I’m really anxious to drive the new Slingshot Polaris recently launched. With 170 horsepower in a 1725-lb package with side-by-side seating and an open top, it promises to deliver a fun factor unlike almost any other machine currently in production. But it’s not a motorcycle.

2015 Polaris Slingshot Review – First Ride/Drive + Video

You see, the Slingshot and other three-wheeled vehicles are commonly classified by state and federal governments as motorcycles. I believe that’s asinine. If it can’t fall over at a stop, it’s not a motorcycle. If it doesn’t lean into corners, rather than leaning away from the inside of corners, it’s not a motorcycle, despite what some governmental organizations purport.

The conversation about what is and what isn’t a motorcycle goes back to the dawn of motorized transportation. In the late 1800s, motorcycles, or moto-cycles, were either beefed-up bicycles or powered tricycles, typically with two rear wheels.

Motorcycle History: Part 1

Packaging an early internal-combustion engine into a bicycle chassis was problematic, so several 19th-century builders used a three-wheel format. Shown here is an 1899 DeDion Tricycle.

Packaging an early internal-combustion engine into a bicycle chassis was problematic, so several 19th-century builders used a three-wheel format. Shown here is an 1899 DeDion Tricycle.

The most obvious motorcycle-like three-wheel vehicles are sidecars. Bolted to the side of a motorcycle, a small carriage with extra wheel to support larger loads supplied a smaller and cheaper option than a car. The sidecar format continues today, most famously in the Ural Gear-Up. But it’s my contention that a motorcycle equipped with a sidecar transforms a motorcycle into something that’s not quite a motorcycle.

Note how this so-called motorcycle is leaning the wrong way in a right-hand corner.

Note how this so-called motorcycle is leaning the wrong way in a right-hand corner.

Harley’s Servicar was another variant on the tricycle theme, using two rear wheels to help support bigger loads. In production from 1932 until 1973,the Servicar was primarily used for delivery purposes. Trike conversions of Harleys and Gold Wings, also using two hind wheels, began to emerge in the 1980s, eventually spawning the Harley Tri Glide and, just this year, H-D’s new Freewheeler.

Harley-Davidson Motorcycle History

Three-wheelers also were available in the cyclecar format, most famously the various models offered by the British company Morgan, beginning in the teens of the last century. The minimalist Morgans employed two front wheels and were powered by motorcycle engines. They were relatively inexpensive compared to automobiles, and their running costs (in the form of the UK’s Road Tax) were drastically reduced by the government classifying them as motorcycles.

It’s the government that continues to perpetuate the myth that three-wheelers are motorcycles, opening the door to non-leaning vehicles that don’t have to meet the same safety and emissions standards as proper automobiles.

Can-Am’s innovative Spyder, using the tadpole-style configuration with two front wheels, burst onto the moto scene in 2007. The low-slung Spyder’s reverse-trike arrangement delivered much greater cornering stability than the delta-style trikes with one front wheel. The straddle-style Spyder delivered a motorcycle-like open-air riding experience without the danger of tipping over, and its popularity went beyond what most pundits expected. In fact, our first review of the Spyder is one of MO’s most-viewed articles of all time.

The handling dynamics of the Spyder have more in common with snowmobiles than motorcycles. Just because the feds classify this as a motorcycle doesn’t mean I have to!

The handling dynamics of the Spyder have more in common with snowmobiles than motorcycles. Just because the feds classify this as a motorcycle doesn’t mean I have to!

Sensing an opportunity, Polaris has now thrown its hat into the three-wheeler game with its Slingshot. Rather than a contraption to straddle and carry a passenger inline behind you, the Slingshot replicates the cyclecar design with side-by-side chair-type seating. MO’s Content Editor Tom Roderick says it’s more fun to drive/ride than a Spyder, and I believe him. But to me, it’s more of a car with a missing wheel than a motorcycle. Heck, it doesn’t even have a handlebar. Same for the Travertson Striker 2.0 we recently previewed. In it, I proffered the term tricycars to describe these three-wheel car configurations, as they are more car-like than motorcycle-like.

As far as three-wheelers are concerned, the Piaggio MP3 is one of the few that gets my endorsement as an actual motorcycle. Most trikes are steered by turning the front wheel in the direction of travel, which is unlike how a motorcycle is counter-steered – push on the left bar to turn left, etc. Yamaha’s Tricity performs the same leaning trick as the Piaggio, and it’s only the first of more leaning three-wheelers yet to come from the Japanese OEM.

So, even though the Spyder and Slingshot (and other tricycars, cyclecars and trikes) are classified by the guv’mint as motorcycles, I prefer to avoid the trap of describing all three-wheelers as motorcycles. If the vehicle leans away from the inside of a corner, it’s not a motorcycle.

Despite an abundance of wheels, the Piaggio MP3 leans the right way, earning my endorsement as a motorcycle. Er, motor scooter …

Despite an abundance of wheels, the Piaggio MP3 leans the right way, earning my endorsement as a motorcycle. Er, motor scooter …

  • DickRuble

    “If the vehicle leans away from the inside of a corner, it’s not a motorcycle.” All vehicles are governed by the same laws of physics. They don’t lean, the rider does. On a two wheel vehicle the rider leans into the inside corner to oppose the very forces that lift the wheel on the sidecar or trike. The same reason the sidecar passenger hangs out towards the inside corner, if you’ve ever watched those sidecar races.

    Now, more importantly, what exactly is your point with this article? The government treats two and three wheelers the same. So what? Are you seeking a different status? Do you want airbags and crash tests on the trikes? Are you asking for bigger insurance rates for the trikes?

    • Goose

      You need to study a rider training manual. Your explanation of motorcycle steering is completely wrong. Do a search on “counter steering”. Motorcycles lean because of counter steering. A good rider uses body english and foot peg weighting to fine tune the bike’s attitude, it is not the primary factor in using the bike to lean for cornering.

      Keith Code built a bike just to prove that counter steering is how bikes corner. It was called the “No BS Bike”. BS stands for body steering. The forks were locked straight ahead so the rider had to steer in the manner you describe. People could just barely get it down the road. The same people got on a normal bike and got down the road without a problem.

      • DickRuble

        The counter steering just brings you into the right position. Otherwise, the radial component of the centrifugal force would throw you off your trajectory, instead of being directed towards your the tire contact patch. I do understand physics better than you do through your superficial reading of popular magazines.

        • Goose

          How was the Internet Troll convention this year?

          Get a life.

        • MDSledHead

          Well, I have an extensive background in Physics and you’re just throwing around buzzwords. The force acting on the bike at all times (while in motion) is inertia… the inertia of the wheels going around want it to stay upright. You actually go around a turn by counter steering (turning the bars the opposite direction)… leaning has almost nothing to do with it! The centrifugal force is much to great to overcome by leaning. When my passenger is not paying attention (most of the time) she is not leaning. I compensate with a bit more countersteer. In fact, I sometimes sit upright going around the turn.
          BTW – there’s a “tipping point” at much slower speeds where the inertial forces aren’t enough and you actually steer the bike in the same direction as the turn.

          • DickRuble

            OK Einstein… since leaning has nothing to do with turning, you try going in a circle on motorcycle at 60mps without leaning (bike perpendicular to the ground). You’re confusing physics with physical education.

          • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

            You’re confusing consequence with causation. The bike doesn’t turn because it’s leaning, it leans because it’s turning. Big difference. The rider can be leaning to the right side of a bike while turning left without much problem, other than looking like a dope.

          • DickRuble

            You got them backwards.. Here’s from wikipedia

            “However, unlike other wheeled vehicles, bikes must also lean during a turn to balance the relevant forces: gravitational, inertial, frictional, and ground support.”

            In other words, you cannot turn without leaning. Even when you turn slowly, the center of mass of the bike+rider has to be between the tire contact line and the center of the turn. More at: You think the bike is straight but it is ever so slightly leaning in the direction of the turn.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_and_motorcycle_dynamics

            You can be on the right and the bike turn left, but the bike would have to be leaned even more to bring the center of mass to the left of the tires. Riders scrape the knees and elbows on the tarmac to be able to keep the bike more upright to avoid touching hard parts. They don’t end up there because they turn, they go there to be able to turn safely.

            That’s my last word on the topic.

          • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

            A bike can lean without turning, but it cannot turn without leaning. The lean is a consequence of the turn, not the other way around. You are confused. The wikipedia article you mentioned says as much. You have a fundamental misunderstanding of cause and effect.

            Racers lean off the bike so they they can go faster in the turn. Leaning off the bike moves the center of gravity, so the bike doesn’t have to lean as far for a given speed. The faster you go, the more the bike must lean… it’s pretty simple. The lean is a consequence of the turn and its speed. The lean did not initiate the turn, pushing the inside grip, which disrupts the gyroscopic motion of the front wheel is what initiates the turn. Again, the lean is a result of that disruption so that the bike maintains its center of gravity.

          • John A. Stockman

            I still know guys that think countersteering is the “BS” part and less effective than leaning their body and shifting their weight. I guess the adage that riders who have received no training and think they don’t need it, don’t have 10/15/20 years of experience, they have one year of bad experience multiplied by their number. Tony Foale wrote a great book, maybe some should read it. Go ride that BS-Bike and report back. I wouldn’t quote wikipedia on anything, as I’ve found countless errors in even basic information; yet on some things, it can be correct. I’d rather learn from guys that have the experience, talk to them, read what they’ve written and go practice it myself. Keith Code’s BS-Bike is an eye-opener. On the subject of 3-wheel “motorcycles”, I don’t think they are officially motorcycles…that’s why I took sidecar/trike-specific training courses when my disability got to the point where I had decide to either stop riding all together or look at alternatives. I went through many challenges to overcome my condition so I could ride again, after 12 years on crutches, fused spine and hips and atrophied muscles because of that. Numerous total hip replacements (6 between 1980 and 1993), years of tortuous physical therapy. I wasn’t about to just give up after all that. I started to look at sidecar rigs and trikes. I never thought it would be “for me”, but I put my ego aside and tried them out. Because of those options, I was able to extend my riding “career” for another 12 years. Just a different set of skills with different challenges to overcome. Anyone that thinks they don’t need specific training for those types of vehicles is sadly mistaken. I took the courses developed by David Hough and enjoyed another 180,000 miles because of them and the fact that I didn’t let my ego or misconceptions get in the way. All without one crash. I wasn’t lucky either, I was well-trained and constantly practiced my skills at least once a month.

    • Koczk

      “All vehicles are governed by the same laws of physics.”

      From the start, you’re understanding is flawed. While all vehicles are governed by the laws of physics, such as gravity, single-track vehicles (motorcycles) and multi-track vehicles (cars) respond to these forces very differently while cornering.

      • DickRuble

        Try thinking… it’ll do you good. Besides that, enlighten us; what was the point of the article?

        • OhSoRight

          To obtain traffic for the website.

          • DickRuble

            I’d give you 10 upvotes but the system won’t allow me.

    • Old MOron

      The point of this article? I’m guessing it’s something of a weather vane.

    • Kevin Duke

      The point was to illustrate how things that are called motorcycles by the gov’t aren’t actually motorcycles. Please tell me that you agree steering a Spyder is different that steering a real motorcycle.

      • DickRuble

        Yes, they steer differently. Why does it matter? They are cycles (tricycles, bicycles) with engines (motors). For administrative work they decided to put them together. It simply means that the same rules (safety, pollution, registration, etc ) will apply to them. The administration didn’t need to classify them by steering method. They are a small minority on the road and present the same limited risk towards the majority of automobiles.

        • Kevin Duke

          I’d venture to guess that most car drivers would prefer to be in a head-on collision with a Grom than a Slingshot…

          • DickRuble

            It won’t make much difference to those in the collision if the Slingshot is called a motorcycle or something else.

        • Chris_in_Kalifornia

          Agree, they are cycles, cars are not. They have motors which makes them motorcycles. Makes sense although I like my decision point above better. This one makes sense too.

      • Kevin

        Steering a Spyder is a lot different than steering a Slingshot too!

      • Kevin

        Any comments on Texas’ ruling that the Polaris Slingshot is not a motorcycle and can’t be registered in the state?

    • Alan LaRue

      “They don’t lean, the rider does.”

      While it is counterproductive, you can turn your motorcycle by leaning it over while you are leaning the other way, closer to perpendicular to the ground. You most certainly do not have to use your body to turn a motorcycle.

      The motorcycle turns when the center of mass is not above the contact point with the road. It turns in the direction of the offset of the center of mass.

      A four-wheeled vehicle leans away from the turn. The work of turning is done by the tires, fighting the inertia that wants to keep the whole thing going straight. There have been a few experiments by auto companies to raise the outboard shocks to effect an inward shift of the center of mass, but that’s still in the realm of the exotic.

      • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

        There was a model of Infinity, I think it was, that had magnetic shocks and by increasing damping force on the outside dampers in a turn, pretty much eliminated body roll. I don’t recall whatever became of that car, if it was just a prototype, or what.

        • DickRuble

          There are several GM models (Corvette and Cadillac) that use magnetic suspension. It was first used in F1.

          • Chris_in_Kalifornia

            Yeah, and they still go on about being the most advanced technology in racing cars in the world. Except that they banned anti lock brakes, they banned active suspension, they banned traction control. What a ration of nonsense. I’m getting fed up with F1 and their nonsense, stupid hybrids, more controls on the steering “wheel” than a fighter jet. They need to get rid of all those buttons and dials and set the car up and then let the driver drive it and if he wins fine, if he doesn’t then replace him.

  • John B.

    My grandfather used to say, “Once a man, twice a child.” That adage seems to describe a motorcyclists fate fairly well. I fear it’s preordained we should ride tricycles as children, two-wheelers as adults, and tricycles again as geriatrics. No, it’s not a motorcycle, but it will have to do.

  • Luke

    But I’m glad the government calls them motorcycles, so they can be actually be made without all the hassle that it takes to make a “car.”

    • Kevin

      And expense

      • Kenneth

        Yes, expense, weight, and the ever-increasing, ridiculous complexity of cars would possibly make an enclosed-or-open 3-wheeler a useful alternative for those of us with situations and climates that restrict our use of true motorcycles.

        • Chris_in_Kalifornia

          At 1750 pounds and costing over $20K they aren’t light and they really aren’t cheap.

  • JMDonald

    I have ridden a friends Spyder. It is definitely not a motorcycle. It does have tons of storage and I found it comfortable to ride especially two up. If I had the dough I’d get the Morgan three wheeler. It has real personality that one.

  • Don Andretti

    To compare the three wheeler to a motorcycle look no further than the T-Rex. The Campagna T-Rex 16S has side by side seating and a roll bar. It is still called a motorcycle.
    The dealer told me about the Slingshot. He Said “there is nothing else like it”. I told him “what about the T-Rex?” The Slingshot is nothing new.

  • Alan LaRue

    While I tend to agree about the Slingshot, since it has a seat instead of a saddle, for others such as traditional trikes, motorcycles with sidecars, and even the Spyder, I usually simply say that it doesn’t have to be a motorBIKE to be a motorCYCLE.

    • John A. Stockman

      That’s the best post: “it doesn’t have to be a motorBIKE to be a motorCYCLE.” Never heard that before, but since I’ve had lots of experiences with both 2 & 3-wheels, it fits. Thanks.

      • Kevin Duke

        Okay, I’ll riff on this.
        1. Car: 4 or more wheels.
        2. Tricycar: 3 wheels, chair-like seats, steering wheel.
        3. Motorcycle: 3 wheels, handlebars, straddle-type seating.
        4. Motorbike: 2 inline wheels.

        • Kevin

          Try this, there have long been 3 wheel cars and 3 wheel motorcycles: The key difference is that a car has a passenger compartment even if it is open, which the operator/passengers ride in and should be properly restrained by means of a restraint system: On a motorcycle the rider/passenger rides on the vehicle, and is just as subject to ejection as a result of accident/mishandling on a three wheel motorcycle as on a two wheel motorcycle:
          The Slingshot is a car, the Spyder is a motorcycle:

          • RedDon

            Although many of us two-wheelers may not see it the same as a regualr motorcycle, I don’t think of a Spyder as one either. I won’t say a person shouldn’t be able to register one as a motorcycle, but what happens when a person legally registers one in Arizona, New Mexico or anyother state, then proceeds to enter Texas? That could be a problem for law enforcement in the Lone Star state.

  • sgray44444

    Whenever the government gets involved with anything, logic fails. For example: Elio Motors. Will it be classified as a car? It really is no different than the slingshot, and is actually more motorcycle-like, due to the inline seating position for the passenger. How can they classify it as a car and the slingshot as a motorcycle? For the record, I hope it is classified as a car, so that the majority will be able to drive it without a special license or helmet restrictions.
    Leaning is important to me as a motorcyclist. I would never consider riding any of the fixed 3-wheel monstrosities but would ride a Piaggio mp3, because of the ability to lean. There is nothing better than a well-executed turn on a great road. I love that body position is part of the equation, and the feeling of the bike tipping in and responding.
    I believe these 3-wheeled oddities need a new classification. If it doesn’t lean, it’s not exactly a motorcycle. But it’s not exactly a car either. What is it?

  • Mitchell Brody

    Sure it’s not a bike, but it looks fun as hell. Sure beats that Morgan Three wheeler two, although the Morgan looks pretty cool with the shark nose

  • bigjames

    As an owner of both a Ural (Retro) and a Servicar all I can say is phooey. Freaking elitist poo poo head.

    • Chris_in_Kalifornia

      Tell us how you really feel bigjames. LOL

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    So, what would you have us call the “not a motorcycle” type of vehicle? They sure aren’t cars if you’re straddling them and steering with a set of Handlebars. I would place that as the dividing line myself. If you straddle and steer with bars and a passenger rides astraddle behind you it’s a motorcycle. If it has seats side by side and a steering wheel it’s a car.

    Really, what would you call them???

    • John A. Stockman

      Chris, I always thought the same way about straddling the seat and using a pair of handlebars vs a steering wheel and sitting side-by-side. With straddling the seat and using handlebars, you still have the left-hand clutch, right-hand throttle/front brake, gear-shift with your left foot and rear brake with right foot. But I’m not making laws or determining what moniker goes with what, it’s just my personal determination and how I classify it. Either way, fun will be had, so who am I to judge? I was forced to decide if I wanted to quit riding all together, or seek an alternative to a single-track vehicle. I’m glad I decided to keep on going, even if it was with a 3-wheel “motorcycle” option.