Can-Am Spyder

by Tammy Wanchena

Every year at the International Motorcycle Show, there is one machine, new to the world of motorcyclists, where everyone on the MMM staff will fight over who will get to ride and review it. In 2008, that machine was the new Can Am Spyder, by Bombardier. After greasing a few palms and showing a little more cleavage than usual, I won the lottery and got to test ride one of the most unique bikes I have ever ridden!review105a

At first glance, one might not know what to make of the Can Am Spyder. It’s sort of a “reverse trike”, the wheels are fairly close in size: two 14” tires in the front, (yes, in the front!) and one 15” tire in the back. It almost looks like a recreational vehicle; as if they mounted a jet ski or a snowmobile on top of three wheels then called it a motorcycle. All I know is that never before have I been on a bike that attracts this much attention! Riders of every brand would stop me at intersections and ask me what it was, what it cost, and where to get one. Abercrombie clad, suburban teenagers came out in droves to say how cool it was. And from every building I walked out of, I would find men circling it in the parking lot. If dogs and babies are “chic magnets”, Spyders are bonified “dude magnets”.

I can honestly say that there was a point when riding this machine where I tried to figure out the financial possibility of owning one. As if our garage wasn’t full enough and our pocket books weren’t empty enough. Rational thought simply could not compare with the fun I had riding it! The stability in cornering was incredible when compared to other three wheeled vehicles I had ridden; which would be three-wheelers of the 80’s and sidecar units.

The Spyder comes equipped with a Vehicle Stability System which immediately detects any loss of traction and quickly corrects it. Integrated in the VSS are three functions: a Stability Control System, a Traction Control System, and the ever popular Anti-lock Braking System. The Stability Control System allows you to maintain control in emergency maneuvering, and allows you to corner quickly, even at top speeds. The bike will actually reduce engine power to keep you from losing control, and insures that it keeps all three wheels on the ground. Sorry “Stuntaz”! No wheelies here! Leaning into turns allowed for even tighter cornering. The Traction Control System keeps the rear wheel planted and keeps the bike from spinning out. And the Anti-lock Braking System helps you maintain steering control while braking hard for a surprise sale at Macy’s.

Starting the Spyder is easy, but requires a few more steps than your average bike. Turn the key. There is a little button with the letter “M” on it above the instrument panel. Push it once, and it will ALWAYS remind you to “Read the Safety Guide” before starting the bike. The “Safety Guide” is a silly little pull-out card that pulls out from above the panel, and reminds you to wear your safety gear, check the tire pressure and mirrors; and offers a basic guide to handling the machine. So you have pushed the letter M once. Push it once more, confirming you have “Read the Safety Guide”. If you are in Neutral, simply push the electric starter and you are ready to go! If you start the bike in gear, you will need to pull in the clutch and give it some throttle.

The Spyder was extremely forgiving when shifting gears, and seemed comfortable at almost any speed, regardless of which gear I was in. Because of this, it was extremely easy to speed, or “ride it like I stole it”, and I had to constantly remind myself that I was riding under the newspaper’s insurance. Fortunately, the only time I was pulled over by a cop it turned out to be a friend of mine pulling me over to ask “what the heck” I was riding! I absolutely loved that the instrument panel had a digital display of which gear I rode in! The bike had five gears, but I rarely found it necessary to shift up into fifth. I usually held it around three to four thousand RPMs, in fourth gear, when riding 65mph on the freeway. The instrument panel also contains a dual analog and LCD with speedometer, tachometer, electric fuel gauge, daily trip meters, engine temperature, and ambient temperature; all displayed in either metric or U.S. Standards. The bike has a final belt-drive, which assists in its ultra-smooth shifting and allows for easy maintenance. They are already producing a semi-automatic version of the Spyder, which will be here next month and cost about $2k more than the manual, but I can not imagine anyone having a hard time shifting these gears. The bike is simply that forgiving!

One of my favorite features was “REVERSE”. Simply push down on the thumb-shift with the big letter “R” on your left handlebar. Kick the bike down one gear lower than first (a gear that miraculously appears only when you have pushed the “R”) and you are in reverse gear and able to maneuver the bike into and out of the tightest of parking spots; with a little throttle, of course. I had entirely too much fun challenging my newfound, “mad skillz” in reverse gear. One of the worst accidents I had ever been in was when I was riding passenger on a three-wheeler and the beast flipped, causing its fender to cut into my right knee. That is one scar that will never allow me to wear shorts! This would not happen on the Spyder. While it did feel a little bit bouncy at times, and it was super fun riding over railroad tracks and bumps in the road, it would be nearly impossible to flip it! I was 100% confident that my left knee would remain unscarred. I felt protected by its immense, 697 pounds of dry weight. The Spyder claims to possess its own “nervous system” and senses its surroundings by using multiple, on-board Electronic Control Units (ECUs), that monitor a broad range of functions; from wheel slippage to digitally encoded security information. And I definitely didn’t have to worry about other people noticing me! I demoed a bright “Millennium Yellow” bike with black trim that you could see coming from miles away. As if the styling of the machine demanded loud colors to gain attention on the road!

review105bMy only serious complaint about this machine is the fact that every time I rode it, my right leg felt like it would spontaneously combust! The radiator is located near your right leg with no fairing to divert the heat away from you. The hot air flowing off of it sears your right leg while riding. And with the bikes only brakes (front, rear and ABS) being operated with your right foot, this made for quite a bit of discomfort. I literally let my right leg kind of float away from my body until situations where I had to brake. Boots are required and riding pants highly recommended, but you will still feel as if your leg is resting on your barbecue grill next to the cornhusks and beer brats, which is a problem that definitely needs to be addressed.

The Can-Am Spyder costs upwards of $15,490, depending on color and accessories; which they are coming out with more of every month. It almost seems unfair that a person should need their motorcycle endorsement in order to ride one, since it rides so differently than any motorcycle does. When you consider the fact that this bike has a lot of the same driving functions as my Buick Park Ave, the cost seems almost justified. And snow tires and a larger windshield would make it a super fun bike to ride through the Minnesota winter. But, sadly, it will take me winning a lottery not based on cleavage exposure in order to afford one of my own. Thanks again to the guys at Leo’s South for letting us demo this bike.

by Sev Pearman

I knew that my ride for the 24-hour, 2008 Minnesota 1,000 was going to be different, but there was no way to prepare for the Can-Am Spyder. The Spyder’s three wheels, reverse gear and smooth ride make for one unique machine. Leo’s South offered MMM a Spyder for Teamstrange’s annual road rally. I leapt at the chance to submit this machine to our most extreme road test ever.

The Spyder is built by Bombardier of Canada. Bomb-buh-who? Bombardier engineers and builds Can-Am ATVs, Ski-Doo snowmobiles and Sea-Doo watercraft. They also manufacture commercial aircraft, subway cars and both Johnson and Evinrude marine motors. Bombardier’s Can-Am division recently introduced the three-wheeled Spyder to North America and it has proven to be an instant hit.

Unlike conventional motorcycle-trike conversions, the Spyder runs two wheels in the front, with a drive wheel in the back. With its single rear wheel, bench seat and conventional handlebars, it feels more motorcycle-like than any motorcycle-trike conversion I have sat on. Despite Can-Am’s ad hype, this isn’t the first time this has been done. Although largely invisible since the 1960’s, trikes with this wheel configuration have been sold since the birth of the motorcycle, with Morgan and Tri-King being two of the more famous makes.

I always take the time to thoroughly go over the controls; both to avoid looking like a tool, and to prevent mishaps. (The publisher doesn’t like it when we scratch other people’s toys.) The controls of the Spyder are motorcycle-like. Your left hand operates the clutch lever, the usual buttons, and the lever to engage reverse gear. The right hand has a twist throttle and engine cut-off/start button. There is no front brake lever. The left foot runs a conventional motorcycle gearshift lever. The right foot operates the only brake control. This pedal activates the brakes on all three wheels. The brakes are both linked and have ABS.

review105cI thought I was paying attention while I was receiving the operation instructions, but after the tech gave me the key and I went to start it, I was stymied. Let’s see…turn the key…push the “mode” button…squeeze the clutch lever and…nothing. Cycle the ignition…push the “mode” button…squeeze the clutch lever…Am I supposed to step on the brake?…hit start and…nothing. By now, word had gotten out that I was to ride the Spyder in the rally and riders were gathering around.

After trying all 715 possible combinations of interlocks, lever positions and sequences, I finally gave up and trudged back to the service desk amid snickers and deserved cheap shots. I was given the secret code and returned to successfully fire up the 998cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve, Rotax V-twin. What a rorty beast! I successfully engaged reverse (“below” first gear) and gingerly explored the parking lot. In about one hour, I was going to embark on a baptism-by-fire odyssey and, with any luck, be the first person to document 1,000 miles in 24-hours on a Can-Am Spyder.

Regular readers know I have thousands of three-wheeled miles on sidecars. Even though the Spyder has three wheels and similar controls, the similarities end there. I liked the standard clutch and gearshift actuation of the Spyder. They are both intuitive and familiar. Similarly, I welcomed the conventional motorcycle twist throttle. I was downright envious of the real reverse gear. There is no need to lean into corners.

Things get hinky with the brakes. I resented the sole brake control. Even after 1,000 miles, I still yearned for a front brake lever. These choices were made for Spyder buyers and new riders, not crabby motorcycle reviewers. The one-pedal actuation combined with linked brakes and ABS makes it easy for newbies to stop with confidence.

On the road, the Spyder is f-u-n. The wide, front wheel track combined with the long, 68-inch wheelbase makes for a smooth, stable ride. The suspension was well-suited to my 260 pounds. It digested freeway expansion joints without pounding, and offered comfort without wallowing; even after 20 hours in the saddle. Both front and rear are adjustable for pre-load. Due to the timed nature of the rally, I ran with the stock settings.

I was cautioned to look far ahead. It is tempting to watch the front wheels and suspension, for the independent action is both hypnotic and mesmerizing. If you do this, the Spyder tends to “hunt” back-and-forth in your lane, requiring constant corrections. To avoid this, simply keep your eyes up and look far ahead.

I’m not the biggest fan of conventional motorcycle-trike conversions. I see them as being tippy and having minimal storage. Further, trike conversions are expensive and can run over $30,000. Then there is that business of sawing a perfectly good bike in half; but to each his/her own.

The Spyder tackles each of these points. The front lid unlocks to reveal a trunk large enough to swallow two helmets. I could easily store all my rally supplies. One annoyance is that the ignition won’t work if the lid is open. This may not bother social riders but became a real time-eater for timed road rally purposes. (see feature)

Stability is handled by the engine management brain and ABS system. Dubbed VSS® by Can-Am, the brain detects wheel slip, and removes power and/or applies brake to virtually eliminate loss of traction. The Spyder remained planted on both rain-soaked highway and gravel roads encountered during my ride. It took a great deal of effort and ham-fisted throttle to loft a wheel in a corner. The system works and works well.

I really liked the ground-up design of the Spyder. All systems performed smoothly. Everything fit seamlessly. There is none of the structural bracing required in typical trike conversions. The Spyder feels lower, smaller and lighter (697 lbs dry, claimed) when compared to regular trikes. An additional benefit is that you get a full, 2-year factory warranty. Best of all, the Spyder lists for $15,999. That’s about half the cost of a premium Goldwing or Big Twin trike conversion.

The Spyder happily gobbles up freeway miles. The engine spins at a lazy 5,000 rpm at an indicated 75 mph. Passing requires nothing more than a twist of the throttle. Rotax dialed in enough torque to easily launch the Spyder off the line. The engine generates prodigious heat, roasting your right leg in traffic. Comfort returns as soon as you get moving again. Only a fool will wear shorts on the Spyder.

Power is fed through a 5-speed gearbox to a toothed belt. The gearbox incorporates a real reverse cog; so parking is a breeze. I found the shifting to be light and positive. Even after my long grind, my left hand didn’t ache nor did I miss a single shift.

Steering is by handlebars and feels vague; not unlike the feel when riding a larger ATV on soft surfaces. This was most noticeable at parking lot speeds and quickly disappears once you are out of second gear. This is a quirk that owners will simply adapt to. I didn’t measure the turning radius, but it is h-u-g-e. Blessed be the reverse gear for 7-point turns are required on 2-lane roads.

The Spyder has a decent windscreen that diverts the air to mid-shoulder and works perfectly fine in town. Undoubtedly a concession to style, it is too small for extended highway touring, and generated annoying turbulence at interstate velocities. For my ride, I wanted a bigger screen.

review105dThe Spyder has an edgy Science-Fiction-insect-snowmobile look to it. The seat, front cowl, and low bench seat all scream snowmobile. Even the front A-arms echo snowmobile suspension, swapping wheels for skis. Thankfully, there is no thumb lever. Like a snowmobile, you have to muscle the bars a bit. Unlike a snowmobile, you don’t need to add any body English to your turns. One thing is certain, you will get noticed on a Spyder. Fuel stops turn into yak-fests.

What is it like to drive a Can-Am Spyder? While it has three wheels and ample storage, the Spyder drives nothing like a sidecar. With its lower stance and weight, it feels more like a motorcycle than a conventional trike conversion. It’s A-arm suspension, front wheels and handlebars feel ATV-like, but the twist throttle and low, 29-inch seat height feel more motorcycle. Imagine a 100-bhp snowmobile with sticky tires, ABS and a twist throttle and you’ll come close.

I safely completed the rally and returned before the clock ran out. Final figures? 1,198 miles in 24 hours, one rider. Average fuel economy: 32.2 mpg. Mechanical issues: zero. Can-Am has entered the street bike market with its unique, three-wheeled Spyder. With a trike this good, one wonders what they will do with a street bike.

Thanks again to Leo’s South for providing the Spyder for our 1,000 mile/24-hour test. Leo’s is at 952-435-5371 or

Wife’s first reaction®: “It looks like something out of a bad Tom Cruise movie”

Holy Trinity: Finally – a trike that makes sense! Monster traction in the wet and on gravel. Cavernous front trunk. Three Blind Mice: Slow-roasts your right thigh. Stock windscreen generates turbulence for taller riders. Greater range, please. By the numbers: Rider: Editor Pearman 5’-10”/260 lbs/32” (height/weight/inseam) Total miles driven: 1,198 Fuel consumption: 32.2 mpg avg.

Selected Competition: Absolutely none. The Spyder is in a class unto itself


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