Three Wheels of Death: 1972 Honda ATC-90

I think for most of us, our first experience with wheeled transportation that we could control was the ubiquitous red tricycle.  For the truly lucky, it was the Big Wheel (I think Ken Block must have had one of the ones with the handbrake). But, did you know, that three wheeler was actually waiting to kill you?  You were lucky you didn’t taste death right there. It’s a miracle we all managed to survive.  Find this 1972 Honda ATC-90 for sale in Tacoma, WA for $750 via craigslist.

The ATC 90 was designed by Osamu Takeuchi in the late 60’s as something for U.S. Honda dealers to sell during the slow winter months for motorcycle sales.  It was powered by an enlarged version of the 4 cycle motor that powered the Honda ST70 minibike, punching out 7hp.  It began sales in the U.S. in 1970, equipped with low pressure tires instead of a suspension, 4 speed automatic transmission and swiveling handlebars with a dead man’s throttle instead of a traditional twist grip motorcycle throttle.  All for the introductory price of $595.

It was upgraded and sold in many different versions: a small frame 70cc version for kids, a 200cc version with a reverse gear for farmers and a mad version fitted with a 250 cc two stoke from a Honda Motocross bike (my personal favorite).  The other major Japanese manufacturers also sold 3 wheeled ATV’s as well.  This bike is an early ATC-90 with the oh so apt for the early 70’s Aquarius Blue paint and original balloon tires made from unobtanium.

Due to its three wheeled nature, the ATC required a rider to move their body around on the trike like a sidecar monkey and sometimes counter steer by applying opposite lock in order not to tip over.  My first intro to the joys of opposite lock was riding my uncle’s ATC in a gravel pit in Ketchikan Alaska.  Due to its unique cornering technique and the fact that the ATC could be ridden by someone who had never ridden a motorcycle or even a bike, it was singled out by the safety crowd that appointed itself “your keeper” on its mission to eliminate all risk from society.  Along with its partners in crime, the trial lawyers, they were able to convince the U.S. Justice Department to outlaw the sales of 3 wheeled ATV’s in 1988 and shake the manufacturers down for $100 million to finance a Consumer Product Safety Commission campaign to buy up all remaining 3 wheelers and spare parts. 

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Gianni is Daily Turismo’s Pacific Northwest Correspondent.  He rode an ATC once and has since been able to live a complete and happy life and bring you this post.