Eric Walschap’s 2019 Polaris Slingshot SLR isn’t an automobile. It’s not a motorcycle, either. In almost every state of the union, it’s what’s called an autocycle.
Walschap is the University of Oklahoma’s coordinator of facilities and technology for the School of Music. He’s also an adjunct professor teaching a class called “Experiencing Music” to 160 undergraduate students this semester.
In his spare time, Walschap plays saxophone in popular rock band Banana Seat. When the personable prof parks his Slingshot in front of Catlett Hall it undoubtedly adds to his cachet as being the pedagogue who’s too cool for school.
“Growing up I rode my bicycle everywhere, including school, until I was 16,” Walschap said. “The whole time I was thinking one day I’m going to have a motorcycle. Going fast and feeling the wind in my face.”
At age 20 he bought a Kawasaki Ninja 600 R motorcycle.
“It only lasted about a year,” he said. “It was used and I didn’t realize at the time it had been totaled. It never worked the way it should have. But for over a decade now I’ve had that itch for a motorcycle or something similar.”
What Walschap bought is definitely something similar to a motorcycle. The wind and all other elements are in his face driving the Slingshot. There are no doors but in other respects it’s like operating a car. There’s a steering wheel, bucket seats and the Slingshot doesn’t lean when cornering.
“Three months ago I was really wanting to buy a motorcycle and saw some Slingshots when I was doing my research,” he said. “It was something of a mythical creature. I’ve only bought used vehicles before and those were big SUVs like a Toyota Sequoia. I wanted to go in the opposite direction.”
Walschap read some Slingshot reviews and the many references to how inconvenient they are failed to dissuade him. There’s little room for carrying items and only room for one passenger. If you drive through a rain shower it’s a soaking. There are two wheels in front and one in back.
“It’s loud and can be painful to sit in at times,” he said. “Not good for daily driving but the most fun you can have on the road basically. That called to me. It’s like a convertible car with no doors.”
Walschap found a few Slingshot dealers in Oklahoma and ultimately chose one in Jones. There was one obstacle to buying one that might be a total show-stopper for many. The vehicles only come equipped with 5-speed standard transmissions. No automatics are available.
“My first experience with standard was of course with the Kawasaki,” Walschap said. “I reached out to my friend and colleague Dr. Matt Schullman who has a standard 2013 Subaru and we spent about an hour with him driving and me driving. I think I stalled his car a couple of times.”
Armed with his new skill, Walschap went to the dealership and came home with a new Slingshot.
“I came home on back roads because I didn’t want to drive it 75 mph on the Interstate my first time out,” he said. “Now it feels weird to drive one of our other vehicles with an automatic transmission. It’s almost like cheating.”
The heart of the Slingshot’s drivetrain is a 2.4 liter four-cylinder General Motors engine originally developed for the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky.
“Those cars weigh 3,000 pounds and the Slingshot is 1,750 so the power to weight ratio gives it some zip,” Walschap said. “What keeps it from being really fast is the rear wheel drive. But they say you can do zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds in the hands of an expert. But I don’t think I could get anywhere near that. I haven’t been over 80 mph yet but I’d like to go to the track and have some fun.”
Walschap has been enjoying the visceral experience his autocycle provides. Daily commutes are fun again.
“You can feel everything around you,” he said. “People pulling up next to you and hearing their engine. Everything is more alive. It’s like waking up in the Matrix. Being in the other cars now is just moving in a box from point A to point B.”
Those boring vehicles will be kept however for when it’s snowing, raining or icy. The Slingshot is engineered for operation in any weather conditions, even with exposed touch screen console and full instrumentation including sound system and GPS on the dash.
“I have driven the Slingshot in the rain going home after work,” he said. “It’s not the most pleasant thing. I have a pink rubber ducky, shower cap and loofah on a stick, so if I know I’m going to be stuck in the rain, I’ll have those and play it up at a stoplight. I’ll squeak the duck at a kid in a car window and make the best of the situation.”
Walschap’s parents reside in Norman. According to him they think he’s crazy but for other reasons than driving a Slingshot.
“I took them each for a ride in it and they saw that it’s safe-ish,” he said. “My wife loves it or at least she doesn’t complain too much about it. I’ve taught her to drive manual and it really is a good time when we’re in it.”
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill is always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.