.

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So, here are several thought provoking questions regarding this mix of three wheeled vehicles. First, since they represent such a variety of riding characteristics, should they require a motorcycle operators license? Spoiler alert – there is some disagreement among the states on this. How about helmet usage requirements – should they be the same as a motorcycle? Lastly, in your opinion, are these “motorcycles?” Debate on. Let the slinging of verbal arrows begin!

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One thought on “Let’s Revisit that Three Wheels Thing For a Moment

  1. While all of these vehicles might or might not be considered “motorcycles” by some, in my opinion those with two wheels in the front are something other than a motorcycle. As far as licensing is concerned, I don’t think someone with an “M” endorsement should be considered qualified to ride ANY three wheeled vehicle without training and / or testing, nor should someone with only 3 wheeled vehicle experience be granted a 2 wheel endorsement without 2 wheel training / testing. single track vehicles only turn via counter steering, 3 wheel vehicles only turn via direct steering.

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