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International Female Ride Day on board two Can-Am three-wheelers

May 25, 2023

It was a picture-perfect spring morning in north county San Diego. The marine layer was slowly receding from the familiar green hillsides that I like to call “my backyard.” The machine in front of me however, was very foreign.

Can-Am reached out to me with an opportunity to ride both the Spyder and Ryker amongst a group of women for International Female Ride Day (IFRD). At first I was hesitant to say yes. I’ve spent all my years as a motorcyclist with the assumption that the three-wheel machines had nothing to offer me. They were quite simply, “for someone else,” in my mind. 

a group of female riders pose at a lakeside overlook with a can-am women riders banner
Our little group is one of thousands that participated in the global International Female Ride Day festivities. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

On a day set aside to encourage more women to ride, it felt appropriate that I should reach beyond my comfort zone and try something new. Can-Am is a brand that embraces that sentiment. Its models are purpose-built to attract new riders to the world of powersports. The company has a particular focus on female riders and their efforts have shown great results. Can-Am reports that women account for 21% of registered on-road Can-Am vehicles, and their Women Of On-Road (WOOR) Facebook group has a membership of more than 17,000 active users.

The group of women assembled for the IFRD was eclectic, with many ages and backgrounds represented. Some had no powersports experience, while our pack leaders from the local WOOR chapter had many years of riding behind them. Did you know that California does not require a Can-Am pilot to have a motorcycle license? Requirements vary state-by-state, with some demanding a motorcycle license while others have a specific three-wheel certification, and a few, like California, have no restrictions at all. (For more details, check out Can-Am’s licensing information on its site.) For the new riders in our group, all they needed were borrowed helmets and gear to hop on board and hit the road.

A female can-am rider shows Jen how to operate the electronics on the can-am spyder dash
A WOOR member walks me through the electronics suite on the Can-Am Spyder Sea-to-Sky edition model. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Therein lies the appeal of the Can-Am three-wheeled machines for the uninitiated. The commitment it takes to obtain a motorcycle license can be a serious barrier, so dismantling that requirement gets more riders into the saddle. Next, the semi- or full-automatic transmissions of the Can-Am on-road vehicles removes the obstacle of learning to shift gears. An EPA report from a few years ago found that only 1.4% of the new cars sold in the United States have manual transmissions, which means fewer and fewer people who might be interested in a powersports machine have previous experience shifting gears and operating a clutch, something the Can-Ams don't require you to do. Last, but not least, the comfort of knowing a three-wheeler won’t tip over at a stop is a trait that brings both new and old motorcycle riders to the fold.

a rear view shot of the group of riders going down a country road on 3 wheel machines
There’s no lane filtering on these bad boys. They take up too much space. Even a “staggered formation” for riding in a big group was not achievable in the traditional sense. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

However, let’s not forget that these three-wheelers also have some drawbacks when compared to a traditional motorcycle. Lane splitting, parking in tight confines, garage space, ability to load into a pickup truck, and more complicated mechanical systems to maintain all come to mind. Every rider will need to balance these pros and cons when they consider three versus two wheels. 

a wide assortment of models and colors of can-am 3 wheels parked in parking lot
There were many “flavors” of Can-Am to choose from for the day ride. Luckily, I had the option to swap midday to try both the Ryker and Spyder models. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

I came up with a game plan to experience the full spectrum of what Can-Am had to offer. I would try the most expensive Spyder RT Sea-to-Sky edition ($30,999 MSRP), and then the entry-level model of the Ryker ($8,999 MSRP). Can-Am’s collection of three-wheelers offers a huge number of configurations, but by sampling the two bookends I would get a good sense of the complete range by the end of the day.

Jen pilots the can-am spyder sea-to-sky edition in green on a mountain road
One thing is for certain, the big presence of a Spyder RT is more visible to cars than a skinny motorcycle! Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Sea-to-Sky: The Can-Am flagship

Ready to set sail? The Spyder RT Sea-to-Sky edition was designed to be the ultimate touring machine with every creature comfort a rider might desire while embarking on a journey of several days (or weeks). 

a close up of the big electronic dash of the spyder rt
The Spyder RT Sea-to-Sky comes with the very best as far as electronics go. A 7.8-inch panoramic LCD dash that is Bluetooth capable is framed with multiple speakers for your audio pleasure. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

The massive footprint of the Spyder RT weighs in at 1,021 pounds and houses a Rotax® 1330 ACE™ in-line three-cylinder, liquid-cooled powerplant that utilizes a six-speed, semi-automatic transmission with reverse function. Commonly known electronic rider aids such as traction control and ABS are present, but the Can-Am also has the unique additions of stability control, dynamic power steering, eco riding mode, and hill hold control. 

The chassis is outfitted with SACHS Big-Bore shocks at the front and a SACHS shock with automatic air preload adjustment at the rear for suspension, and accompanied by Brembo four-piston fixed calipers up front and single-piston floating caliper at the rear. 

The Sea-to-Sky edition is distinguished from the other Spyder RT models with the addition of luxury touring features. It has a 47-gallon capacity for luggage spread across side panniers, top box, and even a frunk. The adaptive foam seat, electrically adjustable windscreen, floorboards and heated grips (for both rider and passenger) are all top-notch.  

a close up view of the spyder rt floor board
The floorboard is bigger than it appears in this photo. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Climbing aboard the Spyder RT was like hoisting myself onto the deck of a galleon ship. Stepping onto the floorboards even gave the sensation of sea legs, thanks to the sliding, vibration-dampening pads. The high saddle felt like being perched in the crows nest of a main mast. Talk about a new point of view! I was then instructed on the start-up sequence of the Spyder RT, which is absolutely unique to these machines and involves much more than a simple twist of the key ignition and start button. 

The riding mechanics of the Spyder RT were also a new bizarre sensation to decode. No levers of any kind, a tiptronic paddle shifter to upshift (mandatory) or downshift (voluntary) with the semi-automatic transmission, a single right foot brake that initiates all brakes, and a traditional throttle. 

close up of the front suspension of the can-am three wheeler
Understanding the dynamics of the double A-arms with anti-roll bar and SACHS Big-Bore shocks was a bit out of my usual purview. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Oh, and did I mention it has a third wheel? As I inspected the tires, shock assembly, and brakes it became clear that the Spyder RT has more in common with a quad than my motorcycle at home. The dynamics of counter-steering and leaning as I understood them were immaterial on this machine. 

a photo of jen from the side view riding around a curve on the road on board the spyder rt
At five feet, four inches tall, I look especially tiny on the oversized Can-Am Spyder RT Sky-to-Sea edition. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

IFRD Spyder crawl 

Our ride started out with benign surface streets to the freeway for several exits to get to the more exciting mountain roads around Palomar mountain. For the Spyder RT, this is its strong suit. Set the cruise control, lift the windscreen, put your favorite yacht rock station on the speakers, and you can jam out for endless highway miles completely satisfied. The only caveat I’ll mention here is that I did notice the Spyder had a strong desire to drift to the right, so I had to maintain a correcting input on the handlebars at all times. I talked to the Can-Am representatives afterwards and they said this is not normal behavior for the Spyder RT. They said it was possible that it needed adjustment. It's an example of how these machines are more car-like in some ways and have more complicated front suspension setups, so they may need car-like maintenance now and then, like a front-end alignment.

an illustration of the route map that was ridden on the can-am three wheelers
REVER map of the route taken on the Can-Am Spyder and Ryker. See route details at REVER illustration.

I began to play more with the engine characteristics of the Spyder RT on the fast sweepers of our backcountry route. Being that it is a half-ton vehicle with only 115 horsepower, the Spyder is sluggish getting all that weight moving. Once it gathers a head of steam, though, it pounds forward like a stampeding gorilla. The stopping power is so strong that the chassis has difficulty absorbing it. One emergency brake test nearly threw me from the saddle! I tried to rely on more engine braking with deliberate downshifts on the paddle shifter, but the semi-automatic transmission delivered little decel, even with the manual inputs.

a close up of a front tire of the can-am with tan colored rims and brembo brakes
Brembos with the “prosecco satin finish” rims are a fine pairing indeed. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

On the tighter corners, I attempted to take on the twisties with speed and aggression. I tried leaning off on the inside of the corners like I would on a sport bike. It was a tenuous feeling, hanging off like a flea on King Kong’s back, and honestly did very little to improve the cornering finesse of the Spyder.  Perhaps counterweight on the top-side of the three-wheeler would help? Negative. Trying to trail brake with a foot lever was also a strange sensation, not to mention the roll of the suspension was reminiscent of a car. I experimented to try and unlock some secret technique of cornering, but the Spyder RT was non-responsive to my hapless body gestures.

a back view shot of Jen riding through a corner on the can-am spyder
Looking and leaning through the corner is a tough habit to break, and I’m not sure that I would want to. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

My gymnastics on the back of the Sea-to-Sky edition led to some laughs at a photo-op stop, with a WOOR rider asking me what in the heck I was up to. I told her I was trying to go fast, to which she queried, what for? I took a moment to let that sink in. Why was I trying to go fast? I suppose it was a natural impulse of mine on curvy roads. For the rest of the ride, I decided to lay that speed demon to rest. I happily sat upon my behemoth and just enjoyed the roads for the scenic experience and not the adrenaline rush. 

Jen sits on the Ryker and checks her Rever map on her phone
The Ryker looks diminutive compared to the larger Spyder RT. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Young blood: The Ryker

After the lunch break, I made the swap to the newest model in the Can-Am lineup, the budget-friendly Ryker. The Ryker was designed with younger generations in mind. It emphasizes agility, custom-fit ergonomics, and of course an affordable price point. 

Jen riding down a straight road on the ryker
The particular Ryker model I hopped on was the Ryker Sport, with an MSRP of $11,899. The Sport model has a Rotax® 900 cc engine, continuously variable transmission with reverse, and KYB suspension. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

The Ryker was raw. An exercise in reductionism where the Sea-to-Sky had been full blown opulence in its extended features list. The younger Can-Am sibling felt closer to a motorcycle in all aspects. The sit-in-style cockpit, flat handlebar, no windscreen, something resembling a footpeg, and the engine vibrations all brought me back to that familiar feeling. 

a close up view of the ryker dash
The 4.5-inch digital display of the Ryker is more austere than the fancy dash on the Spyder RT. Take note of the central handlebar mounting system, which includes an adjustable sliding track so riders can adjust the reach to the grips, no tools required. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

The Ryker had more bottom end, as far as power delivery goes, and jumped off the line with more aggression compared to the heavyset Spyder. The lower center of gravity, flat bar steering, and overall geometry of the Ryker provided better direct feedback from the road. 

While the Ryker was a more genuine riding experience (at least for this motorcyclist), it undeniably feels more “budget” compared to the Spyder. The components are scaled back in quality and finish. However, with it being over $10,000 cheaper than the Spyder, the Ryker helps Can-Am cast a wider net to attract more riders to the brand. 

two ryker riders going down a straight road
The Ryker gave me the impression of being better connected to the road than the Spyder did. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Three wheels or two?

My first time riding the Can-Am on-road three-wheelers left me with plenty to contemplate. As a dyed-in-the-leather motorcyclist, I think it may be impossible to escape my internalized bias. I make it no secret that my love for two wheels stems from the performance aspect, with a particular emphasis on lean angle. Simply put, the Can-Am removes that from the equation of riding. So to my fellow sport riding enthusiasts, I am sure it is no shocker that these three-wheeled machines left me feeling wanting. There are also some strange quirks to the Can-Ams, such as elaborate startup sequences, squawking alarms associated with the parking brake (needed but annoying), and hovering a foot over the foot brake to “cover the brake” in case of emergencies left my calf muscles aching (whereas two fingers covering a front brake on a motorcycle is far less tedious).

a group of ryker riders in a forest road
The ride is the most fun when its shared with friends new and old. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

With that said, I want to acknowledge that there is so much more to riding than how far you dare to lean a bike over. For those seeking to pound out extreme amounts of miles on a big touring trip with the wind running through your hair, the Can Am Spyder meets the demand. Comfort, convenience, and plenty of room for luggage and a passenger is something a vast majority of motorcyclists are in the market for. As for the Ryker? The price point and lower barrier of entry makes it a great alternative for those too intimidated to ride a motorcycle.

Most importantly, the Can-Am vehicles allow more non-riders to easily convert and enjoy the open road outside of a car. I could tell it was an exhilarating and memorable experience for the newbies who joined us. For other motorcycle riders who don’t have the same stamina any more due to medical issues or age but still want to feel the wind in their face, the Can-Am can be a saving grace, as well. The more people who feel empowered to trade a steering wheel for a handlebar, the better off we all are as a community. Is a three-wheeler right for me? Probably not. But the more important question is, is it right for you? 

2023 Can-Am Spyder RT Sea-to-Sky 2023 Can-Am Ryker Sport
Price (MSRP) $30,999 $11,899
Engine Rotax® 1330 ACE™ in-line three-cylinder, liquid-cooled with electronic fuel injection and electronic throttle control Rotax® 900 ACE™ in-line three-cylinder, liquid-cooled with electronic fuel injection and electronic throttle control
final drive
Six-speed, belt drive Six-speed, shaft drive
Claimed horsepower 115 @ 7,250 rpm 82 @ 8,000 rpm
Claimed torque 96 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm 58.3 foot-pounds @ 6,500 rpm
Frame Steel spar Steel tube and composite
Front suspension Double A-arms with anti-roll bar, SACHS Big-Bore shocks; 6.9 inches of travel Double wishbone, KYB HPG with preload adjustment; 6.34 inches of travel
Rear suspension SACHS Shock with self-leveling air preload adjustment; 6.0 inches of travel Multi-link, mono swing arm
Front brake Brembo four-piston fixed calipers, 270 mm discs, ABS Nissin two-piston floating calipers, 270 mm discs, ABS
Rear brake Brembo single-piston floating caliper, 270 mm disc, ABS, parking brake Single-piston floating caliper, 220 mm disc, ABS
Wheelbase 67.5 inches 67.3 inches
Seat height 29.7 inches 24.7 inches
Fuel capacity 7.0 gallons 5.28 gallons
Tires MC165/55R15 55H front, MC225/50R15 76H rear MC 145/60R16 66T front / MC 205/45R16 77T rear
Claimed weight 1,021 pounds (dry) 642 pounds (dry)
Available Now Now
Warranty Two years Two years
More info