Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When Does It Stop Being A Motorcycle?

There's an interesting discussion thread over on the BurgmanUSA forum regarding the use of "trike kits" on motorcycles and how a trike ends up being classified by the various laws and regulations. For the most part, if it's got three wheels or less (but hopefully more than one) it's considered a motorcycle and thus, you must have a motorcycle licence to ride it. But what happens when you install one of these "trike kits" which add two outrigger-style wheels in the back, effectively bringing the number of wheels in contact with the ground up to four?  Interesting conundrum - and it would seem that the answer differs considerably depending on the jurisdiction.

Legal speak aside, for me the question is more: when does it stop feeling like a motorcycle?

I've never ridden a trike or a sidecar hack, so I can't really comment first hand. I have read numerous articles and reviews of Can-Am Spyders and Ural hacks which almost always come to the same conclusion: they're plenty fun, but ride in a completely different manner than a motorcycle. Personally, I can't help but think that what makes riding a motorcycle so great is lost somewhere in the transition from single track to three-wheeler. Not being able to lean in a corner, or steer by shifting your weight, or counter-steer... I don't know, but it just wouldn't do it for me anymore.

Sure, a trike would still give you the whole "wind in your face" thing, and a sidecar hack will give you an added thrill the first time you "fly the chair", but in the end it's simply a different beast.

Now, I'm not putting down three-wheeled aficionados. If you ride one and you enjoy it, more power to you. However, most of the trike riders I've met chose to do so as a compromise. In many cases, health reasons are cited for the move to three wheels. But again, if a trike allows you to keep riding rather then getting stuck in a cage; I think it's a good compromise.

There are, of course, a few oddities out there. The most popular one being the Piaggio MP3 scooter: two wheels up front, one wheel out back, and it still leans into corners thanks to its parallelogram front suspension (brilliant!). Cool trick: it can also lock the front mechanism at slow speeds, keeping itself upright, so you don't have to put your feet down in that puddle of water at the stop light. Just the thing for those fashionable Italians on their way to work.  Oh, and just so you're aware: TowPac actually makes a "trike" kit which is compatible with the MP3, effectively bringing the total number of wheels up to five.  Now, I'm sorry if you ride such a contraption, but when your motorcycle ends up having more wheels than your car, maybe it's time to reconsider!

Well, move over Piaggio, it would seem that a fellow Italian company wants to take top honors in the "what the heck is that" category. Quadro plans to go into production with the 4D - a scooter with dual wheels front and back, yet it still allows you to lean in corners. Basically, it looks like the bastard lovechild of a Piaggio MP3 and a Dodge Tomahawk.  Interesting fact is that Quadro is owned by Marabese Design, the same design firm that came up with the MP3 for Piaggio!

Details are still sketchy, but from the pictures it looks like the rear wheels are further apart then the front ones - no doubt to make room for the drive mechanism.  Like the MP3, it can lock the leaning mechanism to prevent the bike from tipping over.  Look Ma - no kickstand!  I'd be curious to know how it rides... can you imagine the traction afforded by four contact patches rather than the typical two?  Initial specs say a 500cc engine, so it should have enough power for highway riding.  Dealers must love this thing when you go in for a tire change!

So what will the various government authorities make of it?  Car or scooter?

"Accessible design is good design." - Steve Ballmer

1 comment:

Giest said...

It's the feeling that cinches it for me. If I can't lean into the turns and use counter steering...it ain't a bike.

I'm with you and have no problems with people who ride trikes, but I doubt I'll ever been on one. Once I can't ride my two wheels, I may as well by a convertible.