Depending on who you conversed with around 1900, a gasoline powered vehicle with three wheels might have been called a tricycle, a gasoline-powered tricycle, or a tri-car. They were the forerunners of today’s motor-trikes, and were in use by the late 1890’s.
The elegant little tandem tricycle, built by M. Leo Bollèe of Mans, France, has figured largely in the French trial races. It differs somewhat in design from others in having a closed seat in front of the rear driving wheel, giving a most comfortable position for the driver.
The slight elevation of this vehicle gives it a perfect stability, since its center of gravity is 16 inches above the ground. Its wheel base is 3 ½ by 4 feet.
The vehicle was steered by the forward wheels with knuckle joints on the axle and jointed spindles extending upward at the sides of the forward seat, with arms and links attached to the steering wheel to the right of the driver.
It was powered by a four-cycle motor rated at two horse power, and ran at speeds of up to 27 mph. The vehicle weighed 300 lbs. and because of the speed it was capable of, was called the “road torpedo” in Paris. The vehicle was already in production when, in 1896, it was not listed as a new invention, but instead, “an assemblage of the best vehicle and motor conditions of the day for a very light, easily handled, and swift roadster”.
The vehicle could travel up to 72 miles before it needed refueling, which for the times, was figured at barely more than one cent per mile. The price of the vehicle was said to be within the reach of persons of “moderate means”.
Now, if I could only figure out how to coax a penny per mile out of my trike I’d be doing the Snoopy Happy Dance all the way to work. Heck, at that rate, I could make Sturgis, and back, for a little over 30 bucks!
Source: Hiscox, Gardener. Horseless Vehicles. 1901. NY.