It was a bit small, had balloon tires, and did not look the part of a sport-utility vehicle. And yet, the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler became the next big thing to the ATC 185 – a praiseworthy prototype to the all-terrain beasts that we know today. Well, this was true until the great production ban happened in the ’80s.
Introduced in 1981, the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler (ATC 200 series) set the beginning of Honda’s utility all-terrain cycle lineup. Easy to maintain and perfectly adequate for commercial and agricultural work, this trike quickly became the “farmer’s favorite.”
Learn more about its design, powerful engine, and remarkable functionality, and how it got caught up in the ATC controversy in this article.
What Is the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler?
The Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler is considered the last of the Mohicans in the ATC world and came out in different versions. There were three generations of Honda Big Red three-wheelers produced, all targeted towards consumers who needed a reliable machine and sports racers who were looking for a better suspension and engine displacement.
Back in 1981, the Honda Big Red 250/250ES and 250R was a lifesaver for racers who, at the time, relied on trikes with less than 200-cc to get them through races. The ATC 250R, in particular, introduced Pro-Link suspension, folding footpegs, a 246-cc liquid-cooled powerplant, and six-speed transmission, and featured an Enduro-Harley Davidson front aesthetic.
People often compared The ATC 250R with the Honda Big Red 350 or Honda ATC350X. Enthusiasts believed that both of these elusive models sold outside of the U.S. despite the ATC ban.
The Honda Big Red 200 or ATC 200 series was the last three-wheeler model Honda produced concurrently with the Honda Big Red 250. It was the seventh in the line of all-terrain cycles (ATC) the company released since the revolutionary US90 made known to the public in 1970.
It featured suspension and rear racks, which were uncharacteristic of earlier ATC models, distinguishing it as the first utility three-wheeler. It came in six versions – the 200, the 200E/ES that featured a maintenance-free shaft drive and 700-pound towing capacity, the 200M and 200S, and 200X – a high-performance sports ATV that came with full suspension and lightweight aluminum wheels.
Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler Specs & Features
- Engine – It is powered by an overhead cam, four-stroke, air-cooled single-cylinder powerplant. It has a bore of 65 millimeters and a stroke of 57.8 millimeters. The engine displacement is 192 cubic centimeters delivered by a 22-millimeter Keihin carburetor, and its compression ratio is 7:8:1. The fuel tank capacity is 2.3 gallons.
- Drivetrain – Power is delivered via a dual-range five-speed semi-automatic transmission (inclusive of a reverse gear for the 200ES).
- Ignition – It has maintenance-free Capacitor Discharge Ignition (CDI) system with an electric start and auxiliary recoil pull starter for backup.
- Tires – Full carcass front and rear wheels are equipped with 25 X 12-9 tires like Carlisle AT489C ATV Tire (view on Amazon). Stock tires used a high-flotation design with clean patterns and can be quite problematic to come by. Chevron patterns were optional and obtained through dealers.
- Brakes – Brake system consists of lever plus cable-operated aluminum cast drum brakes at the front and fully sealed pedal-operated aluminum cast drum brakes in the rear.
- Suspension – The front suspension features hydraulic telescopic forks. The 200ES version came with full suspension.
- Dimensions – The trike offers a rear rack and provisions for a bolt-on front rack. The overall length is 72.8 inches, and the width is 42.5 inches. Its ground clearance is 4.9 inches. The vehicle wheelbase is 47.2 inches. The seat height is 27 inches. Dry weight is 342 lbs. (These specifications are specific to the 200ES model, which is slightly more substantial compared to the 200 version)
- Exterior – It is composed of a steel frame and red plastic body material that is durable and gives it its distinct moniker. To keep that bright color pristine, you can buy a Weatherproof ATV Cover (view on Amazon) to protect it from debris and harsh weather.
- Easy Start System™ – This advanced feature uses an automatic compression release.
Why Did the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler Cease Production?
It wasn’t only the Big Red – all manufacturers ceased production and sale of all-terrain cycles in the U.S. in 1986. It was a call that the U.S. Justice Department had to make due to safety concerns. The massive popularity of three-wheelers reached many American households and led to adolescents and children’s uncensored use of the vehicle. It caused an increase in reported cases of ATC accidents, injuries, and deaths, leading to the implementation of a ten-year production ban.
On top of the prohibition of all-terrain cycles, its distributors agreed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to buy back all unsold units from dealers and finance a $100 M safety campaign to help raise awareness about product hazards.
Advantages and Disadvantages
In mint condition, the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler runs and shifts like a champ and require very minimal maintenance and repairs. For one, its engine is more powerful than some 250-cc trikes with a ported and polished head. Its steel frame is very durable and may need a repaint job here and there. Sometimes, all it wants is just a little bit of cleaning. Many mechanics and enthusiasts still service the Big Red even to this day. It is best to ask them for tips and best practices rather than getting charged $100 for your vehicle to be checked.
In poor condition, seat cover may have tears – when this happens, you will need to replace the entire seat cover with Eavdesign seat cover (view on Amazon). The body and plastic may also be rotting or may have scratches, especially for 1984 models and older since these vehicles are almost half a century old.
How Much Is the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler?
During its launch, the suggested retail price for the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler was $1,648 for the ATC 200 and $1,848 for the 200E/ES. At present, this trike’s cost could range from $110 to $1,830, depending on whether the vehicle was well-taken care of or not. For instance, an excessively used Red would be priced around $110 to $725, and would expectedly always come with a locked up engine. On the other hand, a Red in excellent condition would cost around $1,125 to $1,830 – not very far from its original retail price 40 years ago.
Although the ATC 200 had three different year models produced from 1981 to 1987, you would rarely see any ’81 Reds in decent working condition nowadays. 1982-1983 200Es often cost $500 up to $1,000 on trader sites and $110 up to $1,300 in online auctions – provided the unit is in good running order and without main components missing. The ATC 200X, however, sells for up to $3,899.
Your Questions Answered
- What kind of oil does a Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler take? You can fill up the engine with four quarts of Honda GN4 10W-30 four-stroke motorcycle oil.
- What is the top speed for a Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler? The Big Red runs up to a max of 55mph. You can still make it faster by doing a fresh top-end or by changing gearing, sprockets, or tires (whichever will cut the work out for you). Stock tires are usually 22″ – anything smaller than that could potentially cause your trike to run slower.
- How much weight can a Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler pull? It can heave or tow up to 700 lbs.
- What are the most expensive Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler parts to replace? It depends on the degree of wear and tear suffered by that specific part. But replacing the entire clutch system of your trike would be quite costly – expect to shell out $300 to $500 if you pay someone else to do it for you.
- Where do I buy replacement Honda Big Red parts? The best place to go to, apart from online retailer sites like Amazon, would be three-wheeler and trader sites as they provide both OEM and aftermarket solutions. Your local mechanic could also point you in the right direction.
- What are other expenses I should expect in owning a Honda Big Red? The first service would cost between $100 and $350. A top-end rebuild would be between $500 and $750. Do not forget that it all depends on the market you live in and your dealer. Of course, it will be less expensive if you are your mechanic.
Honda Motor Company Ltd. began as a concept inside the Art Shokai garage, where founder Soichiro Honda worked as a mechanic. From fixing race cars to mass-producing quality piston rings for Toyota to automating the production of military aircraft propellers to building and selling motorized bicycles with surplus engines, he succeeded in realizing his dream by establishing Honda Motor Company in 1946.
The Japanese conglomerate is known as one of the world leaders in motorcycles, energy solutions, and electric automobiles, and is the maker of Honda Biag Red 3 Wheeler.
Conclusion – Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler
The Honda Big Red is a versatile, off-road three-wheeler that span off the all-terrain vehicles that we know and love today. It was one of the most capable machines during its time and, even now, still requires skill and bravado to ride on.
Though its success may have been short-lived, the Honda Big Red 3 Wheeler undoubtedly changed the landscape of utility and racing as it was known and continues to help people be more productive and have more fun.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.