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20/08/2009 at 12:10

Can-Am Spyder – a trike for bikers

Four Spyders in a rowMention a motor-tricycle to most people and they will think of some kind of novel disabled person’s vehicle. The Can-Am Spyder, however, is nothing like that. A high-performance “recreational vehicle” that you can drive with a car licence, the Spyder is built along the same lines as the old Morgan trike of the 1940s, except that rather than sitting inside a car-type cabin you sit on it, as on a motorcycle.

The Spyder uses the same successful Rotax 990cc V-twin engine as the Aprilia Grande Mille motorcycle, which probably accounts for its startling performance even in this detuned form. Capable of around 120 mph, it makes use of all modern vehicle safety and performance-management concepts to provide a highly unusual riding (or driving) experience. Equipped with ABS, power steering, linked brakes and optional automatic gearbox, it is a novel blend of modern motorcycle and car technologies.

I was only able to test the Spyder at residential area speeds around Kempton Park racecourse, however despite the requirement for motorcycle riding ability and clothing, there were some intriguing differences to riding the Spyder. For example, you quickly discover that leaning into the bend as you turn is the wrong thing to do, making the turn extremely hard work. Rather, you had to lean away from the bend, almost in the same way as a boat turns. Then hey presto, everything becomes easy!

Another peculiarity was how to deal with sleeping policemen. The ideal sort, I quickly discovered, were the type with a gap in the middle. Then you aimed the two front wheels so that they ride over the hump while the single rear wheel went through the gap. Try and do it the other way round and the rear wheel, which is almost underneath your seat, would catapult you into the air if you went over the bump too fast. Not the best aid to anyone’s digestion!

Being quite firmly suspended, the trickiest thing to get used to was the trike’s tendency to yaw from side to side if one front wheel hit a bump or hollow that left the other front wheel unaffected. This produced a disconcerting tendency on my part to move the steering as I held on to the handlebars. After half an hour though, I was getting used to this and found it much less of a problem.

One of the most enjoyable elements of the test ride was also one of the most simple. Coming to a halt at traffic lights and roundabouts and not having to put your foot down sounds very obvious, but was a novelty nonetheless. And car-type facilities like a parking brake so you could park the Spyder on a slope, and a reverse gear for getting out of tight parking areas, were both well thought-out features.

In sum, I enjoyed my test and would happily go for a more extended trip. I thought the Spyder would be ideal for anyone who enjoys biking but for age or infirmity reasons is no longer able to ride a motorcycle. You’re still out in the open air, still able to see more than in a car.

But while beautiful to look at, the Spyder is not yet all that practical. Despite being a three-wheeler, storage space is minimal and the optional panniers a bit of a joke. With some serious designed-in luggage space however, and perhaps an optional trailer fitment, and it would have the makings of serious alternative to both the car and the motorcycle!

The Can-Am Spyder is made by BRP (Bombardier Recreational Vehicles) of Quebec, Canada, and costs from £12,000 upwards.

© Philip Hunt, 2009.

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