Can-Am Spyder First Drive: Embracing The Third Wheel
As a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to sneak stories about two-wheeled transportation onto this website. So you can imagine my delight upon being informed that I had been tapped for a driving event that required a license featuring a cycle endorsement. Though I quickly learned that the vehicle I would be experiencing wasn’t quite what I had in mind.
Can-Am had invited me to test out the 2023 Spyder RT and Spyder F3. Despite having seen them around for years, they were models I had long assumed would be marginally better than the atrocious three-wheeled motorcycles offered by Harley-Davidson. This turned out to be a mistake on my part. Can-Am’s three-wheeled products turned out to be some of the best touring vehicles I’ve ever ridden sans air conditioning.
(Full Disclosure: Can-Am invited me out to Lake George, NY, to experience the Spyder F3 and RT Limited during the kickoff event for the Road Warrior Foundation’s charity ride to Nixa, Missouri. Their team provided the travel accommodations and ensured I did not starve while providing opportunities to interact with Can-Am employees and customers.)
Having received my government-approved security molestation at the hands of the Transportation Security Administration, I arrived in Albany eager to get down to business. While I was familiar with many of the off-road focused products offered by Can-Am (side-by-sides and ATVs), its three-wheeled vehicles had remained a bit of a mystery. I had seen them around and had noticed that they've gotten significantly more attractive in recent years. But that turned out to be about all I knew.
It was my assumption that they’d be akin to a large cruising bike, and they are in some respects. However, the perks and tradeoffs of having a third-wheel actually results in a novel experience. Can-Am’s Spyder always seems to get pegged as a motorcycle and it does make an excellent alternative for those who find two-wheeled transportation unappealing. But the difference between the two turned out to be much wider than I had anticipated.
These machines are larger than your average motorcycle and this needs to be taken into account in traffic. Gaps that would be totally fine for a two-wheeled contraption may not be a good fit for the Spyder. You’ll probably just take advantage of its more docile characteristics in stop-and-go situations and relax. But it can certainly be placed in spaces that would never be feasible with an automobile and nimble enough to be squirted in reasonably quickly.
It’s the same with how much can be carried. Bikes typically offer a tragically small amount of cargo room. Even larger touring models with saddlebags force riders to make tough decisions about what can be taken on a ride. However, every version of the Spyder boasts an impressive amount of lockable storage at the front and sides with opportunities to add more at the back. Riders can expect a minimum of 36 gallons of storage (from the F3) with things moving up from there.
While Can-Am offers the smaller, cheaper, and lighter Ryker with powertrains sized at 600 and 900 cubic centimeters, the Spyder F3 and RT come with a liquid-cooled, 1,330cc Advanced Combustion Efficiency (ACE) inline-triple manufactured in Austria by the BRP-owned Rotax. The unit offers 115 horsepower at 7,250 RPM and 96 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm sent to the rear tire via the drive belt.
I will admit that isn’t all that impressive sounding when you consider that the Spyder RT Limited comes in at a whopping 1,021 pounds dry — especially if you happen to be coming from the world of performance focused sport bikes. But you’re never really wanting for power until you’re already exceeding highway speeds. Every version of the Spyder will handily out accelerate practically every automobile that wasn’t developed with performance as its primary goal and will reportedly press on to 125 mph. But I never had an opportunity to take one beyond 103 mph.
Obviously, your journey from 0 to 60 mph will be dependent upon how much weight the 1,330cc motor is moving. But an unloaded base F3 (which is about 100 pounds lighter than the RT) should be able to whisk most people past highway speeds in under six seconds. I’d wager the heavier model would be a second or so behind that when loaded up. At any rate, it’s more than enough to bring a smile to your face and quicken the pulse.
As an added bonus, having an under-stressed motor (compared to what’s found in sport bikes) with a redline of 8,100 rpm should theoretically improve longevity if those Rotax motors are all they’re cracked up to be.
My only serious gripe was that they’re supposed to take premium gasoline, returning roughly 36 mpg. That’s middling for a motorcycle. But these aren’t featherweights lacking in features and compensate by boasting 7 gallon fuel tanks.
I’m hesitant to call the Can-Am Spyder F3 (starting at $22,099) and Spyder RT (starting at $26,599) motorcycles. They’re more like roadgoing luxury snowmobiles or a hybrid between a convertible automobile and upscale street bike. Regardless of what they are, anybody who has ridden either vehicle type should find the Spyder approachable.
Individuals who’ve never flipped up a kickstand in their life will assuredly find the Can-Am significantly easier to operate than a traditional motorbike. The third wheel totally eliminates balancing issues and the simplified controls mean you’re not having to worry about clutch modulation or downshifting the six-speed transmission (though you still can). The Spyder doesn’t even have separate controls for the front and rear brakes. Stopping is achieved by pressing a familiar-feeling pedal with the right foot and gear selection is conducted by the left hand. These features turned out to be incredibly easy to operate without tipping over into something dull.
Ironically, this abundance of motive convenience actually created a modest learning curve for me. Though it was really more of an unlearning curve, as I needed to abandon some of the instinctive behaviors I had developed after decades of motorcycle riding. Fortunately, it didn’t take very long to acclimate myself to the Spyder and felt extremely comfortable with the new format less than 30 minutes into my ride.
The Spyder is a confidence-inspiring machine. But the feedback it offered was alien to me until I switched off the part of my brain that kept trying to convince me I was on a regular motorcycle. Eventually, the sensation faded and was followed by my approaching corners at increasingly questionable speeds. While the contact patches being oriented in a Y shape (hence the spelling of Spyder) does make for a wider vehicle, there’s always a surplus of rubber contacting the pavement.
This allows for mid-corner corrections that you would probably never attempt on two wheels and is further bolstered by the inclusion of traction control, stability control, hill control, and ABS. Combine that with a sizable curb weight and you’ve got something that’ll happily soak up pavement imperfections without any unpleasant surprises. Rougher roads aren’t jarring and you don’t need to worry so much about what angle you’re approaching railroad crossings from.
All that traction likewise means you’ll be cornering at speeds higher than you’d expect. Having a single rear tire with two in the front is a far better recipe than the inverse setup. Something like a Tri Glide Ultra Classic may yield comfortable cruising. But it understeers horribly at speed. The Spyder’s lateral G-forces are probably limited by how long the rider can hold on, rather than when the tires give up. Whereas a sport bike forces riders to conform to the shape of the bike (effectively using their knees to lock them into place) the Can-Am prioritizes seating ergonomics that won’t punish the user’s joints. Our hosts recommended planting the outside foot under hard cornering and it turned out to be an effective strategy.
The fuel-efficient Eco mode is relatively uninspired, diminishing an otherwise smooth engine. But it helps preserve gasoline and those that find it unappealing (like I did) can simply turn it off — resulting in predictable and immediate throttle response — or save it for the boring portions of the route.
While the Spyder can become a little unsettled at a quicker pace, resulting in your fighting the handlebars, it is instantly alleviated by relaxing one’s grip slightly and trusting the machine. Manhandling a Spyder is utterly pointless. You’ll just end up tussling with the dynamic power steering (yes, it has power steering) and electronic aids. Having a deathgrip is also counter to the Spyder’s purpose as a touring vehicle designed for comfortable, long-distance journeys.
This is where both the F3 and RT shine the brightest, with the latter clearly being set up for maximum comfort.
In that respect, Can-Am’s biggest competition is probably coming from Harley-Davidson’s luxury tourers and the Honda Gold Wing. But I’d rather be sitting on the Can-Am in most cases. The Spyder RT Limited comes with an impressive 47 gallons of storage capacity, massive floorboards, an adjustable windscreen, a decent sound system, a fairly modern display with Bluetooth app integration, heated seats, heated grips, and extends those benefits to the passenger. They’re also mind-bogglingly customizable and are compatible with the brand’s proprietary LINQ system.
Spyder models even boast a reverse gear, making them much less work to move around at low speeds. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to maneuver a Gold Wing or Road Glide through a crowded parking lot or down gravel road without dropping it. But there are moments when it feels like more effort than it’s worth. Spyder trikes don’t have this problem. Uneven or loose surfaces aren’t much of a hindrance and the vehicles are set up to absolutely devour miles without much physical effort.
That particular aspect has ended up endearing the model to older riders that no longer have the strength or desire to balance a ludicrously heavy vehicle on two wheels. As my ride overlapped with Spyderquest and the Road Warrior Foundation ride from New York to Missouri, there were also numerous veterans that had lost limbs in attendance — all of whom ran Spyders as their chosen vehicle.
I spoke with Can-Am riders whenever I encountered them and they all told me the above ended up being a significant factor in their purchasing decisions. Others likewise felt that the Spyder offered sufficient advantages as a touring vehicle and was adept at carrying a passenger/cargo in comfort. Many had previously owned touring bikes. Though there was a cadre of riders, most of which seemed to be women, that told me they had only ever driven automobiles prior to buying their Can-Am.
Those characteristics make all versions of the Spyder an easy recommendation for someone interested in doing open-air touring. The controls are intuitive and direct, offering touch points that don’t require riders to take their eyes off the road (even for the radio) and can be felt through a thick pair of gloves.
There are a few disadvantages to consider, however. While the trikes offer sublime stability and staggering levels of comfort, they’re too wide to consider lane splitting and would not fit into most spaces designated for motorbikes. Your author also doesn’t know how they’d handle long-term abuse.
Honda’s Gold Wing is a known quantity and famous for its staggering reliability. But I never encountered anyone at Spyderquest who had ridden their three-wheeler for more than 40,000 miles. This is anecdotal and doesn’t really qualify as truly valid criticism (as recreational vehicles don’t tend to rack up a lot of miles). Honda’s big touring bike has also been around since 1975, giving riders plenty of time to accumulate examples exceeding 100,000 miles. Meanwhile, the first Spyder went on sale in 2007.
For what it’s worth, none of Can-Am’s customers complained about their own Spyder and I asked roughly a dozen if they’d had any issues.
While the Spyder is engaging and extremely fun, the threshold for madness is lower than what’s available on a two-wheeled sportbike. Riders seeking to push their thrills to the absolute limit should probably look elsewhere. That said, I still wanted to see how far I could push things (especially on the more rascally F3) and would have undoubtedly attempted some drifting (something else I wouldn’t recommend on a two-wheeled conveyance) if I had been given another day in the saddle.
Older individuals who feel like they might be aging out of riding (and aren’t wholly committed to the image associated with Harley-Davidson) should absolutely look into taking one out for a test ride. The same can be said for those who have been physically disabled in some way, couples who like to do a lot of long-distance touring, individuals seeking a luxury motorcycle, people who find two-wheeled bikes intimidating, and anyone who ever looked at the Mazda MX-5 and assumed that was their best (or only) option in terms of open-air enjoyment.
While my personal tastes continue to skew toward bikes with ridiculous power-to-weight ratios, I’d happily take the Can-Am Spyder over any heavyweight touring bike or cruiser on a decidedly long journey. They offer sufficient thrills, plenty of engagement, and add the kind of features that allow riders to spend a more time enjoying the scenery.
It also has to be said that the Can-Am Spyder and Ryker boasts one of the friendliest and most engaging rider communities I’ve ever come across. People genuinely seem to love these vehicles and that can matter if you’re seeing groups to ride with. You’ll often see Can-Am three-wheelers customized to their owner’s exacting tastes. While this occasionally resulted in visual abominations (obviously pictured), it’s the kind of detailed personalization that’s normally reserved for Jeep Wranglers or Suzuki Hayabusas. That undoubtedly bodes well for Can-Am’s long-term success with the model and underscores the legitimate appeal these strange vehicles have.
I felt partial to the F3, if only because our tester seemed a bit more lively and happened to be equipped with the factory available Akrapovic exhaust. But the Spyder RT Limited ($30,499) is probably the one to buy if you’re planning on taking a lot of long trips and are willing to spend the extra money. It comes with more standard features than the F3 and also benefits from the heated grips, charging ports, and upgraded controls the standard RT lacks.
However, you can almost build one of these vehicles à la carte. LINQ hard cases can be added to improve storage, seats can be upgraded, and there’s a slew of additional accessories the dealer will be all too happy to sell. Even the more-affordable Ryker offers a slew of custom exterior panels. Though it lacks some of the storage and power upgrades afforded to its bigger brothers.
They’re not cheap machines. But they are priced to compete within a segment where you’ll probably be spending a minimum of $23,000 (and probably far more if you want something competitive in terms of maximum cargo and comfort). I certainly haven’t had an opportunity to ride every touring bike there is. But Can-Am appears to be offering one of the better options from a purely experiential standpoint.
The rest will be determined by overall reliability and I’ve heard some mixed things about Can-Am’s early product runs. But the owners I met did nothing but throw praise at the current models and all I’ve managed to find recently is a brake light recall and some isolated complaints about improper dealer maintenance. I would also assume Spyder maintenance is a tad bit more involved and costly due to it being a bit more complicated than your standard motorcycle. But the manufacturer has said it’s been working with dealerships, which frequently sell an array of brands, to ensure work is being done properly. That’s probably comforting for those considering straying from Honda or Harley-Davidson.
Having dealt with loads of multi-brand dealerships myself, it’s always nice when one has their act together. But I’m more concerned with the vehicles themselves and they ended up impressing the entire time. Can-Am has found room for itself in a segment that many thought was spoken for and delivered a product that edges out the competition in most respects.
[Images: Matt Posky/TTAC.com; Can-Am]
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