BRP's 2008 Can-Am Spyder roadster has two wheels in front and one in back for a total of three, but since it operates and looks somewhat like a motorcycle, I thought that it would feel like one, too. I was wrong. Riding the Spyder isn't at all like riding a motorcycle. Sure, I was straddling a seat, exposed to the elements, gripping the handlebars and shifting with my left foot. It was thrilling, but I wasn't a single unit with the Spyder physically as I am on a motorcycle.
The Spyder is designed to allow non-motorcycle riders to have a motorcycle experience without having to learn
to balance on two wheels. Because it has so many computerized safety features, like a vehicle stability system, the manufacturer says it has brains as well as body.
Instead, the three-wheeler steered and braked like a car. When turning, I was pushed against the outer arc of the curve. That's similar to the feeling you get in a car when it rounds a bend. Depending on the direction of the curve, you're either thrown against the person next to you or that person is thrown against you. On a motorcycle, the forces are different because you lean into the turn.
When testing the Spyder, Perri found that taking curves on a
three-wheeler isn't the same as on two wheels. The Spyder needs to be steered, like a car, and Perri found she had lean to counteract centrifugal forces that pushed her away from the curve.
BRP reps claim it takes a few days to get used to riding the Spyder and fully enjoying its "fun factor." I agree. Riding the roadster for just three hours was intense. Using a Rotax 990 V-twin engine (the same make manufacturer of engines used in BMW, Aprilia and the new Buell 1125R motorcycle), the Spyder is built for speed. Adjusting to its physics, power and clutch-and-foot shifting took concentration. I felt I was in one of those video race-car games and barely keeping the race car on the track.
The Spyder comes with a five-speed gear box and a
clutch on the left front handle, similar to a motorcycle. It also has an optional thumb-shift sequential electronic transmission. Perri tried both and found she preferred the automatic because of the ease of use.
But the Spyder's intended audience -- primarily well-heeled recreational products enthusiasts -- will likely love it. They're the kind who also love riding snowmobiles, Skidoos and high-performance sports cars, but may not want to learn to ride a motorcycle.
Women who don't want to brave the motorcycle learning curve also may like the Spyder. If you don't want to shift gears with your foot, there's the semi-automatic version, which has a thumb-operated shifter and no clutch. It seemed less complicated and more enjoyable to ride than the manual model. If I bought a Spyder, I would spend $1,500 extra for this option.
It's easy to see the resemblance between the Can-Am Spyder three-wheeled roadster and the snowmobiles or jet-skis also made by Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP). All are designed to have the same type of shape and front end. Note the large front storage compartment, which can
hold two half-helmets, or one full helmet and one half-helmet.
Canada-based BRP (which stands for Bombardier Recreational Products) has been in the motorcycle business for years, making dirt bikes in the 1970s under the Can-Am name. It started developing the Spyder a decade ago with a goal of making it safer to ride than a motorcycle without taking away the fun. In the process, motorcycle controls considered unnecessary were eliminated. For instance, a motorcycle has separate front and rear brake controls (a handlebar lever for the front-wheel brake and a right-foot lever for the rear-wheel brake). The roadster (a motorsports category BRP is hoping to redefine with its 3-wheeled Spyder) has a single brake lever operated with the right foot that controls both front and rear brakes simultaneously. In that respect, it's like a car.
At nearly nine feet long and five feet wide, the Can-Am Spyder holds its own in a highway lane. This large presence adds to riders' safety on busy freeways. BRP calls the silver color Full Moon.
Its size -- 8 3/4 feet long by 5 feet wide -- pushes it close to car category as well. The rear tire is car-sized at 225mm and without fuel, it weighs nearly 700 pounds. From the side, it looks like a motorcycle on steroids. With its muscular flowing body lines, I half expected it to leap down the road on its own.
The biggest safety feature is the three wheels, which means there's no need to worry about tipping over when stopped. Like a car, it has a parking brake and even a reverse gear that allows it to back up.
BRP added three computerized safety systems that kick in during emergencies. It's like having a mechanic on board to fix things if you lose control. One system detects traction loss and corrects for it. Another intervenes by braking and reducing torque if the Spyder becomes unstable. Anti-lock brakes help prevent skidding. The safety systems can't be disengaged and gently slow the vehicle in tight situations. I know, because we journalists were encouraged to activate them by turning in a narrow radius as fast as we could.
BRP was smart to build in these safety features. In many U.S. states, you need only a three-wheeler vehicle license to take the Spyder on the highway. In some states, only a car license is required to operate it. Since fewer licensing restrictions allow inexperienced buyers to get out on the road quickly, the safety controls may save a life or two.
The three-wheeled Spyder's 990cc V-twin engine has plenty of power for Perri's taste with built-in safety systems that provide peace of mind. These safety systems kick in to prevent loss of traction, potential roll-overs and skidding when the brakes are applied.
The Spyder is comfortable to sit on and the foot controls were within easy distance of my 30-inch inseam. On the manual version, I shifted smoothly through the five forward gears with my left foot. City stop-and-go riding was a snap because I didn't have to worry about balancing the roadster.
On a twisty two-lane road along a canyon, I didn't feel comfortable taking curves as fast as I would on a motorcycle due to the steering dynamics. I steered with the handlebars and then leaned against the forces that pushed me toward the outside of the curve. Meanwhile, I clutched and shifted down and up through the gears while approaching and leaving the turns. Eventually, I slowed down, making it easier to keep the roadster in the right lane when powering out of curves.
Although Perri has a foot on the ground in this photo, she
could have set the parking brake and kept her feet up on the foot pegs of the three-wheeler. In this vivid color, called Millenium Yellow, the Can Am Spyder is a true showstopper.
Later, on the Los Angeles freeway, the Spyder showed its strong suit, easily passing other vehicles and changing lanes. I felt more visible on it than when riding a motorcycle, which also adds to rider safety.
This side view shows the Spyder's comfortable upright
riding position. The front and rear wheels are car-sized at 14 inches and 15 inches respectively. Perri is wearing a Shoei helmet and vented leather jacket from Fox Creek Leather.
Other features include a roomy front storage compartment that can hold two half helmets (or one full-face helmet and one half-helmet). The instrument panel has speedometer and tachometer dials and a digital read-out, which shows air and engine temperature, fuel usage, gear position and two trip meters.
Can-Am roadsters will be in dealerships in the spring of 2008. One last thing: Get used to people staring when you ride it. It’s definitely a head turner. For more information, visit Spyder.BRP.com. You'll find a list of where the demo tour is headed so you can try one out for yourself.
Due to the stability of three wheels, it's easy to carry a
passenger on the Spyder. Having an extra rider didn't change the performance of the three-wheeler. It also offers a rare feature: a true mechanical reverse gear.
The Specs at a Glance: 2008 Can-Am Spyder Roadster
Displacement: 998cc V-twin Rotax engine
Seat Height: 29 inches
Fuel Capacity: 7.13 gallons
Dry Weight: 697 pounds
Colors: Full Moon (silver grey), Millennium Yellow
Price: $15,499 manual version; $16,999, semi-automatic
If you want a powerful open-air riding experience without worrying about balancing on two wheels, you'll probably like BRP's Can-Am Spyder roadster. The manual version does require learning to shift with your foot like on a motorcycle though. It will be interesting to see exactly how riders plan to use the roadster. Will it be used for long haul sport touring, or around town jaunts? BRP does offer a windshield, backrest and luggage rack to accomodate touring. I think the Spyder easily accomodates a variety of riding styles.
The backrest with integrated luggage rack is offered as an accessory. The optional windshield is 14 inches high.
BRP already has a line of clothing that includes shirts and hats. BRP also offers Spyder riding gear in women's and men's sizes.