you need to know before buying a Litestar/Pulse.
By Bob Cervero
You are probably reading this article for one of two reasons. You have seen a picture of a Litestar/Pulse and are just curious about exactly what it is or you have seen a picture of one and actually are thinking about buying one. I hope this article will provide you with enough information to satisfy that curiosity or more importantly to decide if you really want to own on of these things.
I have had a yellow 1985 Pulse in my garage since October of 2000. I pretty much bought Pulse #61 sight unseen and knowing very little about what I was getting into. I had seen a Pulse in Daytona Beach Florida about 10 years ago and liked the way it looked but I knew nothing about it. After searching the Internet I found mine in Oklahoma and after agreeing on a price, I had it shipped to Orlando Florida and the adventure began.
What is a
Letís get the name settled first. There were about 347 of these things made between 1980 and 1990 in Owosso Michigan. The original design was by Jim Bede who also designed the Bede line of airplanes. The first 20 or so were called Litestars. For business reasons the name of this vehicle was then changed from Litestar to Pulse. About 325 vehicles were manufactured under the Pulse name. For convenience I will refer to these things as a Pulse for the rest of this article. Except for Litestar #1 the differences between a Litestar and a Pulse are fairly minor. It is not known how many of these things are still around. The Litestar/Pulse registry on the Internet has located about 70 of them. Where are the rest of them? Who knows?
A Pulse is a motorcycle. It rides on 2 main automotive type wheels and tires. It has a small 8-inch outrigger wheel on each side, so it actually has 4 wheels. Because it only has one of these outriggers in contact with the road at any time, it is classified in most states as a 3-wheel motorcycle. Itís a fairly large vehicle with a 120-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 192 inches and weighs about 1000 lbs. It seats 2 people, one in front of the other and has a small package shelf behind the passenger seat.
It has a steering wheel like a car, with clutch, brakes and gas pedals on the floor just like a car. It has windshield wipers, signal lights, and almost everything found on a normal car. The gear shift is located on the right armrest and shifts sequentially just like a motorcycle. First gear is straight back once and the other gears are found by pushing forward for each shift, just like a motorcycle. The brakes and master cylinder are automotive type. The fuel tank is in the rear and holds about 3 gallons.
It has a 6 inch dia. Steel tube as the main frame with a motorcycle engine and transmission in the rear. The front fork is a leading link design somewhat like an old BMW motorcycle. The body is fiberglass with a steel roll bar and plastic canopy. Most windshields are safety glass. A few early Pulses had plastic windshields.
The speedometer and tachometer are from the 400cc Yamaha motorcycle. A gas gauge and voltmeter have been added.
Most Pulses came with a 400cc air-cooled Yamaha engine with 6 speeds and chain drive. Some came with a water-cooled Honda Goldwing engine with shaft drive. A few early Pulses had a Honda 450cc motorcycle engine. Some owners have removed the original motors and installed other more powerful engines from Suzuki, BMW or Kawasaki. One owner has installed an electric motor.
The first thing you will notice is the steering. A Pulse has a very quick steering ratio. Mine is less than one turn, lock to lock. It feels like a fast go-cart. Donít mess with the radio and expect to keep going straight. It steers quick! The brakes are excellent. Nothing unusual about the clutch or gas pedal.
The fun starts when you make that first turn. A Pulse leans to the outside of a turn unlike a motorcycle. It feels a little strange at first but itís not unpleasant or scary. A Pulse does not ride down the road on 2 wheels. It rides on the 2 main wheels and one outrigger wheel. When you change direction it will sort of flop over from one outrigger to the other in a gentle manner depending on how high the outriggers are set and how hard you move the steering wheel and how fast you are going. If the outrigger wheels are set about one inch off the ground at rest, this transition from one outrigger to the other is hardly noticeable. You cannot drive a Pulse without at least one outrigger in contact with the road.
This is the most common engine found in a Pulse. It has about 35hp and will reach about 100mph and get about 45mpg. It has a chain drive. It accelerates well and will keep up with most traffic. It is not overly powerful but if you keep the revs up it will move right along. The 400cc Pulse is somewhat prone to overheating in hot weather. Itís air-cooled and the motor is enclosed in fiberglass instead of out in the open air as in the original motorcycle. Some owners have added fans or oil coolers to help to relieve this problem. In cool weather a 400cc Pulse will be fine but be aware of temperatures in the mid to high 90ís.
The Yamaha 400cc engine is designed for a 300 lb motorcycle, not the 1000 lb + 2 passenger Pulse. Moving off from a start requires higher revs and a sensitive clutch foot, especially going uphill from a red light stop. Once you are rolling down the road itís fine. Just keep the revs up in the horsepower band. Kind of like driving an older Porsche.
The 400cc Pulse is fine for everyday use such as back and forth to work short trips. Heavy stop and go traffic for more than 30 minutes may be difficult because of overheating. I drove mine 10 miles to work with no problems. Highway driving at high speeds is not a problem because of the increased air moving through the engine compartment for cooling, but be aware that at 70 mph the engine will be at 7000 rpm which is 70% of redline.
Some 400cc Pulses have reverse and some do not. The reverse gear is an electric device that engages the rear wheel directly with an electric motor.
The Pulses with the Honda Goldwing engine are somewhat less common. The Goldwing engines range from 900ccís to around 1300ccís depending on the year and have between 85 and 120 hp. They are water-cooled 4 cylinder motors and get about 45 mpg. They are shaft drive instead of chain drive and quite smooth. The water-cooling takes care of the overheating problem found in the 400cc Pulse. They use the original Honda motorcycle rear wheel instead of the automotive type wheel and tire found on the 400cc Pulse
The Goldwing Pulses are much faster and do very well on long trips on the highway. The original Honda motorcycle weighs nearly as much as a Pulse so the clutch and gear ratios can handle the 1000 lb Pulse easily. Traffic is not a problem.
Some Goldwing Pulses have a reverse gear and some do not. Newer Honda Goldwings came with reverse so it depends on the year.
Several other engines have been installed in Pulses by their owners. The engine compartment area of a Pulse is made of welded 2 inch square tubing. Some installations use this tubing to mount the new engine and some do not. Some owners have essentially cut off the frame of the Pulse behind the rear seat. Then a donor motorcycle with the original rear wheel and exhaust is just welded or bolted to the rear of the Pulse and is covered by the fiberglass bodywork.
This is the usual method of mounting a Goldwing engine in a Pulse. There is one Litestar that has a BMW engine mounted this way. Almost any motorcycle can be used to power a Pulse in this manner. If this method is selected then itís best to use a large, preferably water cooled motorcycle. This method also allows the use of a shaft drive motorcycle. An air-cooled motorcycle can be used but it will need extra care to provide adequate air flow for cooling.
Certain other motorcycle engines can be mounted without cutting the frame of the Pulse. I know of a Suzuki and 2 different Kawasaki engines that have been successfully used. These motors are installed using modified motor mounts. Accurate measurements of physical size and sprocket location are important when selecting any substitute motors. This method works best with a chain drive motorcycle.
Buying a Used Pulse.
There are no new Pulses available. The last one was made in 1990. The first one was made in 1980, so they are all used. Some of them have spent their entire lives under cover in a garage and look sharp. Some of them have spent 10 years in an open field with the canopy open and the bodywork removed. They look awful. One was hung up as a business sign for several years. The range of condition is tremendous.
Things to look for. The windshield and canopy are very expensive and hard to get. Replacements are available. Some early Pulses had poor welds on the frame, so that needs to be checked. The body is fiberglass so itís easy to repair. There are no body parts available. The dashboards are vacuum formed plastic. They tend to warp or deteriorate over time. The interiors are standard vinyl covered so no mysteries there. May need replacing.
On the positive side, a Pulse is a very simple vehicle. No computers or fuel injection. They are easy to work on if you have decent mechanical skills. Expect to work on your Pulse. The engine parts and most other parts are still available from Yamaha, Honda or a motorcycle salvage yard. Remember these things have standard motorcycle engines and transmissions so dealer support is available.
is a lot of history and technical info available on the Internet. LiteStar/Pulse
Owners of America and Beyond and also LiteStar
& Pulse History Website
Spend a little time reading some of them. You can even get a copy of the factory manual online. So donít let that part scare you.
OK, where can you find a Pulse for sale? There are usually several available at LiteStar & Pulse History Website in the classified area. They are occasionally for auction on Ebay. Sometimes individual owners post then for sale on the Internet so just try a search engine and look for Pulse motorcycle, Pulse autocycle or Litestar motorcycle or autocycle.
Now for the big question. How much is a Pulse worth? For one that needs a lot of work itís about $3500. A decent one that sort of runs? Try $5000 to $6500. A nice one that is in great condition, ready to drive? About $7000 to $12000. Some special Pulses are quite a bit higher. The Pulse market is not well defined so prices can vary wildly. It depends on the owner and how badly you want one. You just never know.
What if you live in Florida and you buy a Pulse in Oklahoma and it needs to be shipped to you? There are companies that will ship these things for you. One problem. Since a Pulse rides on the center 2 wheels it must be supported on those wheels during shipping. It cannot be shipped on a standard car carrier. It must be carried on a flat bed trailer. Make sure your shipper understands this. Expect to pay about $1 per mile for shipping.
own a Pulse?
How many Pulses have you ever seen on the road? Have you ever seen a Pulse anywhere? They are rare! Before I bought Pulse #61 I had only seen one other Pulse at a car show in Daytona. You will probably never see another Pulse anywhere unless you arrange to meet another Pulse owner. You will certainly be the first on your block to drive a Pulse.
I have never seen a vehicle attract so much attention. People will follow you home just to see what it is. People going the other way will make a U-turn to catch up and see what it is. Filling the gas tank becomes a social event. Park your Pulse at a car show next to the Porsches, Corvettes and street rods and guess where the crowd will be? Looking at your Pulse. Itís amazing. Every owner has had the same experience. I guarantee it!
Why is that? I think itís because a Pulse has the look and feel of a fighter airplane. The windshield, canopy and pointed nose are pure F-14. Slide the canopy back, step on the winglet and settle into the pilot seat. Fasten your seat belt, start the engine and fly away! Itís quite a trip. Donít forget to smile for the camera when someone hangs out of a car window to take a picture. It will happen.
A Pulse is actually fun to drive. They are very responsive, steer quickly and accelerate well. It has a very light feel on the road. The brakes are great. It drives like a sports car and gets good gas mileage.
A Pulse is a safer motorcycle. You canít fall off, itís large and easily seen by other drivers. It has a roll bar and seat belts. If itís cold out or raining, just close the canopy. Some of them have heaters. If itís a nice day, then leave the canopy open.
You will need a motorcycle license to drive a Pulse. Insurance is generally not a problem. Itís a 3 wheel motorcycle to most states and is registered as one. You wonít have to wear a helmet.
Well thatís about all there is to know about a Litestar/Pulse. Go look at them on the Internet. E-mail a couple of owners. They will be glad to help you. Check out the Litestar/Pulse forum and get yourself up to speed on these things. You might just have one of these things in your garage before you know it.