Originally published October 21, 2014
The Can-Am Spyder is a curious beast. It looks like a three-wheeled motorcycle. It looks like a snowmobile for the road. It looks like something out of a Judge Dredd movie. From the front, it looks like something Schwarzenegger once chased through a jungle.
I was genuinely excited to ride one. I knew about its quirky handling, but I also knew about its 1,330 cc Rotax inline-three-cylinder engine with 115 hp and 96 lb-ft of torque. All powering a relatively light 459 kg (dry) chassis.
So I approached the Can-Am with the sort of excited curiosity one usually finds in a teenager on his first date. I was eager to experience car-like stability mated to motorcycle nimbleness. I was eager to experience the thrill of cornering in a new and exciting way. I was eager to bask in the intrigued attention of my fellow motorists.
But like all eager teenagers, I discovered a gap between expectation and reality.
Let’s be clear from the outset. If you’re a motorcycle rider, and you have always ridden motorcycles, and you think the Can-Am is just a new type of motorcycle – you are wrong. It is not. It even says so in the instruction manual. You cannot ride the Can-Am like a motorcycle. In corners, where a motorcycle tips in, the Can-Am leans to the outside, like a car. Only a car with less stability. The Can-Am leans heavily on the outside front wheel and to its credit, that outside front takes the weight of the machine in its stride. It will turn, but it feels like you’re mere millimetres from a large highside.
The result is that for the first time in my entire life, I found myself cornering at the speed displayed on those little yellow off-ramp signs.
On the highway, it gets worse. You expect the nimbleness of a motorbike, or at least of a Mini, but you get neither. Quick lane changes upset the balance and threaten a major tank-slapper, rapid movements to skirt road obstacles have the same effect. And unlike a motorcycle that builds stability with speed, the Can-Am gets worse the quicker you go.
2014 Can-Am Spyder. Click image to enlarge
By now, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t simply correct it by riding more on the front, and using the throttle to help make the Can-Am rotate better; I couldn’t. The Spyder comes with an Orwellian suite of driver dummies that see everything you do in the name of fun, or even better maneuverability squashed under the oppressive electric policemen hiding in the bowels of the system.
Approaching traffic lights I very nearly caught the ire of some real-life policemen. See, the Spyder RT I was on has no front brake. So you wind off the throttle, reach forward for the brake lever and… nothing. I’m embarrassed to admit I grabbed at that lever twice before remembering it isn’t there and mashing the foot brake. The foot brake controls both front and rear brakes. It has two operational settings – on and off. There is no feedback through the brake pedal, it simply stops the trike. Stomp it hard, it stops it faster.