Motorcycles

With its unique tilt/steering system sorted, Terracraft's Supertrike hits the market

Inventor James "Wes" Abbott takes to the track in the Terracraft SuperTrike
Inventor James "Wes" Abbott takes to the track in the Terracraft SuperTrike
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The Terracraft SuperTrike is an auto-tilting three-wheeler with roll-bar safety system
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The Terracraft SuperTrike is an auto-tilting three-wheeler with roll-bar safety system
The Terracraft SuperTrike is classed as a motorcycle for sale
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The Terracraft SuperTrike is classed as a motorcycle for sale
The Terracraft SuperTrike has a single rear wheel
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The Terracraft SuperTrike has a single rear wheel
The Terracraft SuperTrike can accept a range of different engines according to the customer's preference
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The Terracraft SuperTrike can accept a range of different engines according to the customer's preference
The Terracraft SuperTrike sure looks like a happy chappy
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The Terracraft SuperTrike sure looks like a happy chappy
The Terracraft SuperTrike has tandem seating that keeps the body quite narrow
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The Terracraft SuperTrike has tandem seating that keeps the body quite narrow
Inventor James "Wes" Abbott takes to the track in the Terracraft SuperTrike
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Inventor James "Wes" Abbott takes to the track in the Terracraft SuperTrike
Inventor James "Wes" Abbott puts the Terracraft SuperTrike through its paces on track
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Inventor James "Wes" Abbott puts the Terracraft SuperTrike through its paces on track
The Terracraft SuperTrike's cockpit design can accept a fully enclosed windshield
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The Terracraft SuperTrike's cockpit design can accept a fully enclosed windshield
The Terracraft SuperTrike will be sold under a motorcycle classification, so local helmet laws will apply
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The Terracraft SuperTrike will be sold under a motorcycle classification, so local helmet laws will apply
In the Terracraft SuperTrike the driver can watch both wheels as the CoPilot system works
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In the Terracraft SuperTrike the driver can watch both wheels as the CoPilot system works
With a 6-foot wide track, the Terracraft SuperTrike won't be nimble in traffic, but it'll add excellent cornering stability
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With a 6-foot wide track, the Terracraft SuperTrike won't be nimble in traffic, but it'll add excellent cornering stability
The Terracraft SuperTrike has a 30-degree max lean angle that may eventually be increased to 45 degrees
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The Terracraft SuperTrike has a 30-degree max lean angle that may eventually be increased to 45 degrees
The Terracraft SuperTrike sports a rather jolly front aspect
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The Terracraft SuperTrike sports a rather jolly front aspect
Terracraft SuperTrike: carves curves with high corner speeds on a racetrack
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Terracraft SuperTrike: carves curves with high corner speeds on a racetrack
Terracraft SuperTrike: should give riders and passengers much less of a carsick experience than an upright trike or car
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Terracraft SuperTrike: should give riders and passengers much less of a carsick experience than an upright trike or car
Terracraft SuperTrike: many of the Terracraft team are NASA contractors working on this project in their downtime
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Terracraft SuperTrike: many of the Terracraft team are NASA contractors working on this project in their downtime
Terracraft SuperTrike: eye-catching lines with nicely designed exhaust shields
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Terracraft SuperTrike: eye-catching lines with nicely designed exhaust shields
Terracraft SuperTrike: rear view
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Terracraft SuperTrike: rear view
Terracraft SuperTrike: LCD dash, GPS on the handlebars, and manual tilt buttons on either side
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Terracraft SuperTrike: LCD dash, GPS on the handlebars, and manual tilt buttons on either side
Terracraft SuperTrike: narrow handlebars keep the rider's arms protected
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Terracraft SuperTrike: narrow handlebars keep the rider's arms protected
Terracraft SuperTrike: tandem seating
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Terracraft SuperTrike: tandem seating
Terracraft SuperTrike: looks like a stretched-out happy head from certain angles
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Terracraft SuperTrike: looks like a stretched-out happy head from certain angles
Terracraft SuperTrike: comfortable ride with the option of good hooligan fun
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Terracraft SuperTrike: comfortable ride with the option of good hooligan fun
Terracraft SuperTrike: sure to get plenty of attention
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Terracraft SuperTrike: sure to get plenty of attention
Terracraft SuperTrike: manual controls can override the CoPilot tilt actualtion system
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Terracraft SuperTrike: manual controls can override the CoPilot tilt actualtion system
Inventor James "Wes" Abbott looking windswept and interesting with the Terracraft SuperTrike
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Inventor James "Wes" Abbott looking windswept and interesting with the Terracraft SuperTrike
Terracraft SuperTrike: uses motorcycle tires, but only to a max lean of 30 degrees at the moment.
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Terracraft SuperTrike: uses motorcycle tires, but only to a max lean of 30 degrees at the moment.
Terracraft SuperTrike: wide and aggressive stance
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Terracraft SuperTrike: wide and aggressive stance
Terracraft SuperTrike: the prototype uses a 1500cc Goldwing engine, but customers can choose more or less whatever they want in the engine bay
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Terracraft SuperTrike: the prototype uses a 1500cc Goldwing engine, but customers can choose more or less whatever they want in the engine bay
Terracraft SuperTrike: wide front for stable fast cornering
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Terracraft SuperTrike: wide front for stable fast cornering
Terracraft SuperTrike: shouldn't throw riders and passengers off the side like upright trikes do under hard cornering
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Terracraft SuperTrike: shouldn't throw riders and passengers off the side like upright trikes do under hard cornering
Terracraft SuperTrike: an absolutely unique design
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Terracraft SuperTrike: an absolutely unique design
Terracraft SuperTrike: this poor guy's gonna eat a lot of bugs on the open road
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Terracraft SuperTrike: this poor guy's gonna eat a lot of bugs on the open road

Tilting three-wheelers are becoming more common, but there's nothing out there like this. Terracraft's SuperTrike gives you a pair of handlebars to control steering, but the tilt angle is chosen by an intelligent CoPilot computer system that keeps the cabin perfectly level over all sorts of undulations that would tilt a regular car around, and leans the trike into corners for a more aggressive and less nausea-inducing cornering experience. Now that the tilt/steering system is tested and proven, Terracraft is announcing it's ready to accept orders. Gizmag spoke with Terracraft's James "Wes" Abbott.

Terracraft's tilting three-wheeler SuperTrike is still one of the most unique propositions we've encountered. Like many high performance three wheelers, it uses two wheels at the front, where they can maximize stability during hard cornering. But unlike just about anything else out there, the steering and tilting are managed by two entirely separate systems.

In the three years since we last spoke to Terracraft's James 'Wes' Abbott, the Texas-based team has nailed down its steering and tilt systems and built a working vehicle that's now on the street and turning a lot of heads.

Steering is simple enough; the Terracraft uses an ultra-narrow pair of clip-on handlebars, complete with motorcycle-style brake and clutch levers.

Terracraft SuperTrike: narrow handlebars keep the rider's arms protected
Terracraft SuperTrike: narrow handlebars keep the rider's arms protected

The tilt system is more interesting. In ordinary operation, tilt is controlled by an automated "CoPilot" system, a million lines of code that uses readings from a bunch of accelerometers, gyroscopes, wheel speed sensors and other position sensors to calculate and actuate the correct lean angle, some 1,000 times every second.

Without any input from the rider or passenger, the Terracraft will lean into a corner as you go around it. Motorcyclists will understand how this feels. Instead of your weight being pushed to the outside of the corner like it would be in a car, when you're leaned over that weight pushes downward instead. It's a secure feeling that can help prevent motion sickness when you're going through the curves.

As you begin to corner, and the vehicle's weight begins to shift sideways, CoPilot tilts the Terracraft to the perfect angle. Likewise, moving over uneven and undulating terrain, the software keeps the cabin perfectly upright where other trikes and regular cars would be tilting all over the place.

"It's awesome," Wes tells us, "It's hard to explain the feeling. It's like it's alive, like you have an organic being controlling your front suspension. We have some pretty bad roads where our lab is, in the little back streets. Every crossroad is like a little jump. When you're driving across that, the Terracraft is staying completely level the whole time, but you see the suspension rolling up and down, from left to right and you're staying completely stable. You can look at the front suspension and see the CoPilot working at 1,000 Hertz, eliminating all the load your bottom would feel in a normal car.

"My wife won't ride on my bike, but she loves the Terracraft. Every lady I've had in the Terracraft has just fallen in love with it. Their first reaction is 'wow, it's so smooth.' It's really cool, you don't have to lean, it leans for you. A lot of them are used to being on the back of a bike and the rider saying "hey, lean with me." It gives the rider and the passenger a level of security being in a cockpit with a full rollcage. There's a seatbelt as well – it's not required, it's optional. We do fall into a motorcycle classification."

The Terracraft SuperTrike sports a rather jolly front aspect
The Terracraft SuperTrike sports a rather jolly front aspect

The maximum lean angle is currently a modest 30 degrees, but Wes is looking at extending that figure. "We're in some discussions with some key people about taking that up as high as 45. Around town, we're not really exceeding 20 degrees unless we're on the track or we're breaking the law.

"Our center of gravity is pretty low and we have a 6-foot track, so even with no lean I can pull off some high speed maneuvers. You add that 30 degrees in there, if you go on a track [and corner at a level where more than 30 degrees might be needed], you're still carving those curves."

For those that want to take manual control of the tilt system, the Terracraft has a pair of buttons and a set of paddles on the handlebars. You can also turn on a system that reads the way your weight is shifting in your seat to determine what you want to do – the famous butt-sensor system. These can override the CoPilot's control temporarily, or for more advanced control you can switch CoPilot automation off altogether.

"Most people just get in and drive with Terracraft CoPilot – the interactive options are for those of us that like to have extra control for extreme, fun or advanced maneuvers," Wes tells us. "It's a blast, just for showing off, or hotdoggin', whatever you like to call it. You can take it and lean it right over at a stoplight in manual mode, and just pop that clutch and rip it… I'll tell you what, you're leaned in, so it doesn't fishtail. With those two tires up front, it goes where you're pointing it. You can countersteer it and break it loose, and just still have full confidence as it slides into alignment. Since you're already leaning in, it doesn't whip, it just locks up and launches. I find myself doing it all the time, just having fun.

"On a bike, if you drift, you risk getting bucked over the highside. You better be good. On this thing, boy, you can whip it round the corner and cut it loose whenever you want, and look like a pro. You don't really have to develop a whole lot of skill, it makes you look more skilled than you actually are."

The Terracraft SuperTrike has tandem seating that keeps the body quite narrow
The Terracraft SuperTrike has tandem seating that keeps the body quite narrow

Now that the steering and CoPilot software are mature and road tested, Terracraft is ready to start accepting orders. But the company is very wary of going the startup route and bringing large amounts of capital on board.

"We're sticking with a low volume, custom, bespoke business model," says Wes, "it's a bootstrapping business model, catering toward the motorsport side and the high-end exotic supertrike market.

"[In a typical modern startup] you raise a ton of money and pay everyone a ton of money. We didn't wanna chase that route and accumulate a lot of debt. We decided we wanted to do it organically, with a core team of people – a TerraTribe – that are passionate about pushing the state of the art.

"That was the criteria: we put together a team that wasn't coming in needing a salary. All our team members are 100 percent service for equity, and/or they've bought their way in. They're investors and contributing partners, they're not dependent on the company for a primary income."

As such, Wes says Terracraft is prepared to build maybe a dozen vehicles in the first 12 months. Prices will start around US$60,000, and scale upwards depending on what engine a customer wants (the prototype uses a 1500cc Honda Goldwing engine), and what level of componentry the buyer's use case demands.

We like the look of the Terracraft. While it's too wide to replace the motorcycle as a super-quick between-the-lanes commuting option, it should compete well against other three wheelers.

Compared to a Can-Am Spyder, it gives both rider and passenger a much higher degree of safety with the integrated roll cage. Compared to the Polaris Slingshot, it's narrower with its tandem seating configuration, and its ability to lean should help make it more capable in the corners. At the very least, the driver and passenger won't feel themselves being thrown toward the outside of the corner nearly as much as they do in a car.

And the CoPilot's ability to smooth out road camber changes that even cars can't manage will make it a unique and fascinating experience to drive. We're looking forward to taking one for a spin, and keep an eye out for this happy face coming at you on the road!

Terracraft SuperTrike: this poor guy's gonna eat a lot of bugs on the open road
Terracraft SuperTrike: this poor guy's gonna eat a lot of bugs on the open road

More information: Terracraft Motors

21 comments
Bob Stuart
I like tilting trikes with two in front, but not this one. In steady-state cornering, untilted, it is stable due to understeer, and in braking, it gains stability, the opposite of a delta design. Perfect tilting renders that distinction moot, but is hard to maintain. I can't trust any automatic system that does not know if I'm starting an emergency turn or an emergency lane-change. Nor do I wish to try to stabilize my body on any trike sufficient for the miniscule steering inputs of a handlebar, since low-speed balance is no longer an issue. On a bumpy corner, that front suspension will scrub worse than a swing axle, giving erratic handling.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
Hook this chassis up to a Zero SR drive-train, add an all-weather protection option, and drive away with the ultimate commuter! (And likely the funnest, too!)
Steve Jones
That looks awesome.
davgrn
Seems pretty cool, but at $60K it's just a rich mans toy.
McGannSaphir
At $60 grand this will never be anything more than a rich man (or woman's) toy. I prefer the Elio concept-decent performance, fully enclosed cab, and starting price at less than $10 grand. Now THAT'S sustainable.************************M.S.**********
McGannSaphir
Rich man's (or woman's) toy for sure. Elio makes a whoile lot more sense.
DavidCPovenski
"a bunch of accelerometers, gyroscopes, wheel speed sensors and other position sensors" To quote the original hosts of Top Gear, "What could possibly go wrong?"
Douglas Bennett Rogers
I am surprised it took so long to get these! Mechanical tilt ought to be about as good, as 2-3 deg off gravty line is barely noticeable. System would be much more valuable in utility van, as stuff wouldn't slide!
Tom Lee Mullins
I think that would be a lot of fun to drive.
Milton
looking forward to the Gizmag video review! (please!)