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Throttle Jockey: Motorcycling to the power of three

I’ll admit it, I’ve said it: if you’re going to ride a 3-wheeled motorcycle, why not just get a car?

Add a third wheel to a motorcycle, and until recently, you essentially had a grown-up version of the Radio Flyer you pedaled around the driveway as a wee tyke. Fun, sure, but not red-zone motorcycle fun.

But, like I said, that was “until recently.” Fact is, production trikes go back to the 1930s (and certainly earlier) when Harley-Davidson began producing the 750cc “Servi-Car,” which, believe it or not, was designed to be towed behind a new car that was being delivered to a customer, unhitched, and then ridden back to the auto dealership. Wash, rinse, repeat. I kid you not.

Harley-Davison Servi-Car
Harley-Davidson Servi-Car Image used with permission by copyright holder

As the years went on, Servi-Cars proved themselves as highly reliable vehicles for any number of jobs requiring something more than a motorcycle but less than a car – from police duty to delivering delicious ice cream to my neighborhood in those bucolic days before ice cream “vans” took over that duty. Fortunately, Servi-Cars are still popular and you can still find them on the used and collector markets.

Along the way, riders who couldn’t ride two-wheelers (many of them injured war veterans) turned Servi-Cars into true road-going concerns, and eventually, Harley and other began offering a purpose-made big-boy trike called the Tri Glide, which is still in the lineup. They are also popular among women riders, and riders who never actually learned to ride a two-wheeled bike but still wanted a motorcycle-type experience. Trike on, friends, who am I to judge?

But in 2007, the folks at Can-Am, known for their dirt bikes of yore and now part of the massive Bombardier conglomerate, birthed the Spyder, a rather curious mix of motorcycle, jet-ski, quad and big horsepower. This was not your grandpappy’s (or grandmammy’s) trike.

Can-Am pushed the two rear wheels to the front, vastly improving handling, and slotted in a 1,000cc powerplant – which has grown to a 1,330cc triple over the years. Car-like tires wrapped around modern wheels and brakes, and the Spyder both went like stink and stuck like glue. However, they were not cheap.

Can-Am Spyder
Can-Am Spyder Image used with permission by copyright holder

In 2007, they sold poorly.

Flash forward almost 10 years, and while it’s a stretch to say Spyders (and similar rigs like the Polaris Slingshot) are “everywhere,” they are most certainly popular now, with Can-Am delivering the 100,000th unit in 2015. All the while, Can-Am has been upping the performance, tech and amenities of the Spyder. ABS, traction control, push-button shifting, full-on tour models and a slate of other configurations now roll down city streets and open highways.

They still look very different from motorcycles, but in more of a holy-crap-what-the-hell-is-that-cool-rig kind of way. They can look a bit like 3-wheeled Batmobiles, and I mean that with a high degree of praise.

I got to ride a Spyder recently, and while I miss the dynamics (especially when turning) of a motorcycle, I can say that it was a total hoot to ride. There is so much traction you feel as if you can do no wrong (but trust me, you definitely can), and you still get what I would call a real motorcycle experience, especially on the sporty models. And, of course, they look like nothing else on the road.

Can-Am Spyder
Can-Am Spyder Image used with permission by copyright holder

Now, Honda is getting into the game with the Neowing, a performance reverse trike somewhat like the Spyder, but with their big pancake six from the Goldwing providing power. Also: it leans, similar to the Paiggio MP3 scooters, but with a bit wider track. Yamaha has also shown an even more radical mantis-like leanable trike as well, and claims they’re going to bring it to market.

Honda, Yamaha, Polaris, Can-Am, Piaggio, Harley-Davidson. Suddenly, there’s a whole roster of companies going adding an extra wheel to their bikes, and often in revolutionary and exciting ways.

Would you ride one? If you still think a trike almost equals a car, you’re missing out on a whole lot of fun – and traction.

Bill Roberson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Please reach out to The Manual editorial staff with any questions or comments about Bill’s work.
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