Is There Place on the Street for Tricycles?

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From the February/March issue of Car and Driver.

For the first three days, we just stared at each other. I, suspicious, annoyed, worried that I had done something I no longer wanted to do. FUV Arcimoto, dopey and hopeful, wolf spider in benzo, insectile but goofy. I’ve agreed to a month-long loan from Arcimoto’s three-wheeled electric runabout to see if the “Fun Utility Vehicle” lives up to its name promise.

There have been many three-wheeled vehicles in automotive history, all teetering on the line between motorcycles and cars.

Morgan, Isetta, Reliant, Campagna—heck, the first Benz was a delta-style trike. The goal has always been to create a smaller, more efficient means of transportation while maintaining affordability and stability—and, for EVs, usable range.

arcimoto tricycle

Jessica Lynn Walker|Car and Driver

Arcimoto is an Oregon manufacturer that hopes to meet those goals and address those challenges with the sale and rental of its three-wheeler. At nearly $18,000 to start with a front-wheel drive (i.e. two front, one rear) two-seater tadpole design, affordability remains a stumbling block, but the FUV does a fine job on this side of purpose. The two motors and battery with a gross capacity of 20.0 kWh produced 77 horsepower, covered about 100 miles of “town range”, and reached a top speed of 75 mph. California doesn’t require a special license for three-wheeled motorcycles, and the FUV’s full windshield makes helmets optional, legally.

Only now that it’s in my driveway, looking so polished and exposed, I’m not sure it will survive the trial. My friends don’t encourage me. “They don’t pay you enough to drive that,” said one. “Roll bars make me feel a little better,” says Dee, a professional stuntwoman whose skills include jumping from buildings and crashing into heavy machinery. God, if she’s worried…

I’m ready for ridicule. So when someone in the parking lot came by and said, “Hey, this is cool,” I stuttered awkwardly, “Really?”

I’m stupid but not a coward. I swung one leg into the front seat, buckled the double shoulder belts, and drove around the block. It feels odd but not precarious as expected. Within three laps, I got used to the hand-controlled regenerative braking and started to trust that things weren’t going to crash in turns. Once I got the hang of its golf-cart-meets-ATV power delivery, I started enjoying the whirring spaceships and terrifying top speeds. I decided to brave the multilane roads—and, perhaps scarier, the Trader Joe’s parking lot on Thanksgiving Eve.

While the FUV isn’t a motorcycle, it has a lot more in common with a two-wheeler than a four-wheeler, including inconveniences such as setting off with sunglasses locked in a cargo box. Squinting and eating hair, I speed through traffic. Initially, the FUV felt like the worst motorcycle without any merit. Too wide to divide lanes and less responsive to bicycles. It’s also downright geeky, or at least I feel like an idiot sitting upright in my rotorless chopper, losing the back of an irreverent cruiser or straddling a sexy exercise bike. I’m ready for ridicule. So when someone in the parking lot came by and said, “Hey, this is cool,” I stuttered awkwardly, “Really?”

I’m worried about being knocked out of the way. As it turned out, Arcimoto’s danger had not been ignored, but given too much attention. From salons to flea markets, people stop to ask for details. All my neighbors are asking for rides. The traffic light turns into a window that rolls up and specs read. Even the people I believe would hate the FUV—real bikers, teenagers—seem genuinely interested in what it’s capable of. Their enthusiasm is contagious. It’s great to have the wind in my hair, to hit the road with not much more than I need, to feel a hint of danger at every left turn. We have built tanks around us for transportation. Maybe what we need is not more SUVs but more FUVs. Or maybe we should all buy motorbikes.

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