In Memoriam: The Star-crossed Three-wheeler

How a recreation staple met its untimely demise.

With almost few horsepower and even less suspension, ATCs were a simple, cheap, fun way to get off-road. But as FortNine details, they had a sinister side.FortNine

In the ’70s and early ’80s, after the minibike had had its heyday, three-wheeled, suspensionless all-terrain cycles like the Honda ATC 125M became the way to peel your preteen away from their seizure-inducing Atari and get outside. With 7 hp, forgiving balloon tires, and a price tag you could easily dredge up from the couch cushions, there was little about them to hate.

What all seemed like such innocent fun, a soft bright spot in brutalist hellscape that was the 1980s, came crashing to earth in 1987, in the face of a government-mandated end of production. See, it turned out the fun-loving trikes had a sinister side, and were unforgiving of inexperience, small stature, or poor technique. After years of maiming or killing their unsuspecting riders, the US government blew the whistle, and all ATC manufacturers signed a consent decree halting production after ’87.

With a handful of throttle and some four-letter body English, the ATC can be a joy; they just don’t suffer the timid with compassion.FortNine

For their last video of 2020, the guys at FortNine filmed a beautiful requiem to the Honda ATC, and ended it with a vexing question. Did irresponsible manufacturers who should have eaten the blame for the ATC’s spectacular failure kill the beasts, or was it the public’s inability to come to grips with the techniques and responsibilities needed to operate them?

By the late ’80s, the dangers and the spills spelled the end for three-wheelers, and a consent decree buried them under reams of legal muck.FortNine

That can of worms is not one we want to open on these pages, but the point of the question is sound. As we look to a new year and new decade to bring more positive tidings, it’s important to keep close tabs on our role in how things turn out.