On the face of it, a bike which doesn’t lean, is too wide to weave through traffic and can’t pull a wheelie sounds pretty pointless – like a solution looking for a problem. And yet the automotive world has seen many such misfits, which despite their apparent shortcomings, are still able to put a smile on your face.
The Can-Am Spyder F3 is one such oddity. Neither motorcycle nor car, yet blending many of the strengths and some of the weaknesses of both. You’ll get cold and wet if it rains, need a car-sized space to park and yet despite these limitations it’s one of the most enjoyable vehicles I’ve driven in a long time, and that’s before you factor in the sub-£20k price tag – or £15,999 for the naked (sans-cargo box) entry-level F3.
Although big for a bike, it takes up less space than a car. At 2,642mm long, it’s more than half a metre shorter than a Caterham Seven and just 7cm narrower at 1,497mm. At just 1,099mm in height, it’s lower than both the Seven and most sport bikes, with a seat height of just 675mm – or 26.6 inches in old money.
Can-Am Spyder F3 Limited Price £21,699 Engine 1,330cc 3-cylinder Rotax ACE Power 115bhp @7,250rpm Torque 130Nm (96 lb-ft) @5,000rpm Gearbox 6-speed semi-auto transmission 0-62mph 4.8 secs Top Speed 115mph (governed) Economy 42.4mpg @62mph (Range: 252 miles) Weight 430kg (dry)
The Spyder’s Y-frame design features two-wheels up front and one at the rear (165/55R15 F / 225/50R15 R), unlike a conventional trike which replace the single rear wheel on a motorcycle with two and has a propensity for toppling over. The Spyder though is effortlessly stable (like a car), yet delivers the same un-caged freedom as a motorbike.
And freedom is what the Spyder is all about. The F3 is the latest product from Can-Am, a subsidiary of Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP), the $3.8 billion Canadian-based powersports company famed for creating weird and wonderful vehicles that put a smile on your face. These include Ski-Doos and Sea-Doos – both of which lead their respective markets, and a host of all-terrain vehicles with a strong heritage of success in the toughest fields in motorsport including the Dakar Rally. They’re a major engine builder too, powering the biggest kart racing series in the world – the Rotax Max Challenge – and vehicles like the Spyder plus marine engines and ones capable of powering light aircraft.
The most powerful Rotax product, as fitted to the Sea-Doo RXT-X, is a 1.6-litre supercharged 3-cylinder producing around 300 horsepower, but sadly that’s too big to fit in the more athletic frame of the Spyder F3 which makes do with a 1.3-litre 3-cylinder 4-stroke unit. Still, that’s good enough for 115bhp and 130Nm (96 lb-ft), which should be more than enough for most people.
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So, is it a motorcycle?
The neither-fish-nor-fowl conundrum becomes even more apparent when examining the Spyder’s construction. Its front suspension is decidedly car-like with double A-arms each side, Sachs shock absorbers (with adjustable preload), and an anti-roll bar tying things together. The single-rear wheel is mounted on a swing arm with a manually-adjustable shock absorber conveying the visual impression, at least from behind, of being a motorcycle – albeit with a wide 225/50R15 tyre with a rectangular-shaped carcass like that of a car.
There’s a push-button to engage reverse, and the choice of either six-speed manual or semi-automatic control of the gearbox which lets the rider change up but will automatically change down through the gears when pulling to a stop. Stopping power is provided by a set of high-performance Brembo brakes with 4-piston calipers on the front wheels and a single-piston sliding caliper on the rear.
Even More Spyder
You can never have too much of a good thing, which is why Can-Am have created the Spyder F3 Turbo Concept to mark the launch of a new motorsports stadium at Daytona International Speedway.
Powered by a turbocharged, intercooled version of the same 1,330cc Rotax triple used in the regular F3, it produces 150bhp and 187Nm (137 lb-ft) of torque – enough to propel it from 0-60mph in 4.3 secs and cover the quarter-mile (0.4 km) in 12.3 seconds.
It features a SPORT mode for aggressive cornering and controlled rear tyre drifts, however there are no plans at the moment to put it into production…
It’s got anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability systems (from Bosch) using proven technologies borrowed from the automotive industry, which perhaps explains why more than a third are bought by drivers. In most European countries, you only need a car licence to ride a Spyder, although as of January 2013 trikes became part of the motorcycle licence category in the UK, so able-bodied people with licences after this date now have to pass an additional motorcycle test before they can legally ride. Likewise because it’s classed as a trike, you don’t need to wear a helmet (although you’d be foolish not to), but this underlines how easy it is to climb on board a Spyder and ride it without first dressing up in the latest Power Ranger garb beloved by many bikers.
The F3 comes in four flavours, the F3 and F3S (or ‘naked F3’ as the Can-Am representatives affectionately call them) and new for 2016, the F3-T and F3 Limited, which offer a range of comfort and convenience features such as increased luggage capacity (up from 24 to 78 litres), a 4-speaker audio system, heated handlebar grips and uprated twin-tube shock absorbers for handling the extra weight (an extra 44kg over the F3’s 386kg). The downside of these extra features is a drop in power-to-weight from 300bhp/tonne to a little over 260, but that’s still on a par with a Caterham Seven 270, which lags slightly behind the Spyder’s 0-62 mph acceleration of just 4.8 seconds. In practice, it feels as quick as an Audi RS 4, which means it’s fast enough for most people coming from a background of four wheels.
Options include different handlebars, windscreens, saddlebags, floorboards, seats, detachable backrests, lighting, wheels, and a more vocal Akrapovič silencer. While the riding position can be personalised with five foot peg and handlebar positions (UFit) to suit your height and preferred riding style.
What’s it like to ride?
Riding the Spyder is unlike anything else. I rode for a full-day around the hills and valleys near Altea, Spain, and not once did I fear it would tip over (it’s very stable), nor did I feel especially vulnerable or exposed, since I was without any doors, windows, or a seatbelt. You sit in rather than on a Spyder F3, so it’s incredibly comfortable with very little wind buffeting or noise to tire the rider on a longer journey.
There’s a pretty steep learning curve when you first ride a Spyder, depending on what you’re used to (driving of riding), so be prepared to re-learn a few things. Most car drivers won’t be used to how gentle you need to be with the throttle, while bikers will scare themselves silly a few times by ‘squeezing air’ until they re-learn how to slow down – braking is controlled solely by the rider’s right foot as there’s no hand lever for stopping.
I’ve never ridden a motorbike, but own several quad bikes, so my learning curve was shorter than most, although not without its own unique mishaps.
The F3’s feet-forward posture gives you more leverage in corners, since your legs can effectively compensate for lateral G-forces and provide an anchor for steering. One of the first things you learn, which you may already know from riding quad bikes or snowmobiles, is that you steer by pushing the outside of the handlebars away from you, rather than pulling on the inside handlebar as you would on a bike.
This leads to my first moment of clutziness when riding the Spyder, since the hand you use to steer in left turns is the same one you use to operate the throttle. With practice you learn to transfer weight to the left handlebar grip as you turn in and roll off the throttle (with your right hand) at the same time. Like on a quad bike, it helps if you shift your body weight towards the inside of the turn which stops you holding onto the handlebars with a ‘death grip’, but the more you ride the Spyder the more this becomes second nature.
The Rotax 1,330cc in-line three-cylinder engine is a peach, smooth and powerful throughout the rev range with gobs of low-down torque making overtaking a breeze. 115bhp and 130Nm (96 lb-ft) is about on par with other touring bikes such as the BMW K 1200 RT and propels the F3 from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds and up to a governed top speed of around 115mph. It revs to 8,000 rpm, which is low for a sports bike but in line with most sports cars, in fact it sounds a lot like the flat-six engine of a Porsche Boxster, which is praise indeed.
Peak power is at 7250rpm while torque is at its most savage by the time it reaches 5000rpm, so it’s an engine which offers the best of both worlds – an insatiable appetite for revs and plenty of mid-range grunt. I’d have preferred a little more noise to match the bad-boy looks of the all-black Special Series which I drove, and thankfully you can have it, by fitting the optional Akrapovič sport touring silencer for £1,254.
The majority of Spyders, are sold with the electronically activated 6-speed semi-auto gearbox, which uses paddles on the left handlebar to change up through the gears while the system will automatically change down when you’re pulling to a stop. It’s easy to use, but in practice it can be a little too eager to change down at low speeds – causing the bike to lurch a bit when braking hard, but on the plus side you never find yourself in the wrong gear at junctions or when entering roundabouts.
The Bosch Vehicle Stability System is designed to prevent wheel-lift when entering a corner too hot, and while it can’t be switched off, you can indulge in a bit of sideways action in the lower gears. Soon we learned how to override the Spyder’s traction control, by lightly touching the foot brake, down-changing to first gear and then cranking on the throttle. It provides a moment’s respite from the Spyder F3’s over-bearing stability system, which can sometimes hamper smooth progress when it cuts the power or applies the brakes just as you’re keenly pressing on.
Handling is benign and predictable, it turns in fluidly, keeps its nose well planted and remains balanced even when braking late into a corner, but the F3 doesn’t goad you to explore its limits, nor encourage you to max it on the straights. It’s not that kind of bike. But it’s still a lot of fun, more than many cars twice its price, because you’re so immersed in the process of riding and using your body to adjust its attitude on the road.
It’s the same sensation you get when driving something as focused as the Caterham Seven – connected, involved and exhilarated when you get a series of corners just right. But unlike a conventional motorbike, the penalty for getting it wrong usually amounts to little more than a lift of the throttle, a chirp of the tyres and the opportunity to try again at the next bend.
For some, that will rule the Spyder F3 out – many bikers see themselves as gladiators of the road, heroes who walk a fine line between control and disaster. But if you’re looking for some of the freedom that bikers enjoy, combined with the safety and security of a sports car, then the Spyder F3 make a lot of sense.
Should I buy one?
So where does the Spyder F3 fit in the enthusiasts dream garage? And does it even earn a place in there at all?
Well, if you’ve ever owned a supercar, you’ll know that ‘common sense’ has little bearing on the choice of something that makes you feel good to sit in, turns an ordinary road into an exhilarating drive and has you staring at it long after it’s parked.. just to watch everyone else’s reaction. The Spyder F3 ticks all the same boxes.
I loved it and would be more than happy to have one sitting in my garage sometime in the future.
A two-wheeled motorbike will be quicker in traffic, while a car will isolate you more from other road users, but for open-air thrills and the chance to ride what amounts to a snowmobile on the road, there’s nothing quite like it. But don’t take my word for it, go and try one for yourself.
In the UK, there are four Can-Am dealers where you can test ride a Spyder F3; 158 Performance, near Stamford, Lincolnshire, GS Jettech in London, Parkland Cars in Durham and On a Hill Garage in Devon.
And for more information on the Can-Am Spyder F3, visit the Can-Am website.