Is invention the mother of necessity? Can a Canadian company capture a market for its new, three-wheel motorcycle alternative? Or has it spent 11 years and $180 million developing another Segway?
Canada's Bombardier, which profited handsomely with power sport products like Ski-doo snowmobiles and Sea-doo personal watercraft, outboard motors and all-terrain vehicles, thinks the burgeoning motorcycle market among baby boomers can support another hit for its spin-off division, BRP.
The Can-Am Spyder Roadster looks like the letter "Y" on wheels and is meant to "bridge the gap between a motorcycle and a sports car," says design and innovation director Denys Lapointe.
The Spyder puts two tires up front and a third in back, an arrangement BRP engineers argue is more stable. The Spyder is powered by a 998-cc V-Twin engine that produces 106 horsepower and 77 pound-feet of torque, enough to leave plenty of rubber on takeoff and to propel the three-wheeler to a 110 mph top speed.
Most of the controls are the same as a motorcycle's, except that the Roadster has no brake on the handgrip, just a right-foot pedal. Unlike a motorcycle, you steer into a corner. While you lean into a turn, the maneuver is more like riding an ATV than a bike. As with a motorcycle, you shift by flicking a pedal up. BRP plans a Formula One—style, electronically shifted manual transmission. A double-A arm maintains a good sense of road feel, with the suspension adjustable for one or two riders.
The resurgence in motorcycle riding has come with a downside: a sharp increase in accidents, injuries and fatalities. So BRP has put an emphasis on safety, including antilock brakes, traction control and electronic stability control.
Who'll buy the Spyder when it becomes available in 2008? Though priced in the motorcycle sweet spot, at $14,995, the vehicle's market probably won't be "hard-core sport riders," concedes BRP's Chris Dawson. The Canadian company is targeting boomers who like the idea of driving al fresco, but who might be uncertain about riding a bike. BRP is betting that added features, such as the huge cargo compartment up front, will draw enough folks to the blend of open-air driving, safety and unusual design to make the Spyder as big a hit as the Ski-doo and Sea-doo.