Earlier this summer, I evaluated a vehicle that changed my mind. I used to not really know where three-wheelers fit into the motorcycle and automotive landscape. They aren’t really cars, but aren’t full motorcycles, either. Then, I spent over 1,200 miles with a 2023 Can-Am Spyder F3-T and now I have achieved clarity. Three-wheelers make perfect sense and I will explain why.
I’ve heard it more than once in the past: “The worst of both worlds.” That’s how many motorcyclists have described riding a Can-Am to me. The criticism there is that Canada’s three-wheelers don’t offer the weather protection of a car and don’t offer the fun leaning action of a motorcycle, either. After living with a 2023 Can-Am Spyder F3-T as my daily driver for three weeks and taking it on a road trip through multiple states, I would call it the opposite and say the Spyder F3-T is almost the best of both worlds.
(Full Disclosure: BRP loaned me a pretty white 2023 Can-Am Spyder F3-T for three weeks to use as I pleased. True to my word above, I didn’t touch any of my cars for the entirety of those three weeks, even when my area saw record rain.)
In my first piece about the Spyder, I called the machine “Canada’s Gold Wing” and now, past the end of my evaluation, that thought has remained bouncing around my head. To date, the Spyder F3-T is one of the most comfortable open-air vehicles I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. The Spyder was so relaxing to ride, I’d rate it higher than many new cars I’ve driven. Yet, it’s also not solely just a BarcaLounger on wheels as the Spyder is surprisingly receptive to hooliganism. This helped me frame the Spyder. It’s not just a ride for someone not into two wheels, but one that’s fun and will get just about everyone approaching you with all sorts of questions and compliments.
Can-Am says it all started 50 years ago in 1973. Launched as a subsidiary of the Bombardier Corporation, Can-Am hit the ground running with a dominating motocross presence. The Canadians seemed unstoppable, even beating out smart Japanese designs on the track.
When Can-Am opened up its shop in Valcourt, Quebec, parent company Bondardier was itself a powerhouse. The company traces its roots to Joseph-Armand Bombardier. Born in Valcourt in 1907, Bombardier was an inventor of snow cars, which allowed rural Canadians to get around in weather that would otherwise isolate them. Later, he would scale down the concept, creating the Ski-Doo snowmobile.
Bombardier passed in 1964, but his company never stopped innovating and creating niches. In 1968, Bombardier took the licensing to Clayton Jacobson II’s personal watercraft and created the Sea-Doo. In later years, Bombardier’s subsidiaries would be responsible for building rail equipment, private jets, and commercial airliners that you can still take a ride in today.
Of course, we’re not here to talk about Canadair Regional Jets, but the brand sporting yellow and orange colors, Can-Am.
Yellow And Orange
Thanks to a 1970 acquisition of Austria’s Rotax, Can-Am’s motocross bikes would benefit from two-stroke engines with oil injection and rotary-valve induction. Can-Am pinched skilled engineers, including World Motocross Champion Jeff Smith, to help develop its motorcycles. Riding the machines would be two-time AMA 250cc National Motocross Champion Gary Jones with teammates Marty Tripes and Jimmy Ellis. Can-Am’s motorcycles saw immediate success on the racetrack, with Ellis riding a Can-Am to an AMA National MX win in 1974. The bikes would continue winning, dominating the field to the point of an AMA 250cc National Motocross Championship sweep that same year. That set a record that would take until 1986 for Honda to break.
As some reports and YouTube documentaries have pointed to over the years, Can-Am’s motorcycles were known for making tons of power with a platform barely able to handle it. The suspensions and brakes struggled to keep up with those Rotax powerplants, and so did the competition.
Can-Am’s roaring successes would be short as Japanese marques improved their own technology and Can-Am’s bikes began falling behind. Can-Am still won a spot on Cycle World’s “10 Best Bikes” in 1980, but 1981 would mark the last factory-sponsored motocross effort with racer Juan Benavidez. Bombardier would eventually consider killing off Can-Am, but England’s Armstrong/CCM struck a deal to keep production going, allowing Can-Am to survive until 1987.
This is all to say that weird, really fun motorcycles are in Can-Am’s heritage. BRP doesn’t say much about the development path that led to the Spyder. According to BRP, the first sketches for what would become the Spyder were drawn in 1996.
It then took until 2007 for BRP to make the Spyder a reality. Back then, BRP called the Spyder “half motorcycle, half convertible sports car.” Since then, BRP’s classification for the cycle has varied. At times, BRP calls them “roadsters,” “3-wheel motorcycles,” or “3-wheel vehicles.” From the very beginning, the Spyder has been about balancing performance and comfort with some of the best hits of motorcycle riding.
Technically, if you count all of the variations since 2007, the Spyder has gone through 58 generations. Can-Am has found a strong and devoted following and thus, the Spyder gets frequent changes and improvements. But they all have followed the same idea: a thrilling and comfortable three-wheel open road experience.
The 2023 Can-Am Spyder F3-T
My ride for three weeks was Can-Am’s latest iteration of the Spyder F3. Introduced in 2015, the F3 is a sport cruiser variant of the Spyder. The F3 lowers the riding position down to 26.6 inches, like that of when you swing a leg over a muscle cruiser.
The result is a sporting riding position as opposed to the taller, more upright 29.7-inch seating position you get with touring versions of the Spyder. Your leg positions are solidly cruiser-like, though Can-Am offers its Ufit peg adjustment system so you can put them wherever you want on the rails. I remain a huge fan of this system as you could change your riding position basically on the fly. An evolution of this system is available on the smaller Ryker where you could change your peg positions without even stopping the bike.
At the heart of the Spyder is its unique Y-frame chassis, where you’ll find two wheels up front and one in the rear. This configuration is known as a reverse trike. If you’ve ridden trikes with two wheels in the back and one up front, you know the riding experience is sometimes a bit sloppy. In my experience, those trikes like to plow forward when you turn and sharper turns make you feel like you’re going to flip the thing.
The way Can-Am does it is better. Turning the Spyder does not invoke feelings of falling over and you have two tires turning the 948-pound three-wheeler, not one. That said, you can get the Spyder on two wheels, but it requires liberal application of throttle and turning the bars. You’ll lift a wheel and giggle before the stability control system tells you to cut it out.
Anyway, attached to the chassis and driving the rear wheel is a Rotax 1330cc ACE inline-triple engine. It’s making 115 HP and 96 lb-ft of torque. That’s coupled to a six-speed hydraulic clutch semi-automatic transmission. This transmission works like a base model European Smart Fortwo. You have to flick the thumb button on the bars to upshift. If you don’t, it’ll just redline until you hit the button. You can also downshift, or just let the machine downshift by itself. Of course, you don’t handle clutch work, either.
Controlling it all is a suite of tech called Vehicle Stability System. Designed with Bosch, this system includes ABS as well as traction control and stability control. Sadly, it cannot be turned off, but the system does allow you to have fun. More on that later.
My steed was the F3-T, which is the base F3 plus a passenger seat, windscreen, manual air suspension, hard saddle cases, a four-speaker sound system, and a 7.8-inch LCD display. Amazingly, Can-Am does approve the F3-T for towing and it can haul a 400-lb trailer. This is the third-highest version of the F3, with the highest being the F3 Limited Special Series. That unit nets you a comfort seat, short-reach bars, auxiliary lights, a top case, heated grips, electric air suspension, 6 speakers, and cosmetic changes.
Personally, of the F3 lineup, I dig the F3-T the most. It still looks sporty and low-slung but still offers good touring chops. Going into 2024, the Can-Am F3 lineup will benefit from a cleaner 10.25-inch display that is now a touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, and some further cosmetic changes.
What Is It, Again?
Let me get it out of the way that I consider this a three-wheel motorcycle. In my head, there’s a spectrum of three-wheelers ranging from three-wheel motorcycles to three-wheel cars. Vehicles like the ElectraMeccanica Solo, the Frisky Family Three, and Elio are what I see as three-wheel cars. They look like cars, they’re controlled like cars, and they feel closer to cars. Other vehicles in this category would be Vanderhall’s three-wheelers, the Polaris Slingshot, and similar. Nudging a touch closer to the motorcycle side would be a Morgan 3 Wheeler, which is at least powered by a motorcycle engine.
On the far end of the other side is any motorcycle with a sidecar. Those are literally motorcycles with a third wheel tacked on. I feel the Can-Am is basically just a notch over that. It controls like a motorcycle, it feels like a motorcycle, it sounds like a motorcycle, and in most states, you have to be a licensed motorcyclist to even ride one. Just a handful of states, like California and Nevada, will allow the operation of a Can-Am without a motorcycle endorsement.
So Comfortable It’s Calming
Swinging a leg over a Spyder F3-T is something unlike any motorcycle you’ll ride or car you’ll drive. Of course, there is no balancing, and ahead of you is a rather wide vehicle. The dashboard is expansive and if you pay attention enough, you’ll notice that your front track width matches that of a small-ish crossover. Don’t even think about lane splitting on this beast.
Once you get moving, the wide track, three car tires, the air suspension, and that cushy seat lend to a rather sublime ride. Now, this F3-T does not have the comfort seat, but that didn’t matter because riding the Spyder felt like sitting on a nice memory foam bed or similar. Sure, three wheels mean that you have a harder time dodging potholes, but BRP engineered a trike that soaks up those bumps like a nice car does.
I’ve covered all of this before in my first entry on the Spyder, so I won’t reiterate everything. To illustrate how comfortable the Spyder F3-T is, I rode the Can-Am to Detroit, 343 miles from my home. I stopped only for fuel and refreshments. That ride took about 6.5 hours to complete and at the end of it, I felt like I could have easily doubled my mileage. It got me thinking about how a trike would handle an Iron Butt SaddleSore 1000. The Spyder F3-T is so comfortable, I found myself sitting on the seat and taking in the world as it went by. On other motorcycles, a small part of my mind would always be cognizant about how much a seat is causing a small pain. Here? That wasn’t a factor at all. The Spyder F3-T even averaged about 33 mpg while keeping up with or passing traffic, which allowed for over 200 miles of range out of the 7.133-gallon tank.
Perhaps somewhat amusingly, I rode out to Detroit that weekend to try out Ford’s sinister laugh generator, the F-150 FP700. That truck was more uncomfortable than the Spyder was. The last motorcycles I’ve ridden that were this comfortable were similarly big machines like a Harley-Davidson Road Glide, the Honda Gold Wing, the BMW R 18 Transcontinental, and most recently, the Indian Challenger.
Perhaps the most surprising thing I found about the Spyder F3-T’s ride is how it allowed me to settle into a calm, relaxed state. Going down the highway on the Spyder F3-T is no more difficult than driving a car. No leaning means you just point the bars where you want it to go and the windscreen is tall enough that I felt I didn’t need earplugs. The Spyder is so good at this that for a brief moment, I found my mind wandering, which is bad news when you’re driving any vehicle. To be clear, that’s not a dig on the Spyder, it’s just showing smooth and soft the ride is.
Now, earlier I said that the F3 series is supposed to be a sporty cruiser of sorts. Well, the cruiser part above is certainly covered, but what about the sporty bit?
To first test how it handles hooliganism, I did the same thing with the Spyder as I did with the Ryker: I gave it a whole heaping of throttle from a dead stop. I was surprised to find that like the Ryker, the Spyder’s traction control does not seem to care about burnouts. If you choose, you can do a brake stand, lay down a single black stripe on the road, and the Spyder won’t protest one bit. There’s enough power on deck that if you hit the throttle just right, you’ll peel out all of the way to second gear.
If you can keep that rear tire hooked, you’ll reach 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and race on to a top speed of 115 mph. Your hooliganism will also be rewarded at the exhaust pipe, too. Hit the shift paddle near redline and the exhaust lets out a satisfying burble as the transmission locks into the next gear. The great part is that the Rotax unit sounds nice enough but it’s not loud. You won’t feel guilty leaving home at 3 a.m. if you need to.
The Rotax unit also delivers predictable power. Unlike the Can-Ams of old, this one won’t try to rip your face off if you challenge it.
Cornering is silly, in a good way. At first, you’ll want to sit up through corners, but that’s not quite the best way to handle a Can-Am. Instead, you’ll want to shift your weight into a corner and push with your legs. Take corners like that and it’s thrilling with plenty of engagement. The power steering system also does a reasonable enough job at making 948 pounds feel perhaps closer to 700 pounds or so.
Once you get used to the idea of a flat Spyder and a weight-shifting you, that’s when the real fun begins. Crank the throttle and take a turn? You’ll get a wheel up in the sky for a few seconds before the traction control tells you to settle down. Do it on a loose or wet surface? You will do a drift and sometimes the nannies won’t be able to stop you. Basically, you can do all of the things on a Can-Am that you wouldn’t do on two wheels because you don’t feel like going to the hospital today. And if you do overcook your turns, handling is also quite predictable. Spyders, like their Ryker siblings, understeer when pushed past the limit. Think of the handling as like a front-wheel-drive car.
The Spyder F3-T is definitely not a sportbike, but it’s certainly no slouch, either. I’m sure a Spyder would hold its own against a bagger or similar large motorcycle. And while you’re doing it, you’ll get tons of looks, questions, people taking pictures, and more.
The car tires are also fantastic for riding in bad weather. During my loan period, Chicago was slammed by torrential downpours with six inches of rain causing all sorts of flooding and havoc. Motorcyclists caught in the deluge took shelter under bridges and at gas stations. Me? The car tires wrapped around my wheels maintained their grip. I rode through rain so heavy that any of my other motorcycles would have likely hydroplaned, but the Spyder held on. The weather was bad enough that I saw some drivers pilot their cars faster than safe, resulting in ditches getting banged. I kept it at a reasonable speed and made it home safe.
When I got home, I realized that the Can-Am would also be perfect for those riders, like myself, who don’t like hanging up their jacket in winter. A quick search suggests that if you try hard enough, you could find snow tires in the correct sizes. Now that sounds like a ton of fun.
Be Prepared For Batman Comparisons
Oh yeah, despite the fact that Can-Am Spyders have been around since 2007, they still draw in interested parties in certain places. In Detroit, a police officer pulled me over and my heart sank as I feared I was going to get a ticket. Nope, he just wanted to look at the Spyder F3-T and tell me how a Spyder is his dream bike.
No matter where I went from gas stations to Hunter House Hamburgers, people frequently walked up to me to chat about the Spyder. This trike drew more interest than most other motorcycles I’ve ever ridden. In fact, more people have come up to talk about how cool the Spyder is than the attention I’ve gotten riding my big lumpy Triumph Rocket III. Oh, and most of those people will say that it looks like something Batman would ride. I get that.
Can-Am is also well aware of its buying demographic. A third of Can-Am owners are women and nearly half come from a diverse background. Where I live, it’s common to see Spyders and Rykers decked out with custom paint jobs, huge speakers, custom wheels, and enough RGB lighting to make a gaming computer blush.
This seems to be reflected in the base vehicle’s sound system, too. The Spyder F3-T has a four-speaker stereo. In terms of sound quality it is solidly meh, but what it does do surprisingly well is get really loud. The Marshall sound system of a BMW R 18 looks pretty and is pretty crisp at low volumes, but falls apart as soon as you crank the tunes up. Harley-Davidson’s Boom! Box GTS gets loud, but your tunes are drowned out with heavy bass.
The Can-Am system? It’s so loud that if you’re not wearing hearing protection, your ears will hurt. Frankly, it’s impressive how loud the Spyder F3-T gets. You can park it and use it as the boombox for a block party. It’s so loud the Harley guy next to you at a light will turn up his tunes to try to drown it out. Of course, please don’t blast the world with your music, that’s what helmet speakers are for. Still, should you be in need of a boombox at your next cookout, just roll a Spyder F3-T into your backyard.
The Batman bodywork is also not just dead space. BRP claims 21 gallons of storage between the hard cases and the glovebox. There’s also a frunk. Counting space as gallons is a bit weird, but I can say that I was able to fit a weekend of luggage with room to spare. Just make sure you pack your things into soft bags.
Who Is This For?
A lot of these people asked how much it costs and none of them were shocked to hear that a 2024 Spyder F3-T model sets you back $24,699. A 2023 like my tester is $22,799. A few of those people mentioned that they paid a lot more for their Harleys, but they can no longer balance a two-wheeler, so a Spyder is what they want now.
A question I get whenever I test a Can-Am On Road product is “Who is it for?” Now, after over 1,200 miles, I think I have the answer to that question. The Can-Am Spyder is for a lot of different people. It’s great for the person who no longer has their balance or perhaps has a disability that doesn’t allow them to ride a two-wheeler. It’s great for the person who wants something that looks out of this world and can be customized to look even more striking. It’s great for someone who just isn’t interested in a typical motorcycle. And importantly, Spyders are great stepping stones into motorcycling.
I’ve met people in my travels who say they want to ride, but their fears get the best of them and they never even try out a motorcycle safety course. A Spyder is easy to ride, easy to enjoy, and allows you to enjoy much of what’s fun about motorcycles without the factors that some would see as downsides. You can get the wind through your helmet and jacket, answer the call of the open road, and not have to worry about lowsiding, highsiding, or the embarrassing moments of laying it down.
That’s why I say the Spyder is almost the best of both worlds. You get the open air experience and feelings of freedom associated with a motorcycle, but the stability and ease of use of a car. Sure, I’ll openly admit that I prefer the leaning action of a two-wheeler, but I had a blast in the three weeks I spent with the Spyder. And sure, residents of areas that allow lane splitting have to be stuck in hot heat or blistering cold.
In fact, the Spyder F3-T was one of the few loaners I’ve had where I didn’t want to give it back. Over those 1,200 miles, I feel like the Spyder and I became friends. I almost gave it a name, before I stopped myself. The Spyder is not perfect. But after three weeks, I see why BRP has such a devoted fanbase. Can-Am Spyders are like all of the other vehicles in Bombardier’s colorful history. They’re weird, they’re striking, they’re different, and they’re proud of it.
(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted.)
- I May Have Trapped Jason In An Incidental ‘Cask of Amontillado’ Type Deal – Tales From The Slack
- The BMW M240ixDrive Is A Junior 6 Series That Doesn’t Need An M Badge To Be Great
- The Autopian Announces A New Membership Tier For The Cheap Bastards Among You: Cloth
- The Second-Generation Buick LaCrosse Marked A Rebirth For Buick: GM Hit Or Miss