Dissecting the Can-Am Spyder F3

The Power Cruiser segment is small, but it has a distinct visual language: tough, guts-out, feet-and-fists-forward riding position, a limited color palette, macho. Think Diavel, V-Rod, VMAX, the current Honda Valkyrie. Whether you think power cruisers are hideous, overstuffed pierogis or killer, no-frou awesome-balls in an increasingly pussified world, they are a strong identity statement that is powerfully expressed through unmistakable styling.

Can-Am/BRP is now knocking on the door of the P-Cruiser club asking to be let in. Their entry card is the 2015 F3, which cops all the best, or worst, or certainly most obvious styling cues from the other P-Cruisers out there. Before we deconstruct the styling, however, we should mention that the name F3 is really baffling. Why they would pick the same name as the petite, uberexotic, dead sexy, stiletto-heeled MV Agusta F3 cannot be explained. It can’t possibly be an intentional allusion; the only possible reason is a lack of due diligence coupled with general ignorance.

_g207970Pictured: Not a trike.

The overall impression of the Spyder F3 is that it is massive – or, rather, massy – not just big, but dense and heavy. Like space-time-warping dense. All the P-Cruisers have a real visual weight, but it usually comes with a compactness and a sense of engineered tightness: the density comes from cramming a Mack-truck engine into a motorcycle frame, and gives an impression of caged power. Not so much with the F3. Rather than potential energy, it conveys an odd scale and proportion. Compare the knee cut-outs in this photo with the scale of an actual human’s knee:

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P-Cruisers are required to look a little mean, of course, and the F3 takes that quite literally with its squinting, belligerent headlights and downward-sloping front end. The prowling, predatory look dominates the forward half of the machine.

There are some more literal ‘borrowings’ from more established P-Cruiser bikes. The daddy of all P-Cruisers, the Genghis Khan of this race, is the Yamaha (sorry, “Star”) VMAX. This bike, which has been around since 1985, set the standard for the category and still has a loyal cult following. It has always been as ugly and as endearing as an English bulldog, and it styling has changed little in 30 years. The most distinctive visual elements are the big air scoops right up on the bike’s shoulders. These are a very brash, hot-roddish design move, which make the VMAX instantly recognizeable. The F3 has copied this move (again, quite literally) with big shoulder scoops that turn the VMAX’s tough, “Don’t give a damn” gesture into “Ooh, me too! Me too!”

Perhaps more shameless are the exposed frame elements painted red, a gesture lifted straight from Ducati. Ducati can do this because their frames are works of art (I would seriously pay to see an exhibit of just Ducati frames). However, there is nothing interesting to see in the F3 frame, and painting it red just highlights the visual poverty of the chassis. The whole tail end, in fact, looks traced straight from the Diavel design book, which again just makes the F3 suffer by the comparison.

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The front end is a slightly less sporty version of a 1950s-era Ford 8N tractor, perhaps also influenced by dreams of a Toyota Tundra.

 ford 8nAre you my mother?

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In short, this styling effort is misguided. Any attempt to clothe something in the trappings of what it is not is dicey. It takes a deft hand and maybe a sense of irony to pull it off, neither of which are in evidence in the F3. (Or maybe it’s deeply ironic, and we just don’t get it.)

There is a great, fun, well-engineered machine under all those truck body parts, but trying to be something you’re not comes off a little ridiculous. This goes to the fundamental conceptual flaw of these machines: trying to insist that they are motorcycles. They are, and should be, something else.

Check out this Spyder ad. At around the 10-second mark, there is this approving not from a “real” biker (at a roadhouse, no less) upon seeing the weekenders roll up in their Spyders. Instead of just playing the Can-Am for the fun luxury excursion toy that it is, it becomes a joke to think that it is somehow equivalent to a bored-out panhead chopper.

The worst outcome of the incorrect assumption that this machine is a motorcycle is in putting a motorcycle-style saddle on the Spyders. There is no damned reason to straddle a machine that doesn’t lean, except to pretend it’s a motorcycle. You sit astride a bike precisely so that you can lean with it. The centrifugal force of a turn and the force of gravity resolve into a resultant force vector that pushes straight down through your butt into the seat and to the wheels. It’s perfect. The forces all work together harmoniously, creating that awesome feeling of oneness with the machine. You move your body, the machine moves, it all works.

If the machine doesn’t lean and you’re straddling it, the centrifugal force tries to push you off. Instead of working with you, you have to compensate and fight the forces of nature (this is true to a much lesser degree in ATVs because the speeds are less and there is a lot more going on dynamically off-road). In a hard turn, you have to leverage off the handlebars, which you are trying to use to steer the machine at the same time. It’s unnatural, and it’s not what the machine wants. It’s a triumph of wishful thinking over best design.

 

What you really want is something like are something like Formula 1 seats set as low as possible. What we really crave is a kicking three-wheeler really designed – aesthetically as well as technically – around the intrinsic experience such a machine could offer. If only somebody would come up with something like that…

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