Three wheel ATVs, also called trikes or 3 wheelers, are making a major comeback in the world of off-roading. While banned in the late 1980s due to safety concerns, modern trike ATVs have much better stability control and protection features.
These unique 3 wheeled models offer increased maneuverability around obstacles and versatility to add accessories like cargo beds. Their tight turning radius and ease of control at low speeds make them ideal for recreation, farming, hunting and industrial use.
This complete guide will cover everything you need to know about three wheel ATVs:
Table of Contents
What are Three Wheeler ATVs?
Three wheel ATVs are a subclass of all-terrain vehicles with two wheels in the back and one wheel in the front. This configuration gives them better stability compared to normal four wheel ATVs, making them harder to tip over or roll.
These trike models are often used for:
- Recreational off-road riding
- Farming and agricultural work
- Hunting and traversing wooded areas
- Industrial applications like construction, landscaping and mining
Three wheel ATVs are available in both 2WD and 4WD options depending on the intended terrain and applications. 2WD models are lighter and more affordable, while 4WD provides better traction and torque for challenging conditions.
There is a wide range of trike ATV models available, ranging from entry-level affordable options to high-end machines loaded with advanced features. Prices typically range from around $3,000 to over $20,000.
Benefits of Three Wheel ATVs
There are many advantages that make three wheel ATVs an attractive option compared to normal ATVs:
1. Increased Stability
The additional wheel up front makes it much harder to tip over sideways or roll a three wheeler compared to a normal quad bike ATV. The two rear wheels help counterbalance the weight. This makes trikes ideal for beginners or riding over uneven terrain.
2. Better Maneuverability
Having a single wheel up front allows very tight turning – some models can even pivot in place! This gives three wheelers excellent maneuverability around obstacles and in confined spaces. The turning radius is tighter than any 4 wheel ATV.
One of the big benefits of three wheel ATVs is how versatile they are. You can outfit them with a wide range of accessories like cargo beds, spray tanks, plow attachments, winches, and more. Their stability also makes them well suited for pulling heavy loads.
4. Safety Features
Modern three wheel ATV models have much better safety engineering than those banned in the 1980s. Some high-end trikes like the Polaris Slingshot have advanced stability control systems and rollover protection.
5. Fun Factor
Three wheelers offer a unique off-road riding experience that’s simply more fun for many people. Their ability to turn on a dime lends well to playful maneuvers like donuts. The lower center of gravity inspires confidence.
Why Were 3 Wheeler ATVs Banned in the 1980s?
Three wheel ATVs first gained popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned their sale in the United States in 1988.
There were two main reasons for banning three wheelers:
High Injury and Fatality Rate
The upright riding position and high center of gravity made three wheel ATVs inherently less stable than four wheelers. This lead to a high incidence of injuries and fatalities, especially among inexperienced riders.
Stability Issues at High Speeds
Three wheelers were particularly unstable at high speeds. Their light rear end and single front wheel meant they could easily tip over forwards when braking hard. They were also prone to sideways rollovers on hills or uneven ground.
These stability issues resulted in over 10,000 injuries per year and several hundred deaths. The CPSC determined they were an unreasonably dangerous product, leading to the ban.
Why Are 3 Wheelers Considered Dangerous?
While modern trike ATVs have better stability control, there are still some inherent issues that can make them dangerous if not ridden safely:
1. Forward Flipping
Under hard braking, a 3 wheeler can flip violently forwards if the rear wheels lock up due to insufficient front braking power. This is called a “endo”.
2. Sideways Rollovers
Hitting a ditch, large rock, or bump sideways can cause a three wheeler to roll over if you don’t counter-steer properly. Slow speed maneuvers make this more likely.
3. Suspension Limitations
Having only one shock up front limits suspension travel compared to ATVs. This leads to less control when landing big jumps.
4. Difficult to Counter-steer
Unlike motorcycles, counter-steering is less intuitive on three wheelers due to the automotive-style steering. This makes it harder to recover from a rollover.
These characteristics mean three wheelers require caution, proper training, and responsible riding to avoid accidents. They are best suited for low-speed recreation, not high-speed trail riding.
How to Make 3 Wheelers Safer?
While inherently less stable than quads, there are some steps you can take to enhance the safety of three wheel ATVs:
1. Install Rollover Protection
Adding an aftermarket rollover bar or cage can prevent the vehicle from crushing you in a rollover. Shoulder restraints and seat belts also help.
2. Take Safety Training Courses
Taking a hands-on safety training teaches critical skills like proper braking, weight distribution, and avoiding rollovers. This is highly recommended for beginners.
3. Follow Age Recommendations
Respect the age limitations for different engine sizes. Youth models are speed limited and have less power to get into trouble.
4. Avoid Paved Roads
Only ride three wheelers off-road. They are not designed for paved roads where high speeds increase instability.
5. Install a Kill Switch
Wiring up a kill switch that cuts the ignition if overturned could prevent run-away accidents.
6. Control Speed
Ride at moderate speeds suitable for the terrain. Don’t attempt to push a three wheeler at high speeds where stability rapidly declines.
Popular Three Wheeler ATV Models
There are a variety of three wheel ATV models on the market today in both sport and utility configurations. Here are some of the most popular options:
Honda ATC Three Wheelers
The Honda ATC models were some of the original and most iconic three wheel ATVs, produced from 1970-1987. They are no longer manufactured but can sometimes be found on the used market.
Popular Honda ATC models include:
- ATC90 – Entry level sport model with 87cc engine and 4-speed transmission. Great for beginners and youth riders.
- ATC110 – Small 92cc utility model good for light farm work and trail riding. Auto clutch with 3-speed transmission.
- ATC185/200 – Powerful 177cc/197cc 2-stroke engines made these agile performance models with 5-speed manual transmissions.
- ATC250R – Top of the line 248cc liquid-cooled 2-stroke engine machine focused on high speed racing performance.
The Yamaha Tri-Moto line offers an excellent selection of modern recreational 3 wheelers at affordable price points under $3000.
Key Tri-Moto models include:
- Tri Moto 125 – 124cc air-cooled 4-stroke engine with electric and kick start options. 5-speed manual transmission and drum brakes.
- Tri Moto 175 – Great all-around model with 173cc engine, auto or manual clutch, and drum or disc brakes depending on year.
- Tri Moto 200 – Peppy 196cc engine with convenient electric start. Available in auto or 5-speed manual. Hydraulic disc brakes provide strong stopping power.
- Tri Moto 250 – Sporty high performance machine with liquid-cooled 246cc 2-stroke engine and 5-speed transmission. Designed for experienced riders.
The Polaris Slingshot is a uniquely styled, high-end recreational three wheeler with sleek styling and luxury features. It has a 2.4L 4-cylinder car engine mounted in the rear and delivers exciting on-road performance.
Key Slingshot models and prices:
- Slingshot S – Base model starts at $20,999 with media console, Bluetooth, and 5-speed manual transmission.
- Slingshot SL – Upgraded model starts at $25,999. Adds interior lighting, premium audio, and cruise control.
- Slingshot R – Top of the line model starts at $30,999 with accented wheels, sportier suspension tuning, and styling accents.
- Slingshot AutoDrive – Special edition model with automated sequential 5-speed transmission. Starts at $29,999.
The Slingshot is available with a wide selection of colors, wheels, accents, and audio upgrades to customize your ride. It’s the most luxurious recreational three wheeler on the market.
Honda FourTrax Rancher 4×4 ES EPS
The Honda FourTrax Rancher 4×4 ES EPS is a rugged utility oriented three wheeler designed for farmers, ranchers and off-road explorers. It packs plenty of hauling and towing power in a nimble, stable trike platform.
Key specs and features:
- Engine – 420cc single-cylinder with electronic fuel injection
- Transmission – Automated 5-speed + reverse
- Drive System – Electric 2WD/4WD shifting
- Payload Capacity – 500 lb. rear cargo rack capacity
- Towing Capacity – 1250 lb. towing capacity
- Safety – Electric Power Steering reduces fatigue and Electronic Brake Force Distribution
With its ample cargo and towing abilities plus four wheel drive traction, the Rancher 4×4 ES EPS can take on any job around the farm, ranch or hunting camp. It starts at $7,999 MSRP.
Pros of Three Wheel ATVs
Here are some of top advantages three wheel ATVs offer compared to normal quads:
- Increased stability – Harder to tip over gives confidence to new riders
- Tight turning radius – Excellent maneuverability around obstacles
- Easier slow speed control – Ideal for precise work like spraying crops
- Better traction and torque – Rear wheels put power down
- Unique riding experience – More fun factor appeals to many riders
- Versatility – Add accessories like winches, plows, cargo beds
Cons of Three Wheel ATVs
The main downsides to consider with three wheelers:
- Not optimal for high speeds – Stability declines rapidly above 30 mph
- Less stable on side hills – More prone to sideways rollovers
- Limited cornering lean angle – Require lifting inside wheel in turns
- Not street legal in some states – Only designed for off-road use
- Can tip forward suddenly – Braking errors can lead to violent endos
- Less suspension travel – Not ideal for big jumps compared to sport quads
Three Wheeler ATV Safety Tips
Riding any ATV comes with inherent risks. Here are some key tips for staying safe on three wheelers:
- Wear a DOT certified helmet, goggles, gloves, boots, and protective riding gear.
- Take a hands-on training course to learn proper riding techniques.
- Strictly follow all age recommendations and respect engine size limitations.
- Avoid riding on paved roads – stay off-road only.
- Install a kill switch that cuts ignition if overturned.
- Maintain proper tire pressure – low pressure increases risk of rollovers.
- Don’t overload cargo racks or trailer tongue weight capacity.
- Avoid steep hills where sideways rollovers are more likely.
- Sit with your weight centered and avoid wheelies or jumps.
- Brake gently and avoid sharp inputs that could flip it forwards.
- Have roll bars installed if your model doesn’t come equipped.
Are Three Wheel ATVs Right For You?
Three wheel ATVs offer a unique riding experience perfect for many applications like farming, ranching and exploring the backcountry. Their increased stability gives confidence to beginner and youth riders.
While not optimal for high speeds or aggressive trail riding, three wheelers can be more practical thanks to their tighter turning radius and ability to add accessories. Ridden responsibly, they provide reliable performance for work or recreation.
If you prioritize stability, ease of control and versatility over speed, a three wheeler could be an excellent choice. Taking the time to properly train and follow safety precautions helps mitigate their inherent risks.
For an exciting off-road machine the whole family can enjoy, three wheel ATVs are making a big comeback thanks to modern designs. Check out the models above and visit a local dealer for a test drive to see if a trike is right for your needs. Ride safe and have fun!