Bikes we love

Love for the Can-Am Spyder

Can-Am Spyder F3

The UK motorcycling community hates trikes. Actually, that scorn extends beyond motorcycling circles. I once heard someone who doesn’t ride describe trikes as “belonging to that section of motoring marked: ‘Only For Men With Ponytails.'”

This colours my own attitude toward trikes, of course; we are affected by our surroundings, regardless of whether we want to be. And I will admit my own opinion of traditional two-wheels-in-the-back trikes is particularly negative. I think this is because they remind me of Big Wheels: transport of choice for discerning 4-year-olds. And when I see an adult on a Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide or converted Honda Gold Wing I can’t help but imagine them to have the same traits as a 4-year-old: blindly self-focused, incapable of intelligent conversation, not terribly coordinated and inclined to wet the bed.

For some reason, though, my opinion changes if you switch things around and put the two wheels at the front, creating the Can-Am Spyder. Does this make sense? No. It’s just how I think.

I’m not sure Brits share my view. According to official government statistics, Can-Am sold just 31 Spyder vehicles here last year. That’s not a lot. Admittedly, a lack of dealerships may also be part of the problem. Can-Am has just four in the whole of the country. But then, MV-Agusta also has just four dealerships and managed to sell 184 models last year.

Maybe low sales are more to do with the fact that a Spyder is so utterly pointless in a UK context. With its 5-foot-wide stance, it is too broad to filter and as such serves effectively as a compact car. It’s a Vauxhall Corsa with three wheels. But for the fact that the cheapest Spyder costs roughly £6,000 more than a standard Corsa, lacks the weather protection of a Corsa, can’t haul nearly the amount of stuff or people as a Corsa, and gets just half the mpg of a Corsa. Top Gear described the Spyder as having “none of the benefits of a car and all the disadvantages of a bike.”

Can-Am Spyder RS

The vehicle apparently sells pretty well in North America and Southern Europe, though — places that have more sun and more open roads. And when I ponder what it would be like to own a Spyder I always picture myself back home.

I alluded to this in my post about the Ducati Scrambler: the idea of heading off on some epic, meandering journey a la Steve and Sash. One of the variants of this fantasy is the idea of Jenn and I trundling across the North American continent on a ridiculous behemoth of a machine that could hold all the things two people need to live on the road indefinitely, and with the sort of weight to resist the toppling winds that rip across the great flat spaces of the Plains States, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, et. al. Something like an Indian Roadmaster or BMW K1600GTL usually comes to mind.

But this past summer, Jenn and I were in the United States visiting family and two things happened in relatively quick succession that got me thinking about such big bikes. Both happened at the Minneapolis Farmers Market (another of the quadrillion things about the Twin Cities that makes it better than wherever you live).

First, I spotted a woman riding a Can-Am Spyder RS. I had yet to see one of these in person and was taken by the fact that: a) it is massive; and b) it is a lot less stupid-looking than I had thought. I mean, a lot. To the point that it looks strangely… cool? I’m pretty sure that’s not the word I want to use, but I can’t think of one that it is more appropriate. The woman steering that dry-land snowmobile through the heavy farmers market traffic looked… cool.

The second thing happened a few minutes later, as my dad, Jenn, and I were walking from one row of stalls to the next. Misjudging a curb slightly, my dad caught his foot and performed a spectacular Dolph Ziggler-esque fall onto the pavement. It wasn’t just a stumble; it was as if he had launched himself to the ground.

It has to be said that Dad has never been athletic. He tells a story of himself as a chubby boy at a swimming pool wearing an inner tube that fit rather snugly. At one point he got turned upside down in the water, and lacked the physical wherewithal to right himself. A lifeguard had to jump in to save him from drowning. Now almost 65 years old, he suffers the same low-level clumsiness as always but increasingly lacks the agility and reflexes to correct such missteps. So, when he caught his foot and started to fall, he wasn’t quick enough to bring the other foot forward and catch himself; he just went crashing down.

He ended up with a massive gash down his right forearm, another down his left knee and shin, and a few minor cuts on his hands. Fortunately, a paramedic team was stationed at the market and they were able to patch him up with a stack of bandages and some gentle humour.

Can-Am Spyder RT

You see where I’m going with this, right? If I want to keep riding past retirement, and especially if I want to live out that “Jenn And I Ride Across North America” fantasy, I need to accept that at some point in the future my balance, agility and reflexes might not be up to the task of manoeuvring a massive two-wheeled machine without incident. And at that point I will be left with just three options: give up riding, have expensive and morally questionable surgery to transplant my brain into the body of a 20-year-old, or get a three-wheeled bike.

The third option is the most viable. And because I find the aesthetics of a Spyder to be strangely appealing I’m OK with that. In some small way I look forward to it. I can see us now: wearing matching Roadcrafters and modular helmets with intercom systems, happily cruising across the plains of Kansas or badlands of the Dakotas on a Spyder RT — a Wall Drug bumper sticker affixed to the top box.

But why wait until my autumn years? Jenn and I are still hoping to move to Minnesota in 2019 and I often ponder how I will deal with the fact it is a place that can see snow for 7 months out of the year. Do I just fall in with the fairweather majority, or do I become a motorcycling legend like Chris Luhman of Everyday Riding? He lives in the Twin Cities and rides through the winter on a Ural Patrol.

There’s no denying the ready-for–a-zombie-apocalypse coolness of a Ural, but for me I’d prefer a Spyder as the tool for riding through the months of King Boreas‘ reign. It has traction control and apparently (because people in Canada have done it) it’s possible to put winter car tires on the thing. So riding in winter kind of makes sense. After all, the Spyder is, as I said, a dry-land snowmobile; it is made by a snowmobile company.

So, ride on all your Spyder riders. You look ridiculous but who cares? Maybe one day I’ll join you.

Can-Am Spyder snowplow. Because why not?

On a related note, it’s been reported that quite a large percentage of the people buying Can-Am Spyders are women and individuals who have never ridden a motorcycle before (in many countries — the UK included — you do not need motorcycle qualifications to ride one, just a driver’s license). I think this is great. Generally, I think that anything putting more motorcyclists or quasi-motorcyclists on the road is a good thing because it leads to normalisation, greater overall awareness by other road users and, ultimately more and better choices for consumers.