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Section Nine - Three-Wheel Motorcycles

Three-wheel motorcycles handle differently from cars and two-wheel motorcycles; most do not balance and lean like two-wheel motorcycles. Use caution and only ride once you have learned the necessary skills and experience to safely operate and control your three-wheel motorcycle.

Common Operating Characteristics of Three-Wheeled Motorcycles and Motorcycles with a Sidecar

Types of Three-Wheel Motorcycles

Traditional two-wheel motorcycles are considered single-track vehicles. Three- wheel motorcycles could have either double or triple tracks. Double track motorcycles are motorcycles with sidecars, while triple track motorcycles (trikes) can have either two front wheels or two rear wheels.
(photos) Motorcycle  2- wheel/single track  Motorcycle w/sidecar 3- wheel/double track  Three-Wheel Motorcycles 3-wheel/triple track

Differences between Two-Wheel Motorcycles and Three-Wheel Motorcycles

A three-wheel motorcycle is naturally more stable than a two-wheel motorcycle. However, under certain conditions it could tip over or lift one of the wheels off the pavement. In order to ensure its stability, you will need to pay attention to your body position, your speed and how you load a three-wheel motorcycle.

Three-wheel motorcycles also steer differently. Since most three-wheel motorcycles cannot lean, the front wheel must be pointed in the direction you want the motorcycle to go (much like using a steering wheel in a car).

Be Familiar with Your Motorcycle

Make sure you are completely familiar with the three-wheel motorcycle before you take it out on the street. Be sure to review the owner’s manual. Remember three-wheel motorcycles take up more space than two-wheel motorcycles and you will need more space to maneuver.

Body Position

Your body position is important for control on a three-wheel motorcycle. You should be able to reach both handgrips comfortably while leaning and shifting your weight in turns.


Approach turns and curves with caution. If you enter a turn too fast, you may end up crossing into another lane of traffic, lifting a wheel or going off the road. Oversteering could cause the motorcycle to skid and you could lose control.


When riding uphill on a three-wheel motorcycle, some weight will shift to the rear causing the front of the vehicle to become lighter. This weight shift reduces the traction on the front wheel(s) for steering and braking. You should shift some of your body weight forward to maintain steering control.

When riding downhill, gravity increases the amount of braking force required to slow or stop the vehicle. It is important, therefore, to begin slowing earlier for cornering and stopping.

Lane Position

The width of a three-wheel motorcycle is similar to the width of some automobiles; therefore, unlike a two-wheel
motorcycle, you are limited in lane positioning. Keep toward the center of the lane and within the lane markings.
Lane positioning when riding in groups is also an important consideration. Ride single file and always maintain a safe margin, four seconds minimum, between motorcycles.


A three-wheel motorcycle is not as maneuverable as a two-wheel motorcycle. It is important to look well ahead to avoid the need for any sudden turns or swerving. Swerving is seldom the best option to avoid a collision. If swerving is required, brake either before or after the swerve, never while swerving. You should not attempt swerving unless you have proper skills and experience to do so. If you need to avoid a collision, the best option may be hard braking.


Cornering and Curves

When riding through curves, remember to keep all three wheels within your lane.

Adjust your speed before entering a curve. You may need to lean or shift your weight in the direction of the turn to avoid causing any of the wheels to leave the ground and possibly losing control.

Unique Operating Characteristics of Triple-Track Motorcycles


Because the weight of a triple-track motorcycle is distributed almost equally between the two front or two rear wheels, these motorcycles handle the same in left and right turns.

When turning a triple-track motorcycle:
  • Approach a turn with your head up, and look through the turn.
  • Adjust speed before the turn to allow you to safely accelerate through the turn.
  • Lean or shift your weight in the direction of the turn.
  • Steer the front wheel(s) toward the turn.
  • Accelerate gradually as you exit the turn.

Stopping Quickly

An important handling characteristic to be aware of on a triple-track motorcycle is that the two wheels will have more braking power than the single wheel. This is because weight does not shift as much to the single wheel on a triple-track motorcycle during hard braking. More of the weight stays on the two wheels and makes the brakes more effective. How much braking power varies by triple-track motorcycle design, consult your owner’s manual.

Carrying a Passenger and Cargo

Only skilled, experienced riders should carry passengers or heavy loads. The additional weight of a passenger or cargo will change the handling characteristics of the vehicle.

If a passenger is being carried, the passenger will sit directly behind you. When carrying cargo, center the load and keep it low in the storage areas so it is balanced side-to-side. Refer to your owner’s manual for more information.

Unique Operating Characteristics of a Motorcycle with a Sidecar


Check your sidecar for brakes. Some sidecars are equipped with brakes while others are not. Your stopping distance and handling will be affected if your sidecar is not equipped with brakes.

You may need to steer slightly in the direction of the sidecar when applying the motorcycle brakes if your sidecar is not equipped with brakes.


During acceleration, steer slightly in the opposite direction from the sidecar to maintain a straight line path.

(photo: Stopping: You may need to steer slightly in the direction of the sidecar.)
(photo: Accelerating: You may need to steer slightly in the opposite direction from the sidecar.)


When operating a sidecar-equipped motorcycle, additional consideration needs to be given to the direction of the turn and amount of weight in the sidecar. When turning a motorcycle with a sidecar:
  • Evaluate the degree of turn required.
  • Adjust speed before the turn to allow you to safely accelerate through the turn.
  • Lean or shift your weight in the direction of the turn.
  • Maintain speed as you enter the turn.
  • Accelerate gradually as you exit the turn.

Turning Left

During a left turn, the sidecar acts as a stabilizer, so the sidecar wheel stays on the ground. However, if the turn is taken too sharply or at too great a speed, it may cause the rear wheel of the motorcycle to lift off the ground and the nose of the sidecar to contact the pavement. This is a dangerous condition that could cause the sidecar to dig in and flip. The best way to prevent rear-wheel lift is to slow appropriately before the turn and shift your body weight away from the sidecar.

Turning Right

A right turn taken too sharp or at too great a speed may cause the sidecar wheel to lift off the ground. The lift will be greater if the sidecar is empty or lightly loaded. You can avoid this wheel lift by slowing before entering the turn and shifting more of your weight to the inside of the turn, towards the sidecar.

Stopping Quickly

Stopping quickly in a straight line is the primary technique for avoiding collisions in traffic. Always use the front and rear brakes simultaneously, adjusting pressure on the levers to apply maximum braking just short of skidding either wheel. If the wheels skid, ease off some of the pressure and then reapply to regain steering control.

Making quick stops in a curve is more difficult, especially if the road curves to the right. Hard braking in a curve to the right tends to lift the sidecar, which may require additional weight shift to the right to compensate. Stopping quickly in turns to the left is less dangerous because there is a reduced danger of tipping over. If you must stop quickly in a curve, maintain your path and brake smoothly and firmly with increasing pressure while shifting your body weight more into the turn.

Carrying Passengers and Cargo

Only skilled, experienced riders should carry passengers or heavy loads. The additional weight of a passenger or cargo will change the handling characteristics of the vehicle.

You must give some thought to where the passengers are seated and the loads are positioned. The best place for a passenger is in the sidecar. Avoid carrying a passenger behind you while leaving the sidecar empty. This could increase your chances for a tip over. If you have two passengers, place the heavier passenger in the sidecar to improve handling. The passenger sitting behind you should
sit upright at all times. It is helpful, but not necessary, for the passenger to lean into curves with you. When loaded, your motorcycle will need more time and distance to stop. You will need to increase your following distance.

When carrying cargo in a sidecar, it should be centered low, over the sidecar axle and secured firmly in place. If the cargo shifts, handling will be affected.


Test Your Knowledge

1. If you need to avoid a collision while riding a three-wheel motorcycle, the best option may be:
    A. Swerving.
    B. Hard braking.
    C. Accelerating.
2. Entering a turn or curve too fast may cause the vehicle to:
    A. Suddenly speed up.
    B. Suddenly stall.
    C. Cross into another lane of traffic.
3. When riding three-wheel motorcycles in groups, ride:
    A. In staggered formation.
    B. In single file.
    C. Beside other vehicles.
4. When turning a three-wheel motorcycle:
    A. Move back on the seat to increase rear wheel traction.
    B. Countersteer to reduce lean angle.
    C. Lean or shift your weight in the direction of the turn.