The TerraCraft: A convertible, tilting 3-wheeler with a unique steering system


July 25, 2013

The TerraCraft tilting 3-wheel concept

The TerraCraft tilting 3-wheel concept

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The Terracraft is a sharp-looking 3-wheeler concept that aims to offer a unique hybrid of the motorcycle riding and car driving experiences. Its retractable roof and doors can offer weather protection and aerodynamics, its tandem double seat replicates the motorcycle pillion experience, and its unique steering system means the driver can manually dial in a tilt angle to replicate the sensation of leaning a motorcycle into a corner. Gizmag spoke with inventor James 'Wes' Abbott.

Four or five years ago we seemed to be writing about new three-wheelers and tilting narrow-track vehicles every other week. In the intervening years only a few have really taken off to any degree. That's not necessarily the fault of the technology – they still look very odd to the average consumer's eye. In fact, the ones we've ridden, such as Piaggio's brilliant MP3, have really surprised us by just how agile, fun and forgiving they can be to ride.

So we're always interested in new tilting 3-wheeler concepts like this one: the TerraCraft, which is under development in Houston, Texas.

Brainchild of James 'Wes' Abbott, a former NASA sub-contractor, the TerraCraft is a very sexy-looking concept bike. It almost looks as if a Bugatti Veyron has been squashed to a third of its normal width and equipped with formula one-style open wheels, albeit with a much narrower track.

It's a tandem 2-seater, much like a motorcycle, with a very comfy looking saddle straight out of a luxury mega-tourer, and it's got the added benefit of retractable side doors and a roof canopy that also slides back into the rear of the vehicle to make it a convertible.

So who's it for? "A lot of aging baby boomers are looking for alternatives to stay on the road and keep cruising with their clubs," Abbott told me over Skype, "but they're no longer able to hold up a 1,000-pound bike with them and mom on the back. I'm looking at options to keep them on the road a little longer and riding with the pack."

Abbott is elbow-deep in a prototype TerraCraft design at the moment, using the back half of a GL1500 Honda Goldwing to build a proof of concept he hopes to unveil at the Texas Lone Star Rally this November.

"I'm at 70% on the prototype chassis, working about 12 hours a day on that right now. I have the rolling chassis, I have the suspension fabricated up and right now I'm about to start doing some refinements in the steering linkage to mitigate bumps and such."

"Being that we're bootstrapping this right now we're not putting a lot of giant funds into getting this built. I'm kind of building it, and the engineers are kind of coming in behind me and reverse engineering what I do. Otherwise, these guys are NASA trained engineers, and they'll think of seven different designs and debate about it for seven years and about 70 million dollars' worth of budget."

I'm interested in the steering system – will there be handlebars under that bodywork?

"I'm really wanting to go with kind of a hybrid handlebar/dual-handled joystick like on an aircraft," Wes tells me. "The only limitations I have with that is with the canopy - the dimensions to get handlebars in, I just can't get around making them narrow enough. That's why I'm thinking a hybrid between the two. I've ordered a race-type steering wheel just to keep things moving right now."

So… Will it countersteer like a motorcycle?

"No, the lean is going to be an intuitive lean assist type deal … basically it's a hydraulic, hydro-mechanical type deal, so right now you'll have options. It could be sensors in the seat that sense when you lean, just like riding a motorcycle when you shift your weight over. If you lean to the left, the seat senses that lean, and there would be like a volume control – just for general understanding – so the more you lean, the quicker it leans, just like a motorcycle."

So… the steering is independent from the leaning? "Correct." And you control the leaning by shifting your bodyweight. "Yes."

So…I'm just thinking in my head – I'm coming into a corner, I haven't pre-loaded my vehicle tilt, and I slam it left into the corner. All my weight is gonna go right, onto my right bum cheek, which is going to hit the trigger to make the bike lean the wrong way. Is that something you've got a system in line to manage?

"Yeah the engineers are on me about that, however I'm telling them if somebody's not a damn pilot, they shouldn't be driving the damn thing. In a conventional Delta 1F-2 trike kit you don't go over 15 miles an hour in a curve. You just don't do it. There's no special instructions or anything, you do it and you're gonna roll. It's like an airplane or anything else. If you screw up, you're not doing it right. Like I told the engineers, this one, I will be driving. I'll take it on the road and on the track. The first one that comes out will be exclusively for people who are up to the challenge of learning how to drive a different vehicle. It is a planned deal to 'dumb it up' [in the future]."

(Probably better not shift your weight mid-ride to squeak out a sneaky fart, then.)

"We want TerraCraft pilots, not necessarily a completely safe machine for housewives. If you want a completely safe machine, go buy a Volvo. People ask me will we put a rollcage on ... if you want a rollcage, go get a Hummer. We want to create an extreme machine."

While the tilt is intended as an optional feature on the sport models, the TerraCraft team certainly have a job on their hands working this one out. I spent some time recently on a very early 3-wheeler prototype that sounds similar to what Wes is planning, with a fairly crude thumb switch to electrically control lean angle and a handlebar to steer with, and it was a heck of a lot harder to get around a corner than a standard motorcycle or countersteering 3-wheeler like the MP3. In fact, even at walking pace it was a real handful.

But Wes isn't locked in to the butt cheek weight sensor tilt, he's also looking into whether paddle or trigger control, which could be disabled with a toggle on-off, is the answer. It will certainly be interesting to see how it feels having separate but fine control over lean angle and steering. But then, it's hard to imagine it being more intuitive than simply countersteering a bike, where the physics more or less just picks the angle for you depending on how hard you turn.

Abbott says TerraCraft is "doing a bit of fundraising – we're kind of bootstrapping this and trying to maintain ownership and control without going into the heavy investors. We really want to stick with the niche market. and potentially go into the market with kit options and segue into the production models after that. We'd like to mitigate dilution and take care of our core group."

To that end, he's willing to offer the first 10 TerraCraft vehicles to early adopters at cost price as the company tools up toward production, or even less if the new owner is willing to take the bike out to expo shows and presentations. The current Phase one offerings are for bespoke and custom conversions, but Abbot has plans for both sport and touring models and says that the possibilities are vast "for any buyer to tailor to their lifestyle."

We look forward to seeing how Wes and the team end up building the TerraCraft, it's an interesting idea, although probably not one for the faint of heart!

More information: Terracraft Motors.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade. All articles by Loz Blain

Hes more of a designer here then an inventor. This has been done as you mentioned many times, hes just tweaking it to his taste.

Further that 'unique' steering style is a terrible idea. Don't go around a corner at more then 15mph? Even if hes exaggerating the concept is absurd for a modern vehicle. Every vehicle type of any number of wheels does better then that. Its not going to ride like a motorcycle, because it isn't one. It can have similarities, but as mentioned in the article those stop as soon as you start pushing the design to actually doing any, you know, moving.


I'd put my tilt control sensors on the steering column. Everybody uses the steering wheel to brace themselves in a corner, and so has had an easy time learning to lean on a Go-Kart; this would just take the rest of the trike along with your back. Leaving the whole steering column completely upright would take a lot of room, but we could probably learn to pretend that it was pretty close to a virtual pivot on the seat very quickly.

Bob Stuart

It certainly looks gorgeous though, in sunny Australia, I'd want an opaque roof. Morgan 3-wheelers seem to be able to go around corners at more than 15 mph.

Nick 1801

In motorcycles with an extended swing arm they are less prone to wheelie but they tend not to corner very sharp either. Buell made some slightly shorter wheelbase motorcycles that wheelie'd a lot under power but were capable in the corners. The guys I have ridden with in extended length swing arm sport bikes and choppers struggle to up through corners even when the rest of us aren't going hard. The moral is as wheel base length increases on motorcycles there is a huge cornering penalty.

Aside from other steering mechanisms this is significantly longer than the MP3 or Can Am Spyder which means working it out would be an uphill battle. For some reason I was thinking the spyder was designed to apply downforce to the outward wheel to prevent roll but they actually use a a torque limiter and wheel breaking in their stability control system for the moose test:

It is a technology they worked on with Bosch and may be available. Some of the stability issues might best be solved by making it slightly wider in the front and shorter front to back.

Concepts are cool and telling people "if you want safety drive a volvo" is an attitude that I really wouldn't mind seeing more off in our nerfed politically correct word but if you produce a vehicle intended for public roads you mostly have some legal obligation to ensure safety and stability is a design goal.

IMO the fact that it looks like it would roll over if cornered at speed hurts the aesthetics anyway so I don't think there is a lot to lose tweaking the dimensions to pull some respectable lateral G numbers. The 1997 Mercedes-Benz F300 Life Jet is a similar vehicle that is supposed to capable of hitting 0.9g in corners:

The Active Tilt Control (ATC) system it uses was probably pretty expensive to develop though.


Nice looking concept. But given the width of the front track, why does it have to lean? And where does the canopy go when it's retracted? It looks like it collides with the rear wheel. Also, I'd change the chrome strips on the front fenders for vertical LEDs. Then it'd be something I'd consider buying.

FD Victor

great looking. lots of good ideas. nice he's thinking to give the pilot a chance to be either in the wind or protected from th rain. mystixa's right though : got to lose that wacky butt-steering idea... 15 mph turns ? No way. No market.


American insurance companies will continue to block 3-wheeled vehicles by arranging for them to be classified as motorcycles. Few people will go for a special license and a helmet to drive vehicles like this, no matter how fuel-efficient or safe they may be.


I agree with mystixa, 15mph cornering is ludicrously slow for this kind of trike- whilst trikes that are literally a motorbike that is ridden in the typical motorbike fashion and have car-like back axles may well be slow and unstable (not that I've ever been on one- they would be laughed at in the UK), other trikes are far from slow on the bends, such as the amazing Grinnall, the latest and most wonderful Morgan trike, and any number of home-build specials, such as my friend's Beetle based trike.

What is the point of having the ability to lean into curves if you can't gain any speed benefit from doing it? A good trike design will corner more-or-less flat, making use of it's lightweight construction and low centre of gravity to achieve this. If the buyer wants to hang out with bike clubs using this then he is going to annoy a lot of them by getting in the way every time he wants to corner- even the most extreme Harley-type bikes that can't lean far without fouling will be able to out ride these round corners.


What an arrogant little....... designer. Maybe he should go away, study the Carver, and then come back with something that is actually usable! The "if you can't drive it it means you're not good enough" argument will be off no help when the first hipster wraps one round a tree and sues him!


No thanks! This will perform sufficiently like a car to give enough of a false sense of security to let the driver move in his seat for some reason or other (retrieve a dropped item, say) and as a result produce some spectacular manoeuvres as a result. You can move about as much as you like on a bike, and a normal tilting three-wheeler and not come close to losing control. The bike tells you when you are near to going too far.

If this particular tilt system is retained, I suggest that it is connected to an iphone so that it can call an ambulance and give the location of the forthcoming accident the moment it comes into action.

Mel Tisdale

I have seen the future and it has three wheels. I think it is way cool. I hope it is not too expensive.


I think this is way cool. The bubble top reminds of a vehicle that was mande many years ago - I think as a concept - that had four wheels but with this type of bubble top.


The front end is reminiscent of the Plymouth Prowler.


Has anyone ever seen/driven the Trihawk, built in Dana Point, Ca.1980 to 1985? 100 were built. FRONT wheel drive!!! Will pull 1 g on skid pad!Built to emulate the feel of MG;s Tr3's of the 60's One of the Hawks engineers is currently recreating the concept...with a Suburu monster engine...that will be something to report upon! Stay tuned. My Hawk has 35000 on the clock, runs like a bat, and gets thumbs up from 70% of onlookers... if interested, Google it. Very interesting indeed. Bryson, Laguna Beach ,Ca.... and bravo to gizmag!

Robert Bryson

Just make it affordable.

Layne Nelson

Very poor design. For a three wheeler to be stable it needs the two front wheels to be as close to the "front to back" center of gravity as possible. With the wheels so far forward this thing will understeer like crazy, and if it hits a wet patch in a corner, you're sliding straight into the ditch.

AnOld BlackMarble

As we saw at the Automotive X-Prize, No matter how quirky, how kinky, or how beautiful, 3 wheeled vehicles are inherently dangerous. While they are actually motorcycles they are not as safe as their bretheren

Lewis Dickens

Elio Motors will be manufacturing a 3 wheel car next year and they are working on the insurance deal. Elio says it's a car because it has an automotive engine and tires, plus it has airbags in the body.

Everett Cox

It is a beautiful machine. As a Can-Am Spyder owner, I do agree with many of the comments regarding safety, handling and cornering ability. The Spyder corners well but, I'd like the ability to lean. You're hanging on for dear life while trying to maintain a line through a fast corner. The Terracraft design is beautiful but the leaning should and can easily be completely transparent to the driver and passenger. Steering angle, speed and the RPM difference between the inside and outside wheels can automatically determine the angle of tilt in a given situation.


None of the bikers I know would be caught dead with something like this. If the problem is holding the bike up while stopped design a better kickstand.


This guy is just hoping to build one to get on the list of ugliest cars ever made. This is the worst looking vehicle I've ever seen, and I even like the Avanti!


Are any of the pictures actual pictures of the trike? They all have the glossy look of nothing more than renderings and the lack of any detail photographs seems to bear this out. How about it Gizmag. Let's have some reporting on actual devices not the wet dream brain children of comic book imagining that will never come off the computer screen.

I would not write off the three wheel concept. After all a motorcycle with a side car is a three wheel vehicle and although they have their own disadvantages the can corner like a bat out of hell. Jim Sadler

Anyone who knows a bit about three-wheelers, particularly with a regular or even pretty narrow track, realizes that you need the vehicle to bank or tilt to compensate for the weight displacement. There are several ways to accomplish this. 'Tilt' as something optional sounds naive.


There was a Dutch invention, many years ago now and bankrupt? Was called the "Carver", and featured on Top-Gear (the original UK one). Although it only had the single at the front and twin-wheels at the back, the tilt was controlled by how fast you turned.

As the original company has closed, couldn't its 'input-dependent' system be adapted for the twin-front and single rear?


A Morgan isn't a "Delta 1F-2[R]" trike, a Reliant Robin is. But while a Robin can't corner like a Morgan or Grinnall, it can certainly handle more than 15mph.

Alan Braggins
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