What would a four wheel motorcycle really be?


Have you heard this joke? A large motorcycle manufacturer hires a group of traffic safety experts to study how to make motorcycles safer. After six months of intense research, the experts submit their unanimous findings. In the middle of a single sheet of paper are three words: “Add more wheels.”
Many have tried to envision a “four wheel motorcycle,” even though the concept is technically an oxymoron. While the automotive press applies the term to every tiny car that handles okay and can get out of its own way, I present to you three vehicles that are perhaps the best attempts yet at combining car and bike traits to create a real “four-wheel motorcycle” — never mind that a couple of these vehicles technically have only three wheels. The amazing characteristic that makes this group of vehicles unique is that all three are (or were) production vehicles that anyone can buy. Well, okay; anyone who’s much richer than you or me can buy.


The Vandenbrink Carver is probably the closest in spirit to the motorcycle. It was fully enclosed with a removable roof panel, had three wheels, but tilted like a motorcycle. Despite a small 660cc engine and 8 second 0-60 times, the Carver looks to be an absolute blast to drive. The electro-hydraulic system that managed the tilting function is ingenious, much more transparent to the user than many earlier systems, and seemed to be fairly fail-safe. If you’ve ever seen the Carver segment on Top Gear, you at least have some sense of its sky-high giggle factor. [Clarkson: “Hand on heart, I’ve never had so much fun in a car, really and truthfully, and I don’t think I’d ever tire of it.”] But it didn’t make it in the marketplace and Carver folded last summer.
The Carver is not totally unique. A long line of homebuilt attempts at tilting three-wheelers is documented on Max Hall’s website, www.maxmatic.com. Several major manufacturers have even displayed leaning concept cars, such as GM’s Lean Machine, Mercedes’s F300 Lifejet, and the BMW CLEVER concept (which was remarkably like the Carver). The Carver, however, remains the only tilting car that anybody could go down to the corner and pick up for his or her very own. (It was a long walk to the proper corner, however, unless you lived in Holland or Zurich; the Carver was never imported to the USA.) Persu Mobility of California is supposedly developing a hybrid tilting trike using technology licensed from Carver’s inventor.

While the Campagna T-Rex is not as sophisticated as the Carver, it sits squarely in the middle ground between bikes and cars. Half enclosed, with three wheels, it neither leans like a bike nor would be as comfortable in the rain as a fully enclosed car. What it does have is a very light chassis with a big bike engine that packs a heckuva kick. It even uses motorcycle saddlebags for storage, though they are oddly placed. Then again, where could you mount saddlebags on a three-wheeler where they wouldn’t look odd?

The Ariel Atom is probably the least bike-like (though Top Gear couldn’t resist making a sportbike comparison here, too). Indeed, the Atom would have more in common with a Can-Am racecar than a motorcycle, except for its remarkable bodywork. It is remarkable in that it doesn’t have any. It doesn’t mimic the look of a bike, but it shares a motorcycle’s mechanical exhibitionism. The odd but visually pleasing mix of Indy car and rail-frame dune buggy styling seems deliberately undressed; as with a bike, the Atom wears its insides on the outside. Think of the Atom as a motorcycle’s exhibitionistic soul trapped in a roadster’s body — a really fast motorcycle in one very athletic body.


This “best of” article is based on one I wrote for Indusurreal.com,
a blog I authored from June 2005 through August 2006.

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  1. Hopman Avatar

    Do i have to post a pic?
    This is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to easy.
    Lotus/ Caterham 7.

  2. rikadyn Avatar

    A Quad.

  3. engineerd Avatar

    I saw one of these this last weekend. An RCR Nemesis with 'Busa power.
    <img src="http://www.superlitecars.com/img_nemesis/fullsize/rcr_nemesis_18_fs.jpg"&gt;
    All I could think was, first, is it road legal (according to its handlers the owner thinks so), and "NNNNEEEEEEMMMMMMEEEEEESSSSSIIIIIIISSSSSS!!!"
    ” target=”_blank”>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPfxtJ8SQgk

    1. Smells_Homeless Avatar

      I was doing the nemesis thing at the bar when they had the in-car camera during the Brickyard last week (hey, I had to do something to stay awake.) I don't think the people around me got it, but they started getting into it. Much fun was had by all. Except maybe the wait staff. But they were still smiling, so it's all good.

  4. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

    One that I didn't include in the original article, but in retrospect should have, is the SUB three wheeler.
    <img src="http://www.sub3wheeler.com/images/img_complete/complete01.jpg"&gt;

    1. Tim Odell Avatar

      Yes, please.
      I would drive that to work every day.

  5. P161911 Avatar

    Something like this is probably closest to a Harley: <img src="http://hotrodtramp.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/anthonyhispeed32-300×226.jpg"&gt;
    They are both loud, covered with excess chrome and billet parts, and usually driven slow by old fat bald guys that think they are cool. This is especially true if the Hot Rod has a fiberglass body and is built from a kit with small block Chevy power.

    1. njhoon Avatar

      Not so sure about the fiberglass part of th equation. Knew a guy who had something very similar to one of these and used to drive the hell out of it. Including burnouts etc. Now he did have a 572 CID in it too….
      http://www.good-guys.com/images/news/757_Speedsta

      1. P161911 Avatar

        I'm sure there are a few that actually get driven hard, but in the last 30 years it seems the large majority of Hot Rods are either driven slowly or just parked and sat next to with a folding chair at a car show. Just as most Harley riders aren't Hell's Angles and only go for short slow cruises.

        1. Scott Avatar

          You've never been to the HAMB have you? Go try saying that there….
          That applies to the first and third commenter.

          1. P161911 Avatar

            I really doubt you would see many generic fiberglass Hot Rods from the HAMB guys. I'm talking about the stereotypical 60 something year old man that when out and bought a built Rod made pretty much the same as 100s of others. Just like the "custom" off the shelf Harleys.

        2. njhoon Avatar

          I agree and have seen it in action, errr inaction, as the case may be. I wonder if it is function of age of the owner, or the time & money spent on them. Or perhaps both.
          I often day dream about building an old rod and being the fast, baddest rarely plays into it. Just to cruise around and have fun with enough power to get on it and not kill myself is fine by me. I am getting boring in my old age I think….

    1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

      Love, sweet love….

    2. BrianTheHoon Avatar

      Yes, THAT. Lotus/Ford F1, right?

  6. retro Avatar

    <img src=http://www.caterham.co.uk/assets/images/showroom/classic/classic_main000.jpg>

  7. mdharrell Avatar

    I was just going to keep quiet on the earlier "What's Your Favorite French Car?" question instead of posting yet another picture of my KV Mini 1, but then this very next one turns out to be about four-wheeled [and three-wheeled] motorcycles, so I surrender. I'm quite fond of the bright yellow three-wheeled 1981 HMV Freeway I picked up a few weeks ago in trade for my MGB:
    <img src="http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1344/4732772437_7a270bdd9d.jpg&quot; width="500" />
    Air-cooled, one-cylinder, four-stroke 450cc Tecumseh! Chain-driven rear wheel! Registered as a motorcycle, yet no license endorsement or helmet required! Yay!
    If the next polls are about the ideal British subcompact or the best Swedish two-stroke sedan, please just refer back to this photo for my answers.

    1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

      No no, again it is clearly YOU who are insane.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Insane? No, I haven't yet put a trailer hitch on it:
        [youtube _Yw-i2fync0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yw-i2fync0 youtube]

    2. Alff Avatar

      Mr. Harrell, this is the chemist's. We've been trying to reach you for days. Your refill of lithium is here waiting for you.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        I keep telling you people I've switched to molybdenum disulfide!

        1. Alff Avatar

          Seeing your collection makes me regret, once again, my decision to leave Washington state. The nutters in the midwest have much more boring hobbies.

          1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

            I wouldn't call methamphetamine abuse, fundamentalist Christianity, drag racing, mailboxing, or cow tipping "boring", exactly…

            1. Alff Avatar

              Maybe not initially but I eventually tired of each of those.

              1. mdharrell Avatar

                Ah, there's your problem. Your use of the word "each" suggests you may have been going through them sequentially instead of in combination. Or, as it's called in the midwest, "the weekend."

                1. Alff Avatar

                  Nice. I see you've met my neighbors.

        2. dr zero Avatar

          I was going to say something about furnace elements, and then I remembered that they are molybdenum silicide, not sulfide.

    3. joshuman Avatar

      I salute you, fellow Washingtonian. Not knowing its history but recognizing the color, there is a very slight chance that I rode in the Saab in your shed as a very young boy. There can't be that many of them around.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Perhaps. It's a white '67 96 with a blue interior and an injector (under-hood oil reservoir and pump) engine. It spent most of its days in the West Seattle area before I got it. The orange one parked outside has a mixer engine– add oil to the fuel tank.

  8. Tomsk Avatar

    Palatov Motorsports DP1. Mmmm…
    <img src="http://www.palatov.com/Images/dp1/dp1006.jpg&quot; width="450" height="319" />

    1. engineerd Avatar

      Why has I nevers heard of this! Must research NAO!

      1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

        Stunned: Must have been a BIG rock, that you was hidin under no? 🙂

        1. engineerd Avatar

          Seriously. These things are bad ass!

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      You reminded me.
      Blackjack Zero.
      <img src="http://thekneeslider.com/images/blackjackzero.jpg"&gt;

    2. scroggzilla Avatar

      The Moss Family approve of your Cooper 500 shout out
      <img src="http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1265/4682554083_5a7ec3da95_z.jpg"&gt;

    3. Festiva_Movemnt Avatar

      Just saw an old Morgan three-wheeler racing at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix this past weekend! Guy is there with it every year. It never gets old seeing it out on the track though!

  9. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

    Even though this is a re-run, I thought it should be included here.
    <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/1936HDsidecar.jpg&quot; width="480">

  10. engineerd Avatar

    I'm glad to see nobody has said the Reliant Robin. If we've learned anything in the last few weeks, it's that they fall over. A lot. On their own. Trapping the driver inside.
    Even the Stig couldn't handle one.

    1. retro Avatar

      The trick is to drive them backwards instead.

  11. P161911 Avatar

    Actually I believe that this actually IS a 4 wheel motorcycle: <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Dodge_Tomahawk.jpg"&gt;

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      And yet, the completely wrong answer. Imagine that.

      1. engineerd Avatar

        Well, maneuverability was never specified.

    2. name_too_long Avatar

      Yeah, but you could never buy a working one. In theory you could buy a broken one and make it work but due to legal paranoia they never sold one you could hop on and ride.

    1. zaddikim Avatar

      First thing I thought of was Honda S2000 with go-fasters added.
      Is that bad?

  12. Kogashiwa Avatar

    Taking the question very literally, it would about have to be the Yamaha Tesseract:
    <img src="http://listphobia.com/wp-content/uploads/yamaha-tessaract.jpg"&gt;

  13. jobs in graphic design Avatar

    I definitely accept as true with what you have stated. Actually, I browsed throughout your other posts and I believe that you’re totally right. Congrats with this blog.

  14. Projekty organizacji ruchu Avatar

    Your site is great. Thats why I’ll warn you – the theme you are using have bug within the code. It is quite easy to gain admin level access. Check wordpress.org themes subforum, more info there.

  15. elishapena Avatar

    stretched saddlebags
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