Thinking back to when you were a kid, it’s amazing how similar the attitudes many of us had towards our transportation toys were to our current vehicles. You put decals on your trike, made engine noises, or you diligently sprayed WD40 on the chain of your bike to “enhance performance”. For many of us, it’s exactly the same way today, except the toys are larger, more powerful, and more expensive machines even though they bear little resemblance to our toys of old. Still, I’d like to blur that line of children’s toys and grown-up playthings a bit.
I’ve recently seen these things called “Big Wheel” Harleys; motorcycles with enormous 30 inch diameter wheels up front and the rider sitting as low to the ground as possible on the saddle in back.
This is one of those things that at the same time looks cool and absurd. When I see a person sitting on a bike like this with arms outstretched and ass close to the ground it almost seems as if they’re riding a giant Marx Big Wheel toy.
While this low-slung blow molded plastic trike might not be known to some younger Autopians, to those Of A Certain age it will bring memories flooding back. Introduced in 1969 by Marx toys, it was relatively inexpensive and actually approved by consumer groups as safer than a typical tricycle due to its low center of gravity. I mean, “safer” is a relative term since it usually had a handbrake to do bootleg turns, and our ten-year-old selves would “crash test” them into each other or run them down hills over plywood jumps and other such chicanery back in the day when parents truly didn’t give a shit where we went or what we did until the streetlights came on (“well, there weren’t as many scary people out there when you were growing up” says my mom now, as we sit in a house fifteen minutes from where John Wayne Gacy lived and a few miles from first grocery store that sold cyanide-laced Tylenol).
These toys were as commonplace in the seventies and eighties in American suburbia as Trabants on an East German street during the same time period (sort of like Cozy Coupes a few decades later). They didn’t rust and stood up to much abuse, the only significant wear I remember being the front wheel getting ground down from years of trying to gain front drive traction on concrete and asphalt.
Marx Toys went belly up in the early eighties, and the company Empire (Marx’s biggest competitor) took over manufacturing of the trike (we had an Empire “Hot Cycle” at our house). Sales dropped off dramatically through the nineties, with Empire declaring bankruptcy in 2001. Thankfully, the rights were bought in 2003 by a new company to continue manufacturing the iconic toy, perfect for GenXers to buy them for the next generation. I know, you’re kinda chortling at the helmet, right? We really should be dead today.
There are places that sell upsized versions of the Big Wheel, still pedal powered and capable of even more intense skids:
Obviously, we’re car people, and if it’s in your blood I am sure back when you were riding these things you dreamed of them REALLY being able to book it down the street at a rate much faster than pedal power.
One thing that could make it easier for a giant motor-powered Big Wheel to become a reality today is the dawn of usable electric power. Trying to stuff an internal combustion engine into a giant Big Wheel would sort of spoil the look and affect packaging, problems an EV Big Wheel will not have. Plus, a V-Twin on a Big Wheel would be TOO cartoonish, sort of like those shopping carts with small block V8s you see people build. I mean, we want silly but not THAT silly. Also, we have to use proportions more similar to the big wheel Harley, since the rider’s feet need to go further back than the toy. Remember, with the actual Big Wheel your feet go right up to the pedals on the center of the front wheel, which we won’t do here since we aren’t pedaling.
I’m imagining a steel or aluminum frame that we can mount plastic body panels to (we’d start with fiberglass until quantities got larger enough to mold something). A rear mounted motor and independently sprung rear wheels sits all the way in back, while the batteries would mount in front of the motor in the center of the frame. The wheels have the needed fenders for rain shielding but painted black to visually disappear into the tires.
The toy Big Wheel famously had the repositionable seat backrest that fit in pegs to allow it to adapt to a growing child. The backrest on our full-sized Big Wheel will be able to move front to back as well, not only to adjust for rider height but you can push it all the way back to allow another passenger to ride along as well, complete with pop out rear foot pegs (something that the toy Big Wheel had a warning molded in big letters telling you NOT to do, which as kids we totally ignored). As with the latest Big Wheels, there will be a storage bin attached to the rear of the backrest (a feature us GenXers didn’t get on the original but would love to have had in order to stuff in toys or cats that absolutely didn’t want to be in there).
Sitting on the toy Big Wheel, I always envisioned gauges on the forward surface of the frame that stared you in the face. Our full sized trike will of course have instruments here, namely an LCD screen for speed, range, and a multi-purpose display below for CarPlay or for other functions like traction control (hint..hint..drift/skid capabilities). Your phone would fit into a charging pocket below, a small ‘glove box’ storage compartment (there could be storage under the seat itself if batteries wouldn’t be needed there).
The grips on the handlebars need to be bigger than life to match the visual scale of the giant Big Wheel, so there would actually be leftover space on the outer edges of each real handgrip. We’ll use that space to conceal tiny rearview mirrors.
Our own bike expert Mercedes Streeter thinks the mirrors and display proposed might have issues:
Yeah, the idea does need tweaking.
With the proliferation of EV bikes, the idea of a Hog without the throb of a twin cylinder is a bit sad, and I’d rather find a totally different type of cycle to use electric power than desecrate an American icon. Why not use another American icon to push the EV revolution, even if it’s a red, yellow, and blue Brady Bunch-era toy tricycle?
Again, our own Mercedes seems to sum it up best:
I had one (the original Big Wheel toy) briefly as a kid.
A powered one sounds like a deathtrap.
I love it
That’s a ringing endorsement, isn’t it? I, too, would likely refuse to try out one of these giant trikes if they existed. If I did take one for a test drive I’d likely have to buy one that day and I’d be donating my organs by the end of the week. Still, what a way to go!
Put it this way: If you can look at one of those “Big Wheel” Harleys and take it seriously, then there’s no reason you can’t accept the insanity of a giant, adultified “Big Wheel.” Besides, you can’t flip a “Big Wheel” Harley upside down and pretend it’s an “ice cream maker,” can you?
[Editor’s Note: I have no idea how an upside-down Big Wheel looks like an ice cream-maker. Someone please explain! -DT]