One hundred miles per hour. The once-fabled “ton” which my 1990 Volkswagen Fox struggled to indicate on its outrageously optimistic speedometer is now a commonplace, ho-hum event. Many modern cars will get there in ten or eleven seconds. Even heavy-duty pickups have no trouble pushing their Maximum Overdrive front fascias into the triple digits nowadays — and everything from the Fiesta to the F-450 feels rock-solid at that speed.
The magic, thrill, and terror are all gone from the one after ninety-nine… but if you want to bring it all back, and then some, it’s as close as a trip to your local Can-Am dealer. Driving the Spyder three-wheeler at that speed is, frankly, terrifying.
The Can-Am Spyder isn’t a three-wheeler in the same vein as the renimated Moggie trike, although it also has two wheels in front and one behind. No, this is very much a motorcycle-plus-one instead of a car-minus-one. The rider sits in a position very familiar to BMW touring-bike pilots and operates a motorcycle-style set of controls. If you don’t have some experience on bikes, the Can-Am won’t make any sense to you.
If, on the other hand, you do have some experience on bikes, the Can-Am probably won’t make any sense to you either. I’ve been riding street bikes since 1991 and I was immediately made quite uncomfortable by the way the Can-Am steers. Real motorcycles are steered by pushing down/away on the handlebar end in the direction of one’s intended turn. This causes the bike to fall to that side and to veer, er, steer, that way. The Spyder, on the other hand, is steered by turning the bars towards one’s intended direction.
Once the turn begins, the rider is forced to hang on to the machine by pressing his knees against the seat and pulling on the handlebars. It literally feels like the Can-Am is trying to throw its rider off. It takes an extremely vigorous (and extremely dorky-looking) lean towards the inside of the corner to preserve anything like cornering force. If you’ve ridden a snowmobile, you will be good at riding a Spyder — although the reverse is not true, as we’ll find out in another Capsule Review.
There are now several different models from which to choose in the Cam-Am lineup, from stripped-down monocrhomatic sportster to full-dress tourer. Two transmissions are available: a traditional five-speed clutched box or a clutchless five-speed operated by an electronic paddle shift. I took a Spyder rS which had 106 horsepower and the standard transmission to push 699 pounds dry weight. That’s about the same power-to-weight ratio as a base Corvette, and acceleration is similarly rapid…
…or similarly slow, if you’ve been riding modern sportbikes. Not to worry, because you wouldn’t want this vehicle to be any faster. On an open two-lane near the Road America track, I twisted the throttle and hung on for dear life as the Spyder zoomed to nearly 110mph. The front end started to wander — did I mention that each of the 165/65R14 tires at that end are inflated to just 15 psi? Consider it mentioned — and I was yanked back and forth as crosswinds tried to blow the trike out from under me. My motorcycle-trained steering responses were all wrong, actually pointing me towards a ditch. I oscillated helplessly for the approximately one minute I had determined would indicate that I was not an arrant coward before throttling down to a more sensible fifty-five. That’s a law I can live with, at least on this rig.
Oops! Time to make a fast turn. I hung my entire body off the Spyder and prayed. As the inside front wheel lifted off the mother-flicking ground I idly wondered what the effect would be of applying extra throttle, or any brake input, in midcorner. Probably death. That was the last corner I took at any speed much above the suggested limit. I can only imagine what a road like the Tail of the Dragon would be like on a Can-Am Spyder; most likely, it would be the long-non-awaited combination of a particularly vigorous P90X workout, one of the “Fry Guy” spring perches for children at a McDonald’s PlayPlace, and Russian roulette.
The rest of the test drive passed in kind of an odd haze as I wavered between going slower (to save my skin) and going faster (to make it come to an end sooner). Automobile drivers looked at me with open mouths, motorcyclists clucked in pity, and cyclists were ejected, screaming, into ditches as I wobbled left and right across the road. Twenty miles or so later, I was safe and sound in the parking lot, kneeling in what I hoped would look like genuine interest in the brake calipers while I thanked Almighty God for my survival.
I’ve operated a lot of fast machinery, from the Hayabusa and its compatriots to eight-hundred-horsepower Porsche GT2 tuner cars, but nothing has ever made me sit up in sheer terror like the Can-Am Spyder. It’s a true challenge to operate at speed and if you have no children about which you should be worrying I’d recommend giving one a shot. For the fifteen grand or so it would cost to buy one, however, I think most of us would be better served with a Yamaha R1 and some PTSD therapy to forget the test ride.
As a tourer, the Can-am probably works very well. As a sporting machine, it’s mostly notable for the way it delivers thrills at all speeds, even if those speeds are well south of the modest 100-mph mark.