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Simply put, an autocycle is sort of a motorcycle and sort of a car and sort of something else altogether. It’s got two wheels in front and one in the back, unlike motorcycle “trikes,” but it can have an open “cockpit,” so it seems like a motorcycle.
The Polaris Slingshot, which Polaris calls a “three-wheeled motorcycle” is typical. Polaris also cautions that it doesn’t have airbags and doesn’t meet automotive safety standards. It has a steering wheel, not handlebars and the seats are like those in cars rather than straddling seats like a motorcycle. The Slingshot is sexy, low to the ground, and fast. Its open cockpit gives drivers 360 views and the feel of the wind in their hair (unless their state requires helmets). Drivers describe it like “surfing the asphalt.” Models start at just over $21,000.00.
The Elio, from Elio Motors, takes an entirely different tack. It’s enclosed, it gets 84 miles per gallon (!), and it costs under $7,000.00. It also has more safety features, with three airbags, a reinforced roll-cage frame, and anti-lock brakes. So far, the tallest person to enjoy the ride as 6-foot 8, and the heaviest weighed 365 pounds. Though it has two seats in front and a rear seat that will hold a child seat, it’s meant as a single-person commuting vehicle. Elio is a startup, so service might be a problem. However, it’s so simple that a lot of buyers will be able to make their own repairs, and they have a service agreement with Pep Boys.
Enclosed autocycles protect drivers from weather and wind, but use a lightweight construction so they can employ motorcycle-type engines. However, Elio has developed its own engine, the first American car company since the 1950s to do that, which has 95 horsepower and goes zero to sixty miles per hour in ten seconds.
Don’t hold your breath until you can buy an Elio, though. It needs a lot more investment money before vehicles start rolling off the assembly line. You can join over 40,000 others who’ve reserved one.
Toyota offers the electric three-wheeled i-Road, but it has just a 31 mile range. Other autocycles that are about the thrill of the ride rather than economy, that is, autocycles like the Slingshot, include the Campagna T-Rex, the Morgan 3 Wheeler, and the Tanom Invader.
States are each making their own rules to cover these hybrid vehicles. Vehicle licensing varies from state to state. Some states require drivers to have a motorcycle endorsement, others don’t. Helmets may or may not be required, but eye protection is usually needed for open cage vehicles, and seatbelts are usually required for all autocycles.
Louisiana Senator David Vitter recently introduced legislation that would make autocycle a federal vehicle classification. Now, the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration classes them as motorcycles. (Elio plans to build its autocycles in a former GM plant in Shreveport, Louisiana.) And some states, like Minnesota, where Polaris is headquartered, have already set up a separate class for them, and don’t require a motorcycle endorsement to drive them.
Let us know on Facebook what you think about autocycles. Should driving one require a motorcycle license?