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A three-wheeler is a vehicle with three wheels. Some are motorized tricycles, which may be legally classed as motorcycles, while others are tricycles without a motor, some of which are human-powered vehicles and animal-powered vehicles.
Many three-wheelers which exist in the form of motorcycle-based machines are often called trikes and often have the front single wheel and mechanics similar to that of a motorcycle and the rear axle similar to that of a car. Often such vehicles are owner-constructed using a portion of a rear-engine, rear-drive Volkswagen Beetle in combination with a motorcycle front end. Other trikes include ATVs that are specially constructed for off-road use.
Three-wheelers can have either one wheel at the back and two at the front (2F1R), (for example: Morgan Motor Company) or one wheel at the front and two at the back (1F2R) (such as the Reliant Robin). Due to better safety when braking, an increasingly popular form is the front-steering "tadpole" or "reverse trike" sometimes with front drive but usually with rear drive. A variant on the 'one at the front' layout was the Scott Sociable, which resembled a four-wheeler with a front wheel missing.
Three-wheelers, including some cyclecars, bubble cars and microcars, are built for economic and legal reasons: in the UK for tax advantages, or in the US to take advantage of lower safety regulations, being classed as motorcycles. As a result of their light construction and potential better streamlining, three-wheeled cars are usually less expensive to operate.
Three-wheeler transport vehicles known as auto rickshaws are a common means of public transportation in many countries in the world, and are an essential form of urban transport in many developing countries such as India and the Philippines.
Auto rickshaws are a form of novelty transport in many Eastern countries.
In 1897, Edward Butler made the Butler Petrol Cycle, another three-wheeled car.
Goliath pickup truck at a meeting for vintage cars in the 1990s
A configuration of two wheels in the front and one wheel at the back presents two advantages: it has improved aerodynamics, and that it readily enables the use of a small lightweight motorcycle powerplant and rear wheel. This approach was used by the Messerschmitt KR200 and BMW Isetta. Alternatively, a more conventional front-engine, front wheel drive layout as is common in four-wheeled cars can be used, with subsequent advantages for transversal stability (the center of mass is further to the front) and traction (two driven wheels instead of one). Some vehicles have a front engine driving the single rear wheel, similar to the rear engine driving the rear wheel. The wheel must support acceleration loads as well as lateral forces when in a turn, and loss of traction can be a challenge.
A new tadpole configuration has been proposed with a rear engine driving the front wheels. This concept (Dragonfly Three Wheeler) claims both stability and traction (two driven wheels), as well as a unique driving experience.
With two wheels in the front (the "tadpole" form or "reverse trike") the vehicle is far more stable in braking turns, but remains more prone to overturning in normal turns compared to an equivalent four-wheeled vehicle, unless the center of mass is lower and/or further forward. Motorcycle-derived designs suffer from most of the weight being towards the rear of the vehicle.
For lower wind resistance (which increases fuel efficiency), a teardrop shape is often used. A teardrop is wide and round at the front, tapering at the back. The three-wheel configuration allows the two front wheels to create the wide round surface of the vehicle. The single rear wheel allows the vehicle to taper at the back. Examples include the Aptera 2 Series and Myers Motors NmG.
Having one wheel in front and two in the rear for power reduces the cost of the steering mechanism but greatly decreases lateral stability when cornering while braking.
When the single wheel is in the front (the "delta" form, as in a child's pedal tricycle), the vehicle is inherently unstable in a braking turn, as the combined tipping forces at the center of mass from turning and braking can rapidly extend beyond the triangle formed by the contact patches of the wheels. This type, if not tipped, also has a greater tendency to spin out ("swap ends") when handled roughly.
The disadvantage of a three-wheel configuration is that lateral instability is harder to avoid than with a four wheeled vehicle.
With any vehicle, an imaginary line can be projected from the vehicles centre of mass to the ground, representing the force exerted on the vehicle by its mass. With the vehicle stationary, the line will be vertical. As the vehicle accelerates, that imaginary line tilts backwards, remaining anchored to the centre of mass the point at which the line intersects the ground moves backwards. As you brake it moves forwards, with cornering it moves sidewards. Should the point at which this line intersects the ground move outside of the boundary formed by connecting the tyre contact patches together (a rectangle for a four wheeled car, or a triangle for a trike) then the vehicle will tip and eventually fall over. This is true for any vehicle.
With all vehicles it is critical that the vehicle should be engineered to slide before this point of instability is reached.
This can be achieved in several ways:
- by placing the center of mass closer to the ground
- by placing the center of mass closer to the axle with two wheels (for three wheelers)
- by increasing the track width
- by limiting the grip provided by the tyres, such that the vehicle loses adhesion before it starts to tip.
- By tilting some or all of the vehicle as it corners.
In the case of a three-wheeled ATV, tipping may be avoided by the rider leaning into turns.
To improve stability some three-wheelers are designed to tilt while cornering like a motorcyclist would do. The tilt may be controlled manually, mechanically or by computer.
A tilting three-wheeler's body or wheels, or both, tilt in the direction of the turn. Such vehicles can corner safely even with a narrow track.
Three-wheeled battery powered designs include:
- Commuter Cars Tango
- Cree SAM
- Electra Meccanica SOLO
- Myers Motors NmG (formerly Corbin Sparrow)
- Toyota i-Road
- Vanderhall Edison 2
- ZAP Xebra
The world's fastest solar-powered vehicle, Ashiya University's Sky Ace TIGA, is a three-wheeler. It achieved 91.332 kilometres per hour (56.751 mph) at Shimojishima Airport, in Miyakojima, Okinawa, Japan, to win the Guinness World Record, on 20 August 2014. It took the record from another three-wheeler, Sunswift IV, designed and built at the University of New South Wales in Australia, by a margin of almost 3 km/h.
It was designed to be the world's most efficient production vehicle. The Aptera's hood and roof is covered with solar cells. Those solar cells are designed to add up to 40 miles per day and 11,000 miles per year in sunny climates. The Aptera will be available with several battery sizes giving it an estimated range of 250 miles up to 1000 miles from a 100 kWH battery.
The world's first full-size self-propelled land vehicle was a three-wheeler. French Army Captain Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's 1770 fardier à vapeur (steam dray), a steam tricycle with a top speed of around 3 km/h (2 mph), was intended for hauling artillery.
The Whike is a recumbent tricycle with a sail, made in the Netherlands.
Due to the incidence of injuries related to their use, a 10-year ban, entirely voluntary for manufacturers, was placed on the sale of new three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles in the United States in January 1988. More injuries were sustained by riders by not applying a proper riding technique, and lack of wearing proper safety gear such as helmets and riding boots. In a search conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it was determined that "no inherent flaw was found in the three wheel design".
The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (October 2015) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In the U.S, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines and regulates three-wheeled vehicles as motorcycles. However, in 2015 a bill was introduced in Congress that would prevent some three wheeled vehicles from being classified as motorcycles in the United States, instead creating a new classification for "autocycles".
Driver's license and registration requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. Some states require drivers of three wheeled vehicles to have a motorcycle license and register the vehicle as a motorcycle. Some states, including Virginia, Kansas, and Indiana, classify some three wheeled vehicles as autocycles. Virginia defines an autocycle as "a three-wheeled motor vehicle that has a steering wheel and seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride and is manufactured to comply with federal safety requirements for motorcycles." Indiana defines it as "a three (3) wheeled motor vehicle in which the operator and passenger ride in a completely or partially enclosed seating area that is equipped with:(1) a rollcage or roll hoops; (2) safety belts for each occupant; and (3) antilock brakes;and is designed to be controlled with a steering wheel and pedals." In other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, Canada, and Connecticut, a three-wheeled vehicle with an enclosed passenger compartment or partially enclosed seat is considered an automobile.
Two front wheels
|Léon Bollée Voiturette||France||1895–?|
|TriPodCars Tripod 1||Australia||2012–?||400 kg Reverse Trike, Bandit 1250, ZX14R (200+ hp) and EV|
|Berkeley Cars Berkeley T60||England||1959|
|Advance 6 hp air-cooled Tri Car and 9 hp water-cooled Tri Car||England||1902–12|
|Riley Olympia Tricar||England||1904|||
|Mars Carette||England||1904-05||Mars Motors Co existed in Finchley, London, White and Poppe water-cooled engine, Single-cylinder, 3.3 kW|
|Lagonda Tricar||England||1904–07||total production: 69 cars|
|Morgan V-Twin and F-Series||England||1911–39, 1932–52||Morgan Super Sports 2-Seater 1937|
|American Tri-Car||United States||1912|
|Birmingham Small Arms Company Three Wheeler||England||1929–36||1100cc engine|
|Zaschka||Germany||1929||Folding three-wheeler: Zaschka Three-wheeler 1929|
|Dymaxion car||United States||1933||Concept car designed by Buckminster Fuller|
|Mathis VEL 333||France||1946||3 seats, flat-twin front engine, aluminium body, production less than 10 units|
|Fend Flitzer||Germany||1948 - 1951||1 seat, Messerschmitt kabinenroller precursor, production about 250 units|
|1951 Hoffmann||Germany||1951||2 seats, aluminium body, engine mounted on the rear wheel steering pivot|
|Velorex Oskar and other models||Czechoslovakia||1951–71||Originally with leather bodies|
|Isetta||UK||1957–62||Three-wheeled version of the Isetta built in the UK to take advantage of tax and licensing regulations|
|Peel P50||Isle of Man||1963–64||Smallest production car ever built|
|HM Vehicles Free-way||United States||1979–82|
|Malone Car Company F1000|Skunk SS|TAZR||United Kingdom||1999–present||High power internal combustion and pure electric versions released November 2010|
|Cree SAM||Switzerland||2001||Electric, only 80 produced|
|Myers Motors NmG ("No more Gas")||United States||2006–present||Single occupant all-electric plug-in|
|BRP Can-Am Spyder RoadsterCan-Am Spyder Roadster||Canada||2007–present||The Can-Am Spyder is a three-wheeled motorcycle manufactured by Bombardier Recreational Products|
|Moonbeam||United States||2008–present||100 mpg DIY, fabric-covered car based on parts from two Honda 150cc motorscooters|
|Triac||United States||2009–2011||Electric, never entered production|
|XR-3 Hybrid||United States||Plans–2008, Kit–2009||Front 3 cylinder diesel (125 mpg), rear electric 40 mile range -(220 mpg when used as a hybrid)|
|Aptera||United States||2021 planned||Solar powered Electric|
|Triton Trikes||United States||2000–present||Gas power 42+ mpg - Parts lists, Kits Available|
|Polaris Slingshot||United States||2015–present|
|Vanderhall Laguna Roadster||United States||2016–2018||Exotic Auto-cycle, mono-aluminum chassis, carbon fiber body, 200 HP, 1550 pounds dry weight, side-by-side seating, fwd. 1.4 liter turbo GM power plant. 6 speed Automatic with paddle shift option. Manufactured by Vanderhall Motor Works in Provo, Utah U.S.A|
|Vanderhall Venice||United States||2017–present||The mainstay of the Vanderhall line up, the Venice brings the soul of roadster motoring while extending effortless performance in kind.|
|Vanderhall Carmel||United States||2020–present||The Vanderhall Carmel brings more luxury and convenience to the Carmel lineup. With provisions to accommodate a removable capshade, the Carmel promises additional class and comfort for your journey. |
|Vanderhall Edison||United States||2020–present||The Edison2: A fully electric roadster that combines refined and eye-catching design while maintaining classic, elegant lines. Unplug and play has been redefined |
|Elio Motors||Shreveport, LA, United States||Awaiting funding||Two passenger fully enclosed cockpit with car controls|
|Girfalco Azkarra||Canada||2017||All-electric two-passenger three-wheeled vehicle, possibly the quickest three-wheeler|
|Go3Wheeler||United States||2014||single person three wheeler|
|Morgan 3-Wheeler||England||2012–present||The power train is a 1983cc ‘V-twin’ fuel injected engine mated to a Mazda 5 speed (and reverse) gearbox|
|Fuel Vapours Alé||Canada||2005–present||Prototype. Gets 92 mpg.|
|Arcimoto FUV||United States||2019-present||Two passenger all-electric, 102 mile range City|
|Scarab STM||United States||1976||Kit car with canopy door manufactured by Fiberfab|
Two rear wheels
|Benz Patent Motorwagen||Germany||1886–93|
|La Va Bon Train||France||1904–10||50–100 believed built|
|Davis D-2 Divan||United States||1947–48||about 13–17 built, including the 494, a Jeep-like military vehicle|
|Kia K-360||South Korea||1962–1973||Kia's first truck (OEM Mazda K-360)|
|Kia T-1500||South Korea||1963–?||1484 cc, 60 hp, four cylinder and a maximum load of 1.5 tons. (OEM Mazda T-1500)|
|Kia T-600||South Korea||1969–1974||577cc, 20 HP and 500 kg load. Top speed of 75 km/h. 7726 produced (OEM Mazda T-600)|
|Kia T-2000||South Korea||1967–1981||1985 cc, 81 hp, four cylinder and a maximum load of 2 tons. 15952 produced (OEM Mazda T-2000)|
|Electra-King||United States||1964?–1980s?||Two-seater electric car|
|Reliant Robin||England||1973–81, 1989–2002|
|Reliant Regal||England||1953–1973||An example of this vehicle is the iconic van belonging to Del Boy and Rodney Trotter in the long-running BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, though it is often incorrectly referred to as a Reliant Robin.|
|GM Lean Machine||United States||1980s||Tilt, concept car|
|Twike||Germany||1995–present||Electric-human-power hybrid, developed in Switzerland|
|ZAP Xebra||United States||2006–2009||electric power|
|eTuk||United States||2014–||re-designed tuk tuk for the US Market, including an all-electric motor|
|Snyder ST600-C||United States||20??–20??|
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- Guinness World Records - Fastest solar-powered vehicle
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- Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-100 (West)
- Ind. Code Ann. § 9-13-2-6.1 (West)
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- "XR3 Hybrid Personal Transit Vehicle: A 125 mpg Plug-In Hybrid Three Wheeler You Build From Plans". Rqriley.com. Retrieved 2012-04-09.
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