Four-wheelers and two-wheelers have been waiting for decades for a suitable place to meet in the middle. Perhaps the lovably antiquated Morgan 3 Wheeler comes closest to making all parties smile, but in general, three-wheeled vehicles have struggled; these are dynamically dissatisfying mutants, and it’s hard to convince either car people, who appreciate stability, or bike people, who favor lean angles, to cross into the middle.
New Three-Cylinder Engine, Substantially More Torque
The last time we checked in on Bombardier Recreational Products’ Can-Am Spyder was soon after its introduction in 2007. Since then, this odd road lizard from the frozen north of Quebec has booked more than 100,000 sales. For 2016, it received a significant refresh in the form of updated styling, new electronic controls, and a 1330-cc Rotax three-cylinder engine to replace its old 998-cc Rotax V-twin gum rattler. That rougher-running V-twin came straight from duty in snowmobiles, the branch of the powersports product tree to which the Can-Am Spyder seems most closely related. Substitute the skis and the drive track with wheels and tires, and you pretty much had the original Spyder.
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The vehicle needed this new engine; BRP perhaps recognized that if you’re going to charge $20,000 and up for a street toy, it had better have some sophistication. To that end, the new three-cylinder is smoother and far more flexible, with 25 percent more peak torque, more of which is available lower in the rev range and across a wider band, which helps to move this 1000-plus-pound vehicle.
Besides reskinning the Spyder with angrier new bodywork featuring prominent headlight eyes and a gaping grille in full war cry, BRP also retuned the electronic traction and stability control to allow a little more freedom. The old Spyder was a worrying hen of corrective interference, no doubt because three-wheeler pilots can get themselves into heaps of trouble if they’re reckless on the throttle. Nevertheless, answering a major complaint with the original Spyder, the new system allows more play for the fearless, and for 2017, a further software upgrade will arrive with a Sport setting that allows actual wheelspin and driftlike maneuvers while the trike is still under the watchful care of the computer.
We tried a F3-T (base price of $22,999), which comes with a front windscreen and integrated side luggage not included on the base F3 or F3-S models. That luggage compartment, plus the forward trunk and a lockable storage bin above the gauges, give the Spyder three cubic feet of storage space—a Porsche 911’s front trunk holds five cubic feet—which is decent pack-mule capability for long excursions. Our all-black Spyder sat low and brooding in the driveway, and mounting it felt a bit like slinging a leg over a wild boar in mid-stride. For bikers, the riding position evokes a Harley Fat Boy, with your knees spread wide around the large engine and your feet forward on flat boards.
G-Loading: Hang On
Power steering and a reverse gear are both welcome and vitally needed. It takes a little time with the buttons and levers controlling the six-speed transmission (manual or, as on our unit, the $1500 automated-manual option) before you’re perfectly comfortable with it. The power steering makes it easier to wheel the Spyder down city streets and up mountain switchbacks, but it takes a much longer time before you’re comfortable going fast on it. That’s partly because, unlike a bike, which leans opposite to the direction of the g-forces, the Spyder remains upright. So in a high-g corner, you feel as if you’re going to be tossed off sideways. Your arms brace against the handlebars and the cornering forces that, on a bike, are borne more naturally by the butt.
Eventually you start leaning into the turns a bit, if you’re keen, but like a Fat Boy, the Spyder, despite its big engine and 115 horsepower, does not encourage samurai behavior. It’s far more likable as a meandering cruiser, the scenery taken in at posted speed limits. It has a fairly accommodating ride from its relatively long, 67.3-inch wheelbase and should cruise for hours on its 7.1-gallon tank. The forthcoming Sport button? Keep it, don’t need it.
Out on the highway, you look a bit like James Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld aboard an atomic wheelchair with hidden missile launchers, but that’s a slightly pejorative observation from your author, a dedicated biker. Don’t expect to get respect from the two-wheelers with whom you share the road, especially in California where the bikes blithely split lanes and filter through traffic that stops the Spyder cold. Everyone in the bike world is highly tribal anyway; the Harley guys don’t talk to the sport-bike guys, who don’t talk to the dual-sport guys. Like them, you’ll just have to find other Spyder riders to hang with.
Anyway, BRP acknowledges that the Spyder targets not so much bike people but car people who want to see what life is like on the outside, without having to learn to ride on two wheels or face all of the danger inherent in motorcycling. And getting more people out on the road in the wind is a highly laudable thing.