Honda three Wheeler

Three-Wheeler: Rise of the ‘Death Machines’ of the 1970s & 1980s

I’m going to tell you a quick story of the three-wheeler. It is a warning, perhaps, about how the government, assisted by the mainstream news under any political party, can take away your free will.  

A Brief History of the Three-Wheeler

Three-wheelers, as they were casually referred to, have been around since the 1970s. Even 007 rode one in Diamonds Are Forever. In about five years during the 1980s, they saw more than two million sales in the country. 

With their rise in popularity came a sharp rise in injuries and deaths. CBS News warned there was a high chance that riders might experience severe injury. The media claimed three-wheeler ATVs—or ATCs if it was a Honda—were marketed as something “the whole family could enjoy.” How dare they! According to some in the media, if you were a parent and bought your child an ATV, you were evil! 

The claim was that the three-wheel configuration was flawed. Attorneys for the manufacturers would counter by saying the vast majority of riders, 99 percent according to them, did just fine. The media retorted quickly, saying what if 1 percent of the airliners crashed? What would the airlines do? What would the public demand?  Attorneys sued manufacturers for millions of dollars and reached out-of-court settlements because, in their words, the manufacturers “didn’t want juries to hear about minors hurt or killed in accidents.” 

The Propaganda Machine

Sounds a lot like the push by one political party to sue gun manufacturers right now, doesn’t it? 

Those under 18 did have more serious injuries than adults. No one is denying that. But there were also serious injuries on quads, dirt bikes and street bikes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission under the Reagan administration stated that by design, three- and four-wheelers rolled over onto riders easily. 

But what about the other millions of riders on these three-wheelers? What about the teens and young adults that took it a step further and actually raced these death machines at over 70 mph? Why are all these other riders and racers still alive? Could it be user error? Misuse of a product, such as putting a minor on a machine designed for an adult? Boozing it up while riding? Throwing your girlfriend on the back with a design for only one rider? Don’t forget the ever-classic “Bubba move” of not wearing a helmet. 

The Real World

Ask anyone who has raced motocross or other forms of on- or off-road racing about the humbling and sometimes painful experience of riding beyond your own ability. It’s dangerous. Those in favor of a ban argued a rider had to do more than turn the handlebars; you had to lean your body into the turn to keep it balanced. What? You mean unlike today’s three-wheeler UTVs, that someone can comfortably listen to the radio in while driving like a car, a person would have to actually develop skills to ride properly?

Manufacturers reaffirmed warnings to parents that kids under 14 years old shouldn’t be allowed on adult machines, and again, the machines were not designed for riding double. But it wasn’t enough. These death machines were banned and the Justice Department announced that manufacturers must stop producing them. However, some politicians wanted more. Democrat Doug Barnard Jr. of Georgia claimed it was “woefully deficient and did nothing to encourage the voluntary return of these dangerous vehicles.” Let’s read that again: “encourage voluntary return.” Where are we hearing this similar language used today?  

Did people die from riding a three-wheeler UTV? Yes. Is one death too many? Of course. No one denies that. In fact, there were over 100 deaths a year while three-wheelers were in use. It’s heart-breaking to hear of any family’s loss. Should the American public turn their brains on and take responsibility for their actions rather than trying to blame an inanimate object? Only if they want to preserve their freedoms and ability to enjoy their free will. Think about this combination of attorneys, politicians and the mainstream news telling you over and over again that something is not safe, so they are going to ban it for you. It sounds eerily familiar right now, doesn’t it? 

For even more fun on wheels, check out our podcast Skillset Live!  Get in on the conversation on our social media pages or pick up a back issue at


  • I still have one runs great !

  • I was 14 when I had a serious accident on my dad’s Honda Big Red.

    I arrived at the ER white as a ghost with all the signs of internal bleeding. Turns out I injured my liver and the scans confirmed I had been bleeding internally – but miraculously it stopped. I came very close to not making it and I have lifelong memories of the terror and heartbreak of my parents.

    What’s crazy is that two months after my accident, a group of friends took their dad’s 3-wheelers out on trails in the woods. I urged them not to go but they went anyway and I stayed behind. Shortly after, they returned with one friend screaming from a broken arm and another with a serious injury to the leg.

    These 3-wheelers are dangerous. I realize there is a nostalgia to them…but they are not safe. Ultimately, you have to make your own decisions. You can stick your finger in a socket for all I care. I just hate that kids and people unaware of the danger of these motorcycles will be the ones who ultimately pay the price.

  • Still have my 1985 Honda ATC350X. Mint condition and runs like new. Raced motocross on it and all around recreational riding in the mountains and hills. All of my friends and I started on ATC90s’ in junior high. I can’t think of a single bad injury from any of us, but we weren’t idiots either. One of the friends grandkids now own and ride my original ATC90, and whenever I’m over at their house and see it, it brings a tear to my eye. Great article, made my morning!

  • I had a 185s Honda when i was 13 and YES I had some pretty good accidents on it and a couple bad ones , BUT i dont blame the machine or the maker of it at all. If I didn’t have it to drive , it would have been a dirt bike or riding a horse or even a bicycle. Accidents happen , generally when we don’t pay attention or showing out on them .In my case it was BOTH.

  • I still have three Honda ATC death machines and have ridden them since 1980. I haven’t had any broken bones or died on one. There are plenty or people who die from cars, trucks, motorcycles, side by sides, boats, jet skis or wave runners or even peanut butter and all of that stuff is still legal. Harley and Honda make a full size three wheeled motorcycle for the boomers to ride and can-am has the backwards three wheeler for sale now. I think the stigma of three wheelers is just because of the media propaganda and the most expensive trike of 1985 was less than the least expensive quad of 1985. It seems to boil down to greed. The quads have twice as many parts to break and weigh more so if you do something stupid on 4 wheels it will kill you better than the 3 wheeler would have.

Leave a Reply