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A Brief History of Three-Wheelers

16295562 - vintage motorcycle trailers

And What’s to Come…

If you are thinking of a new way to stoke your passions for all things motorcycle, you may be toying with the idea of investing in a three-wheel bike. After all, a three wheel motorcycle looks and rides differently than many other motorcycles on the road today. You should know, though, that the trikes of today and tomorrow are a far cry from those of the past. Put simply, the next generation of three-wheelers is coming.

Three-Wheelers of the Past

Three-wheel bikes have been around seemingly forever. This make sense, as they straddle the middle ground between boxy cars and speedy motorcycles. While three-wheel motorcycles have always had a strong fan base, they have never been as popular as their two-wheel cousins. They also have not crossed into the ATV category.

The history of three-wheel trikes is firmly planted in the service sector. That is, these machines were originally used for their carrying potential. Drivers could deliver small orders quickly from behind the handlebars of a three-wheel bike. Military officers and soldiers also took advantage of the utility of three-wheel motorcycles, using these bikes for base, barracks and commissary deliveries. Eventually, three-wheel motorcycles helped expand the riding world to include those with mobility limitations.

There is no such thing as a standard three-wheel motorcycle. On the contrary, these machines come in a few different types. For example, you can find a three-wheeler that has two wheels in the back and a single one up front. Or, you can opt for a reverse trike motorcycle, which has two wheels in front and one in the rear. Furthermore, three-wheelers, such as the Ural, have two in-line wheels that attach to a sidecar with its own wheel. This configuration also qualifies as a trike.

Three-wheelers have been slow to catch fire with mainstream riders. That is, for decades, many motorcycle enthusiasts have opted for two-wheelers instead of their three-wheel counterparts. As such, trikes have occupied only a niche spot in riding circles. If you saw a three-wheeler in the past, it was probably a modified two-wheel bike from a major manufacturer, such as Honda or Harley-Davidson.

Modern Three-Wheel Motorcycles

In 2007, three-wheel motorcycles went from being fringe bikes to decidedly mainstream machines. That year, Can-Am introduced its head-turning Spyder. This reverse-trike sportster has an aggressive look that enhances its dynamic performance. More significantly, though, is the way the Spyder rides. The rider sits on a motorcycle-like saddle seat and grips conventional handlebars. The trike steers like a car, though.

The Spyder’s popularity is impossible to overstate. Between 2007 and 2008, sales for the trike quintupled. By 2014, there were more than 100,000 Can-Am Spyders cruising around on highways, roads and tracks. The machine’s appeal is easy to understand. After all, not only is the Spyder perfect for riders with disabilities and other mobility challenges, but it has a cool factor that is tough to ignore.

After the Can-Am Spyder proved that reverse trikes deserved a place in the riding world, other manufacturers took a second look at the three wheel motorcycle. Polaris, long known for its dominance in the ATV sector, introduced its reverse trike, the Slingshot, in 2014. This three-wheeler muddied the distinction between cars and conventional motorcycles. That is, motorcycle enthusiasts often consider the Slingshot to be something other than a motorcycle.

A Three-Wheeler That Handles Like a Motorcycle

Motorcycle purists reject classifying modern trikes as motorcycles for a critical reason: the Spyder, Slingshot and other reverse trikes do not handle like motorcycles. On the contrary, they perform much the same way as passenger vehicles, as they have flat tires that turn like an ordinary car, truck or SUV.

To solve this conundrum, a scooter manufacturer in Italy went to the drawing board. In 2006, Piaggio rolled out its MP3, not to play music but to compete on the three-wheel market. The MP3 is a strange looking scooter that has two small front wheels and a single rear one. To turn the MP3, riders must lean. This makes the Piaggio trike ride more like a traditional motorcycle. Even better, the additional wheel up front allows for improved stability.

Meanwhile, in the United States, a custom manufacturer was hard at work building a bigger trike that rides like regular motorcycles. Tilting Motor Works takes large motorcycles and reworks them into three-wheel bikes. To ride these machines, riders must manipulate a front-steering system that requires leaning. Like the smaller Piaggio MP3, the offerings from Tilting Motor Works feature enhanced stability. Unlike the Italian scooters, though, the Tilting Motor Works trikes offer iconic styling and aggressive profiles.

The Latest Three-Wheel Offerings

The progression of trikes makes one thing crystal clear:  the best three wheeler motorcycle must ride like a conventional bike. To settle the score, Yamaha introduced a trike concept at the 2017 Tokyo Motorcycle Show. Impressively, Yamaha pulled off a superbike in three-wheel form.

The Yamaha Niken has a three-wheel configuration that sits on top of the company’s existing MT-09 platform. The result is a trike that accelerates, steers and performs like a sport bike. Yet, because the machine has an additional wheel up front, the Niken offers a stability boost. Even better, the Yamaha Niken looks unbelievably cool, ensuring that it is likely to have widespread appeal to riders of different demographics.

Kawasaki has also taken steps to enter the three-wheel market. The Kawasaki J looks and performs much like the Yamaha Niken, but it is electric. Adding a battery to the increasingly popular three-wheel design may be enough to put Kawasaki at the forefront of the trike revolution.

Final Analysis of Three-Wheel Motorcycles

It is fruitless to argue that three-wheel motorcycles have not come a long way in recent years. No longer are these machines suited only for a specific segment of the riding world. On the contrary, with modern innovations, reworked styling and improved handling, trikes are sure to continue to gain in popularity.

Furthermore, if you are looking for a three wheel motorcycle, you now have quite a few options. Whether you want a scooter, a reworked conventional bike or a modern electric machine, you can find the perfect trike to take your ride to the next level.

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