January 23, 2020
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Maine is making it easier to drive these futuristic roadsters

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Debbie Knox drives a three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot in Westbrook, June 4, 2019. Both state and federal agencies are working on laws to regulate autocycles, which currently are listed under the definition of a motorcycle.

The Polaris Slingshot caught Paul Taylor’s eye a couple of years ago. The futuristic roadster looked like something that Batman might drive, with sharp angles, an open cockpit and three wheels. He envisioned rocketing around with the wind blowing through his hair.

He put the brakes on the purchase when he learned he’d need a motorcycle license.

“It wasn’t worth the hassle,” said Taylor, 60, of Windham.

But that’s changing. The Maine Legislature is making it easier to test drive and operate the new-fangled “autocycles” that are a cross between a car and a motorcycle.

A bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills eliminates the requirement for a motorcycle license to operate the vehicles, which have automotive-style seats, steering wheels and foot pedals, making them more like cars than two-wheeled motorcycles.

That’s good news to Mike Tevanian, one of the owners of West-Port Motorsports. He hopes more people will be willing to buy them if they don’t have to go through the time and expense of getting a motorcycle endorsement — which was previously necessary even to take a test drive.

Across the country, states are taking a piecemeal approach to regulating three-wheeled autocycles as they become a regular sight on roads.

So far, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is leaving the regulations of autocycles to individual states.

At least 39 states now have laws distinguishing autocycles from motorcycles by making it clear that a motorcycle endorsement isn’t needed to operate them, said Doug Shinkle from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Differences remain among seatbelt and helmet requirements.

State Sen. David Miramant, a Democrat from Knox who sponsored the Maine bill, said the autocycle law is common sense. The law, which takes effect in September, defines an autocycle as a three-wheeled vehicle with automotive-style controls in which the operator is seated, as opposed to straddling a seat on a motorcycle.

It requires them to be registered and for the operator to have a regular license. It also requires safety belts and a roll bar or enclosed cab.

A popular autocycle sold in Maine is the Slingshot, a light and powerful vehicle made by Minnesota-based Polaris that is aimed at open-air fun.

They’re popular with young people and old people alike, and some baby boomers who can no longer operate motorcycles have bought them, said Tevanian, of West-Port Motorspots. The Slingshot costs between $20,000 and $30,000 depending on options, he said.

Arizona-based Elio Motors is marketing its own yet-to-be-built version with an enclosed cockpit and airbags that’s aimed at commuters. The vehicle is expected to begin production later this year at a shuttered General Motors plant in Louisiana.

Taylor said he might revisit the idea of buying one of the roadsters now that he doesn’t have to have a motorcycle endorsement.

“It would have been a nice summer toy,” he said. “I would entertain the idea again. I haven’t put it in the rear-view mirror.”


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