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Is the Can-Am Spyder The Ultimate Three-Wheeled Vehicle?

Three-wheelers are cool. They occupy such a narrow niche and yet the segment offers such an insane variety of vehicles that you could theoretically outfit a reasonable two-car driveway with only three-wheelers.

Fundamentally though, there are two main categories within the three-wheeled nice: motorcycles with an extra wheel and cars that are missing a wheel. Vehicles like the Vanderhall Venice, the Morgan Three-Wheeler, and the Polaris Slingshot would fit the latter category; they look like sports cars with a wheel missing and they’re no more difficult to operate than any other car.

The Can-Am Spyder falls into the other category: motorcycles with an extra wheel. It joins such names as the Piaggio MP3 and countless aftermarket Harley Davidson trike conversions. It’s a unique product, and it’s been very popular among people who have always wanted the freedom of a motorcycle but for one reason or another can’t (or don’t want to) ride a bike with two wheels. Despite it having conventional motorbike controls, like handlebars and a twist-grip throttle, no motorcycle license is required to drive one in some regions. This might not apply to your area though, so check your local laws before you rush out to buy one of these.

But is the Can-Am Spyder the best three-wheeler out there? Is it a better toy than car-based trikes? Can it hold its own against sporty motorcycles? Or is it just a compromised machine that leaves no one satisfied? Let’s find out.

Styling: A Road-Going Snowmobile?

There are three distinct versions of the Can-Am Spyder that you can get: a bare-bones model called the "Ryker," a more sporty, forward-leaning model called the "F3," and the fully-dressed "Touring" or "RT" version like you see pictured above.

Mentally, it's hard to separate the distinct shape of the front end from decades of snowmobile design largely pushed by BRP, makers of the Spyder as well as the iconic "Ski-Doo" line of snowmobiles. Replace the two front wheels with skis and the rear wheel with treads, and you've got a fully winterized Spyder. Sort of.

But that design has people torn. Motorcycle purists don't like it because "it can't be a real bike with three wheels," but people who are new to bikes or open-air motoring in general seem to like it. In fact, back in  2012, 27% of first-time Spyder owners had never previously owned a motorcycle.

The sporty F3 model is more aggressive-looking than the Touring, and it's the one to go for if you want to push your Spyder hard. You can also equip any model you want the way you want it, apart from the Ryker which is limited to only a single trim option for different wheels and a second seat.

None of the three options are particularly handsome vehicles – they're all designs that your eyes need time to get used to. They're certainly not the ugliest motorcycles. Perhaps the close resemblance to a snowmobile plays tricks with your head, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder with this one. Whether you love or hate the looks of these things, they do have a very strong tendency to turn heads on the road.

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This is another area where the Spyder walks a fine line between car and motorcycle performance, or more closely, ATV and motorcycle performance. Its chassis design is derived from quad bikes, but without the high-speed instability those death machines tend to suffer from. Having a single rear wheel in the back along with long-travel front suspension allows for some lean and roll in the corners, and BRP engineered quite a sophisticated traction and stability control system to keep everything in check. You'd be hard-pressed to lose control of a Can-Am Spyder.

The Spyder has two distinct engines which can come in different configurations. The smallest engine 600 cc inline-twin, which BRP says is the accessible performance option. You'll find that engine in the base Ryker, which also has an optional 900 cc inline-3 engine. The bigger lump also gets you Eco and Sport driving modes, which allow for better fuel economy and less traction control intrusion, respectively.

Move up to the big boy F3 or RT models, and you'll have only one choice to make: 105 or 115 horsepower? Both models come with a 1.3l inline-3 "Rotax" engine which BRP uses in a number of vehicles, including its jet-skis and snowmobiles.

In terms of transmissions, the base Ryker gets a CVT "twist and go" transmission, once again very similar to BRP's snowmobile transmissions. The F3 gets either a full manual with clutch and foot shifter or a semi-automatic six-speed gearbox with handlebar-mounted shift paddles. The full-fat RT model only gets the semi-auto, and all transmissions have a reverse gear to compensate for all the added weight compared to a conventional bike.

You can option the F3 and RT models with self-levelling rear air suspension to compensate for the added weight of a passenger or cargo. You can also spec all kinds of goodies to keep you entertained on a long journey: heated grips, GPS, smartphone connectivity, a 6-speaker audio system and even power steering. You'd have to get a very nice Honda Goldwing to match a feature list like that on two wheels.

RELATED: These 5 Three-Wheelers Are Surprisingly Fun To Drive (And 5 That Are Beyond Dangerous)

Value And Competition

The Can-Am Spyder is in a class of its own. It doesn't really fit in with three-wheeled cars since it is not a car-based design. There really is nothing in common between this and a Reliant Robin. It's not meant to replace a car, nor to replace a bike. This is for first-time would-be motorcycle buyers who want the extra safety or versatility of a three-wheeled machine without the image of a trike-converted Harley Davidson. Or, perhaps it's for snowmobile owners who love to ride their sleds in winter but don't live in the Yukon, so they need something else for the warm months.

BRP clearly knows that the Spyder would appeal to first-time riders, and as such it offers its own learn to ride program. Whoever it's for, we need to examine it as a vehicle the same way we'd look at bikes and cars. How much does it cost, what are they like to own, and more importantly, is it the "ultimate" three-wheeled vehicle?

They're certainly not cheap. The Ryker model was introduced to provide a more cost-friendly option, but even so it starts around $12,000. F3 models start at $20,000 and the RT goes for $28,000 and up. That's as much as a nicely-spec'd Golf, but it's surprisingly competitive against other high-end touring and sport bikes.

The Spyder has also been around for 13 years now, so there are plenty of cheaper second-hand ones to shop. The lowest price we could find at the time of writing was $6,000, which is a few grand more than some truly cheap old bikes, but for a "summer toy" a Spyder can be a surprisingly useful vehicle. BRP also claims low maintenance requirements and markets its experience building off-road vehicles as contributing to the Spyder's durability.

The Spyder makes for a great commuter, it's easily more fuel-efficient than any small car, and it can also be the vehicle that bridges the gap between the car you have and the bike you want but you can't have, for whatever reason.

The Can-Am Spyder is not the “ultimate” three-wheeled vehicle, but it is the ultimate first foray into motorcycles for anyone wanting to learn not only how to operate a bike, but also how to ride it safely in traffic. The extra stability of the third wheel makes it much easier to learn on and build your confidence operating a motorcycle, but it also won’t fall apart if you start to push the limits and throw it into corners.

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This electric unicycle incorporates motorcycle-like steering geometry that uses accelerometers and gyros to accelerate, brake, and help you stay balanced. Anticipated to reach market in early 2013 at $4500, the Ryno offers a 20-mph top speed and an estimated cruising range of 20 miles from its lithium iron phosphate battery. Christopher Hoffman, who heads the Portland, Oreg.–based outfit, says that unlike the Segway, his creation is "very gentle and responsive, and feels like a part of your body. It's weird." We'll say.

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BRP Can-Am Spyder RS-S

Brought to you by the same folks who build Ski-Doo snowmobiles, this so-called backwards trike has become a cult favorite on urban roads. Plenty of die-hard two-wheelers still disparage the three-wheeled set, but the Spyder's RS-S spinoff offers gas-charged Fox Racing front suspension that works in conjunction with ABS, power steering, and traction and stability control hooked into a 998-cc V-twin Rotax engine pumping 106 hp. This Canadian-built oddity is quite possibly the techiest way to hit the road on three wheels and starts at $16,499.

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Uno Cycle

Ben Gulak was only 16 when, after visiting smog-choked China, he dreamed up this eco-conscious transportation solution. But the two-wheeled concept never made it to market. The inventive Canadian has since enrolled at MIT and developed decidedly more aggressive recreational products, such as the DTV (Dual Track Vehicle) Shredder, which looks like the love child of a Segway and a tank. Inspired by the success of Bombardier (the company behind the BRP Can-Am Spyder), Gulak says his Boston-based BPG Werks has presold 5000 Shredders. Still, we wouldn't be surprised if his Uno concept somehow reappears down the line. We never forget our first love, do we?

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Peraves Montoracer

This sleek, Swiss-built bullet has automotive aspirations but a sportbike soul. Using a retractable rear tire that acts as a stabilizer when stationary, the Monotracer can reach lean angles of up to 52 degrees in turns. Claiming complete wind protection and air-conditioned comfort, thanks to a carbon and Kevlar monocoque, the slim-profile ride is powered by a four-cylinder BMW motorcycle powerplant capable of achieving 65 mpg at a constant 55 mph. More interesting to pilot than a car but coming with no helmet requirements or safety gear traditionally associated with two-wheelers, the Monotracer promises a futuristic—if pricey—way to get around.

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It may have all the visual charm of a pizza box, but this battery-powered square scooter actually incorporates some clever design features, including an all-aluminum, weld-free chassis, and a 10-pound motor embedded in a wheel that doubles as a heat sink. This hip-to-be-square scooter is so unconventionally enticing that we also featured it in our recent scooter roundup. And while it costs an extra $599 on top of the $3995 asking price to get a battery that doubles the maximum range to 80 miles, we still can't wait until this Dubai-funded, Portland, Ore.–built ride hits streets and sidewalks in the latter part of this year.

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Piaggio MP3

Piaggio's oddly named MP3 has absolutely nothing to digital music, except for the way it blasts itself past slower moving traffic when roads turn twisty. Thanks to a parallelogram suspension and two front wheels, the MP3 exhibits a shocking amount of grip when it's leaned into a turn. And while its oddball looks certainly aren't for everyone, the MP3's underseat storage and tall windshield make it a surprisingly effective commute weapon. You'll pay a premium for an MP3—$7199 for the 250, $8699 for the 400, and $8899 for the 500—but such is the cost of originality.

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Campagna T-Rex 14RR

A 197-hp Kawasaki four-cylinder propels the flagship model to 60 mph in a voracious 3.9 seconds, and its open-air cockpit makes it one loud, screaming beast. But like its carnivorous dinosaur namesake, this three-wheeler is a tad one-dimensional—excellent at devouring pavement but not for much else. For a mellower, everyday ride, look no further than its Harley-Davidson V-twin- powered stablemate, the V13R Roadster.

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Sbarro Pendolauto Concept

It may be old news in an ever-changing world of transportation technology, but this concept that debuted at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show still captures our fancy with its clear wheels, form-fitting body, and leaning four-wheel design. Specs were sparse when this one-off was unveiled, and now that it's faded into obscurity, we just want Franco Sbarro's whimsical creation even more.

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Boss Hoss Gangsta Trike

In a world obsessed with fuel economy, it's strangely reassuring that someone's still building wholly unreasonable fuel-sucking throwbacks. Packing a 4.8-liter or 6.2-liter V-8—the latter driving 445 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque to 275-mm rear tires—this big-boned anachronism offers so much of a good thing, it's downright bad. Add its lazily sculpted "trunk" to the equation and you've got yourself one stubbornly un-P.C. way to cruise down the highway, so long as you're carrying a passenger who doesn't mind being seen on a three-wheeler that makes a Humvee seem sensible.

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Evolve Xenon Lightcycle

If you're a deep-pocketed Tron geek, you may find it impossible to resist this $55,000 Lightcycle replica built by the same folks responsible for the ultra socially conscious Evolve electric scooters. Clad in conceptual bodywork and OLED light tape, this lithium-ion-battery-powered ride features huge, hubless 32-inch wheels and a 100 mph top speed. We're guessing the target market for this futuristic ride is more concerned about sweet sound effects and styling details than commuter friendliness or ergonomics, though Evolve says it's phasing out this model and working on a "more rideable, practical" version in the coming months. Costume sold separately.

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Bonus: PAL-V One

How do you one-up this eclectic list of alternacycles? Perhaps there's no better way than by featuring the Dutch-built PAL-V One as the pièce de résistance. Short for Personal Air and Land Vehicle, this leaning three-wheeler takes aeronautical form when its rotor unfolds and its tail extends, transforming it from land cruiser to high-flier at the drop of a hat. Currently in prototype form and expected to become commercially available in 2014, this dual-purpose ride looks like a scaled-down version of an Apache helicopter. Now, that's a futuristic ride we can stand behind.

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In 2007, BRP put its three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder on the market and sold 2500 units in the U.S. By 2015, it had sold 1 million units globally. In 2017, it estimated the U.S. three-wheel industry to be good for approximately 40,000 sales a year, and that industry includes competition from historic names like Harley-Davidson and Morgan. Some bikers scoff at the three-legged mechanical portmanteau called an autocycle, but they're here to stay; in 2020, BRP more than doubled its 2019 volume in the U.S.

Maybe you're considering joining the growing crowd but aren't sure which saddle to throw a leg over, here is a brief history of three-wheelers and the people who love them.

The Forebears

Indian Dispatch-Tow: Indian created its three-wheeler to help a Packard automobile dealer who didn’t want to send two mechanics to deliver customer cars; he needed something a single mechanic could tow behind the customer’s car, then ride back to the shop. The Dispatch-Tow went on sale in 1931 with a 45-cubic-inch V-twin and a claimed top speed of 65 miles per hour. Produced intermittently until 1952, they’re usually found in museums or rotting in barns. Dispatch-Tow owners are inclined to bushy mustaches and riding in loafers. They also own an Airedale named “Champ,” and a bank.

Harley-Davidson Servi-Car: Trying to outdo Indian as well as lure buyers during the Great Depression, Harley created the Servi-Car in 1932. The 45-cubic-inch, 24-hp three-wheeler was instantly successful, toiling as utility vehicles for 41 years for everyone from the military to drug store delivery boys. Servi-Car aficionados own at least one leather hat, a drawer full of black concert T-shirts, the “Band of Brothers” box set, and a period-correct costume—maybe policeman, maybe ice-cream man—to match a Servi-Car livery.

VW Trike: Hot rod legend and “Rat Fink” father Ed “Big Daddy” Roth turned a Servi-Car into the VW Trike by bolting a set of Honda forks and a seat to the 36-hp engine and rear end of a 1957 Beetle. Roth inspired a ton of copycats, the resulting horde of flamboyantly customized Wacky Races trikes hooking Elvis and Hells Angels. VW Trike riders have at least three leather vests, pasts they won’t talk about to strangers, a Full Metal Jacket DVD, and a wooden bat or a crowbar christened with names we can’t print.

The Reboots

Motor Trike

Lehman, Motor Trike, and Roadsmith Trikes: Instead of turning a Beetle drivetrain into a three-wheeler, these companies started with the front end of a motorcycle and created kits to add a two-wheeled rear end. Lehman is no more, but Motor Trike and Roadsmith still convert tourers and cruisers produced by the major motorcycle brands. The modern equivalent of owning a Bricklin kit car in the 1970s, owners keep shelves full of Yacht Rock CDs, are adored by their nieces and nephews, and have a backyard grill that costs as much as a good used car.

Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide and Freewheeler: Harley returned to the trike fray in 2009 with its Tri-Glide models. Available with a 114- or 117-cubic-inch V-twin and up to 125 pound-feet of torque, the Tri-Glide yokes a Street Glide-looking front end to a living room sectional. The Freewheeler debuted in 2015 with cruiser looks and “mini ape hanger” handlebars. Aimed at those seeking the Harley experience without having to keep 800 pounds upright, owners have easy manners, a ton of dad jokes, excellent prescription drug benefits, leather chaps over acid-wash denim, iron butts betrayed by back and knee pain, and friends who ride the two-wheelers these trikes are based on.

The Outsider


Yamaha Niken: A motorcycle version of the Piaggio MP3 500 scooter, Yamaha took its Tracer 900GT two-wheeler and put two scooter-sized 15-inch wheels up front, spaced only 16 inches apart. An 847-cc inline-three drives a normal-sized rear wheel by way of a six-speed manual trans. The roughly 600-pound Niken rides like a motorcycle, leans like a motorcycle, and will fall over like a motorcycle if you don’t put a foot down at a stop. The extra contact patch up front provides superb grip in wet conditions, the front suspension keeps both front wheels planted even on nasty ground. The Niken is best for those who regularly ride in rain, on the pro cycling World Tour, or in conflict zones, and who crave being asked, “What is that?” 38 times a day.

The Modern Autocycles

BRP Can-Am: The Can-Am Spyder debuted 14 years ago and we tested one because, well, that's what we do and we rode the updated F3 when it launched in 2016. It's a three-wheeler laid out and operated like the snowmobiles BRP also makes. The Can-Am lineup now counts three models in ten trims, Rotax engines ranging from a 600-cc with 50 horsepower and 37 pound-feet to a 1.3-liter with 115 horsepower and 96 pound-feet. Feels sorta like a motorcycle up high, rides sorta like a car down low. The base transmission in the Ryker model is a CVT, but the uplevel F3 and RT models come with a 6-speed automated manual. All the braking is done with a single foot-operated control. Owners want gnats in their teeth, but also stability and tons of storage, and have a fetish for 12-in-1 appliances like the Bacon Press & Griddle.


Morgan 3 Wheeler: This one ends production in 2021 while Morgan tools up a new version with a European-emissions-compliant engine. We’re including it because it, like all three-wheeled machines, offers a very unique experience and Morgan is the king of the old school, having built three-wheelers from 1909 to 1953, then resuming the trade in 2011. The model from Malvern, England came with a scone and a flat cap, and was the only three-wheeler that allowed a white-scarfed driver to say, “Tut tut!” and not be ignored or beat to a pulp.

Vanderhall: The Provo, Utah company puts out three-wheelers named after iconic California locales, no doubt in part because a three-wheeler requires no special license in Cali. Built on an aluminum chassis, the Venice and Carmel are powered by GM-sourced four-bangers, either a 175-hp 1.4-liter or a 194-hp 1.5-liter. The electric Edison is motivated by two 70-hp electric motors. Owners played water polo in college, still wear sun visors, have Yellow Labradors with matching goggles, and both owner and dog are named “Chip.”

The Wild Ones


Polaris Slingshot: If the Slingshot had one more wheel, it would be close to a KTM X-Bow, but without the carbon-fiber tub. Infinitely customizable and so low it could “high center on a hickory nut,” as one commenter put it, Polaris unveiled plenty of updates for 2021. These include a new, in-house 2.0-liter inline-four producing up to 203 horsepower and 144 pound-feet and an optional automated manual with paddle shifters. Slingshot owners are the Lamborghini buyers of the three-wheeler world, therefore they have never met a neon hue, an aftermarket mod, or one-piece jumpsuit they didn’t like. Someone somewhere is working on a scissor-door kit for this; doors too, we suppose.

Campagna T-Rex:The T-Rex line features Italian carbon-fiber bodywork, a Japanese engine, and intergalactic prices. The 2021 T-Rex RR, which is powered by a Kawasaki-sourced DOHC 1.4-liter inline-four making 208 horsepower and 117 pound-feet of torque, starts at $65,999. If the Slingshot is a Lamborghini, this is three-wheeled Bugatti. Owners have a lot of money, too many cell phones, a tequila collection, an infinity pool just for their pet alligator, a suite at a hotel in town, and sixteen copies of Scarface.

The Wishful Thinkers

Elio Motors and Aptera: Both were founded more than ten years ago promising vastly efficient three-wheelers, both have never sold a vehicle. We’re not saying they won’t ever sell vehicles, but prospective owners do tend to have pockets full of Pokémon cards and believe Pikachu is real.

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