“Autocycle.” It sounds like a vaguely steampunk contraption that fell out of favor upon the arrival of the Ford Model T. Instead, it is the catch-all descriptor for a new generation of bracingly cool hot rod trikes vying for the attention of people bored with cars but put off by motorcycles.
This latest trend in automotive creativity, which, to paraphrase Michael Crichton, “finds a way,” despite the stifling effect of modern safety and environmental regulations by deleting a wheel so the resulting machines aren't technically "cars."
The Tanom Invader TC-3 has a fixed roof overhead and a windshield up front, relieving its driver of the need to wear a helmet in most states. Open-topped autocycles like the recently tested Polaris Slingshot and Tanom’s planned Roadster model will require helmets in states with motorcycle helmet laws.
Where the Slingshot is nearly a car with a single rear wheel, as it uses a General Motors engine, transmission and other bits from the Pontiac Solstice sports car, the Invader feels more strongly like a motorcycle, despite its roof.
The Invader is propelled by a hell-strong 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine from a Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, a machine legendary for its power. At 1,500 lbs., the Invader is twice as heavy as a Hayabusa, but that still isn’t much weight for this approximately 200-horsepower engine to propel.
All the while, it makes proper motorcycle sounds. It also retains the Suzuki’s sequential transmission, so shifts a fore-and-aft click on the shifter in the manner of motorcycle, rather than the familiar H-pattern car shifter seen in the Slingshot.
The engine uses a motorcycle-style chain to turn the almost-comically huge rear tire – it is full foot and a half wide! But with just a single tire back there, the Hayabusa engine can easily overcome traction, especially on damp pavement.
The instruments and controls all come straight from the dismantled Hayabusa that gave its life for the Invader, so the “on” switch, starter and turn signal switch are all familiar to motorcyclists, sitting on stubby handlebar-like stalks behind the steering wheel.
Motorcycle turn signal controls work because they are within reach of the rider’s thumb when gripping the handlebars, but with hands on the Invader’s steering wheel, they require a reach to use, which makes it easy to accidentally leave a signal flashing like a retiree’s Deville en route to the Boca Del Vista early bird special.
Unexpectedly, the whole experience of piloting the Invader is more motorcycle-like than that of the Slingshot. This is probably a combination of the sound of the bike engine and the sight of the motorcycle controls, but there is also the matter of the breeze in the face. With no helmet required, air swirls around the windshield and the road slides past the visible front tires just ahead, contributing to a more exotic experience.
Plus, the autocycle law that relieves the occupants of the need to wear helmets means that there are no helmet-related delays or hassles of toting them around. The windshield also lends a degree of all-season utility by keeping the wind blast.
At speed, the Invader is a thrill, the Suzuki engine ripping effortlessly from gear to gear. The unassisted steering accurately points the trike into corners, though at parking lot speed there’s a good deal of scrub as the front tires fight each other with different steering angles, and the steering wheel doesn’t unwind itself when accelerating out of such turns.
But, compared to paddling back and forth to turn a motorcycle around, the maneuvering the Invader is simple. More importantly, inexperienced operators needn’t fear tipping the thing over on its side.
With a $55,000 starting price, the Invader is a pricy motorcycle, and you can easily option one up beyond Confederate Hellcat territory. The company is plotting a less-costly V-twin version that will appeal to Harley riders and will cost less because Tanom won’t need to buy and dismantle new Hayabusas to build them.
The company isn’t yet ready to talk about exactly what that engine will be, but our experience with the mighty Suzuki engine suggests that even with a good bit less muscle the Invader should be plenty quick and fun. Indeed, it is likely that a V-twin’s low-RPM torque characteristics would be better-suited to the autocycle’s quasi-automotive duty cycle.
If that brings the Invader’s price within reach of more buyers, then get ready to hand out period-correct brass-framed autocycle monocles for all.