Middle-of-the-Road Warrior

Staff speed demon Rachel Levitt hops aboard the Spyder, and finds the three-wheeled motorcycle might play it a little too safe.


Though I like to think of myself as open-minded, I set out to test-drive the new Can-Am Spyder with a few admitted prejudices. For starters, this 990cc three-wheeler is billed as a performance motorbike, but the Spyder’s heritage (it comes from the same company as the Ski-Doo) doesn’t exactly make it hard-core. And while a $15,000 price tag is reasonable for an entry-level Harley or a damn nice Ducati, it’s steep for a novelty trike that would be laughed out of Laconia, where heated handgrips are for sissies and three wheels are an even tougher sell.

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In rolling out the Canadian-made Spyder—which debuts this month in just 11 U.S. markets, including Massachusetts—Bombardier Recreational Products is betting there are quite a few folks hungry for an open-air ride minus the risk of body-slamming the road. Honda Gold Wing types, for instance, the ones who cruise up to Maine with photos of grandkids wedged into the windshield. Or those riders who are just better suited to the stability of three wheels, such as the spatially challenged and the less than perfectly balanced.

As with a two-wheeler, you’ll need a motorcycle license to operate the Spyder in Massachusetts—and that’s where much of the similarity ends. In my view, classic rides have two wheels for good reason, and not just because Marlon Brando and Peter Fonda looked cool cruising with their long legs up on pegs. At almost 5 feet wide (only 7 inches less than a Mini Cooper), the Spyder has no hope of splitting lanes during rush-hour jams or slipping into not-quite parking spaces. And where two-wheelers can corner hard—oh, the feeling of touching ground with a toe, confronting centrifugal forces with a strong lean to one side!—this bike is much happier going straight, and needs serious handlebar cranking to turn. True, you can try to pull a wheel off the asphalt, but given the Spyder’s safety-first sensibility (with antilock braking, traction control, and other systems designed to keep all tires firmly on the ground), it feels silly to push for such thrills. You’re fighting against the very technology that makes it so pricey in the first place.


Belying its protective nature, the Spyder has a rather aggressive appearance, with one big back tire extending out like a dragster’s and a lean, waspish body. Up front, it’s all ATV: bulky with lots of fairing (though the 1.6 cubic feet of cargo space will make other riders drool with envy). Surprisingly, as I navigate the city streets, my fears that tough Boston bikers will jeer at this oddball machine turn out to be unfounded. Guys of all ages stop and gape. They recognize its Ski-Doo lineage, and that’s classy enough for most. One onlooker even says he wants to buy one for his son; it’s safer than a bike yet passably cool, he figures.

When I take it up to 136 km/h (it’s Canadian, officer—no mph here!), the Spyder does hold impressively steady. But it’s a hollow victory—like stepping on the gas in an SUV. Sure the power is there, sure you can get the speed, but for what? In the deliciously dangerous sport of motorcycling, what the Spyder does best is spin its rider into a high-tech web of safety. For me, added frills will never compensate for lost thrills.