2015 Can-Am Spyder F3 | FIRST RIDE

A Cruiser Riding Position Provides Unexpected Benefits

They say: Riding evolved. We say: From the upright toward the clamshell.

“Well, that’s weird,” was my initial reaction to briskly turning the new Can-Am Spyder F3 into a hard left. For a lifelong motorcyclist, sitting atop a vehicle that doesn’t lean while still holding a handlebar is a strange sensation. At the very first intersection of the press ride, I was second in line behind our leader, who pitched the new F3 across the intersection and gassed the three-cylinder Rotax, spinning the rear wheel gleefully. He apparently knew what he was doing.

Here’s the deal: Trikes are just different. And a high-performance, two-wheels-in-front version has its own deal with gravity. When you punch the right grip, it doesn’t heel over to the right and go that way. No, sir. The front wheels point left and, after a brief interval of nothing at all happening, the Kumhos do their little molecular dance with the pavement and yank the front of the trike to port. You, sitting well above the roll center—and even further above the plane that anchors lateral acceleration—realize that it’s almost too late to get to the inside of the trike to keep the inboard wheel on the ground.

No matter, the Spyder’s electronics are there for you: Sensing a big yaw moment in the building phase, the F3’s sophisticated suite of computers first begins applying brake to the outside front wheel. If that’s not enough, it begins throttling down the spunky 1,330cc inline triple. Before anything like high-side-inducing lateral forces develop, the merry-go-round winds down. Like the guy who shuts off the power to the bumper cars before the bell rings. Buzz kill.

Better than road kill, which is a key ingredient in the reason Spyders exist at all. They are, according to Can-Am’s designers and management, a way to get the best sensations of motorcycling without fear of dropping the vehicle. Safety and confidence are always at the top of the list. From the calibration of the Rotax’s ride-by-wire throttle system to the standard ABS’s ability to modulate each front wheel independently to control braking yaw, just about every piece of the Spyder has been scrutinized to keep it from acting like the three-wheel ATC that ran you over when you were a kid. (We were all convinced these fixed-axle three-wheelers were sadistic based on the way they’d pitch you off the high side then straighten out and run you over just for the sheer randy hell of it.)

None of this is news if you have been following the Spyder’s gestation. For the 2015 F3, however, there are a couple of very important breaks with tradition. The first has to do with styling. Edging away from the trike-looks-like-a-boat approach, Can-Am has elected to let the mechanical bits show. The fairly handsome (if conspicuously large) Rotax 1330 ACE engine looks right at home between a pair of beefy tubes in the side view. While the frame itself remains a massive rectangular-section steel spine, twin steel tubes on each flank provide important stiffness and a bit of visual flair, as do the six-spoke wheels, visible Brembo calipers, angular exhaust, and beefy, steel-tube swingarm. Aggressive styling with more than a little go-bot theme marks the F3 as anything but a “nice guy’s” sled.

The second shift is arguably more significant. Can-Am’s research showed that individuals who looked but didn’t buy wanted more aggressive styling and a more cruiser-like seating position. To that end, the F3 shows a total rework of the Spyder ergonomic paradigm. A deep bucket seat invites you to settle in and find the footpegs, which are much further forward than you expect. A tall, moderately wide bar places the grips at a comfortable angle. The whole riding position is generally cruiser-ish, though not quite the full “clamshell” of traditional cruisers with far-forward footpegs.

But it can be. Spyder has introduced something called UFit, a clever way to describe adjustable ergonomics. Five footpeg locations accommodate everyone from 5-foot-1 to 6-foot-plus, adjustable with hand tools in just a few minutes. Also, there are four bars available. (One bar is standard; changing is an extra-cost option at the dealer.) No adjustments for the seat, but at 26.6 inches it’s pretty low. And that’s just for comfort of mounting. No reason to put your feet down once underway. (Although I did try to extend the nonexistent kickstand once.)

So, here we are, a reverse trike with a cruiser riding position. That’ll be awkward, right? Actually, no, it’s not. It’s surprisingly good, for a couple of reasons that are obvious when you think about dynamics. First, the low seat and feet-forward layout drops you about 3.5 inches closer to the low, low roll center of the vehicle—as well as 5 inches back, with your feet, on average, a foot ahead of where they’d land on a Spyder ST. Even that little bit greatly reduces your body’s reactions to lateral loads. You feel a lot less tippy. For the experienced motorcyclist, that’s a huge deal. So, too, is the ability to brace with your legs. Remember that a trike doesn’t react to footpeg weighting, so you can easily brace yourself against lateral loads by straightening a leg and pushing against the seat bolster. Very, very effective.

Doing so makes it possible to decouple your upper body from the handlebars, which in turn makes the Spyder feel much more stable. When you’re rigid, every minor dart for the weeds induces a lateral force, which makes you lean to the outside. If you’re stiff, that lean can cause you to push harder on the outside bar end, which makes the trike turn harder left, increasing the load. It keeps getting friskier until you learn to relax. On the F3, relaxation comes easily.

The F3 feels in many ways motorcycle familiar. There’s a twist throttle, a gutteral growl from the triple, and a foot brake. Because the brakes are linked and electronically proportioned, there’s no hand lever. When you’re on the F3 with the six-speed semi-auto transmission, that’s not a problem, since there’s no clutch lever, either. Roll open the throttle, the Spyder moves away gracefully, then you can punch up the next gear with your left thumb. Should you forget to downshift for the next stop sign, the system will do it for you, blipping the throttle for each downshift. (I also rode the full-manual version, whose gears feel as big as a truck’s and not a lot more agile. Because I was hand clutching, I also kept reaching for a hand brake. Besides, the semi-auto better fits the F3’s personality.)

Performance is good considering the Rotax’s claimed 115 hp and the Spyder’s claimed 850-pound dry weight. Can-Am claims 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and the initial acceleration is strong thanks to relatively short gearing, a smart takeup of the semi-auto’s clutch, and a big contact patch from the 225/50R-15 Kumho. Supposedly there’s 96 pound-feet of torque on tap, and it feels like a lower-end-weighted powerband. You can toddle around in sixth gear down to 2,000 rpm, and the F3 will pick up and stay ahead of traffic without complaint. After a few exploratory missions, I didn’t feel the need to probe the 7,500-rpm redline often. Braking is phenomenal because of all the rubber on the ground, but feedback through the pedal is not exactly generous.

It’s hard for a motorcyclist to assess trike handling, except to say that I rarely got the inside front wheel more than a few millimeters off the pavement before Electro Nanny spoke up. Power steering is necessary to keep bar effort down, and I could sense that a certain amount of deadband was built into the system to keep the trike from wandering. Most of my two half days riding the Spyder was given to learning that transition from not much turning to a lot of reaction at the front wheels. Eventually, the Spyder and I came to an agreement: Stop making me wonder what you’re going to do next and I won’t put you into a tree. I did unlock the code for righteous burnouts, though: Drag a little brake while rolling on the throttle—brake torque we used to call it in our Dodges and Oldsmobiles—the rear will light right up, and you can hold it on gentle brake application until you get bored. Just don’t induce any kind of lateral load, or the electronics make sure the fun’s over.

Probably not many Spyder buyers will plunk down $19,499 for a base F3 with a manual (up to $22,499 for an F3-Special with semi-auto) to torture tires. Maybe they’re too grown up. Of those, about 25 percent have no motorcycling experience at all, and about 20 percent of the overall Spyder mix is women—probably a fairly safe-and-sane demographic. With the F3, Can-Am intends to broaden a growing market, entice yet a few more fence-sitters, and maybe even surprise a few crusty old motorcyclists with the kind of antics you can get away with on a three-wheeler you might respect a little more on just two.

PRICE $22,499 (as tested)
ENGINE TYPE 1,330cc, liquid-cooled inline-triple
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed semi-automatic with reverse/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 115.0 hp @ 7250 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 96.0 lb.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
FRAME Steel backbone
FRONT SUSPENSION Fox shocks adjustable for spring preload; 5.1-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock; 5.2-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 270mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE One-piston caliper, 270mm disc with ABS
SEAT HEIGHT 32.0-33.0 in
CLAIMED WEIGHT 850 lb (dry)
CONTACT [can-am.brp.com][]
6/10 Stars - Spyder’s latest takes reverse-trike tech a big step forward. Hard-core motorcyclists will still wrinkle their noses.