Taking A Can-Am Spyder On A 725-Mile Hot Lap

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it

Can Am Spyder RT S static 3/4 view
The Can-Am Spyder RT-S retails for $32,199.Gaz Boulanger

Outdoor pleasure pursuits come in all shapes and sizes, and when two or more are melded together there's bound to be strong opinions bandied about. To prepare for a feature story on the 10-year anniversary of the Can-Am Spyder, I decided it was best to spend time riding one on familiar northern California roads. While there was personal skepticism prior to riding a Spyder, one fact speaks for itself: more than 100,000 have been sold since its introduction in February 2007.

Getting a Spyder to ride was easy, thanks to the team at Spirit Motorcycles in San Jose. Owner Martin Chirotarrab worked with parent company Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) to arrange a five-day loaner, specifically a RT-S. Mama Jean and I were riding to the Moto Envy Show in Eureka, California, with plans to roll up I-5 on Friday, heading west across the twisty SR 299 to spend the night in Eureka. On Sunday we'd ride south for home on US 101, covering 725 miles in three days.

view from behind a can am motorcycle
Mama Jean’s view of the Fernbridge spanning the Eel River near Ferndale.Jean Boulanger

With our limited riding window, I decided a nice mix of straight, flat, steep and curvy roads was the best litmus test for the Spyder and its virgin riders.

For the riders choosing three wheels over two, balance issues and operational simplicity certainly trump the mad alchemy you and I call motorcycling. And I say God bless the Can-Am Spyder rider, the women and men who seek adventure and wind outside the cage.

Classified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a three-wheeled motorcycle, BRP recommends having a motorcycle or three-wheel license before test riding or buying a Spyder. Even with my extensive motorcycle and snowmobile riding experience, it was a little challenging on the Can-Am at first. It looks and feels like a motorcycle, but the controls have been simplified: one brake (right foot), no clutch or shifter lever (left side paddle), throttle, and a reverse gear. That’s it.

Two wheels up front means paying more attention on the curves, because there's no need to countersteer or lean like on a motorcycle. The RT-S is powered by a liquid-cooled Rotax 1330 in-line, three-cylinder, six-speed engine with traction control and ride-by-wire throttle control, kicking out 96 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm with 115 hp. No slouch for covering the miles swiftly.

gaz and jean on their can am motorcycle
The Eureka police officer pulled up as I was parking the Spyder outside the Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe. I quickly thought I might have done something wrong, but all he wanted to do was take our picture.Gaz Boulanger

My initial feeling on the Spyder was that I was back at Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay, riding my favorite bumper car. But instead of aiming for other vehicles with glee, I was sitting stock straight in comfort with Jean at my back, watching redwoods fly by. Adjusting to a three-wheeled motorcycle took an hour or so of instinctively grabbing for a front brake or clutch lever, but riding the Spyder became second nature.

With one foot brake for the front, downshifting/engine braking was paramount when riding through curves. The paddle thumb shifter was swift on the upshift, and the same side index finger toggle shifter helped when overriding the semi-automatic transmission. Forty-one gallons of storage space was more than ample, and we both appreciated the heated grips on our early morning departures.

Overall, my body and mind yearned to be riding a two wheeler. I enjoy leaning hard into curves and working both feet and hands throughout my riding. For the riders choosing three wheels over two, balance issues and operational simplicity certainly trump the mad alchemy you and I call motorcycling. And I say God bless the Can-Am Spyder rider, the women and men who seek adventure and wind outside the cage.

Earlier this year, four Can-Am Spyder riders travelled 11,000 km through Russia and 8,000 km in Europe over 41 days, proving that the machine is more than just for the beginner.

Look for my feature story early in 2018 about the genesis of the Can-Am Spyder and the people who made it happen in 2007, plus a technical timeline of its evolution and input from proud owners and technicians.