It has been 15 years since Can-Am introduced the Spyder, its wholly unique three-wheeled roadster. The machine launched officially in February 2007 and was an instant hit, sales reaching the milestone of 2,500 units in just seven months. By May 2009, 12,500 Spyders had been manufactured, with almost 10,000 of those destined for the U.S. The customer base continued to grow, with another significant milestone in 2015 when Can-Am delivered its 100,000th unit. This vehicle was presented—quite appropriately—at that year’s Spyderfest, the annual gathering created exclusively for Spyder owners that grew out of the brand’s impassioned fan base.
What is unique about Can-Am three-wheelers is their appeal to non-riders. At an IMS show a few years back, I observed how many of the attendees were excitedly taking turns sitting on the Spyders on display in the Can-Am booth. I ventured to ask some of them what the appeal was and discovered a majority of them indeed were non-riders. Universally their answer to my inquiry was that the machine didn’t intimidate them the way the notion of balancing a motorcycle did. Also, they each expressed a sense that the Spyder was a safer option to a motorcycle.
With this in mind, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the Spyder. Its Y-architecture design offers a planted base with two wheels at the front and one at the rear. There’s a traditional motorcycle handlebar and twist throttle, with clutchless and automatic transmission options. All of these things provide a simple, open-air riding experience that blends elements of a motorcycle with a sports car. The key to Spyder’s success is accessibility.
To boost that accessibility, Can-Am has very wisely instigated the Rider Education Program, available nationwide in select states. The program caters to curious, brand-new, and beginning riders, providing introduction and training exclusively on Can-Am three-wheel Spyders and Rykers. Conducted in a controlled, safe environment under the supervision of certified instructors, the course provides a newbie-friendly opportunity to have an initial riding experience on various Can-Am models while receiving invaluable training in the handling of a three-wheeler. In addition to providing instruction, the course serves as a test ride opportunity for potential customers which, quite often, leads directly to a sale.
As a participant in the program, I put myself in the mindset of someone with zero experience and was duly impressed with the way the instructors effectively walked students through a series of classroom study before taking them out onto the training range for hands-on maneuvering lessons. In concise, easy progression, participants are eased into the process of safely operating the machines, starting with basic fundamentals (throttle, brake, body lean, shifting) and forming a base for good riding practices (line of sight, judgment of speed, anticipation of and setting up for corners, and braking in both normal and emergency situations). Instructors take students through a series of exercises that instill a level of competent control and understanding of the three-wheel platform, providing a strong foundation to build on.
The half-day program was packed with easy-to-grasp concepts and explanations, combined with a series of drills to increase proficiency. The instruction goes a long way to boosting riders’ confidence and ensuring their future three-wheel experience is as safe and enjoyable as it can be.
In the early days of the Spyder, many outsiders believed that new riders would use the platform as a transition to two wheels. This has not proven to be the case. In general, the Spyder customer has been content to happily remain within the paradigm of the three-wheel platform. This is evidenced in the enormous growth of the Spyder community, which enjoys uncanny connectivity among owners in the form of organized events, rallies, and group travel, resulting in its own and very extensive three-wheel subculture.
Can-Am broadened the reach and appeal of their three-wheel offerings with the introduction of the Ryker in 2018. It’s an affordable, versatile, and even simpler machine to operate with a fully automatic transmission and an almost 300 pounds lighter curb weight than the Spyder. With a choice of engine displacements and an emphasis on customization, the Ryker was created to appeal to a younger demographic.
To fully appreciate what the three-wheel phenomenon represents, motorcycle riders need to cast aside their own preferences and opinions and respect the appeal of the Spyder to non-motorcyclists. The three-wheel enthusiast possesses the same wanderlust and desire for freedom and adventure prevalent in a motorcyclist’s mindset. They need to be embraced as part of the community—although the Spyder crowd seems to be doing fine as its own devoted clan.
Can-Am’s reputation for innovation in the technical world extends to its social awareness. On the first Saturday of each May, Can-Am participates in the annual International Female Ride Day. Female Can-Am employees, dealers, and vehicle owners ride together to celebrate the importance of female riders and their contributions to the industry. There’s also the Women of On-Road Program, created to help overcome barriers that prevent women from enjoying and participating in riding through inclusivity and education.
The Responsible Rider Program promotes the idea of responsibility among all riders, with an emphasis on creating a more caring community to generate positive experiences by always considering safety, etiquette, and the environment. Lastly, there’s the Road Warrior Foundation. On Veterans Day, Can-Am and the Road Warrior Foundation provide therapeutic rides to veterans, giving them the opportunity to experience the healing powers of feeling the open road on a Can-Am.
To better understand the growth of Can-Am’s three-wheel realm, one needs to know a little something about the company. Can-Am was created in 1972 as a subsidiary of Bombardier, an innovative, progressive-thinking company that invented the Ski-Doo snowmobile in 1959, and the first personal watercraft, the Sea-Doo in 1968. Can-Am was formed as a division to produce motorcycles and, from 1972 to 1987, produced highly successful motocross and enduro machines, winning the 1974 AMA 250cc National Motocross Championship. In 1987, Bombardier shuttered the Can-Am brand. It remained dormant for almost two decades before being brought back to life as the recreational vehicle branch of the company, which included the launch of the Spyder.
Today, Can-Am continues to innovate, not only with machines, but with its community connectivity and its training program. Together, all these elements give future Spyder and Ryker owners the essential rider training to ensure a happy and safe three-wheel experience.