“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.)
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.
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.
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.
“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?