Machinedesign 2760 Trike Sm 0

Tricked Out Trikes

Feb. 17, 2010
A trio of high-tech, head-turning tricycles proves the versatility of motorized three-wheelers.

Authored by:
Stephen J. Mraz
Senior Editor
[email protected]

Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (Can Am Spyder),

Campagna Motors (T-Rex),

Piaggio Group Americas Inc. (MP3),

Three-wheeled vehicles are not a common sight on the streets and highways. But they could be. They have definite advantages over traditional four-wheeled cars, as well as two-wheeled motorcycles. (They are lighter and less complex than cars and more stable than conventional motorcycles.) And as the following three examples illustrate, they can be designed to appeal to a variety of drivers — everyone from wanna-be racers and retired Hell’s Angels to eco-conscious backpacking students.

Campagna T-Rexes
Engineers at Campagna Motors, Montreal, designed the company’s line of muscular-looking T-Rex trikes for people with an innate fondness for speed. They exploit the three-wheeled concept to reduce weight — they tip the scales at a little over 1,000 lb — and keep the center of gravity low so they can handle turns at 1.3 g.

The engine, a 1,400-cc Kawasaki in-line four, cranks out 197 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque at 7,500 rpm. This is enough to propel the trike from 0 to 60 mph in 3.98 sec and give it a top speed of 144 mph, which is more impressive than it sounds when riding 5 in. above the pavement. All that power goes through a six-speed manual transmission with a chain drive transferring power to the rear wheel. The chain drive is a bit louder and needs more maintenance than a belt drive, but it is more precise and effective at transmitting power. An offset pulley on the driveline gives the two-passenger vehicle a reverse gear. There’s also a 7.5-gallon fuel tank, letting it travel over 200 miles on a tankful.

The body, comprised of triangular fiberglass panels on a frame of structural 1.5-in. tubular steel, looks like a cross between a formula race car and a superbike while keeping the driver and passengers safe. The bodywork, designed by Paul Deutschman, an automotive designer who has worked with Callaway and Porsche, embodies muscular lines and, according to Campagna, evokes images of prehistoric predators. This led Deutschman to dub his creation “T-Rex.”

The two-wheeled front end boasts unequal opposed triangular arms, shock dampers, and a sway bar for crisp handling that doesn’t compromise driver comfort. Rack-and-pinion steering (nonpowered and with a steering wheel) takes just 3.25 turns to go lock-to-lock. In back, a swinging arm with dual shock dampers and adjustable coil overs supports the 10-in. extrawide rear tire. The big back tire, together with a 90-in. wheelbase, makes the T-Rex more stable in turns than conventional motorcycles and renders it practically impossible to have one fall over, a constant risk with motorcycles.

The T-Rex also carries safety gear more commonly found on cars than bikes. These include three-point seat belts, a retractable steering column, and a safety roll cage. The trike also had to pass Canada’s regulations for three-wheeled vehicles, which includes a front-end crash.

Inside the relatively open cockpit, the driver and passenger sit side-by side in waterproof seats. The dash carries full digital instrumentation, and a pair of optional rear side bags gives the trike about 4 cu ft of lockable, waterproof, and removable cargo space.

The Canadian firm builds three versions of the T-Rex: the basic sporty 14R (which goes for $52K), the 13R with a suspension tuned for a smoother ride and a 125-hp liquid-cooled, Harley-Davidson 60° V-Twin engine (which goes for $41K), and the 14RR, a racing version of the 14R with larger brakes, tighter steering, and better engine cooling (and goes for $58.5K). The company plans on building and selling 200 T-Rexes this year.

The MP3 from the Italian firm Piaggio looks and rides the most like a motorcycle of these three trikes, but it is called a scooter. Go figure. From an engineering standpoint, it seems like a kinder and safer sort of motorbike. There are three wheels — two in front, one in back — so riders don’t have to rely on balance as much nor do they have to put a foot down when stopped. And the trike’s continuously variable transmission eliminates the need to shift or use a clutch — a turn of the throttle on the handlebars increases speed.

There are three versions of the MP3. The $7,200 MP3 250 has a 23-hp, 244.3-cc, single-cylinder engine generating 15 lb-ft of torque that gives the vehicle a top speed of 77 mph. The larger MP3 400 has a 389.9-cc, 34-hp engine that puts out 27 lb-ft of torque and has a top speed of 88 mph. It costs about $8,700. The largest MP3, the 500, has a 492-cc engine with 40-hp, 31 lb-ft of torque, and top speed is 89 mph. It costs $8,900.

What’s the law? Motorcycle or car?
Before rushing out to buy that perfect trike, you might want to check your local driving laws. In most states, three-wheeled vehicles like the T-Rex 14R are classified as motorcycles and it takes a motorcycle license to legally drive one on the streets. Some states also require helmets for those riding or driving a motorcycle. But the three-wheeled Piaggio MP3 is called a scooter, so different rules and licensing requirements might apply. On the plus side, many states let three-wheeled vehicles into the usually less-crowded HOV lanes.

The most striking feature on the scooter is the tilting front end. The wheels and front fork lean as much as 40° from vertical when taking turns, giving drivers all the thrills and feel of the road they can handle. The front end consists of four aluminum arms forming a parallelogram that supports two steering tubes. A cantilevered suspension with 85 mm of travel lets each front wheel move up and down independently to accommodate small bumps. An electrohydraulic locking system holds the fork in place and upright when drivers engages it, such as when parking.

The two front wheels, along with their disc brakes, give the MP3 extra stopping power. And having more rubber on the road also contributes to better handling and a tighter grip on slippery roads.

The company plans to begin selling a hybrid version of its three-wheeled scooter. It will get about 12 miles out of a single full charge, and the lithium-ion battery pack will recharge in 4 hr. But in most circumstances, drivers will use both the electric motor and the 250-cc gas-powered engine, along with regenerative braking. This should let the trike get 140 mpg.

Can Am Spyders
The Can Am Spyder from Bombardier Recreational Products Inc., is “the world’s first three-wheeled roadster designed for touring,” according to the Canadian manufacturing company. And they consider the vehicle more of a roadster than a motorcycle. But it seems the Spyder is more of an upscale touring motorcycle for those who cannot give up the open-air ride of a motorcycle. The trike boasts several amenities that make it more comfortable than today’s superbikes and touring motorcycles. For example, the windshield adjusts by 4 in. up and down to let drivers customize it to their needs and the weather. There are also heated handlebar and passenger grips, a four-speaker sound system, cruise control, and passenger armrests. And most importantly, the three-wheeled stance means the vehicle cannot fall over.

A 998-cc V-twin Rotax, also made by BRP, powers the Spyder. The liquid-cooled, DOHC two-cylinder generates 106 hp and 80 lb-ft of torque at 7,500 rpm. BRP engineers calibrated the throttle control for touring.

Two transmissions are available, each designed specifically for the Spyder. One is a five-speed manual with a remote interlock for a true mechanical reverse. The other is semiautomatic, which lets drivers use their left hand to shift up and down without a clutch. The rear wheel is turned by a carbon-reinforced belt. The 929-lb Spyder goes from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 sec and its top speed is 110 mph. It can carry up to two passengers and about 6.5 ft3 of cargo, if the total passenger and cargo weight doesn’t exceed 525 lb. An optional color-matched, $5,000 trailer and hitch will let you carry more.

The two-wheeled front suspension, which is steered by handlebars, consists of a double A-arm with an antiroll bar. There is no countersteering like on a motorcycle, according to the company. But the driver does shift his weight as he turns the handlebars, and the steering system is powered.

In the back, the rear wheel is supported by a swing arm equipped with a monoshock. The rear suspension also has adjustable preload, letting drivers just push a button or turn a ring to change the preload on the rear suspension to accommodate added weight from a passenger or cargo. This keeps suspension travel in the “sweet spot” even when the Spyder carries a full load.

Unlike other motorcycles, the Spyder carries antilock brakes and both traction and stability control, all of which contribute to a safer, more-controlled ride. And these subsystems are tuned to work with the optional trailer. A foot pedal activates disc brakes on all three wheels at once during normal operation.

There are two versions of the Spyder. The RT is designed for long road trips with a passenger. The RS has a shorter wheelbase and is not as wide as the RT. They also look somewhat different in their body styling. The RS weighs 699 lb (dry) while the RT comes in at 929 lb. And the two handle slightly differently due to differences in size and weight.

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