Opinion: Ryker revelation

This is a column I never thought I’d write, but here goes.

Can-Am asked me recently if I’d like to ride the new Ryker, which is its least expensive three-wheeler. No I wouldn’t, I thought. I rode the Spyder back in 2008 in Florida when it was first introduced, and it didn’t do much for me. A snowmobile on wheels – that’s about it.

Back then, the Spyder was so kitted out with electronic nannies to help keep it from flipping over that it was not much fun at all. It came complete with a plastic safety card attached to the machine, and you had to press a button to acknowledge you’d read the card and knew the limitations before the Spyder would start. That was worrisome.

To my mind, the Spyder was neither a motorcycle nor a car, and it was the worst of both worlds. It doesn’t lean like a motorcycle, and it’s not as nimble in traffic or as simple to park. It has limited luggage capacity, and when the weather is bad, you get cold and wet. Thanks, but when the time comes to trade in my motorcycle for something with more wheels, I’ll spend a little more and get a Mazda Miata, or perhaps a lot more and buy a Porsche 911.

However, I also write for the Drive section of The Globe and Mail, and I asked the editor if she would be interested in a story about the Ryker. Yes please, she said, so I accepted Can-Am’s offer and didn’t give it another thought. One of the best things about writing for the Globe is that I’m free to write anything I like as long as I’m fair and justified in my opinion, and I figured my Ryker experience might at least make for an entertaining piece.

(For the record, both Canada Moto Guide and its parent company AutoTRADER also allow their reviewers the same unbridled honesty. The scathing review of the 2014 Spyder by onetime CMG editor Jacob Black, is proof of this.)

Can-Am dropped the machine off yesterday at my house. It wasn’t a good start – I couldn’t start it. The delivery driver was a contractor who had no idea about the bike and I couldn’t figure out how to get the engine running.

Mark surprisingly enjoyed riding the Ryker, once he figured out how to start it.

I found a video on YouTube that explained everything: there’s a key fob – not a key – that must be attached to the Ryker for anything to happen. Turn off the kill switch, push on the foot brake and then turn the throttle grip away from you to activate the electronics, then push the starter button and you’re off.

It wasn’t obvious, but it was simple once I knew it, and simplicity is what the Ryker is all about. It has a continuously variable transmission that works like a scooter: just twist the throttle and go, with no changing gears. A foot lever will switch the drive into Reverse if needed. That’s about it. There’s a parking brake and a small luggage compartment, which is really more of a glove box, on the front.

My tester included a passenger seat and folding backrest, and it was powered by the 900 cc Rotax triple that costs an extra $2,000 over the 600 cc Rotax twin. That larger engine gives the Ryker 77 hp and 56 lb-ft. of torque, but adds an extra 10 kg in weight. You can buy a basic Ryker for $11,399 plus destination and taxes, though my tester listed for close to $14,000.

Much of the appeal of the Can-Am Spyder, and the Ryker, is that it is a very stable machine that gives confidence to those riders unsure of supporting a motorcycle. It has all the power and response of a motorcycle but you never need to put your feet down. It doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall, or if you have dodgy knees – you never need your boots on the ground.

It’s also surprisingly comfortable. You can adjust the reach to the handlebars and the footpegs in moments, without tools, and make sure they’re just where you want them. After killing my back the day before on the same Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide that Dustin just took camping, and my butt a couple of weeks ago on the Honda Rebel 1100 that has non-adjustable footpegs set too high for my frame, this was very welcome.

So I started the engine, twisted the throttle, and off I went. And Oh. My. God.

It was fabulous! It was the most fun I’ve had on any number of wheels all year, and I drive a lot of fun vehicles. I couldn’t believe it.

I found my favourite twisty road and set off into it, and I leaned while the bike didn’t, and it was terrific. The great thing about the geometry of having two wheels at the front is that when you go into a corner, all the pressure on the road is transferred to the outside wheel, which digs in and holds you stable. When the two wheels are at the back, as with a trike, the downforce moves to the outside front but there is nothing there for support and the machine really will flip.

The other great thing about the Ryker is that you’re out there in the wind, unlike in a Miata or any convertible. This is something motorcyclists crave and none of it is lost on the Ryker. The machine barely felt road legal, like an ATV with plates, but it’s totally legitimate. I returned eventually on the multilane Hwy. 401, jostling with trucks, and felt quite safe and relaxed.

I never expected this. I expected to hate it, but I loved it. I think I’ll really love the new Ryker Rally that comes out next February, which has slightly longer suspension and is designed for gravel roads. (I rode the Ryker tester on gravel and it was fine, but Can-Am doesn’t recommend it because the shocks are tuned for smooth asphalt.) A friend has offered me a ride on her Spyder and now I’m looking forward to that, though I think I’ll miss the simplicity of the basic Ryker.

I don’t think I’ll be trading in my motorcycle for a three-wheeler anytime soon, nor selling my car, but I’d love to have a Ryker as a fun toy in my garage. If the sun’s shining and the weather’s not too cold, I think it would guarantee to put a smile on my face. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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