I’ve been fascinated by reverse trikes for a long time. As young teens, my older brother and I made a reverse trike go-kart (he designed the frame and the drivetrain, I did the brakes and steering) because we didn’t have the money for a proper live axle setup in the back. The first hard turn taught us something about the inherent instability of three wheel vehicles. The inside front wheel lifted about 18″ off of the pavement (maybe that’s why I like the photo of Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina cornering on three wheels so much). It took a bit more than a “dab of oppo” to settle it back down. I don’t remember if either one of us ever completely rolled it, but it was exciting to drive. Now comes word that Morgan’s revived 3 Wheeler, a car that seems to be able to drift and donut effortlessly while still keeping both front wheels planted firmly on terra firma, has become their best selling vehicle, prompting word of expanding the 3 Wheeler line. With that success my attention has once again been drawn to reverse trikes. I’m not the only one. Based on design patent drawings, it looks like Polaris will be soon introducing the Slingshot, a side by side reverse trike powered by a GM Ecotec 2.4 L four cylinder. From the styling the Slingshot looks to be aimed more at Ariel Atom fans than the traditional stringback driving glove set, so I don’t think the Morgan will lose any sales to Polaris, but either way, I think the Polaris will increase the popularity of three wheelers in general.
Everyone who drives the Morgan reverse trike says that it’s the most fun you can possibly have with a machine until they perfect sexbots. That kind of fun comes at a price. For what the Mog 3W costs, $45K and up, you can buy a couple of new, nicely equipped small cars. With that Ecotec engine and other automotive sourced components, I’m sure that the Polaris Slingshot will not be cheap either. There are other reverse trikes, like Campagna’s T-Rex models, but Campagna’s least expensive vehicle, the T-Rex V13R, starts at $56,000.
So what can you do if you want to explore the world of road going reverse trikes, but you don’t want to spend multiples of $10,000? You could build one yourself, just search Google, Bing or YouTube for reverse trike build. I particularly like this Gold Wing based leaner called TBX3, and this wild small block Chevy V8 powered FWD trike based on an Olds Toronado, a little nicer build than this old Subaru based trike. However, if you want something ready to drive off the rack (well, almost, see below) that is relatively cheap, you’ll just have to keep looking to the east, China, where that country’s huge scooter industry has noticed the same things that Morgan and Polaris have.
Zhejiang Kangdi Vehicles (NASDAQ:KNDI) makes scooters, motorcycles, go-karts, golf carts, ATVs and neighborhood electric vehicles, 80% of which are exported to the U.S. and Europe. Maybe that’s why the parent company and American importer use the easier-to-pronounce-by-westerners Kandi. I believe that the first reverse trike that Kandi made was a 250cc knockoff of Bombardier’s Can-Am Spyder, though it doesn’t have the Can-Am’s stability control that keeps the Spyder from lifting a wheel without having to lean the trike. If you want a trike that leans, Kandi offers them too. Now they’ve come up with something a bit more like the Morgan and Polaris trikes, something more like a car than a motorcycle or ATV, the Viper reverse trike. Powered by a single cylinder 250cc water-cooled 4 stroke engine that puts out 16.6 HP (some dealers advertise 20 HP), with an automatic CVT that has reverse, from the video posted on YouTube it looks like a real blast to drive. It’s also not terrible looking, kind of cute in a Bugeye Sprite or Lotus Seven way, at least up front. Maybe I just dig cycle style fenders that turn with the front wheels. With microcar level power you won’t get there quickly, but it looks like you’ll have fun getting there. Come to think of it, with a scooter engine in back it might be as much like a Messerschmitt as a Morgan. Depending on where you buy it, it will cost you somewhere between $5,700 and $7,000 delivered (with some assembly required usually), a fraction of the price of the Morgan or what I expect the Polaris Slingshot to cost, let alone what a restored Kabinenroller can run these days.
Actually, for that price you get at least some some sophistication. The engine has electronic ignition. Some dealers say that it also has electronic fuel injection, but this video from SuperSportz says that it has a carburetor. The suspension for the front wheels uses a standard double wishbone setup, with coilover units for springing and damping. The rear end uses a swing arm, as expected, but surprisingly they didn’t just use a scooter drive train, which typically has the engine and transmission as part of the swingarm assembly, increasing unsprung weight. Instead the engine and transmission are mounted to the main frame and there’s a chain drive back to the rear wheel. Rather than a monoshock in back there are twin coilover units. All three wheels have hydraulic disc brakes with ABS, with twin discs on the back wheel, like many sportbikes’ front wheel brakes. An auxiliary hand activated parking brake is also included.
Driver and passenger sit side by side in racing style seats with safety harnesses and there’s a rudimentary roll cage. Bodywork is made from plastic, ABS and fiberglass. The frame and suspension components are made of steel tubing. Thirteen inch cast aluminum wheels are standard, mounted with 145X70 radial tires. The Viper is operated with a steering wheel and other automotive style controls. There is a small instrument panel in the middle of the dashboard and the shift lever for the CVT sites between the seats. It’s fairly spartan. Some dealers offer an optional windshield. From the looks of the yellow Viper pictured here, you can replace the stock muffler with sporty dual upswept exhausts. There is no radio or heater. SuperSportz says that future models will have a more enclosed interior, but for the time being you’re sitting right in front of the engine, so it’s noisy, and the radiator sits right behind the passenger seat so maybe a heater isn’t needed.
Cruising speed is said to be about 60 MPH (some dealers say 80, others say don’t believe them) so it should be suitable for urban use and maybe even hopping on the freeway for very short distances. Fuel economy is up to about 70 MPG (some dealers say 90). Both figures are of course dependent on load and road conditions. Maximum load is about 400# so you and your passenger might have to watch your weight. At least one dealer sells it under a different model name, Cyclone (see a pattern here? Caveat emptor and all that).
As you can see from the video at the top of this post, it can even drift a little. However, watching the Kandi Viper scamper around that parking lot gives me a little pause. At about 20 seconds into the video, the driver takes a hard left turn, and you can hear the back wheel’s tire skittering as it loses and gains traction. What you can see, though, is what concerns me. At peak cornering forces the rear wheel appears to have noticeable positive camber. While there is some body roll, the camber on the wheel seems to exceed the roll angle of the body. That means that there’s some flexing going on, possibly in the rear swingarm subframe or in its mountings, maybe in the main frame as well. If you pay attention to other times the Viper is cornering hard, you can see the rear end twisting.
Now camber changes happen all the time on regular cars if you pay attention, but combined with the video there’s also the question of Kandi’s quality control. If you spend some time looking at videos and comments posted by Kandi buyers a recurring theme appears – rather poor quality control, though many buyers seem perfectly satisfied. Though they are sold said to be 90-95% complete, many buyers report that the assembly that had already been done wasn’t done properly, with some bolts left untorqued and even components switched left to right.
With a 60″ wheelbase and a front track of 57.3″, it’s the size of a [very] small car. The carton it comes in ready to finish is 145x80x31.1 inches so either have access to a fork lift or a loading dock or expect to possibly pay for residential lift gate delivery. If you pay to have a dealer fully assemble it, you’ll have to pick it up at a shipping depot. You can get a rough idea of what assembly involves from this video of another Kandi trike. If you’re reading this site and you have a set of wrenches and sockets, you can most likely put it together. Some retailers advertise how they go over their scooters before shipping to make sure all the bolts are fastened etc. Some buyers report engines being DOA or failing soon after purchase. The fact that another frequently advertised feature is an optional warranty probably also says something about Kandi’s QC at the factory. Some dealers do a better job of prep and after sales service than others, from online comments.
However, I don’t see anyone else offering a car-like two passenger reverse trike for anything near $6,000, and to be honest, I’d be more concerned about QC in terms of safety than reliability. It looks like the frame is made up of steel tubing that’s only about 1 inch in diameter. While both front wheels look like they’ll stay on the ground, I’m worried that if you stress the rear end enough, you won’t just get some positive camber. Images of the entire rear end twisting itself free come to mind. As mentioned, the roll cage looks rudimentary and there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of side barrier protection. In most states you’d register it as a motorcycle. My guess is that in a collision you’d probably be about as well off as on an actual motorcycle. To really check quality, though, I’d have to see a Kandi Viper close up and hopefully drive one but the closest Kandi dealer is hundreds of miles away in the Upper Peninsula.
Still, it looks like it’d be a ball to drive and cheap to operate, possibly even a cheaper commuter than either a battery EV or a smart car. Obviously, judging a vehicle’s safety based on one short YouTube video and comments on the internet is not a serious appraisal. If someone at Kandi USA, SuperSportz or another of their dealers reads this and would like to demonstrate the performance and safety of the Kandi Viper I have an open mind and I’d be happy to do a full review of the trike if you can arrange the loan of a test vehicle.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS