Search Cars for Sale

Video | What Is an Autocycle?


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.

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
Here’s Why the Koenigsegg Agera RS Is Worth $10 Million
I Bought the Most Unreliable BMW Ever Made
Autotrader Find: 1990 Subaru Legacy With a Landau Roof

Sign up for Autotrader newsletters

The best cars and best deals delivered to your inbox

Email Address 

By subscribing, you agree to our privacy policy

Where You Can Buy

Loading dealers...

5 COMMENTS

  1. Where is the Vanderhall? Was it not Vanderhall that coined the term ‘autocycle’? Well, whoever (or whomever) it was, I would still like to see one here. This polaris thing looks like its from a 1940s Flash Gordon episode, or a kid’s RC toy! How about a REAL ‘autocycle’, Like the VH Venice, Carmel or the Edison 2/4?

  2. This autocycle classification is the main reason why you hardly see any Slingshot exported outside US / Canada. If the car drives like a car, it is a car, not a motorcycle, not an autocycle, not a trike. No loopholes exist, which means it must have a car-like equipment such as airbags and safety structures which Slingshot does not have.

  3. This autocycle classification is the main reason why you hardly see any Slingshot exported outside US / Canada. If the car drives like a car, it is a car, not a motorcycle, not an autocycle, not a trike. No loopholes exist, which means it must have a car-like equipment such as airbags and safety structures which Slingshot does not have.

  4. I find it hard to recommend something that a Mazda Miata is better at in every way for the same or if used, less money. If these were like $5,000 I see a point but they cost like $20k. 

  5. I think autocycles, and the autocycle classification is a terrible and stupid idea overall, that would be much better if replaced with “ultralight-car”. Make it so vehicles under 2000lbs aren’t subject to increasingly difficult safety regulations, that while safer, make cars heavier and more expensive. 

    Instead, we have the loophole-cycle… I mean autocycle classification, that due to an inferior 3 wheel configuration that makes it extremely difficult or impossible to avoid obstacles in the middle of the road. This makes driving less safe, so thankfully autocycles have the highest safety standards in the industry… oh wait, they have practically no safety standards. 
    I’d rather have street-legal factory-built caterhams, ariel atoms, etc on the road than these 3-wheeled oddities. Granted I’m not saying that these 3-wheelers shouldn’t exist, I’m merely saying that their existence is proof of the general incompetence of government in many ways. 

Leave a Comment

Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More about Eric Brandt

Most Popular Articles

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: First Look

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid jumps to the head of the hybrid class.

Best Truck Deals: November 2021

These are the best deals on trucks for the month of November 2021.

Search By Style

More Articles Like This