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Then along came the Can-Am Spyder
By JARED LEONE
Published May 14, 2007
Less than 700 pounds. More than 100 horsepower. Top speed, 118 mph.
And three wheels.
For a week I had hyped myself and friends about getting to test ride the Can-Am Spyder, a new motorcycle built by Sea-Doo maker Bombadier Recreational Products, or BRP.
The vehicle is on a nationwide promotional tour, and the parking lot at Quaker Steak and Lube on U.S. 19 was one of its first stops. Through Sunday, the public could take a test ride.
Mine was Thursday.
I was nervous.
I've ridden my Triumph sport bike for the past four years. But the thought of driving this bike, with its dramatic design and different ride - on camera, no less - had stirred the butterflies in my stomach.
Looking at photos of the $14, 999 Spyder, I expected something of a novelty.
But when I first saw a wave of Spyders returning from a test ride, I focused on the sound.
The look was what I expected: sleek and futuristic, like something from Hot Wheels. The sweeping lines and saddle seat were reminiscent of a water scooter. The swing arm for the back wheel reminded me of a drag bike. The instrument panel featured both traditional gauges and digital readouts.
And the sound was a baritone. This was no weed-whacker or toy. This was going to be a real ride.
After seeing and hearing the Spyder, I was more nervous about taking one onto the sea of street.
After a brief lesson on how to operate the bike and two stall-outs on the cone course in Quaker Steak's parking lot, I was ready for the road.
At least I hoped so.
* * *
BRP test rider Adrien De Alexandris accompanied me on my ride.
From the start, it was different from my Triumph and every other motorcycle I've ever ridden.
Before leaving the lot, I caught myself putting my left foot down at a stop the way I would on a conventional motorcycle. Not necessary. With three wheels, the Spyder doesn't need a rider's legs to hold it up.
We left the Quaker Steak and Lube parking lot and headed north on 49th Street to cross the Bayside Bridge. This limit-access bridge sees a lot of sport bike riders "open up, " mocking the 55 mph speed limit, and a complete road test would have to include at least an attempt to sprint close to the Spyder's top speed of 118 mph. (For the record, the speedometer never hit three digits.)
On the downward slope of the bridge, my fears seemed to come true. While I was enjoying the view of the Tampa skyline from the seat of the Spyder, the bike cut out, but not completely. The engine light blinked and the words "Limp Home Mode" scrolled across the instrument panel.
On Drew Street, De Alexandris and I pulled over.
A computer glitch, he said, probably because my right foot kept tapping the sensitive brake pedal and confused the electronic control systems.
It was something that will be addressed before the production models of the Spyder roll out this fall, De Alexandris said.
After resetting the bike by turning it off and restarting it, we headed north on curvaceous Philippe Parkway. We took the tree-lined, two-lane road to Philippe Park and stopped along the banks of Tampa Bay.
While I am used to the feel of a sport bike through a turn, there was no need to put my knees down on the Spyder. The bike's Vehicle Stability System automatically reduced power to the wheels when I was going too fast through a turn.
An instant before I would expect to spin out of a turn, the bike regained control and stayed glued to the asphalt.
* * *
At this point, I probably knew everything I needed about the Spyder.
But no test ride on a vehicle this far-out would be complete if we didn't cruise Clearwater Beach.
Crossing the bridge and navigating the roundabout, we rode north on Mandalay Avenue. When we stopped at a gas station, a crowd gathered. Everyone seemed to have the same three questions:
Who makes it?
* * *
The Spyder's three-wheeled Y-design is the fifth incarnation of the vehicle and the first for widespread customer purchase.
Steve Laham, adviser to the president of BRP, said the company is aiming the bike toward the 35- to 55-year-old power-sport enthusiast.
The open-aired vehicle has ABS brakes that are controlled by a pedal at your right foot. Conventional motorcycles have a right-hand brake, and even when I returned the bike a couple of hours later, I was still doing phantom pulls for the lever.
The five-speed transmission even has a reverse gear. To get the bike to go backward, you drop it into first, pull the black lever with a red R emblazoned on it, and push the gear shift down again.
I tried the reverse gear twice. A huge grin came across my face going backward on a bike.
There is a weatherproof storage bin, sort of like the trunk on the front of the old VW Beetles, at the front of the bike. The space is more than enough for a laptop, briefcase, extra helmet or a small cooler.
I returned the vehicle two hours later than I said I would. Still amped up from the Spyder's fluid, controlled ride, I headed back to the office. Even with the sunroof open, I didn't get the same air-in-your-face feeling.
No, going from the Spyder to my Honda Accord reminded me of those Sunday afternoons at Astroskate when I was a kid. It was like roller skating all day, then putting your street shoes back on and just walking away.
suggested retail price
the Spyder's top speed
time it takes for the Spyder to go from 0 to 60 mph
top power of the Rotex 990 cubic centiliter engine