Capsule Review: Can-Am Spyder

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
capsule review can am spyder

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.

Join the conversation
3 of 82 comments
  • Bone crusher Bone crusher on Sep 29, 2011

    Sol, You're funny. I'm sorry to hear you had problems handling the bike. For those of us (and the number is growing quickly) who ride them, we absolutely love them. As far as being a woman or a fat guy, that doesn't apply to me. 'Pretending' to be a motorcyclist...does this title mean anything? I'm a little more mature than to worry about labels. The Spyder is the perfect vehicle for those people (yes, all of them) who want to feel the open air and are a little more safety conscious as compared to our two wheeled buddies. There are more and more Spyder enthusiasts every day...the bikes are selling at a prolific rate...for a reason...they're fast (0-60 in 4.5 seconds out of the box), fun, and safe. As far as riding under 50 mph, I guess you're not that coordinated...even the women and fat guys have no problems go faster than that! 10 hours on the bike? That explains it. The first time I was on the bike was for a 70 mile ride home from the dealership...I now ride with my two wheeler buddies and have no problems keeping up in the twisties. Hey, there's something for everyone and this is a great thing. Oh, if you're going to make up a story about lifting a wheel, at least get the proper wheel described...when in a turn on this bike, you might be able to lift the outer wheel, but the inner? Not possible. Also, if you were on a two wheeler and hit sand, you would've been in a hospital or worse...lucky for you (if you really did try the bike), your nanny took over so you couldn't hurt yourself.

    • Sol Sol on Sep 30, 2011

      BC: I will admit that I was in a bit of a bad mood when I wrote that... drinking and watching a sporting event where I didn't like the inevitable outcome. I was feeling like a prick and trying to flame things up a bit. To be honest, I had the Spyder up over 110mph going straight and felt fine. Very sureal, actually. And it does have acceleration to rival a supercar. Also, I will admit that if you want a trike, it is 10x better than any other trike on the market. However, you are completely wrong on the wheel lift. I guess you have never driven yours very aggressively. The first time I lifted a wheel I was surpised myself to see the inner wheel lift. But after I thought about the physics of it, it all made sense. It's centrifugal force: when cornering aggressively, all the weight is shifted to the outside wheel, so it won't be the outside wheel coming off the ground! The inside one lifts. Just think - if you could flip one of these things by cornering too aggressively, are you going to flip to the inside of the turn or the outside? Outside, obviously, which means that it's the inside whel that lifts. Please don't accuse me of making stuff up that you have never experienced. Bottom line: it's a decent machine for cruising or going fast in a straight line, but don't trust 'the nanny' to save you skin if you like to tackle the turns at high speed.

  • Bone crusher Bone crusher on Oct 01, 2011

    Sol, No biggie...hope you're not a Red Sox fan! If so, I can more than understand your displeasure. I do ride aggressively and LEAN in hard with the turns. Many say you don't need to lean, but if you don't, your scenario can occur. The company has run extensive tests and the nanny is pretty darn good. I have heard of other who have lifted tires off the ground (both sides), but the nanny has taken over and steadied the machine. Remember, if you have centrifugal forces acting upon you, YOU become the centripetal force to balance out the bike. I do concede that this takes a little getting used to...the Spyder is easier for people who have never ridden before...harder for those coming from two wheelers. The ride is more physical... As far as flipping over goes, there really isn't a lot of talk about that on the bike. is the biggest board for Spyders. I ride a lot with two wheelers and they are not shy about the twisties. I really enjoy hitting the sharper turns...but, again, I do have to lean in a lot. I have added stronger shocks to help with this...many have added a stronger sway bar. That might be an upgrade for me sometime soon as well...obviously, the stiffer the suspension, the better...not unlike a sports car in this capacity. I think we see a lot of anti-Spyder bias...this is really a shame. There are many on Spyderlovers who have been seriously injured in bike accidents (two wheelers) and can no longer ride...with the Spyder, they can get the thrill again. This is a great thing! Of course, from what I see, the demographics of 'Spyder Ryders' is quite vast....all types of people...this is great to see...the Spyder has penetrated a lot of markets. When you consider that up to 40% of all bike accidents are single rider, you basically eliminate all of these when on a trike, and the 'Y' configuration is obviously safer than the traditional layout. The issue is then what are you giving up when you get on a three wheeler? Purists would say it's not a bike, it's a whatever, and, of course, the rider is a wimp, sissy, etc...well, purists are purists and the next time they drop their bike (it's always a matter of when, not if) they'll more so see the value of the Spyder. I'll betcha if you got on some of the more modified Spyders, you'd change your opinion. Like any vehicle out there, they can be easily modified and many do so to fit their riding style.

  • Jeffro As I sit here this morning with my 2 day old TRD OFF ROAD 4RUNNER tucked safely away in the garage, my head spins with this weird desire to locate a 85 LTD equipped with the epic 😵‍💫2.3 and the FOUR ON THE FLOOR. THE HOLY GRAIL. Ying and yang baby!The search begins.
  • ToolGuy 404 error on the product link. Which probably isn't terrific marketing on TTAC's part.
  • ToolGuy Second picture: Do you like pegboard storage? (I don't.)
  • ToolGuy "WHAT???"(old 'I was in the artillery' joke)
  • ToolGuy Oh and this.