Opinion: Breaking the rules

“It has a steering wheel and sit-in seats. It is a three-wheeled car. Why is this here?” asked CMG reader TK4, after we ran an update on the Polaris Slingshot last week, and he’s got a good point. But one of the answers is, because it’s actually classified as a motorcycle, at least in the United States.

In the U.S., if a vehicle has no more than three wheels, has either a saddle or a seat, and weighs no more than 1,749 lbs. (793.3 kg), the federal government considers it to be a motorcycle. So that’s the Slingshot, which tops out just under the weight limit. This is essential for Polaris, because if it was classified as a car, it would have to comply with far more legislation, including federal crash testing.

(The Slingshot is crash-tested, and has crumple zones and roll bars, but it’s one thing to create this to your own satisfaction and quite another to prove it to the feds.)

That seat doesn’t look like it’s at least 650 mm from the ground, so it can’t be a Canadian motorcycle.

Here in Canada, though, a motorcycle is defined differently. There are many more parameters, including having handlebars, a seat at least 650 mm from the ground, a minimum wheel base of 1,016 mm, and a minimum wheel rim diameter of 250 mm. As such, the Slingshot is considered a “three-wheeled vehicle”.

“As the vehicle more closely resembles a passenger car than a motorcycle, it is required to meet some of the passenger car safety standards,” explains Annie Joannette of Transport Canada, which backs up TK4’s gripe. If you’re interested, you can read all the Canadian definitions here.

Definitely doesn’t look like a bike in here. And what’s that strange pedal on the left, and that stick thing in the middle?

To make it complicated, now that it’s legal, it’s down to each individual state and province to decide the legislation around it. When the Slingshot was introduced in 2014, almost every state insisted that drivers needed a motorcycle licence, but Polaris started lobbying and now only six still require this. It’s classified there as an “autocycle,” and pretty much every state that requires a helmet for a motorcycle also demands one for an autocycle.

In Canada, Polaris’s product manager, Garrett Moore, says the Slingshot is legal to purchase in every province except Nova Scotia. Again, each province determines its own legislation: they all require only a car licence, except for Alberta which wants a motorcycle licence, and they all require a helmet, except for British Columbia which is happy with the seat belts and roll bars.

Ah, now this is more like it. And if you’re in B.C., you don’t even need the helmets.

The only real competition has been from the T-Rex and V13R three-wheelers, both of which are racier, but their Quebec-based maker, Campagna Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection last month. Not surprising, with a list price of around $60,000. The Slingshot starts at half that, but even so, it’s Gold Wing and UltraGlide pricing for something that’s very much a toy, and it’s out of reach of most people.

All of this just backs up TK4’s assertion that this is not really a motorcycle and doesn’t belong in CMG, except that I chatted with Garrett Moore last week and asked him why people buy such a vehicle. “It’s closer to a car and you drive it like a car, but there are many motorcycle aspects to it,” he said. “It’s an open-air experience, and nothing else lets you drive so close to the ground – no convertible will give you the same sensory experience.

Whoo-hoo! Looks like fun, though not typical of Canada in December.

“We see a lot of older riders coming to Slingshot. For a lot of people, the wife has been riding on the back her entire life and she says, ‘I don’t want to ride on the back any more. I want to sit next to you,’ or ‘I want to drive this thing as well.’ We’ve seen a lot of people from (Can-Am) Spyders and Harley trikes convert to Slingshot.”

Polaris has sold more than 30,000 Slingshots in the last four years, though the sales curve is now flat. People who wanted one have already bought one. Its biggest challenge is that the 2.4-litre General Motors engine can only be driven through a manual transmission, and most drivers can’t use a stick-shift. Polaris would love to install an automatic transmission, but the extra weight will put it over the American weight limit. You’d better believe the engineers are working on that.

So, for CMG, where do we draw the line at inclusion? Yes, we cover motorcycles, and no, we don’t cover cars, but there are plenty of vehicles in the grey area between: the Harley trike, the Can-Am Spyder, the Ural with a sidecar, the Yamaha Niken GT, even the Toyota i-Road concept.

Do we insist on straddling a saddle and twisting a throttle grip on a pair of handlebars? Do we dismiss everything with three wheels that doesn’t lean? If we do, then by excluding the Slingshot, we lose out on the same road-going, open-air experience that we crave. We also lose a vehicle that allows our partner to sit beside us and enjoy the upfront face-in-the-wind experience that we value so highly. And in British Columbia, we don’t even need to wear a helmet.

We don’t want to pretend such satisfying vehicles don’t exist. They’re not the focus of our coverage at Canada Moto Guide, but if they’re non-conformist and the reasoning is a bit fuzzy, we’ll give ’em the benefit of the doubt and tell you about them. After all, don’t motorcyclists consider non-conformity as the greatest value of all?

There’s no way a motorcyclist wouldn’t enjoy doing this…

12 thoughts on “Opinion: Breaking the rules”

  1. Excellent article Mark. Your last sentence sums it up perfectly. I for one want to keep learning, why do Moto GP riders ride every type of bike? Because they want to keep getting better. Skills are transferable and I would rather learn to drift with a Slingshot than a Moto Cross bike, given that I am 56. Bring it on, the wilder the better. I am so stoked to ride a Niken. This year I bought a KLX 250, it is so fun on gravel and dirt and I am learning so much. Next year I am going to start tracking. The thing I love about so many riders is that we are ever seeking to improve, no matter the age. We are young at heart, not old and boring. BTW this website is the best, bar none. You continue to do great work, thank you. Cam

  2. I’ve never understood the string of negativity towards these machines. I can’t understand the closed mindedness toward different modes of transportation. Honestly vehicles such as this may see a single article about them every one or two years and maybe the odd blurb when the manufacturer makes changes to the things. And for that people get bent out of shape? Wow.
    Motorcycle Online did a shoot out of the Slingshot along with the Spyder F3 and the Morgan 3 Wheeler. They all agreed it was not a motorcycle but was a lot of fun. Motorcyclist did a ride to work Youtube video and came up with the same conclusion.
    Try something different. Quit eating the same porridge every day for breakfast. (Not sure why I’m fixated on food references today)

    BTW, I’ve never wanted to drive the Slingshot myself (I couldn’t care less about Tesla either) but I’ve seen an awful lot of people having a hell of a good time driving them. And enjoyment is the bottom line isn’t it?

    IMHO

  3. I don’t care what any government says, anything where you sit in a bucket seat with a seatbelt, holding a steering wheel, is not a motorcycle, or even much related to motorcycles. OTOH, things like the Can Am Spyders or various trikes, while they don’t lean, do at least involve sitting astride the thing on a saddle, i.e. “riding”. I’m willing to cut a little slack for the T-Rex, as they’re Canadian, and use motorcycle parts heavily. The Slingshot is a 3-wheel car, no two ways about it.

    I don’t care if you want to cover it here, but it is not in any way a motorcycle.

  4. If there’s something writtten on this site that doesn’t interest someone then they shouldn’t read it. Kind of like a recipe book: not interested in how to make roast duck, then find a recipe for mutton stew or whatever else it is you crave.
    Seems like a simple solution.

  5. Editor Mark – Thank you again for this clear, lucid, well written answer to my initial question. I will continue to follow CMG, and from time to time inject comments when I believe they are relevant, and do so without malice. Keep up the good work, and suffer not the slings and arrows – I will….

  6. These vehicles need their own publication or to be broadly covered in a recreational toys format including jet skis, go-karts, atv’s, power boats, ultra lights, snowmobiles, etc.

    1. They probably do already have their own publication. But the Slingshot stands out from those other toys because it’s road-legal, and that makes us give it a second look.

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