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Can-Am Spyder first ride

By Steve Farrell -

First rides & tests

 12 March 2013 08:30

If the three-wheeled Cam-Am Spyder were a person you met, the first thing it would say is: "I'm not a motorcycle, you know." The second thing would be: "Are you aware that I'm not a motorcycle?"

At the launch of the latest version in Marbella, Spain, last week, journalists were made to sign a declaration before going anywhere near it, which said: 'I am aware that it is not a motorcycle.'

The vehicle itself, we were told, would not start until we had pulled out a flap hidden in the dash containing several paragraphs of safety information, beginning with: 'The Spyder roadster is different from other vehicles.'

"Read it," our guide instructed. A button can be pressed instead of doing this every time the vehicle is started but it still seems neurotic.

You think - and you would say to the Spyder, if it were a person: 'I know you are not a motorcycle, that you are different. Everyone can see that. The major clue is not your plastic flap or peculiar introductory declarations. Have you ever seen a mirror?'Perhaps manufacturer BRP won't show it one for fear of unsettling its already fragile mental state.

Even they don't seem exactly sure what it is. A PR woman said it was more like one of the snowmobiles which BRP also make. 

Snowmobiles are essentially adapted from a motorcycle to work where motorcycles do not. So the Spyder is a vehicle adapted from a motorcycle to work where motorcycles do not, then adapted back to work where they do.

You may think that would make it a motorcycle again. But you would be wrong, sir. Read the flap and sign here.

The Spyder doesn't lean like a bike, or some other three-wheeled vehicles. It's like a car, sidecar outfit or conventional trike in that counter-steering will put you in a bush. Before going on the road we were made to do a traffic cone obstacle course in a car park, presumably to get any bush interfacing out of the way.

Slaloming around some cones, watching those two front wheels turn so directly in proportion to the steering input reminded me of a go-kart. 

There are already two types of Cam-Am Spyder, the RS, which is sporty, and the RT, for touring. "But what if I want to sport-tour on one?" was the question frankly few people appeared to be asking.

And now Can Am has answered with this, the new sport-touring variant, unconfusingly called the Spyder ST. It’s for potential RS or RT riders who want to relax, but only a bit, with a riding position somewhere in between the two.

The engine is a 998cc Rotax V-twin delivering a claimed 100bhp and 80lbft of torque. It's got traction control, ABS, a stability control system, a manually adjustable screen and 44-litres of luggage space where a motorcycle would have a front wheel.

That’s way big enough for a full-face lid but, because if the shape, it struggles with two depending on the helmet size.

I've bagsied the ST Limited version, which also has a stereo with FM radio and an Ipod hook-up, heated grips, cruise control, sat nav and two 34-litre panniers, which won't take my Arai.

Prices are from £18,999 to £21,099. Compared to the Honda Goldwing's starting price of £24,300, that seems pretty reasonable. 

The Spyder range is available with a clutch and motorcycle-style foot gear selector, but the ST I’m riding has paddle shifters on the left bar and no clutch. It's a semi-automatic, changing down for you but not up, with five gears plus reverse, which we were also made to familiarise ourselves with in the car park.

No good can come of accidentally launching a 392kg motor-tricycle backwards on the public highway.

When we did venture onto the road, moving quickly to a busy motorway, my initial impression was one of wanting to return to the car park. It felt like I'd picked up a familiar item which had been subtly but fundamentally altered to trick me.

The console, screen, bars and riding position told me I was on a motorcycle, but everything else disagreed. The mirrors are lower than usual, looking under your elbows instead of over.

Glancing to where they would normally be, I saw air. Steering sensitivity remained a relative mystery, so I imagined spinning out of control instead of changing lanes.

The gears are in the wrong place and there is the width to think about. The wheels are right there in front of you, so there's little excuse, but it's still something new and discombobulating on top of all the usual attention demands of the road.

Disc brakes on all three wheels are operated by a foot pedal on the right footboard. Occasionally I grasped for a bar lever that wasn't there. Why would you want a foot brake when there's a place to put a lever?

As a motor tricycle, Spyders can be ridden by either motorcycle or car licence holders. BRP says customers come equally from both groups, in which case the foot brake may help drivers feel at home. But that situation changed as of January 19 this year.

Car drivers who passed their test since then are not automatically entitled to ride motor tricycles. Depending on where in Europe they live, to ride a Spyder they will either have to complete more training or, in the case of the UK, get a full, unrestricted motorcycle licence.

It means the Spyder's car-driving market is likely to gradually diminish and could signal the time for BRP to start trying to make us feel more at home instead. Starting with a brake lever. 

On the twisty mountain roads of the Costa del Sol, I started to have fun. Because it's upright in corners, you’re pulled sideways like a car passenger, and have to lean in the direction of the turn to compensate.

The back tyres squirms given a bit of throttle doesn't but doesn't let go thanks to the traction control. Front suspension roll seems to contribute to vagueness at the rear. I'm told the RS version doesn’t suffer so much from this.

The steering, twitchy when the bars are turned a little, becomes less immediate as the angle increases. Power steering intervenes less as speed increases. It's harder work on the arms than a motorcycle.

On loose gravel, the traction control lets you spin the rear and full-lock doughnuts are easy.

Riding it becomes intuitive fairly quickly. It's not a motorcycle but it's a lot more fun than a car.

Occasionally I still had to remind myself what I was astride. The riding position is actually closer to a big scooter than a motorcycle. Being able to stop at lights without clutch or down-changes added the impression of being on a twist-and-go.

Then the rev counter would hit 10,000 as I accelerated and I'd remember I had to change up.

And then I realised that's what the Spyder ST feels like: half go-kart, half maxi scooter.

It's faster than a maxi scooter, with the possible exception of Aprilia's ludicrous SRV850, but the power delivery shares a twist-and-go's lack of urgency.  The engine pulls strongly from 3000rpm but never really comes to life. There's almost no engine braking, also in common with a twist-and-go.

No scooter would attract as much attention though. Stopping for lunch in a village in the mountains, a crowd of Chinese tourists spent 10 minutes photographing the Spyders, then another 10 taking pictures of each other sitting on them. Expect a copy at the Chongqing Show this autumn.

Neither is any maxi scooter this well equipped. The screen is easily adjusted by simply pulling it up or down. For a while I enjoyed having the radio on. Then I walked in on myself and saw a middle-aged man on a colossal cream weirdmobile, with Robbie Williams blaring out, and turned it off.

I'm also not sure any scooter is as fun. Cornering is addictive, and plainly unlike anything you'll experience on a two-wheeler. Not better. Just good in a different way.
That's the over-riding impression created by the Spyder.

Whatever you call it, you're unlikely to dismiss it as a vehicle that should not have been made. It works. It seems extremely well made. Everything did what it was supposed to. Nothing came off in my hand. It's as comfortable as anything I've ever ridden.

If I was in the market for a £24,000 tourer, such as the Goldwing, for holidays, I'd seriously consider this as an alternative, though fuel consumption could be better, at about 35mpg, with a range of around 160 miles.

The main thing that might put me off though is the fear that I would no longer be a motorcyclist. Because, as you will remember, the Spyder ST is not a motorcycle.

Specifications
Engine: Rotax 998cc v-twin, electronic fuel injection. Five gears plus reverse. Available as semi-automatic with paddle shifters and no clutch, or manual clutch and foot shifter. Belt drive.
Maximum power: 100bhp (claimed)
Peak torque: 80lbft @ 5000rpm (claimed).
Chassis: Tubular steel ‘surround spar’ design. tadpole configuration, described as ‘Y architecture’ by BRP. Anti-roll bar. New for 2013.  
Dry weight: 362-392kg
Price: £18,999-£21,099
Available: Mid-March