Three-wheeling around town

Can-Am Spyder motorcycle has 'Y-shape' that offers stability, but it'll cost you

November 06, 2008|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

It looks like something Mad Max would ride, but only if he cleaned up his act and traded in his dirty police uniform for a nice all-weather cruising jacket, pressed jeans and a carbon-fiber helmet with Bluetooth.

Oh, and only if he was a stockbroker in, say, Roland Park instead of a burned-out, tormented loner in dystopian Australia.

It's called the Can-Am Spyder, a futuristic-looking three-wheeled motorcycle manufactured by Bombardier Recreational Products Inc., or BRP, the Canadian company that also makes Ski-Doo snowmobiles and Sea-Doo personal watercraft.

The Spyder is billed as a revolutionary new vehicle that offers the wind-in-your-face thrill of motorcycle riding, but with enhanced safety features - two wheels up front, anti-lock disc brakes, a computerized stability control system - designed to make riders feel safer.

And it's being marketed to "weekend warrior" types who like to get outdoors and play with their big-boy toys on their days off.

"Nothing is more valuable than your playtime," it says in the Spyder brochure.

But in this case, play doesn't come cheap. The manufacturer's suggested retail price on the Spyder is $15,500 for a base model. And you need a motorcycle license to ride it in every state except California and Delaware.

Philippe Normand, BRP marketing manager for the Spyder, says the vehicle provides a "balance between performance and peace of mind."

The target audience, he said, includes snowmobile and personal-watercraft users looking for a similar experience, only on the road, and people seeking the adrenaline rush of the motorcycle experience, "but without any unnecessary risks."

He said the Spyder should also appeal to existing motorcyclists who do a lot of "touring," or long rides, because the vehicle has a front storage compartment for luggage.

BRP is a private company and does not release sales figures. But Normand said some 2,500 Spyders were sold immediately after its official launch in January 2007. By last month, the company had expanded its sales force to 35 states and 50 countries.

"Right now, we need to increase our production rate, because we can't keep up with the demand," Normand said. "We're really happy with the [response] so far. It's beyond expectations."

On a recent test-drive in the parking lot of a Baltimore County mall - under the watchful eye of a security patrol - a novice found the Spyder surprisingly easy to ride.

Powered by a Rotax 990-cc V-twin engine, the Spyder can reach a top speed of 110 mph, and it goes from zero-to-60 in 4.5 seconds.

But even a relatively sedate 30-mph ride around the mall offered the novice a chance to experience the Spyder's safety features, including the "Traction Control System," which detects lift and slippage of the wheels and automatically corrects for both.

What newcomers to motorcycling will appreciate most is the "Y-shaped geometry" of the vehicle (two wheels in front and one in back), said Rich Gonnello, the Spyder representative offering the test rides.

This, he said, eases the fear of tipping over that most novices have.

"You have stability at rest and stability in motion," he said. "You don't have to worry about balance, so you can concentrate on the clutch and foot-selector - and the ride itself."

the can-am spyder

What is it: A motorcycle with two wheels up front

Who is it for: Weekend warriors

Who makes it: BRP Inc.

Cost: MSRP is $15,500 for a base model

More information: go to brp.com.

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