On initial contact, there's usually a three-step reaction. People stop accompanied by a "Whoaaaaaaaaaa." Then they eyeball. Long and hard.
And finally, breaking into a wide, wry smile, they vote: "That's WILD!"
The Can-Am Spyder is a seismic new twist on an old tale. Innovative design combines with dramatic styling to create a street-touring motorcycle that's unlike anything else on the road.
Since debuting last September, the Spyder has gained a steady, if niche, following among bike enthusiasts, and more and more dealers are starting to sell it. Priced at a hefty $15K for the base model, it's more expensive than most street bikes but more affordable than a loaded cruiser. The best part: It proudly embraces the best of both.
It's also a head-turner, if only for the novelty factor.
"A lot of people looked a lot of people," said Lance Cpl. Chris Barber, 19, who test-drove the cycle for Military Times. "I actually had someone stop next to me at a light and ask me what it was."
Oleg Satanovsky, a spokesman for the bike's manufacturer, Bombardier, said the Spyder reflects a new trend in the marketplace.
"The Can-Am Spyder is the beginning of a whole new segment," he said. "It's something that's never been seen before. This is just the beginning of a whole new line."
Publicity helps. Rumor has it that the Spyder will make a cameo appearance in next summer's "Transformers II" film, though insiders are mum on whether the bike will "transform."
The revolutionary design with two wheels in the front and one in the back sports the sleek style of a crotch rocket but the stability of an ATV. It's got a Rotax 990cc, V-twin engine for serious power (106 horsepower at peak performance, averaging about 35 miles per gallon) and traction and stability control for respectable safety.
Because of its two front wheels, you don't have to worry about laying the Spyder down or getting dumped easily. One common threat, though, is rear-wheel spinout, kept somewhat in check by a traction control system and the sheer weight more than 800 pounds.
"You have to reach pretty far out to get the clutch," Barber said, "and the traction control, I don't like that. If you take off pretty hard, it will spin the tires. It happened."
Barber said the bike is a definite novelty, and is fun to drive, but might not be for everyone.
"This bike would probably be good for anyone who wants a sports bike or maybe anyone who's wounded and can't ride a bike anymore," he said, "so they get one of these."
One of the most striking features, and a welcome one among cycle veterans, is storage: the Can-Am Spyder can discreetly stow a large rucksack in the front "trunk," more than enough room for a couple of helmets. It's also got a comprehensive dashboard panel to monitor every aspect of the bike's performance.
Like most cycles, accommodating a passenger isn't a problem, and after-market accessories abound.
Most notable, though, is something you won't find on any type of two-wheeled bike: reverse. Flick the switch and downshift (it's geared one down and five up) and the bike gently pops into reverse.
A new experience
If you're expecting either a fast crotch rocket or a yoked-out ATV, you might be disappointed in the Spyder. It's more a hybrid of the two, with its own personality and appeal, but if you've ever ridden either, you'll be right at home.
Our test drivers
We asked a few people to test drive the Spyder at our Springfield, Va., office Aug. 8.
Lance Cpl. Chris Barber
Occupation: Marine optics specialist
Years riding: 1½
Performance: It kind of reminded me of a dirt bike, actually. It was pretty tight. It was definitely different than any other bike. On a normal bike, you would counter-steer and on this bike, you actually lean into the steer and turn into it. It was a little harder to turn. It would take a lot to get used to it.
Safety: It felt 100 percent safe. It felt like I was on a [motorcycle].
Novelty: I like the way it looks. It looks really cool. I like the wheels in the front. I could see some people buying it and putting some 20s on it. I gotta think outside the box. I'm sure someone would.
Would you buy one? No.
Occupation: Military Times mail service coordinator
Years Riding: 20
Performance: It rides like an ATV. It has the steering of a 4-wheeler; it's pretty quick.
Would you buy one? No. I think the handling could be a little better.
Occupation: Military Times senior design editor
Years riding: 0
Performance: It felt like being on a jet ski. And much less scary than a regular street bike. Figuring out the clutch was a humbling experience, but once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed it.
Safety: I definitely felt safe on the Spyder. It doesn't corner nearly as sharp as a street bike, and it felt so wide and low to the ground that I didn't worry about tipping at all.
Would you buy one? It's not so practical for a mom with a baby and another on the way.
Occupation: Former Marine and Military Times page designer
Years riding: 3
Performance: It was really awkward at first, but I'm sure I'd get used to it.
Safety: Like any motorcycle, safety has a lot to do with how you operate the bike. I would want to spend some time getting adjusted to it before I pushed myself.
Novelty: It's definitely got a look of its own and attracted a lot of gawking in the short time I rode it.
Would you buy one? If you're into motorcycles, then this bike might not be your thing. The Spyder felt almost like a motorcycle on training wheels. And if you're into ATVs, then you'd probably want one that could go off-road.
Occupation: Military Times senior staff writer
Years riding: 2
Performance: The Spyder has some serious get-up-and-go. I like the stability of three wheels with the power of a 990cc engine.
Safety: I probably couldn't lay this thing down if I tried.
Novelty: I would opt for a custom paint job, maybe even some racing stripes.
Would you buy one? Yes, as soon as I get a raise.
Spyder not your cup of tea? Here are other options to feed your inner speed demon.
Ideal bike: Yamaha R6
Ideal rider: You're a risk taker with a wild streak; you don't follow the pack, the pack follows you if they can catch up. You also have little regard for your mother's warnings.
Price range (new): $6,500-$12,000.
Not a good idea if: You've had more than three speeding tickets.
Ideal bike: Harley-Davidson Soft Tail
Ideal rider: You crave the hum of the open road and your individual identity. Your "hog fever" is likely fanatical. You also have leather pants.
Price range (new): $12,000-$25,000.
Not a good idea if: You have E-2 pay.
Ideal bike: Honda CRF450R.
Ideal rider: You're a weekend warrior who likes the feel of the wind and dirt through your hair. And you have comprehensive health and life insurance.
Price range (new): $1,500-$3,000.
Not a good idea if: You've got a wife and kids.
Ideal bike: Vespa LX
Ideal rider: You're environmentally conscious and want an energy-efficient way to get to work, and you don't care if anyone sees you ride it.
Price range (new): $1,000-$2,500.
Not a good idea if: You want a date on Friday night.