For the first three days, we just stared at each other. Me, suspicious, resentful, concerned I had committed to something I no longer wanted to do. The Arcimoto FUV, dopey and expectant, a wolf spider on benzos, insectile but goofy. I'd agreed to a month-long loan of Arcimoto's reverse-trike electric runabout to see whether the "Fun Utility Vehicle" delivers on the promise of its name.
There are plenty of three-wheelers in automotive history, all wobbling along on the line between motorcycle and car.
Morgan, Isetta, Reliant, Campagna—heck, the first Benz was a delta-style trike. The goal has always been to create a smaller, more efficient means of transport while maintaining affordability and stability—and, for an EV, usable range.
Arcimoto is an Oregon manufacturer hoping to achieve those goals and overcome those challenges with sales and rentals of its three-wheelers. At nearly $18,000 to start for its front-wheel-drive two-seater tadpole design (that's two front wheels, one rear), affordability remains a stumbling block, but the FUV does a good job on the goals side. Two motors and a battery with a 20.0-kWh gross capacity make 77 horsepower, get about 100 miles of "city range," and reach a top speed of 75 mph. California doesn't require a special license for a three-wheeled motorcycle, and the FUV's full windshield makes helmets optional, legally speaking.
Only now that it was in my driveway, looking awfully delicate and so open, I wasn't sure I'd survive the trial. My friends were not encouraging. "They don't pay you enough to drive that," said one. "The roll bar makes me feel a little better," said Dee, a professional stuntwoman whose specialties include throwing herself off buildings and crashing heavy machinery. Yikes, if she was worried...
I am a fool but not a coward. I slung a leg over the front seat, buckled the double shoulder belts, and drove around the block. It felt strange but not as precarious as expected. In three laps, I got used to the hand-controlled regenerative braking and began to trust that the entire thing wouldn't come crashing over in a turn. Once I got the hang of its golf-cart-meets-ATV power delivery, I started to enjoy its spaceship whir and terrifying top speed. I decided to brave a multilane road—and, perhaps scarier, a Trader Joe's parking lot on Thanksgiving Eve.
While the FUV is not a motorcycle, it has more in common with a two-wheeler than a four, including inconveniences like setting off with sunglasses locked in the cargo box. Squinting and eating hair, I accelerated into traffic. Initially, the FUV feels like the worst of motorcycling with none of the benefits. It's too wide to split lanes and lacks a bike's responsiveness. It's also patently geeky, or at least I felt like a dork sitting bolt upright in my rotorless helicopter, missing that insouciant cruiser recline or sexy sport-bike straddle. I was ready for mockery. So when someone in the parking lot came over and said, "Hey, this is cool," I stuttered awkwardly, "It is?"
I'd been worried about being run off the road. As it turned out, the danger of the Arcimoto was not being overlooked, but rather too much attention. From the salon to the flea market, people stopped to ask for details. All my neighbors requested rides. Stoplights turned into a rolled-down window and a recitation of specifications. Even people I was sure would hate the FUV—real bikers, teens—seemed genuinely interested in its capabilities. Their enthusiasm was contagious. It was fun to have the wind in my hair, to travel the road with nothing more than I needed, to feel a bit of danger at every left turn. We've been building tanks around ourselves for transportation. Maybe what we need is not more SUVs but more FUVs. Or maybe we should all just get motorcycles.
Like a sleeper agent activated late in the game, Elana Scherr didn’t know her calling at a young age. Like many girls, she planned to be a vet-astronaut-artist, and came closest to that last one by attending UCLA art school. She painted images of cars, but did not own one. Elana reluctantly got a driver’s license at age 21 and discovered that she not only loved cars and wanted to drive them, but that other people loved cars and wanted to read about them, which meant somebody had to write about them. Since receiving activation codes, Elana has written for numerous car magazines and websites, covering classics, car culture, technology, motorsports, and new-car reviews.