You might remember my column from back in August, when I rode a three-wheeled Can-Am Ryker and was astonished at how much fun it was. I’d gone into the whole test-ride thing with a dark heart, sullied by memories of riding a three-wheeled Spyder years before.
That Spyder was – still is – an expensive and heavy machine that seemed to serve a single purpose: provide stability for a rider unsure of controlling the weight of a full-sized motorcycle. The payoff is the motorcycle feel of cruising highways and byways, wind in your face and power at your wrist, without having to ever put your feet on the ground. It’s appreciated by people with shorter legs and especially smaller-sized women, as well as by older riders who may no longer have the balance or strength in their knees or hips as they once did.
The penalty is that you don’t get to lean into corners. In fact, the centrifugal nature of the machine will throw you outward like a Gravitron if you don’t counter it by leaning your body in and holding on tight, just like a snowmobile. Oh, and you still have to dress for the weather. If it’s cold and wet, you can’t just close the roof and turn up the heat.
So I was reluctant to test-ride the Ryker, which is a smaller and much less expensive version of the Spyder. But I did it anyway, and after the first day I wrote this column about what a revelation it was. That was after just the first day. How was it for the rest of my week with the Can-Am?
What is it?
The Ryker is fairly new to the Can-Am lineup of three-wheelers. The Spyder was introduced in 2007 but the Ryker only came along a couple of years ago. It’s a significantly less expensive version of the Spyder, the equivalent of a naked 900 compared to a Honda Gold Wing. While the cheapest Spyder starts at $22,499 and can quickly go north of $30,000, the most basic Ryker lists for only $11,399.
It’s a very straightforward machine, closer to a scooter in many ways than a motorcycle. For a start, there are no gears, just a continuously variable transmission; once you engage Forward, just forget about it, as you would an automatic car. Yes, there’s also a Reverse, and no, it doesn’t go backwards just as fast. I tried.
There’s a monochromatic display panel that shows speed and distance and the like, and there’s an electronic key fob instead of a real key that activates everything. You can attach it to the Ryker if you like, but I just kept it in my pocket so I’d not forget to remove it.
There’s no hand brake, just a foot brake that slows down all three wheels. There’s also a separate parking brake that stops the machine rolling off when you leave it and walk away.
That’s it for controls, though there are several electronic ride modes that govern the traction control, the ABS brakes, and the throttle response. Those nannies used to be far more intrusive on the original Spyder but they’ve been refined over the years and they’re even less so on the Ryker.
The basic engine is a 600 cc liquid-cooled Rotax twin that makes 50 hp, but my tester came with the optional 900 cc Rotax triple that’s good for 82 hp. This added $2,000 to the cost. I expect it was worth it because the test Ryker was quick enough to not have me wanting more power. Maybe the smaller machine will feel slow, because the 900 seemed just right.
The test bike also had an optional passenger seat that cost about $1,200 once you include all the fitments needed to attach it properly. It’s best as just an occasional seat though – if you have a passenger who wants to share some serious distance, that person will really want some armrests to be held in place against any unexpected centrifugal force.
How was it to ride?
I loved the Ryker the moment I stopped at a traffic light and didn’t need to put my feet down. It felt downright naughty – as if I was riding a non-legal ATV on the road, or a home-made three-wheeler. This is very far from being a homemade machine, however, and the fit and finish is just as you’d hope for.
If you’ve read that initial column, you’ll know that first day was a blast for me, but the Ryker held up all through the week that it lived with me. I’d ride it just because I could, because it was so much fun. I’d sling a leg over the super-low saddle, just 67 cm (26.5 in) from the ground, and go looking for new roads to throw it around. Asphalt or gravel, highway or backroad, it didn’t make a difference.
Where the Ryker did suffer was on poorly-paved roads, especially where years of vehicles have worn double tracks into the asphalt. While a motorcycle follows just one track and a car or truck follows two, a Y-design three-wheeler follows three separate tracks on the road, and on poor pavement, one of them is guaranteed to be bumpy. It was next-to-impossible to avoid eruptions and potholes when you’re trying to miss them with all three wheels.
There is, however, a huge difference in cornering stability between the Ryker or Spyder with its two parallel wheels at the front and a traditional trike with its parallel wheels at the back. When you turn into a curve on a motorcycle, the bike just leans and you lean with it and all is well; when you do the same with a car and stay flat, the weight transfers to the outside front wheel. On the Ryker, the principle is exactly the same and you can see the shocks compress on that F1-style outside wheel, but on a trike, there is no outside front wheel. With nothing in place on the road to push back against the centrifugal outside down force, the inside rear wheel will lift up. If you’re going too fast, the trike will flip. I rode one once and don’t ever want to do so again.
The Ryker’s electronic nannies will help to save you from yourself if you go into a corner too quickly. They will activate the appropriate brake and limit the power at the throttle, but you can adjust the amount of intervention through a button on the left handlebar, so you can slide around more easily. That said, it takes a significant amount of effort to actually turn those front wheels into a tight corner at speed, and you’re more likely to just understeer into the ditch than skid out. Only once did I get to squeal the front tires around a curve and that was on a highway off-ramp. I’m sure if there had been a motorcycle riding with me, that bike could have taken the corner at double my pace.
On the multi-lane highway at higher speed, riding in a straight line, the Ryker felt twitchy and took some getting used to. I’m sure the heavier Spyder would feel more planted but in reality, the Ryker wasn’t actually twitchy at all. It’s just that the direct connection between the handlebars and the parallel wheels meant I could feel every notch and ripple in the road. For the Ryker, that’s much of the appeal.
One of the simple but clever features of the Ryker is that both the handlebar and the foot pegs can be slid backwards or forwards quite easily, then locked into place for the ideal seating position. You can sit leaning back with your feet waaaaaay forward, or you can be upright with your feet in almost a mid-mounted position, and the change takes less than half-a-minute to effect.
While I loved the ride, I didn’t like the fuel consumption. Sure, I threw the machine around with abandon and didn’t ride for any kind of economy, but even so, I saw 8.5 L/100 km, which is awful for a machine that weighs only 280 kg dry. I guess it’s considered recreational, so Can-Am and its legion of owners (including the 10,000 female members of the brand’s “Wind Sisters”) don’t usually worry too much about gas mileage. It’s probably also due to the friction of those three fat wheels on the ground, since a motorcycle of that weight should use at least half as much gas.
Would I buy one? Sure I would! I wouldn’t sell my bike for one because I still like to lean and I still enjoy the feeling of two wheels and touring for longer distances, but if I couldn’t ride a motorcycle for whatever reason, I’d love the ability to let it all hang out in the wind, and get some two-wheeled performance, too.
For 2022, the Ryker lineup is expanding to include an updated Rally model, with off-road tires, adjustable suspension with longer travel, a bunch of additional features and a Rally drive mode that will allow even more sliding on loose surfaces. It will list for $16,999 and will only be equipped with the larger engine. I like the sound of that.
I rode the Ryker a lot and kept expecting the novelty to wear off, but it never did. Perhaps I’d have been less keen if the weather had been cold and wet, but I’d be less keen to ride a bike then too. I think that if I had the money and the garage space, I’d have the Ryker as my third machine, with a couple of different motorcycles as my primary rides. However, I’d probably ride the Ryker more than both of them combined. It’s just so much fun.