MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Spyder Roadster: Three-Wheeler of a Different Kind

Is it purposeful and practical?

By Perri Capell, Photos by Riles & Nelson

BRPs 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 isnt 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 wasnt 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. Thats similar to the feeling you get in a car when it rounds a bend. Depending on the direction of the curve, youre 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#39;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 aclutch 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 Spyders intended audience primarily well-heeled recreational products enthusiasts will likely love it. Theyre 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 dont want to brave the motorcycle learning curve also may like the Spyder. If you dont want to shift gears with your foot, theres 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#39;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 canhold 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, its 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#39; 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 theres 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. Its 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 cant 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#39;s 990cc V-twin engine has plenty of power for Perri#39;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 didnt have to worry about balancing the roadster.

On a twisty two-lane road along a canyon, I didnt 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, shecould 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#39;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 Youll find a list of where the demo tour is headed so you can try one out for yourself.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

Due to the stability of three wheels, it#39;s easy to carry apassenger on the Spyder. Having an extra rider didn#39;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

WRN Recommendation
If you want a powerful open-air riding experience without worrying about balancing on two wheels, youll probably like BRPs 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.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

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#39;s and men#39;s sizes.

18 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Spyder Roadster: Three-Wheeler of a Different Kind

  1. I saw one at a bike show, test rode one and three weeks later had one. That was 14 months and 44,000km later. Got rid of my cars and still I love it. No major problems with it. Couldn’t buy a two wheeler as I’d be a statistic by now.Brilliant bit of machinery.

  2. A neighbor of mine picked a red Can Am Spyder up last year, and has been riding it in the nicer weather. It's a nice enough vehicle, with plenty of power and great accelleration. Personally, I prefer my Honda Silver Wing FSC 600 maxi scooter at half the price.

    It may not be quite as quick, but does offer a real two wheel riding experience as opposed to the “training wheel” setup on the Spyder. However, to each his own. The Spyder is a nice ride which gets its owner out on the open road, and for a price that most people can still afford.

    I'd opt for the sequential shifting of the automatic given its convenience, if you can afford the extra 1500 bucks. I think Bombardier deserves credit for bringing the Spyder to market, given its unique design. It's almost like a three wheeled sports car; and who doesn't like sports cars?

  3. As a woman and being totally inexperienced with riding a motorcycle, I wanted one for two years since the day someone showed it to me on the Web. We researched, test drove, and debated about this. My husband use to be a motorcycle cop and fell in love with it the minute he got on it. He stopped riding motors just because of the wacky auto drivers out there. I suggested for us to get one and then get another one once I got use to it and he said “No, there is no fun riding on one, you need your own.” We are always on them.

    Those who express it is like a convertible are totally wrong. It may not lean like a two wheel motor, but it still gives you the kick of being out there. It can be from 0-75 mph in seconds. It can totally perform and hold its own on the road. Being a non-motorcycle person, the three wheels gives me the reassurance I need to be on one and not have to balance or lean and I feel I don't have to do anything other than enjoy. We have given many a ride to a curious person which in turn makes them want to buy one immediately. appreciate those two wheelers out there, but believe me those who have a curious eye should definitely try it.

  4. I rode it in Sturgis this year. I love it. I want one for Christmas! It immediately gives the novice confidence especially around the curves.

  5. Simply exhilarating! It is a cutting edge vehicle and I love it. I have been riding motorcycles since the late 70s. This is awesome and only takes about 10 minutes to get used to.

  6. The Spyder is one of many of the motorcycle / trike style we like to refer to as Reverse Trikes. There's a “Reverse Trike Club” dedicated to these trikes at:

    As you can see by looking at the site, a lot of these motorcycles you sit in and drive like a car. In reality, I think these “sit down” designs are the most popular by far. They don't have that feeling as you described, of being thrown off in the corners.

    The good thing is that they are licensed as motorcycles in most cases. Laws are in the process of being modified in many states right now to accommodate this design, which seems strange when you consider that they've been around since at least 1932 when Morgan made them popular.

  7. I recently saw one of these on the road and immediately did a doubletake. I used to ride a bike years ago, but after a nasty wipeout, I decided that maybe I should get a less dangerous hobby. Seeing this design, I think the time may have come to get back on the horse, as it were. My question is this: in order to drive one of these beasties in PA, do I need a motorcycle endorsement? I let mine lapse years ago, and the time/effort to get that back will delay my entry into the market by several months (late fall, winter and early spring aren't ideal times to be re-learning how to ride here in western PA, owing to the weather we tend to get).

  8. I love my Spyder! I feel like a movie star when I ride it. Everyone is always asking me about it. I've gotten to the point where sometimes I feel agravated. I get stoped all the time. It's always the same question: “How much? What is it?” It's just crazy attention wherever I go.
    Yesterday I was taking a ride, and a helicopter followed me. When I came to a complete stop at the intersection, it did a circle around me. No lie!

    But enough of that. The bike is totally worth the money you pay for. All the cool features, stability, speed, looks, the list goes on and on.

  9. I really like the idea of three wheels and semi auto transmission. Would like to see advances in steering so that the front wheels tilt going into a turn. As a lifelong motorcycle rider, I’d real like to test drive this one. I bet some day it will come designed for alternative fuels.

  10. You did a good job on the Spyder test. I drove one on 8/3/07 at a Michigan dealer. I would have ordered one on the spot if I had the money.

  11. I think this thing is pretty cool. I have taught some women to ride two wheels in the past and the most scary thing for them is keeping the bike up. With this thing, you don't have to worry about it .You have a great site here,and the more women riding bikes the better. I hope you dont mind me stopping in and seeing what you girls are up to. Keep the shiney side up.

  12. Kind of different. Would like to give it a test ride.

  13. I would like to address the question of reverse that Kathy asked. It is nice it has reverse, but, I have a 2007 Lehman Trike with no reverse and it is not a problem to back up. My husband told me he would be my reverse, but I can move it around myself.

    I rode a two-wheeler for 35 years and love the move to my trike. I have a trailer now and my dog and his kennel is on the trailer. Trikes are a wonderful ride! This one looks different, but I bet a lot of fun to drive.

  14. It looks cumbersome. Does this have a reverse?

  15. With the look of a snowmobile, and description of handling like a snowmobile, it must be a 3 wheel snowmobile. As the saying goes, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Seems it is pushing it a bit to catagorize this in the motorcycle realm.

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