I recently spent some time with a Polaris Slingshot, a rather unconventional vehicle that’s not quite a car and not quite a motorcycle. In five states in the U.S., including my lovely home of Wisconsin, the Slingshot is classified as a motorcycle and it’s part of the Polaris Motorcycles division of Polaris Industries. But just by looking at the thing, you can tell it’s not your average motorcycle.
Since the law is still trying to figure out what to do with 3-wheeled vehicles in terms of safety and licensing regulations, there’s a special classification just for vehicles like the Slingshot. In 45 states, the Slingshot is an autocycle. Since there’s no federal autocycle classification, there isn’t really a clear-cut definition of what it is, but there are a few basics that most states seem to agree on.
The most basic definition of an autocycle is a 3-wheeled vehicle with a completely or partially enclosed passenger compartment that’s controlled like a car with pedals and a steering wheel. That means a 3-wheel motorcycle like a Can-Am Spyder or a Harley-Davidson trike is still a motorcycle, since it has traditional motorcycle controls. A Polaris Slingshot or a Vanderhall Venice, however, is considered an autocycle in most of the U.S.
So, what’s the point of having an autocycle classification? Why not just call it a motorcycle? Having an autocycle classification makes 3-wheelers more accessible to more drivers. For example, in Wisconsin, you need to have a motorcycle license to drive a Slingshot — and you need to follow the other rules that come with riding a motorcycle, like any applicable helmet laws.
Personally, I think it’s kind of silly to apply motorcycle rules to a vehicle that you drive like a car. I’m an avid motorcyclist, and I think riding a motorcycle is a completely different experience that uses a different set of skills than driving an autocycle like the Slingshot. Anyone who knows how to drive a car with a manual transmission can drive a Slingshot and doesn’t need to have any idea how to ride a motorcycle, in my opinion.
That said, I think the autocycle classification is a great idea — and I wish the remaining five states where you need to have a motorcycle license to drive anything with three wheels would get in on the trend. I also think autocycles, in general, are a great idea as a fun alternative to both cars and motorcycles without being quite like either. They’re not very practical, not ideal for all climates, and they take up a lot of room in your garage, but they’re fun and weird enough to make up for all of that if you have the space and the budget to add one to your fleet.