Why Three-Wheelers Were Banned in the USA
Today we have several vehicle options for offroad riding: dirt bikes with two wheels, ATVs and UTVs with four, and so on, but nothing with three wheels. What happened?
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, manufacturers started unleashing three-wheeled machines into the marketplace. Honda produced the US90, also known as the ATC90 — with the ATC standing for All Terrain Cycle.
It used big puffy tires instead of a conventional suspension, and it had a seat for one. Originally, three-wheelers were marketed to teens, but eventually farmers saw their value in working big plots of land. As a result, manufacturers built more models with larger engines to handle bigger jobs.
But the three-wheeled ATC also found a home among trail riders who wanted to push them as hard as they could go. This triggered another escalation in displacement and power in the design of the ATC, and an overall move to achieve better performance at speed.
Three-Wheeler ATC Ban
So what happened? Physics, that’s what. Without wheels on all four corners, you can imagine these machines weren’t very stable. They were prone to flip over, resulting in frequent accidents resulting in injuries and a few fatalities.
Just to be clear, we're referring to 3-wheel ATVs with one wheel in the front and two in the back (pictured above), not the 3-wheel street trikes with two wheels in front and one in back (pictured below) that are popular today.
After the accidents, injuries and deaths, the lawsuits followed. As a result, the U.S. government banned the sale and production of the three-wheeler ATC in 1988. Around that time, manufacturers began pouring millions into ATV safety, and the standards developed during that time still shape the industry and how we ride today.