Hooniverse Asks: Would You Get a Motorcycle License to Drive a Three-wheel Car?

The Elio is one of the most intriguing new proposals for personal transportation since the Dale. Much of the interest comes from its claimed efficiencies, which are said to rival Hybrids and electrics at a fraction of the cost. In fact, the car’s proposed sub-$8,000 price tag is perhaps its most interesting aspect of all as a lot more people could swing that than could, say the Tesla’s $100K-plus price tag.
What do you have to give up over the Tesla for that savings? Well, quite a bit it seems. The Elio is only a two-seater, and that’s tandem so don’t think about holding hands or playing footsie in it. It also has only a single door, and most importantly, only three wheels. The three wheeler aspect is ta big deal because in a lot of places, you need a motorcycle license to drive a trike.
Do you have a motorcycle license? Do you live somewhere where one is required? If you answered No! and Yes! then the next question is, would you go to the trouble of gaining the added licensure which could involve renting a bike for the DMV driving test? Is that a length to which you would go to enjoy the benefits of this new and frugal way to get around town?
Image: TheZebra

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  1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
    Wayne Moyer

    You’re comparing it to the Dale? Great now I will associate Bruce Jenner with the Elio when I was already picturing a certain cheap pizza with it.
    If you don’t know why Bruce Jenner goes with it then you need to look up the history of the Dale. It’s a great read. I really do hope the Elio is a real thing and not like the Dale.

  2. Kiefmo Avatar

    It’s not too big of a barrier — pay $200 to the local community college and have a fun weekend learning to ride a 250cc street bike, then they’ll hand you a slip of paper to hand the DMV that says you’re good enough on two wheels, and get that M endorsement on your license.

    1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      It’s even easier in Pennsylvania. You go and get a permit and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class is free. If you pass the class then your permit is turned into a license. The test isn’t that easy. It’s how I got my license back in 1998.

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        The only part of the test I flubbed was the u-turn inside a single lane of traffic. I was too timid on the throttle and had to touch a toe down to keep from going over. It was stupid of me, considering I’d been riding that higher-COG CBR250R and the test bike was a low-slung Yamaha Vstar 250. That was a fun little bike — if I hadn’t already had the CBR at the time, I would have considered buying a cruiser instead.

        1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
          Wayne Moyer

          Most of my bikes have been cruisers. Otherwise I’ve had two standards. One was a 1980 Honda CB650 and the other was a 93 GS500E. The Honda was the one I used after the MSF class. I hadn’t ridden a bike before the class so I didn’t have any bad habits before taking the class. Which is probably why I passed it. After the class I learned a lot of bad habits.
          To this day I still use one thing from that class nearly twenty years ago when I am riding or driving. I watch the wheels of cars at every intersection to see if they are turning. That way I know if they are going to come out at me or not.

    2. ConstantReader Avatar

      Yeah, that’s what I did! Are you a Nutmegger too? (CT)

    3. spotarama Avatar

      you guys got it easy, over here (Australia) the following process must be completed –
      1) make booking at rider training centre (fee involved for booking)
      2) complete 2 day rider training course (fees involved) which includes practical training, theory, riding test, written test
      3) if you passed part 2, then you may pay more for your actual learners permit
      4) minimum 6 months road riding experience
      5) book in for probationary licence test (fees involved for booking)
      6) complete on road probationary test, (fee involved for taking test)
      7) if you pass part 6, then you pay more for your actual probationary licence
      8) wear hi-vis vest for entire time on learners and probationary licences
      9) for learners and probationary periods, weight/HP limits apply to the bikes you may ride
      10) after 3 years on probationary licence, you may pay more to have your licence upgraded to full
      11) zero blood alcohol limit for entire learners/probationary time
      12) demerit points/fines are higher for learner/probationary periods
      luckily I got my licence 30+ years ago when it was a whole lot easier, doesn’t seem to deter the myriad of suicidal scooter riders you see on the roads these days
      the weight/HP limit thing isn’t actually too bad, we used to have the 250cc limit but in the end kids were getting psycho 250’s that really belong on the track (aprilia RS250, CBR250RR etc), now we have a limit of 650cc and if the bike makes more than the allowed HP, you can get it limited and certified as HP limited until you’ve served your sentence and then have it restored to proper power, most manafacturers offer bikes specifically for this market, even harley

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Similar in NZ. Of course all in the name of road safety.

  3. Maymar Avatar

    For an Elio? No, but my commute is so short if I had $8k to spend on a two seater, a used Miata would do just as well (unless it turns out the Elio is a blast to drive, which is plausible I suppose. But I could also bicycle to work on days I feel so inclined, and it takes about ten minutes longer.
    But, as I have my motorcycle license anyhow, I am excited my province has just legalized three-wheeler, making the Polaris Slingshot and the Morgan more plausible.

    1. kogashiwa Avatar

      There’s a couple Slingshots I’m seeing around southern Manitoba. I alternate between “man that looks like a lot of fun” and “that must be miserable on our straight flat roads”.

  4. Krautwursten Avatar

    I don’t think I’ll ever have enough reason to get a motorcycle license, even if it were for three wheelers. Thankfully a car license seems to be sufficient for them in Germanaaay, so I do maintain hopes of owning or at least driving a Morgan someday.

  5. GTXcellent Avatar

    Thanks to the introduction of this exact vehicle, my fine state made a well regarded change in the law, and removed the requirement of a motorcycle license.
    Still doesn’t make me want to get one though

  6. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    How very odd. In the UK one of the benefits of the old Reliant Robin was that three-wheelers could be driven on a bike license by those who hadn’t yet progressed to four-wheels. This was back in the days of prohibitively expensive car ownership.
    Today, a three-wheel Grinnall Scorpion or Can Am Spyder can be driven here on a car license, so it seems insane to take a test to drive an Elio with absolutely none of the filtering advantages – nor most of the thrills, that a bike brings to the party.

    1. Krautwursten Avatar

      >> How very odd it seems that a trike should need a bike license when they don’t do bike stuff, like falling over.
      This is purely based on gut feeling, but I do have a vague suspicion that it’s a car industry protectionism kinda deal in the US. Either that or it’s meant to protect American drivers from themselves like so many other restrictive laws for example on speed limits and towing, which with their driver’s ed wouldn’t even be a surprise.

      1. 0A5599 Avatar

        They do bike stuff like having other drivers splatter the rider all over the pavement. A bike license would theoretically train you to always be on the lookout for bad things.
        Coincidentally, I called my insurance agent about something else recently, and I asked about her motorcycle. She has an 8-second drag bike that sees regular track use, but said she stopped street riding a couple years ago. Too many crazies, on 2 wheels, and on 4.

        1. Kiefmo Avatar

          I had to sell my two wheeler for the same reason, and it made me very sad. Too many inattentive assholes entering my lane, turning without looking, etc.
          I got kids, man. And I’m the sole earner.
          This is why I really, REALLY want a convertible. It can at least capture some of the open-airness of riding.
          That said, if it isn’t raining, I think I’m driving home windows-down, sunroof-open, and damn the heat. I just fixed that damned passenger window motor, so I’ma use it.

      2. Tanshanomi Avatar

        It’s related to equipment. Cars are required to have all sorts of safety features and impact testing and so on — things which motorcycles are not. Three-wheelers are classified as motorcycles so they aren’t required to meet the higher safety standards of automobiles.

    2. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      And how does your wife feel about that?

    3. Vairship Avatar

      The Reliant Robins do that “falling over” bit rather well, though.

  7. Lokki Avatar

    These things totally escape me. Gas is $2.00 a gallon, so there’s no economic justification. None of the fun of a motorcycle with (almost, to be generous) all of the disadvantages. No air conditioning and likely little heat or defrosting. No carrying capacity except for one non-claustrophobic small passenger. All of the crash protection you could ask for as long as you don’t ask for any.
    The only place they might make sense is in California -if- they qualify for the HOV lane. Is that a big enough market to support a company?

    1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      Oil is nearing $50 a barrel again which is nearly double the $26 it hit earlier this year. So you will see gas prices going up a bit. It will stay relatively cheap through 2017 and then go back up after that once they sort out storage.
      What’s the point of that? There will be a need for good fuel mileage again. Plus there is always a need for vehicles with good fuel mileage. Just because it costs $2.25, what it costs here in PA, for a gallon doesn’t mean I should go get a large SUV.

      1. Lokki Avatar

        I still don’t see it Wayne. Even if your argument for $4 a gallon gas is correct, except for theoretical bragging rights on saving gas money, the value proposition just isn’t there. They’re promising 40 mpg in the city (84 on the highway, but it’s a brave and patient man that takes a 55 hp ‘car’ for any extended distance on the highway). The savings difference between 40 mpg and 28-30 mpg isn’t worth suffering for. For a little more than the cost of this thing you can get a decent used commuter that will get 30 – 40 mpg while having heat, air conditioning, carrying capacity and safety. By, the way I used to live in Pennsylvania, and I have to wonder how this thing would work as winter transportation. That center rear drive wheel isn’t going to match up with the riots left by your neighbors jeep.

        1. Vairship Avatar

          Your neighbor’s Jeep leaves riots? Tough neighborhood!

    2. wohho Avatar

      My Dad just retired and although he was a state employee and farmer on the side he is worth almost $2M on account of investing being his only real hobby.
      When he retired he bought a last-gen 7-series for road trips and has a deposit on an Elio for a car to bum around in. He is significantly more excited about the Elio than he will ever be about the BMW.
      Also, they do have heat and AC as standard equipment.

      1. Lokki Avatar

        Glad he can afford a toy.

      2. Lokki Avatar

        Lol…. Wow. Sensitive…. Sorry I kicked your puppy.

    3. 993cc Avatar

      Not that this really alters the equation, but the Elio, if it happens, will have air conditioning as standard equipment (heat too). A full-sized person will be able to sit claustrophobically in back, plus 1 (one) carry on bag.
      Elio claims they will design to a five star barrier crash standard, but of course it’ll have the disadvantage of lower mass.
      Fun factor? It’ll probably be designed to understeer, power will be moderate (slow by modern standards). Fun will be a matter of perception.
      Fuel prices will inevitably fluctuate, so the economic case will be closely figured, but could only get better from the current situation.
      The Elio will not have a centre rear drive wheel. It will be front wheel drive. In snow that will still present challenges if the rear wheel loses lateral traction in a turn.
      I owned a 55 hp car for 15 years, and although it weighed 50% more than the Elio’s projected 1200 lb. weight, and had probably greater aero drag, it was powerful enough (just) to cuise at the speed limit plus 20% up the steepest hills on the TransCanada. I am not especially brave, but never had difficulty merging in Montreal.
      I have my doubts about the Elio, but I don’t think any of the issues you raised (except for it’s restricted carrying capacity) are realistically an obstacle for most people, and certainly not for me.
      I’m keeping an open mind.

  8. wohho Avatar

    Er… Elio has been working with federal and state authorities on this subject. In something like 42 states there will be no need for a motorcycle license or helmet, regardless of motorcycle laws.

  9. Justin Hughes Avatar
    Justin Hughes

    A motorcycle license is now only required to drive an Elio in 9 states.
    A license for a car is adequate for the Elio elsewhere, even though technically it’ll still be registered as a motorcycle because it has three wheels.
    On top of that, only West Virginia will apply its helmet law to Elio drivers.

  10. Grant Linderman Avatar
    Grant Linderman

    Don’t even remotely care about the Elio… But if I have to get a motorcycle license to own and drive a Morgan 3-wheeler, I will (whenever I make enough money to buy one, that is… They seem to be climbing in price every time I check).

  11. mdharrell Avatar

    I’m glad I didn’t have to bother getting a motorcycle endorsement in order to drive (I can’t really say “ride”) my HMV Freeway, in that Washington doesn’t require one for three-wheelers that are partially or fully enclosed, have a seat instead of a saddle, a steering wheel instead of handlebars, and, if new enough, a seat belt. No helmet required, either.
    That said, now that I’m committed to it, I suppose I’d grudgingly get the endorsement if the law were to change. I’d have to scrounge up something else to use for the test, however, as I’m pretty sure neither a Freeway nor, for that matter, an Elio, could physically perform the maneuvers necessary for the practical exam. Washington has a further specialized endorsement for trikes and/or sidecars, so I’d be on the hook for that, too, if the current exemption were to go away:

  12. Eric Rucker Avatar

    I have a motorcycle endorsement that I got a few years ago, specifically because I thought I might be building a three-wheeler, so…
    (My state still requires a motorcycle endorsement, but doesn’t require a helmet after a year has passed.)