Fear of Falling and the 3 Wheel Motorcycle

Steve Thompson Shares His Opinion About the 3 Wheel Motorcycle Debate

Fear of Falling and the Three-Wheel Deal

Fear of Falling and the Three-Wheel Deal

We’re all motorcyclists, right?

I've been riding the Cycle World long-term-test 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S for almost 18 months, and a couple of things about this 3 wheel motorcycle have become clear. First, it's still thought to be very cool by many people. And second, a lot of motorcyclists apparently think it's some kind of affront to motorcycling—a slap in the face of "real" motorcyclists. One of those guys had his young daughter yell out the window of his Honda on a local Northern California road, "My daddy wants to know if those are your training wheels!" Ha-ha, yuk-yuk.

Easy to see how this slam comes about. The Spyder three-wheeler is being pitched not so subtly at all those folks who always wanted to be motorcyclists but couldn’t for one reason or another—and the most commonly assumed reason on the part of many motorcyclists seems to be that the Spyder Ryders are afraid to lean to turn. Wussies, in short. Not fit for calling themselves motorcyclists, unlike the real Manly Men who ride…well, whatever. Or the real Womanly Women who likewise ride two-wheeled devices.

As one of my favorite political-economic columnists might put it, let's take this apart and see if it holds up. Apart from that issue of having three wheels instead of two, what makes the Spyder not a real motorcycle?

Not leaning to turn. Okay. So here’s a thought-experiment: What if the Spyder did lean to turn? Would it then still not be a real motorcycle? If not, why not?

Opinions will, of course, vary, but my view is that behind all this smoke is the issue of Fear, as in capital-F Fear. The guys making the claim to being Real Motorcyclists (in caps, of course) are claiming the wussies riding three-wheelers of any kind are scared witless by Real Motorcycles because of the possibility of falling down in a turn.

For the sake of argument, let’s allow this to stand; people who fear falling down on bikes might indeed be selecting Spyders because they will have a very tough time falling over. But does that mean that when they launch into the nasty old world of the public highway, they’re somehow exempt from the other threats to life and limb that are part of the powered-two-wheeler package?

Not hardly. You’ll note that there are no airbags or crash cages on a Spyder, trike or sidecar outfit. Ride anything with two or three wheels into the world populated mainly by armored and air-bagged cages and you ride naked, more or less. T-boned at an intersection by a texting kid in a Mustang and it doesn’t matter if you’re on a Harley or a Spyder. Be caught by a left-turning SUV and your chances aren’t much better for emerging without real damage on a three- or two-wheeler. And so on.

Likewise, weather. Hot, cold, rainy, snowy, humid, skin-cracking dry, the Can-Am rider is just as exposed as his/her counterpart on a Suzuki.

In short, the Can-Am Spyder rider is betting just as much on his/her ability to survive the carnage on the highway as the stupid kid stunting on his buddy’s Gixxer, though it is true that the stability of the three-wheeled platform helps in some ways, just as it hinders in others (such as darting through sheet metal as one does in splitting lanes—the Spyder can’t do that).

I often hear guys snort that they’d rather pay what that Spyder costs (and it’s a lot) for a ragtop car. Sure, buy that used Corvette or new Miata and what do you get? Comfort in any weather, assuming you keep the top up to snuff and have an A/C to cool down the hot days with it up. And much better crash protection. The claim is that you also get “out there” in a car even more than on a Spyder or motorcyclist because you don’t need a helmet and can wear lighter clothing, not worrying about abrasion resistance and crash padding. All The Gear All the Time in a ragtop means a T-shirt (optional for males), shorts and sandals, at least if you don’t worry about skin cancer. But are you, in fact, “out there” as much as a Can-Am rider?

Nope. Your lower body is protected by gummint-mandated crash-resistant hardware and software, for starters. And even when you drive in cold weather with the top down, your core and lower body can be toasty warm, thanks to your HVAC system. Moreover, the container of your car’s bodywork still insulates you from the Out There as it does when the top is up. No dog chasing you will nip your ankle in a Miata. And so it goes, one difference after another; if you really think the experience of driving a ragtop is the same as that of riding a three-wheeler, you’re kidding yourself.

So, with all that is the same for the Spyder rider and the Sportster rider, why the continual jabbering about wannabes and wusses? My guess is that it’s just that old cognitive dissonance reduction in action, coupled with the need to protect tribal boundaries against the newcomers.

For as long as I’ve been writing about motorcycles for publication (42 years), the claim has been that we riders are not understood because not enough other people ride out there with us. Well, now there are indeed other people joining us out there, some on three wheels, and it seems long past the time when we just extend a hand and say “Welcome to the ride!” rather than tossing stupid jibes at them.