The last time we climbed aboard a Can-Am Spyder was soon after it was introduced in 2008, so a week with the sporty 2016 F3-S Special Edition gave us a good chance to see how far the three-wheeler has come.
Since the Spyder's initial launch, Can-Am has added models and made numerous changes including adding larger 3-cylinder engines and an optional semi-automatic six-speed drive train. What hasn't changed is that riding a Spyder is still not like riding a motorcycle, and that's okay.
There's a few mental notes to make before getting on a Can-Am Spyder – don't counter steer like you do with a motorcycle, there's only a foot brake, and there's no clutch action with the semi-automatic transmission. Chalk it up to long-term memory loss, but all of those reminders still aren't enough to prepare us for just how different the riding experience is.
Steering two front wheels means all of the rider interaction has to come from your upper body. You can clamp your knees into the gas tank for more control. You can even lean into a turn. But all of the steering happens by turning the front end into a corner and letting the dynamic power steering do its work. Experienced motorcycle riders will have to quickly create new muscle memory.
We put the Spyder F3-S through its paces on an assortment of freeway, cross-town, and foothill driving. Our initial impression on the freeway was that the Spyder felt ultra sensitive to every slight change in the road. It seemed to easily veer off track at the vagaries that are endemic to aging California highways.
We were also unsure as to how hard we could take corners because it initially felt like an outside wheel could come up off the ground, despite all of the listed stability and traction control systems Can-Am has been equipping Spyders with since they first rolled off of the production line.
Needless to say, this left us searching for a better riding experience. The trick, we discovered, is to forget everything you know about riding a motorcycle, then ride it like you stole it.
Diving hard into turns becomes easier and more fun when you plant your outside foot on the foot peg and lean your body into the turn. The redistribution of weight has a negligible effect on maintaining vehicle stability, but it does force you to guide the handlebars into the turn, rather than manhandling them like you're riding a wild steer.
We put this to the test on some twisty roads through the foothills that make up the Gold Country of California and the result was both palpable and exhilarating. We're not talking knee sliders here, but once we got the hang of it, we were able to barrel through turns at speeds that would have required a great deal more skill and practice had we been on two-wheels.
What was equally impressive was the quick throttle response of the 1330 cc Rotax in-line 3-cylinder engine. We used a chunk of its 115 hp (86kW) and 96 lb-ft (130Nm) of torque coming out of the apex of a turn when a straight line presented itself, or when passing lumbering trucks or tourists on the faster freeways. Redline sits at 7250 rpm, but the F3-S seems to run best at around 4000 rpm in every gear.
Keep in mind the current Spyder engine is almost 400 cc larger than the original Rotax V-twin that powered the Spyders up until 2014. The in-line three revs up higher, and is also smoother across the entire rev range.
As with many of the Can-Am models, the F3-S comes with either the 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. The one we demoed was equipped with the latter, which did take some getting used to. Shift up by pushing in one paddle, shift down by flipping the other one toward you. If you forget to do the latter when coming to a stop, the system downshifts for you.
There's also cruise control on board, though most of the traffic conditions we were in prevented us from thoroughly putting it through its paces.
The ABS system with 4-piston fixed caliper Brembos upfront and a single piston floating caliper out back does a fine job of bringing the F3-S to slow and rapid halts. The single right brake pedal eliminates the standard right hand brake found on most motorcycles, so initially you might find your right hand grabbing for air.
The digital gages are easy to read and provide the standard gas, trip, clock and outside temperature readings. The speedometer and tachometer are both analog and equally easy to see in both day and night time situations.
Can-Am equips the F3-S with a robust 7.1 gallon (27 liter) tank, although gas mileage is going to vary depending on the size of the rider, and how aggressive he or she treats the throttle. We found average gas mileage figures came in at around 38 mpg (7.4 L/100km). That means you'll be able to ride this Spyder for at least 200 miles (322 km) before you have to start looking for a gas station. But don't look to this model to be your touring vehicle.
The upfront trunk holds just over 6 gallons (24.4 L), not nearly enough for much more than a day trip worth of snacks and another layer of clothing if the weather changes. The rear passenger grab handles do provide a way to strap a duffle onto the rear seat, and Can-Am makes a couple of optional attachable side and rear bags for added cargo capacity.
The F3-S has a comfortable upright riding position with a relatively low seat height (26.6 inches compared to 30 inches on their touring models) and pullback style handlebars. Riders of different builds will appreciate Can-Am's UFit custom fitting system that allows you to adjust the rider footpegs and handlebars. We didn't have to make those adjustments, but they appear to be pretty easy to do by loosening a few bolts.
The overall ride was surprisingly smooth thanks to the anti-roll bar and gas-charged Fox Podium shocks on the two wheels in the front, and the basic monoshock in the rear.
If we have any nits with the Spyder, it's the seemingly complicated starting process. Turn on the key and you have to wait for the warning that advises you to read the safety placard that comes with the bike. It only takes a few seconds for this to scroll through, but once completed you press a left hand mode switch, push the red power button in, then hit the start switch.
As it turns out, there's actually a legal reason for this. Rather than plaster the bike with the typical safety and related warning stickers found on any motorcycle, Can Am decided to eliminate these. Its legal department advised that it still needed some kind of visible warning, thus the safety readout before starting.
We also had some issues with putting the F3-S in reverse. Again, it's a push button combination to shift it into gear. Once we mastered it we were thankful it was there, because even though the F3's are the smallest of the Spyder models, they still weigh in at 850 lbs (356 kg).
Our only other major complaint was the lack of a windshield. As comfortable as the wide seat and upright sitting position are, the wind buffeting without a windshield is substantial. A good full-face helmet helped, and Can-Am does offer a couple of windshield options for this model.
The 2016 F3-S Special Series starts at US$23,549. For that, you'll get a blacked out paint scheme, special wheels and other cosmetic features. You might want to wait until the 2017 models hit the showroom floor, though, since Can Am is cutting the price of a base F3 model to just below $17,000. The F3-S with the new Sports mode that lets you drift starts at $21,249.
Experienced motorcycle riders may be reluctant to give up two wheels for three. But for the person who has little to no motorcycle experience, and who wants that same wind-in-the-face feeling, the Can-Am Spyder F3-S may be just the ticket.