The thrill of riding a motorbike is hard to beat. Many people are addicted to it, for a number of different reasons: the freedom that it gives, the adrenalin rush, the heightening of the senses, having that exhilarating, vibrating power between your legs, the way that body and bike merge into a finely tuned speed machine or just the gap to spend time cruising with friends.
It makes no difference whether arms and legs work or not, the addiction is just as strong. Many people have lost the use of their legs due to motorbike accidents, but the desire to get back on and ride still appeals to most - the need for that adrenalin rush and freedom. The lack of adrenalin opportunities can be a very depressing part of life in a wheelchair!
That is why I got so excited when I stumbled across the new, three-wheeler, Can-Am Spyder recently launched on South Africa. I immediately saw the potential for riders with disabilities – and the tiptronic gearbox was an added bonus.
I got talking to Kobus Visser, from Echo Powersport, and we discussed the features and adaptations that would be needed.
The main stumbling block was the foot brake, which he assured me could easily be converted to a hand brake. So we set a date and, thanks to Zwartkops events managers and Mercedes Benz Dynamic Driving, we were able to use the Zwartkops racetrack to test the bike for a couple of hours.
Converting to hand controls was a bit more of a challenge than Kobus had expected, due to the fancy braking and stability systems, (this bike has almost every safety feature your can dream of). Finding test pilots was the easy part – I knew Mathys Roets still had his passion for bikes despite the bike accident that put him in a wheelchair. Trajan Grobbelaar (TG), a superbike racer, had an accident at Zwartkops about three years ago which landed him in a wheelchair too. TG had sworn that he would never ride at Zwartkops again but, lucky for him and for us, he broke that promise!
Thanks also to Carl Schroeder, Jaco van Staden, Anton van Zyl, Peter Ray and Reuben van Niekerk who so willingly joined us. Simon Fourie, from Bike SA, came along for the day. He has tried very hard, but without success, to get into a wheelchair – breaking his back twice, his neck once plus just about every bone in his body! Some people never learn!
The feedback we got proved this bike to be the winner that I had hoped: ”what an awesome machine”.
The Spyder has a 5-speed tiptronic gear box and, unlike most motorbikes, also has reverse. It is powered by a two cylinder, 998cc, V-Twin engine made by Rotax that produces 79 kW (106 hp), the same engine that was used in the RSV1000R (Aprilia Tuono 1000R) motorcycle. The engine features a compact 60° cylinder configuration, 97 x 68mm bore/stroke dimensions, a 12.2:1 compression ratio, and four valve DOHC equipped cylinder heads providing enough power to keep most riders on their toes.
Much of the bike design was focussed on stability and safety and, thanks to its full set of electronic safety features, everyone was surprised by how stable it was. It comes standard with a Vehicle Stability System (VSS) that includes ABS, Traction Control and Stability Control
No two-wheeled motorcycles on the road today have a system comparable to the VSS. The system is great for keeping you on three wheels but did seem limiting when the Spyder was put through its paces around the track, especially as riders powered out of the bends. The features make it almost impossible to get into a skid or to roll it. It even has power steering, which made a big difference to those who do not have balance. Although the steering is heavier than a motorbike, it is much lighter when compared to a quad bike, making it less tiring, particularly when you have to rely on your arms for balance.
The Spyder can’t really be compared with a motorbike because the driving style is very different. It has to be steered through corners, whereas a motorbike is leaned through the corners. Also, the centrifugal forces on a bike push you into the seat as you go through a corner, but on the Spyder these forces tend to push the rider off the bike, so they still need to lean their body into the corner.
When you come to a stop on the Spyder, there is no need to put your foot down – a major winner for paraplegics and amputees. The seat is wider than a motorbike seat, but narrower than on a quad bike. This can take a bit of getting used to as it can affect your stability if your legs don’t work. We debated whether paraplegics should be strapped to the bike or not for safety reasons. In an accident one would want to be thrown clear of the bike; however we decided that feet needed to be strapped on to prevent them from falling off the footrests and getting injured.
TG, who has a fairly high injury and thus has very little trunk control, needed to have his pelvis strapped to the bike. This stability made a big difference to how quickly he could accelerate and how hard he could push through the corners.
The controls are also slightly different to a conventional motorcycle or quad. The twist grip throttle is the same but all the braking is done by a foot pedal on the right hand side, while gear changes (on the semi automatic tiptronic model) are done by an up down switch on the left handlebar. The local BRP dealer is busy working on a modification whereby the brakes are moved to the right hand side handlebar like a conventional motorcycle but at this stage, the modification affects the warranty. The Spyder has 44 liters of space in the front trunk – sadly not big enough to fit a wheelchair!
Our test day certainly proved that there is potential for the Spyder in the disability market, and the fact that the demo bike was sold on the day, suggests that it hit the mark.
There are still some practicalities for wheelchair users that need to be sorted out, if you want full and independent use, such as how do you transport your wheelchair, and some additional trunk support for the seat.
It takes a lot of strength and expert transfer skills for paraplegics to get on, and off, the bike without help but it is possible.
At R210,000 it is unfortunately out of most people’s budget but, if it is going to put back quality into someone’s life and give them back something to live for, then perhaps it is worth including it in the budget.
To organise a test drive please contact Kobus Visser, at Echo Powersport, on 072-017-9998.