Is a three-wheeled vehicle a motorcycle?

Is a three-wheeled vehicle a motorcycle?

Posted by Ben Baker on Apr 26th 2016

The guys and gals who ride a Spyder will argue that it is a motorcycle. Open air, one drive wheel, maximum two people, same hand controls as a motorcycle do support that line of thinking.

State law varies widely. Washington State has a special permit for some trikes. It’s not a motorcycle endorsement. Washington also has exceptions for three-wheeled rides so the driver just needs a regular Class D cage license.

New York State provides a modified Class M license, “If you take the test on a three-wheeler, your motorcycle license will be restricted to driving three-wheelers.” Virginia offers three different Class M licenses.

Tennessee has several Class M licenses, but says three-wheeled rides are the same as two-wheeled when it comes to the permit.

This is an issue for trike riders. For more than 52,000 people, it will be an even bigger issue in 2017. Those people have pre-ordered an enclosed trike with front wheel steering. Elio Motors is supposed to have the Elio in pre-production by the end of 2016. Elio is supposed to deliver 100 to start with. Production ramps up in 2017.

An Elio Facebook announcement from 2013 says, “Currently, the majority of our states do not require license endorsements for a vehicle like ours. Many other states have pending legislation to move in that direction… The issue of helmet laws is also being worked through.”

The Facebook conversation thread looks at the license and helmet issue from several different angles. Opinion is also very split. Is it a cage, a motorcycle or something different?

Enclosing motorcycles is not new. Dropping bike motors into cars is nothing new either. Here’s a Top 10 list of vehicles with motorcycle engines. For that matter, taking motorcycles and doing all kinds of things with them happens regularly.

Some of these riders in the Popular Mechanics article are motorcycles. Some are not. Some are, well, what do you call a one-wheeled ride with a motor and lights?

Where does this put the Elio? That goes right back to each state.

In Washington State, it’s not a Class M license vehicle. The Elio meets a three-part test.

  • The seat is in a partially or completely enclosed seating area.

  • The vehicle is equipped with safety belts.

  • The vehicle is steered with a steering wheel.

In Tennessee, you must have a Class M for “any two- or three-wheel vehicle of more than 125 cubic centimeters (125 cc),” says the law. According to the specs page on the Elio, it has a 3 cylinder .9 liter power plant. Running the math through Google, that comes out to a 900 cc engine.

Other specifications are:

  • 8-gallon tank.

  • 5-speed manual or automatic transmission.

  • Fuel-injected, water-cooled “automotive engine.”

  • 2 seater, passenger behind driver.

It’s supposed to have a top speed of more than 100 miles an hour and get around 84 miles to the gallon highway. Some bikes can manage that. The only cars that can claim the same efficiency are hybrids with electrical motors as well as gas motors.

Get a closer look at the Elio and decide if it’s a motorcycle, a cage or something else.