Monday, December 11, 2017

A Brief History of Three Wheeled Motorcycles By Dahlia Houle

Minneapolis Motorcycle Company’s Michaelson Tri-Car
Pic  © The Old Motor
Three-wheeled motorcycles were designed for very specific purposes. According to Auguste Van Poelgeest, three-wheeled vehicles were used to deliver packages and as economical commuter vehicles. These vehicles gained popularity after the Second World War since they could “offer space, weight and aerodynamic benefits leading to reduced emissions.” (Poelgeest, 2011, p.3) Antony Ingram supports Patrick E. George’s claim, that three-wheeled vehicles were very popular around the 20th century. They had a very low cost and were lightweight vehicles, which made it easier for people at that time to make their way around.

Fancy A Spin?
Pic  © Daihatsu
During the 1920’s three wheeled vehicles were put aside due to the fact that four-wheeled vehicles had gain a lot of popularity. After the World War 2, some resources were lacking such as gasoline and mechanical supplies, which made their prices rise and made it very difficult for people to afford four-wheeled vehicles. It was also difficult for manufacturers to build these types of vehicles due to the lack of material. Motorcycles were not an option for many due to their sizes. They were too small to get around and not very practical for the transportation of objects or people. During the Post War era, there was a success at building small, three-wheeled cars powered by a single-cylinder engine. They became popular since they were safer than motorcycles and did not require an automobile drivers license. They also demanded less fuel during a time where fuel had become very expensive. In the further paragraphs, there will be the discussion of what a three-wheeled motorcycle is, why they were created, and what their influence on society has been up to this day. 

Why Three-Wheeled Motorcycles?

Indian Trike Servi-Car
Pic  © The Old Motor
Three-wheeled motorcycles were fairly big and not the best to use as a main vehicle. Sooner or later, the creation of four-wheeled vehicles occurred and they became very popular, but once World War 2 ended, some problems arose which made it difficult to continue the creation of four-wheeled vehicles and to keep the business rolling since the prices had gone up and is was very difficult for most of the public to afford these vehicles. That is when the first three-wheeled “motorcycles” were built. The creation of a smaller but powerful three-wheeled vehicle was successful. It was safer and more efficient than a regular two-wheeled motorcycle and was much more affordable than the four-wheeled vehicles. Over the years, three-wheeled vehicles have improved and changed for the best. Safety features, horsepower, and looks were modified and adjusted model after model in order to meet the most of clients needs each and every time. In general, a three-wheeled vehicle is built much like a tricycle. It is designed to transport one person, although nowadays, there is usually room for two people and in certain countries even 10 could fit on a bike. They have three wheels in which the front wheel has control of turning the whole body. 
“A three wheeled vehicle is provided having a chassis generally triangular in plan form and having a pair of dirigible rear wheels at two corners thereof. A powered front wheel is carried by an extension member extending forwardly from the other corner. A seat is mounted on the chassis, facing toward the powered wheel, and a steering wheel is in front of the seat, connected to the dirigible wheels by a chain. The front power wheel is driven by pedals, or by a suitable power source such as a gasoline engine.” (IFI Claims Patent Services, 1975, p.1) 
Thus, a three-wheeled vehicle can have two rear wheels and one front wheel or the opposite, one rear wheel and two front wheels, which is possible but much less common. Up to this day, many models have been sold, including many different features and upgraded technology going from the way your engine works, to the color of your handlebars. 

Function Over Beauty

1939 Indian Traffic Car
Pic  ©
In the 20th century, three wheeled vehicles became popular after the Second World War due to the lack of resources to build four-wheeled vehicles and their low costs since people had already lost a lot and could not afford anything expensive. Up to this day, three-wheeled vehicles have only increased in popularity. Today, these vehicles can be quite expensive and they require us to get a license for this specific type of vehicle. The purpose of these vehicles nowadays is mainly to have that sense of freedom that one can have on a two-wheeled motorcycle all while feeling safe. It is very difficult to flip a three-wheeled motorcycle over due to the balance that the two rear wheels offer. A two-wheeled motorcycle can be tipped over way more easily if a wrong turn is made. A three-wheeled motorcycle can be ridden almost or equally as fast as a two-wheeled motorcycle all while feeling a sense of security due to its size, seating and protection. 

The three-wheeled motorcycle is open just like a regular motorcycle and can be ridden all summer long. They were seen as vehicles built to transport objects or people while getting through the rougher roads easily. They were neither too big nor expensive. They were the perfect fit for a person living in the 20th century. Today, in Canada, we have courses to follow in order to obtain a license to ride this type of vehicle. “A motorcycle license with a 3-wheel restriction is required to ride a Can-Am Spyder. However, a 2-wheel motorcycle license also allows you to ride a Can-Am Spyder. A motorcycle rider education course is mandatory.” (BRP, License Requirements, 2003-2017) All this to say that owning and driving a three-wheeled vehicle is an option and a treat nowadays since they are costly and require a special license. Today, most people who own Spyder’s or other types of three-wheeled vehicles will own a four-wheeled car as well. The three-wheeled motorcycle will not be used as their main vehicle, at least in countries like Canada. 

How Did Three-Wheeled Vehicles Influence Society?

VW Trike... Awesomeness!
Pic  ©
Three-Wheeled vehicles have had a great impact on society back when they were created and still do up to this day since they are faster than using a bike or walking, they can be more effective than a car depending on your location in the world since they can reach places that cars may not. In the 1900’s roads were not perfect and having a motorcycle helped people travel faster and to any place they pleased. “Beyond all these, it is cheaper to maintain a motorcycle than a taxi or bus. The spare parts are cheaper and readily available than those of motorcars or buses. Above all, motorcycles consume less fuel than motor vehicles.” (Olaore, 2011, P.37-38) Three wheeled vehicles such as the can-am Spyder’s do not correspond to the criteria of a car. They do not require seatbelts and do not have airbags in which a car is obliged to have. In order to be considered a motorcycle, the vehicle must have three or less wheels. The force and size of the engine on the vehicle can also play a role on whether it qualifies as a motorcycle or not.

Three-wheeled motorcycles allow a person to save time and feel sense of freedom all at once. “You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” (Pirsing, 1984, P.2) Most people that decided to own and ride a three-wheeled motorcycle will feel a sense of belongingness to a group. People of all ages feel comfortable riding this type of vehicle. Some of the safety and security features the newest Can-Am Spyder includes are stability control systems, traction control systems, anti-lock braking systems, dynamic power steerings and digitally encoded security systems. These features capture the public’s attention since they can ride safely, all while feeling that sense of freedom and liberty. The colors and different models also have a great influence on buyers. People are seeing all the beautiful and powerful machines, which give them an even greater urge to buy and ride. 


Yum, Yum... ACE Cycle-Car Rebuilds the Morgan Three-Wheeler Trike
Pic  © Twisted Sifter
“Love them or loath them the 3-wheeler, Cycle-car or even Tri-car has had an important impact in the development of the present day motor car. From the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in 1760 to the Concept cars of the future, these vehicles can hold their headlamps up with pride. They were present at the birth of motoring and possibly may well be the answer to the future with the constant depletion of the Earth's energy resources.” (Payne, 2011, p.1) 

This type of vehicle has only continued to gain popularity and increase in safety and technological features. There are always new models coming out with new price ranges and much more features added to them. What will be the next model and when will they ever stop increasing in popularity? Will there ever be a “last model”? Will buyers keep buying and riding three-wheeled motorcycles even if there is no newer model? Will there ever be an end to technology? All these questions can only be answered in time. As human beings our brains keeps developing which means that technology and innovation will keep developing as well, but until what point? For the moment, motorcycles are very popular and will keep growing for a long time. Future three-wheeled motorcycles will become even better than the ones that are out on the market today. Many human beings have turned to three wheels and have abandoned the two wheels. Will two wheeled motorcycles still exist in 30 years? Will you still be riding a two-wheeled motorcycle or will you change to three wheels? 


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About Dahlia Houle

Dahlia Houle studied at Champlain College Lennoxville located in Quebec, Canada. A Brief History of Three Wheeled Motorcycles By Dahlia Houle was written as part of a class project for a course titled Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Studies in the Department of Humanities.

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