2015 Can-Am Spyder F3-S Review
Let the record show that, on the morning that I rode one hundred and seven miles each way to ride the new Cam-Am Spyder F3-S, I nearly dropped my motorcycle.
I’m still not quite sure how it happened. Something like this: I was turning my VFR800 Anniversary Edition around on the slope of my driveway. My left foot slipped on a bit of oil or maybe just water and the whole 539-pound machine fell as my foot continued to slide. About a tenth of a second before it would have been too late, I caught some traction with the outside of my heel and then all I had to do was arrest the slide with my left arm. It felt like deadlifting twice my weight and, for a moment, I thought my thrice-broken left wrist was going to snap again and add a medical bill to the cost of a replacement fairing.
When everything came to a halt and I’d yanked the VFR to vertical, I paused for a moment to consider the following: I’m forty-three years old, I’ve broken eighty-plus bones, and the day that I drop a motorcycle is coming fast. So with that in mind, I clutched in, grabbed first gear, and headed north to meet what I was now quite happy to think of as an un-droppable motorcycle.
This is my cellphone shot of the F3-S, but because the trike has so many edges and curves, and because there were so many other trikes around, it’s not easy to see what it actually looks like. Let’s use a PR photo, shall we?
It’s really quite handsome in an odd way and very different from the Spyder RS that I absolutely hated when I rode it a bit over four years ago.
Brembo brakes. What else can you get for $20,999 that has this kind of equipment? Oh, and it had cruise control, apparently. The contrast-color trellis frame has the same appeal here that it has on a Ducati or KTM sportbike. You can see plenty of the engine, which is not the case with the other members of the Spyder family.
To push the Spyder’s 850-pound dry weight, Can-Am offers a Rotax-badged 1330 cc triple capable of putting out 115 horsepower and 96 pound-feet of torque. That’s as much motor as you can get in a Spyder, and it’s the same one that pushes the full-dresser RT tourer now, but we live in an era where most sport-touring motorcycles have over 150 horsepower. Even my conservative old-man VFR has 110 horsepower. So if you’re expecting to keep up with your neighbor’s Beemer K1600GT or Kawaski Concours-14 as they rip to 10.3-second quarter miles, you should walk right past the Spyder and ask for the Yamaha V-Max.
Before I was allowed to ride the Spyder F3-S on public roads, I had to complete a small autocross course with it. Really just an oval with a small chicane down the back straight, intended to be taken at about 15 mph. I negotiated it easily, remembering that the Spyder doesn’t steer like a motorcycle. The fellow who was coaching the novices gave me a solid piece of Can-Am advice I wish I’d gotten back in 2011: “Push the outside end of the handlebars away from you to turn instead of pulling on the inside handlebar.” This also gives you some leverage to get your body moved over to the inside of the turn, which is absolutely necessary if you don’t want to just roll over into a ditch.
Having completed Spyder School without incident, I was then allowed to choose my Spyder. I picked a grey one with the six-speed manual transmission. The majority of Spyders, I am told, are sold with the electronically activated semi-auto. I had no fear of stalling it as I headed down the road for my lead-follow thirty-minute test ride. Only a moron could stall this thing. It’s all torque and no action. I was the second rider of a four-trike group in which both the lead and last rider were Can-Am employees, but the fellow in front wasn’t inclined to take it easy on me and I soon found myself using full throttle to keep up.
The back roads around Lodi, Ohio are rather beautiful. There’s a lake and there’s some elevation change and there are a bunch of great curves and, in short, it’s a completely fucking terrifying place in which to ride a Can-Am Spyder. To begin with, the roads have heavy crown and they’re narrow. On a motorcycle you’d deal with this by riding the centerline unless there was traffic; in a car you’d just deal with it period. But the Spyder wanted to fall into the ditch all the time and my instinctive countersteering motions just helped it in this goal.
With that said, the new seating position in the F3 really helps matters compared to the Spyder RS I rode in Atlanta. You’re sitting in the trike, not on it. The footrests are ahead, not under. It’s much like a Harley V-Rod in that way and the footpegs are adjustable to make sure you can stretch out as you like. The lower seat really helps you lean in the turns and, as a result, the F3 never feels quite as ornery as the older Spyders. The swept-back bars are similar to the ones found in the newer touring bikes, and they’re chock-full of controls, including a button that you must press in order to be allowed to start the bike. “Pressing the button signifies that you’ve read the owner’s manual,” I was told.
“I can in no way see that holding up in court, especially since the button is labeled ‘ECO’,” I replied. Nevertheless, you have to do it.
There’s an electric parking brake. But there’s no hand brake lever. Only a big rubber pedal for your right foot. This alone was almost enough to cause me to crash the Spyder no fewer than four times. I don’t use the rear brake foot lever on my motorcycles. Maybe once a ride to clean off the machinery, but that’s it. My VFR has linked brakes, so squeezing the front brake applies the back brake a bit, and my CB550 has a near-totally useless drum back there that I only activate when it’s raining. Time and again I found myself squeezing air when it was time to stop. If you want proof that the Spyder is meant for “cagers”, there you go. No hand brake. How hard would it be to add one as an option? Well, the Can-Am has ABS to go with its ESP, so maybe pretty hard.
My next beef with the trike was this: In a car, you only need to find two smooth lines in a bumpy rural road. On a bike, you only need one. But a trike needs three. If there’s a pothole or a pavement wave out there, a Spyder can find it, and the steering geometry seems ideally suited to following grooves in the road. So I was constantly struggling to keep it going straight on the frost-heaved Ohio two-lane. Now were you to find yourself on a freeway, you’d appreciate the stability of three wheels against wind and fatigue – but ripping down a twisty backroad, it’s miserable.
I also noticed that applying full throttle on said backroads with pavement waves and ripples was quite exciting, causing me to hang off the thing left and right like I was in the original version of Mad Max. Luckily, the F3-S isn’t a Hayabusa and the same amount of twist that gets the VFR to 110 or more only shoves the Spyder to maybe 65-70. If a modern V-6 Camry wants to run you for pink slips, be aware that you’re in what the old hands at the dragstrip call a “driver’s race.”
On the positive side of things, the transmission could not be easier to use. I found myself bumping past neutral into first a lot, but that just speaks to
a) me being a cack-footed moron who rides a 1975 CB550 in traffic
b) the excellence of Can-Am’s synchros.
Less fun is the difficulty I had operating the throttle smoothly while still using the handlebars for leverage. This is where you’re spoiled on a motorcycle because unless you’re in the middle of the Isle of Man TT you really aren’t leaning on the bars very much. I can operate the VFR with fingertips only on the bars at well over 100 mph but you’d be a fool to do something like that on the Spyder. So in left turns I kept over-throttling. This is called “whiskey throttle” by experienced trike riders, apparently. And when you do it, the front end gets light because hey, you’re accelerating HARD. Which reduces the front end’s ability to turn. Scary as hell.
Several times I thought I was going to get the Patrick George Award For Crashing A Vehicle During A Lead-Follow Event, but each time I managed to huck my big ass off the seat in the right direction and calm things down. I got not a single bit better at this during the course of the half hour.
The end of the test ride came not a moment too soon for my personal satisfaction. I respect this machine, but I don’t enjoy riding it and I think it would take me a long time to learn how to operate it safely. “You sure liked that center line,” smirked the Can-Am fellow who was leading the ride.
“Well, being away from it, toward the white line on the side, scared the shit out of me.” He smirked again. I felt like telling him that I’d driven the Zanardi line at Laguna Seca to take first in a race, then realized I didn’t care what he thought of me and neither did he. At that point, I was 100% done with the whole idea of the Spyder.
But as I walked around the Can-Am tent and saw the people who were showing up for the next lead-follow ride, I noticed that most of them were not what I think of as “bikers”. They were older, they were female. More than a few of them didn’t have their “M” endorsement. There were two different African-American couples that were interested in the Spyder RT full-dresser, and they shared with me that they liked the idea of it being stable on the freeway.
As I got back on my Interceptor 800, which to my immense relief steers in the direction I’m leaning and responds to my wishes without any particular force on my part, I thought about how much longer I could ride something like this. My wrists hurt a bit from the hundred-plus mile ride up and my hands had been a bit numb when I arrived at the demo-ride area. With one more serious joint injury I’ll be done with motorcycling as I know it – or maybe another decade’s worth of arthritis and joint degradation, to say nothing of my right ACL’s refusal to magically reappear, will call time on my riding aspirations. At the age of 23, I could ride my Ninja from dawn till dusk. At 28, I could ride my YZF600R five hundred miles then go for a mountain-bike sprint. Today, at 43 years of age, I can still ride three or four hundred miles in a day if I’m careful. Where will I be when I’m sixty? Confined to my 911 or Boxster or maybe a Corvette droptop? How will I feel about the Can-Am Spyder’s freeway stability and relaxed riding position and relatively modest pace then?
On Route 71, heading down a tree-lined section that I’ve long used as a free-fire zone of personal irresponsibility, I leaned over the tank and twisted the Honda’s throttle from my 85 mph cruising pace. One hundred. One ten. One twenty. One thirty. I felt good. As the end of the wooden section approached, complete with a crossover where the Ohio Highway Patrol loves to sit, I crossed into the middle lane and sat up, using my Fieldsheer-clad bulk to airbrake down below go-to-jail speed. Not a problem. I’m not too old to ride this thing, not too frail. Not yet.
But a few miles later, as I alternated the pressure of my weight between my hands to keep the tingles out, I saw a fellow on an old GoldWing conversion trike heading the other way, across the median. He saw me. And he didn’t just do the little nod that bikers do, or the dropped-two-finger cooler-than-thou salute. He actually waved. With his whole arm. It was hopeful, it was friendly, it suggested that we were brothers of a sort, pursuing the idea of being out in the elements and doing our own thing, albeit in different fashion.
I looked up, saw the sun illuminating the white clouds, then I, too, raised my whole hand. And waved. As I will to Spyder drivers, the next time I see one.
More by Jack Baruth
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