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Can-Am Spyder F3 Review – Getting Sportier on Three Wheels

Spyder 2.0

The Spyder line takes a major styling leap with the sporty F3, the slickest handling Spyder yet.

Can-Am Spyder F3 - burn-outs! It took courage to bring the Spyder concept all the way from idea to production. And although BRP obviously had faith in a—still controversial today—“motorcycle for the masses,” no one could have predicted what the future held for the venture. It was literally a 50-50 kind of deal: the Spyder would create a new segment and fly on its own, or BRP would kill it and move on. 

José Boisjoli, the Valcourt, Québec firm’s CEO, has shown he’s willing to terminate an under-performing product line by axing BRP’s entire powerboat business—not because it wasn’t profitable, but because significant growth was nowhere to be seen in his crystal ball. That Spyders are beginning their ninth production year in 2015 must mean they’re meeting Boisjoli’s expectations, right? Apparently not. 

The issue, if you can call it that, is that Spyders aren’t selling as well everywhere. In Canada, for instance, and particularly in Québec where they are built, sales are good, actually surpassing those of several motorcycle manufacturers, an even more impressive feat considering BRP’s lineup is composed of only three models: the RS, ST and RT. But cross over to the US and things aren’t as bright. Again, it’s not that Spyders aren’t selling reasonably well, but something seems to be missing so that they don’t do as well as on their home turf.

It didn’t take a whole lot of research to “discover” that Americans like cruisers. Was that the missing link? Was a chromed-up, ape-hangered, highway-pegged, round-fendered and sissy-barred Spyder the answer? Exploratory sketches were produced, with predictably laughable results. 

“No way would BRP ever even consider a Harley-Davidson inspired version of a Spyder,” said the Valcourt brand’s chief of design, Denis Lapointe. “That’s not us. We do things our way. We don’t copy.” 

And that is precisely the point where the project that would eventually become the 2015 Spyder F3 became real interesting: if not a “classically cruiserized” Spyder, then what?  

Lapointe and his team started to question cruiser riders. While what they liked and didn’t like about present Spyders was obviously part of the interrogation, the questioning got much deeper. BRP wanted to know if the feet-forward riding position cruiser owners were accustomed to and liked was unconditionally linked to typical cruiser styling. The answer was, astonishingly, no. Respondents said that look and position weren’t necessarily exclusively tied. That answer gave Lapointe the freedom to design something un-Harley-like and that also addressed one of the most frequent complaints regarding Spyders styling: too plasticky. 

The result, the F3 is now by far the biggest styling leap for the Spyder line. Up to now, the sporty-ish RS, the sport-touring ST and the luxury-touring RT had all been designed to look as friendly and unintimidating as possible. The Spyder F3 is different, almost shockingly so. Not only does it look considerably more aggressive than the friendly-faced others, it seems like it wants to make a statement of that distinction; as if it’s insisting that it’s another kind of Spyder. 

Describing the way this particular styling was elaborated, Denis Lapointe gave the international press assembled in Valcourt a rare glimpse inside the creation process. Both the number of sketches we saw and their originality were impressive to say the least. As motorcyclists, we’re used to seeing pretty futuristic prototypes, but with so much more surface to work with and unrestricted creative latitude, BRP’s designers came up with very imaginative stuff. 

Can-Am Spyder F3 - the sporty oneIn the end, the F3 direction was chosen because of its blend of “animal-like expression, Ironman inspiration and Hugh Jackman type of confidence and authenticity.” 

When asked by a motorcycle writer what animal in particular, Lapointe paused, and then patiently explained the animal reference was figurative rather than literal. 

In the flesh, the F3 is anything but yawn inducing. The styling is so strong it will probably be polarizing. For example, it isn’t hard to imagine an RT owner simply not getting it. Which is all right, as he already has an RT to like. The F3 is aimed at the other end of the attitude spectrum. It isn’t intended to be conservative and appeal to conservative minds, but rather to push boundaries and appeal to much bolder tastes. To combine a cruiser-like riding position with such a strong visual statement into the still controversial platform that is the Spyder takes BRP into yet another uncharted zone. 

For all the cruiser talk related to the F3, once on the road, the thing actually has limited ties to the cruiser world. In fact, quite ironically, the F3 is unequivocally the sportiest of Spyders, much more so than even the RS. 

Sure, the rider sits low with his feet forward, which is cruiser-like. But there’s one aspect of the riding position that changes the entire game, and that’s the slight outward positioning of the front footpegs which create a triangle that allows the rider to essentially lock himself in place by simply pushing on the pegs.

Imagine being in a moving bus with both feet under you versus spreading them out. With your feet under you, the slightest change in direction throws you sideways, forcing you to grab something to keep from falling, while spreading them allows you to counter the centrifugal force. The effect on the F3 is exactly the same. 

On every other Spyder, even during moderate cornering, the rider has to hold on with his upper body to counter that force. His legs, which are positioned directly under him, offer little help. The strength needed to hold on obviously increases proportionally with corner speed. Simultaneously, arms, shoulders and torso must also be used to steer the “regular” Spyders. 

On the Spyder F3, because his legs take on the role of bolting the rider in place during cornering—something they do with much less effort than the upper body at equal speed, by the way—arms, shoulders and torso are left with the sole task of steering. Which, once again, changes everything. 

It’s tough to say if this “leg triangulation” and all the benefits it brings were part of the plan from the get-go, but I’d personally be tempted to lean toward the happy accident theory. One way or another, the fact is not only can you attack a corner on an F3 with considerably more confidence than you would on any of the other Spyders, you can also do it with a lot more precision thanks to the upper body only having to deal with steering inputs. The end result is a Spyder that is simply much more fun to maneuver on a twisty road and the first one that feels like its rider isn’t constantly fighting with in corners. Furthermore, positioning it precisely in the middle of the lane is now refreshingly straightforward. 

Because of their width, Spyders give their rider very little room to play with before one of the front wheels steps out of the lane, making them somewhat difficult to ride with precision in a series of turns, especially at a faster pace. But, on the F3 this is accomplished with a smile rather than with stress. 

One of the pleasant surprises the F3 has for its rider (and passenger) is its bump absorption qualities. It’s well known that a rider sitting on a motorcycle with feet forward leaves his spine very vulnerable on bad pavement. It just so happens that Québec has some of the worst roads in the civilized world—I should know, I live there. So, to say that the F3 offers not just great, but excellent comfort in that environment is as complimentary as it gets in terms of suspension performance. The wide and thickly padded seat is also very comfortable. Although accessory windscreens are available, there’s no wind protection on the stock Spyder F3. Heated grips are also absent from the stock equipment list. They would have been much appreciated in the cold fall weather we rode in during the two-day product launch of the F3. Both the $21,799 base model or $23,299 S-version with upgraded trim and cruise control are equipped with a six-speed manual transmission and are available with an optional, $1,600 six-speed semi-automatic.                      

One more very pleasant surprise came from the 1330cc inline-triple that debuted in 2014 on the RT. Rated at 115 horsepower and 96 ft/lb. torque, it hasn’t been touched internally and yet feels much more lively than it does in the RT. Thanks to 73 kg (162 lb.) less to push around and to shorter gearing resulting from a rear sprocket that is literally as big as the rear wheel, the F3 is no slouch in a straight line. A ‘busa killer it isn’t, of course, but fun? Sure. Part of that fun comes from the decent forward acceleration the high torque triple generates, part from the wonderfully melodious intake growl that engulfs the rider every time the throttle is generously opened, and part from the much more permissive nature of the F3’s electronic nanny. 

ABS, traction control and stability control are all still very much present, but in this case allow for considerably more fun to be had. In an almost complete change in attitude the Can-Am people actually encouraged a little bit of recklessness during the media event. 

Everyone’s first moments on the F3 were on the tarmac of a small airport in Saint-Georges-de-Beauce where we had just landed in not one, not two, but three private Lear Jets. There, straight-line acceleration tests quickly morphed into “the longest black mark contest,” with all the assembled media trying to outdo one another, all under the approving eyes of BRP top brass. 

As long as the F3 is going perfectly straight, the computer will allow the rear tire to spin freely. On cold pavement, I was even able to spin it in second gear by dumping the clutch at about 40 kmh. 

The icing on the cake is the “hidden” burnout mode of the auto version. Engineers who asked to remain anonymous let me in on the trick: if throttle is opened 100 per cent and the unique brake pedal is pushed 100 per cent, then the computer will understand the intent and release brake pressure on the rear caliper, letting the rear wheel spin with the F3 immobilized—or, in plain English, do a burnout. Of course, I certainly wasn’t going to take their word for it. Yep, it works. Can-Am Spyder F3 - the sporty one

How the Spyder F3 will do in terms of sales is anyone’s guess. Will it be the model that cracks the American market? Will its part animalistic, part VMAX and part muscle car styling be a hit? If the answer is yes, with whom? Who knows? What is certain though is that it does what it’s intended to do very well. Just like the other Spyders, it represents a very well engineered substitute for a motorcycle aimed at those who, for whatever reason, aren’t comfortable on two wheels. But it does it differently by adding a dose of fun and attitude that simply can’t be found on any of the other Can-Am three-wheelers.

-Bertrand Gahel, Issue #307 Jan/Feb 2015


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