sidecars vs trikes vs cars
There are a number of vehicles being designed to fill the economy vehicle gap, and it's to the advantage of a manufacturer to have it registered and licensed as a "motorcycle" to circumvent DOT/EPA regulations.
That creates a situation in which a motorcyclist is at risk of getting elbowed out of the loop. For many years we've had very similar definitions of "motorcycle" in state laws, which generally include having not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, and on which the operator sits astride the engine and steers with handlebars or a tiller. That got slightly more confusing when state laws were modified to include enclosed or semi-enclosed bodywork, in which case the operator could steer with a steering wheel, but would have to have a seat belt. (and various combinations and permutations)
I've been OK with the laws for many years, making the personal decision that having not more than three wheels was an acceptable dividing line between a motorcycle and a car. IMHO, a motorcycle with or without a sidecar attached is clearly a "motorcycle." I also believe that my Spyder--or any motorcycle-based trike is acceptably a "motorcycle."
But, is a two-wheeled bike with additional "training wheels" a "motorcycle"? I say no, simply because of the wheel count. Likewise a GG quad or a four-wheeled ranch or offroad vehicle. In ranch and farm states, it seems very logical to hop on the ATV and run into town for some combine parts, and for a few years the local LEOs would issue tickets for driving an unlicensed, uninsured quad on public roads. However, big ranchers are in positions to get the police chief or sheriff hired or fired, so it didn't take long in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, etc. for the cops to back off and just look the other way. Today it's very common for someone on a quad to come ripping through a small western town at 50 or 60 mph, with little probability of arrest. And that has led to the proliferation of quad ranches where unlicensed customers spend a week riding around on quads--offroad or on.
Likewise, in retirement communities in states such as Florida and Arizona, there is a need for old folks to get down to the clinic or grocery store. They are hopping on golf carts and just driving down the street. Some are even arguing that by using a golf cart for transportation they are helping reduce the consumption of fossile fuels, and as such the government should give them a tax break for buying a golf cart. Actually, it would make more sense for them to be buying medium size "ranch" quads that are capable of city traffic speeds.
At the moment, there are a number of micro cars being built, some with four wheels; some with three wheels. Like the Isetta, today's micro cars are small, roundish, and designed for in-city use. But, someone with limited resources might balk at having to buy a genuine micro car and then have to deal with licening, insurance, etc.
This isn't just rhetorical. States have to deal with operator and vehicle licensing, law enforcement, and in the case of motorcycles, rider training. A number of states have only recently awakened to the need for training for operators of three-wheeled motorcycles. What do they do with one of the giant auto-based trikes with V-8 engines and seating for five? Or, for that matter, the Piaggio MP3 with two narrow front wheels--that leans into turns and steers by countersteering?
Anyone have any brilliant ides for getting all this in order? Do we need a new definition of "motorcycle"? Should there be a new category of vehicle to describe a small, cheap economy something--that doesn't relate to the number of wheels? And, should motorcyclists be resistant to micro car builders usurping the "motorcycle" definition?
I spotted one of those Harleys with training wheels the other day for the first time. I wondered if it was still considered a motorcycle since it had four wheels in contact with the ground. Still wondering.
There are lots of aging riders looking for some way to keep the bike balanced even with weaking legs. But, it's such a change of concept to accept a true three wheeler, the tempatation is to bolt up one of the "training wheels" kits, say "Insta Trike" or "Voyager".
The problem with having three wheels in parallel is that to provide suspension the side wheels need to be sprung somewhat softly, so that going over a bump doesn't lift the center drive wheel off the pavement.
The result is a stange four wheeler that wallows in turns. In a straight line the "training wheels" provide little or no support, so the rider can countersteer. But as the outfit wallows into a turn, it responds to direct steering. (the bike wheels and the compressed outside wheel form a triangle, with the inside wheel off the ground.
Since I've made up my mind that it's useful to count the number of wheels to help determine what the vehicle is, I categorically refuse to accept that the "training wheels" outfits are motorccles. State licensing departments also roll their collective eyes. But since the kits can be quickly detached, it's also obvious that the two-wheeled bike (without the kit) is a motorcycle. Owners don't have to have anything inspected after bolting up the wheel kit, so there is no easy way to apply any laws. Even if there is a vehicle inspection program, the owner can unbolt the extra wheels for the inspection, and bolt them up again afterward.
Likewise, a LEO--in states requiring a special endorsement for three-wheelers-- would need to be pretty sharp to catch the driver of one of those things and check for the appropriate license. After all, the driver could argue that it's not a three-wheeler, so a sidecar or trike endorsement isn't needed.
I also grimace at the idea that something with four wheels can be called a "something-trike." To me, tri means three, as in tricycle.
Incidentally, California allows a sidecar to have up to two wheels, so a sidecar outfit in California could theoretically have four wheels. I don't have any idea what would happen if the driver of such an outfit took it up to Oregon or Washington.