The Can-Am Spyder is one of the most eye-catching vehicles on the road, a Batmobike that elicits squeals of delight from people who don't ride motorcycles and sneers of disdain from people who do.
Non-bikers like its futuristic, forward-leaning looks; its wide, stable stance; and its ease of operation. Motorcyclists dislike it for the same reasons — dismissing it as a dim, dull variation on the glories of two-wheeling.
The F3-S is Can-Am's sportiest Spyder. Powered by a 1300cc, three-cylinder Rotax engine, and belt-driven through a fat, 15-inch rear tire, it offers 115 horsepower and 96 pound-feet of torque.
It's Can-Am's equivalent of a "naked" bike. Sold stock without windshield or side bags — though those are available — this is an around-town cruiser designed more for stylish point-to-point acceleration than for long-distance touring.
In an apparent attempt to appeal to non-motorcycle consumers, Can-Am has made the Spyder extremely easy to ride. Gone are the traditional left hand clutch, right hand front brake and left foot shift levers.
Instead, the transmission is automatic and braking to all three wheels is done through a single, right foot brake pedal, just like in a car. A manual version is an option.
The state of California makes the Spyder approachable too. Though operator and passenger must wear helmets — as they do with the three-wheeled Harley-Davidson Trike and TriGlide, Polaris Slingshot and Campagna T-Rex — no motorcycle endorsement is required to buy, register or ride any three-wheeled motorcycle, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Update: California law allows a helmet law exemption of certain vehicles. A helmet is not required by persons operating or riding on a motorcycle that is larger than seven feet long, four feet wide, and 900 pounds in weight, per California Vehicle Code 27803. A Campagna T-Rex, therefore, might be exempt.
Can-Am says that 25% of Spyder purchasers have no prior on-road riding experience, and that 25% of them are women. The company expects the F3, newly introduced for 2015, will increase sales among cruiser riders.
They're paying a premium price for the experience. The Spyder line starts just below $15,000 for the RS model. The F3-S sells for about $21,000.
The Can-Am line, manufactured and marketed by Canadian powersports company BRP, is getting a sales boost from increased interest in three-wheeled motorcycles. The company moved its 100,000th unit in May, and claims its RT and ST machines are the top-selling touring bikes and sport touring bikes in North America, surpassing venerable two-wheelers like the Honda Gold Wing, BMW K1600 GTL and Kawasaki Concours.
Around town, the Spyder is an amusing commuter.
Like most heavy motorcycles — this one weighs 850 pounds — the Spyder is clunky when it's stationary but nimble when it's on the move. On the freeway, speeds above 50 miles per hour feel quite stable.
For twisty roads and canyons, Can-Am has improved the Spyder's traction control and stability control over previous models. In a sharp turn, these systems increase braking to the outside wheel and even cut power to the engine to reduce the danger of tipping over — a real concern with some three-wheeled vehicles.
The Spyder F3-S comes standard with Brembo brakes, ABS and cruise control. It also has a reverse gear, which is extremely helpful in maneuvering this heavy trike in and out of parking spaces.
And, though fuel economy isn't usually a selling point on bigger bikes, Can-Am boasts the Spyder F3 can go 252 freeway miles on a single tank of gas, getting upward of 35 miles per gallon from the 7.1-gallon tank.
It's an eye-catcher. Its aggressive forward stance, muscular shoulders and sinister Batman styling turn more heads than anything with a mere two or four wheels. People who don't know anything about motorcycles, and who don't ride, will stop and say, "What is that thing?" and "I want one!"
People who do ride may feel different.
Motorcyclists approaching the Spyder may experience a slight sensation of arachnophobia. For some two-wheel veterans, a three-wheeled motorcycle offers only a few of the pleasures associated with motorcycling.
Yes, you're riding free in the breeze, but a three-wheeler doesn't lean or float like a motorcycle. Even though steering is done with handlebars, it requires some shoulder and arm strength.
Important for California riders, you can't lane-split with a wide Spyder, or sneak into narrow parking places. Caught three-wheeling in traffic, on a hot summer day, you might wish you were in a car, enjoying air conditioning and sipping a cool drink.