2008 BRP Can Am Spyder & 2008 Piaggio MP3
The rapid rise in gas prices is producing big changes in the way we travel. While some have turned to two-wheelin' with motorcycles and scooters, there is a lot of chatter on the Internet about new three-wheel vehicles being an economical and even fun commuter car alternative. So we decided to try out a couple of the latest three-wheelers to see if an odd number makes even better sense.
Our three-wheel adventure starts with the BRP Can Am Spyder. Its manufacturer, Canada's Bombardier Recreational Products, is long an innovator in recreational vehicles, and the Spyder certainly fits the bill, with its unique combination of motorcycle, ATV and snowmobile elements. The steel snowmobile-type chassis wraps around a punchy 106 horsepower 998cc V-twin motor built by Austrian engine company Rotax.
A motorcycle-style clutch and sharp 5-speed manual or 5-speed electronic sequential gearbox controls power delivery to the rear wheel by way of a Harley Davidson-style belt drive. But no motorcycle ever had the Spyder's twin front wheels and an automotive-style double A-arm suspension.
Similarities to cars continue with electronic stability control, traction control, speed-sensitive power steering, and ABS for the three disc brakes which are linked to a single foot pedal. Plus a transmission-based reverse mechanism which allows for easy in and out of parking spaces. This interesting combination of elements makes for an equally interesting riding experience. The Spyder doesn't lean like a bike, but the rider still has to, to compensate for centrifugal force.
Car-like tires up front mean car-like front end push, so plenty of muscle is needed for tighter turns, especially over choppy pavement. Smoother pavement and wide open highway requires much less effort and yields a super stable ride. One with big engine torque for fast launches and quick passes, and a quiet, comfortable riding position thanks to well thought out aerodynamics and a wide well-padded seat. Plus a healthy 1.5-cubic feet of storage for weekend and work-a-day gear.
But, if you were expecting gas savings, it may not compute. We averaged 31 miles-per-gallon, or about the same as a compact car, and it carries a compact car price as well, with the base model going for $15,499. Not cheap, but neither are most top-end two-wheelers these days.
Now a more affordable, but even more interesting three-wheeler is the Piaggio MP3. Designated a maxi-scooter by its Italian builder, the MP3 is also presented as a revolution in personal transportation.
Its quirky Batman-like styling is led by a pair of 12-inch alloy wheels that pivot on what Piaggio calls its parallelogram suspension. This clever combo of hinges and cast aluminum arms allows the front wheels to tilt with the scooter as you lean into a corner. Two front wheels give the MP3 above average stability. But since they tilt, the MP3 retains the nimble character that makes scooters so popular with urban commuters fighting their way through tight, unpredictable traffic.
It also makes the MP3 very user-friendly for beginners, since low speed stability is greatly improved, especially over rough pavement and having three wheels, and therefore three disc brakes, means stopping power that puts most cars to shame.
A big MP3 feature, and one that does take a little time to master, is the ability to lock the wheels in their upright position so you don't have to put your feet down when you come to a stop.
A warning light signals you when you going slow enough for locking, and then just flick a switch. A beep confirms the wheels are locked. But be sure that the wheels are straight and you are on level ground, or they will lock in a tipsy position. Even if you do put your feet down, the MP3 is still a very clever little beast.
Behind the front wheels, the MP3 is the kind of scooter that has made Piaggio a world leader. Engines are all 4-stroke single cylinders; 244, 399, or 493cc, with a no-shift CVT transmission.
While certainly not as powerful as the Can Am, our MP3 500 tester will easily hold 70 miles-per-hour on the highway, yet still delivers a very earth-friendly 56 miles-per-gallon and goes for prices that range from $7,199 for the MP3 250, to $8,899 for our MP3 500.
Clearly three-wheelers are not the answer to all of our commuter and sports needs; after all you still get wet when it rains. But innovative and super stable designs like the Can Am Spyder and Piaggio MP3 are giving car drivers tired of $4-per-gallon gas some very interesting - if fair weather - alternatives. And showing that sometimes an odd number really does make even better sense.
- Piaggio MP3 Motor: 4-stroke single cylinders; 244, 399, or 493 cc
- Horsepower: 106
- EPA: 56 MPG City/70 MPG Highway