CNET Car Tech takes a ride on the BRP Can-Am Spyder.
Wayne CunninghamManaging Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
What gets 35 miles per gallon and goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds? You might suggest a motorcycle, but you would only be 66 percent right.
BRP's Can-Am Spyder uses three wheels, two in front and one in back. The Spyder isn't exactly a motorcycle, a trike, or a three-wheeled car. BRP suggests calling it a roadster, but that designation is a stretch as well.
We got our first chance to ride the Spyder this week, when BRP brought a few of them to our offices.
The learning curve was fairly quick--the BRP representative explained the controls, then we shot off down the street. Actually, we were only going about 20 mph, but it felt fast, as we're used to looking at the world through a wide expanse of safety glass.
Within the hour, though, we were speeding along at 45 mph with no fear. The Spyder uses a traditional motorcycle-style gear shift, down by your left foot, and a clutch lever over the left hand grip. Similarly, the throttle is on the right hand grip. But you activate the brakes on all three wheels with a pedal at your right foot. And unlike most motorcycles, the Spyder has a reverse gear.
The fact that it has three wheels makes parking particularly easy, as there is no kickstand to worry about. But you can't lane-split, like you can with a motorcycle.
The steering dynamics are also more car-like, as you have to turn the handlebars instead of leaning, as you would on a motorcycle.
The Spyder offers a variety of car-like safety gear, as well. It uses an anti-lock braking system, along with traction and stability control. Sensors detect when either the rear drive wheel is slipping, or when one of the front wheels leaves the ground. In the former case, the Spyder retards the engine spark, slowing down the big belt that transmits power to the rear wheel.
For stability control, the Spyder retards the engine spark, but also applies light braking to the front wheel that's still on the ground.
This safety tech makes the Spyder practical for every day driving. During our relatively short drive time, we tried out the brakes and found them well-tuned. They weren't grabby and we could stop the Spyder quickly, with no loss of control.
Steering felt a little awkward, as we had to stretch our arms far out for tight turns. The Spyder accelerates quickly, in keeping with BRP's claim of 4.5 seconds to 60 mph. With a 990cc Rotax V-twin engine, the Spyder is legal on all roads. And in a number of states, including California, you don't need a motorcycle license to drive the Spyder. But you do need a helmet, and gloves; and a good motorcycle jacket is a good idea, too.
The Spyder offers some storage space under the front hood, suitable for a laptop, suit jacket, and any other work necessities. BRP claims 35 mpg with the Spyder under normal driving conditions. With its 6.6 gallons, it should have a range of about 230 miles.
One thing we noticed while driving the Spyder was that it attracts a lot of attention. The unique styling had people coming over to where we parked, wanting to ask questions about it. Cars would match our speed so they could look over the Spyder as we rode along.
The Can-Am Spyder is available through outlets selling recreational vehicles, such as Sea-Doos and ATVs. The base price is $15,500.