Derreck Roemer hangs out in an Austrian parking lot with over 500 Can-Am Spyder owners to find out what kind of people ride these new category machines, and why.
It’s cold and raining hard. I’m riding Can-Am’s Spyder RS through the leaden-skied lowlands near Gunskirchen, Austria, home of the BRP Powertrain factory and birthplace of the Rotax engine. I’m the only one in our small group to have chosen BRP’s sporty, original Rotax-powered three-wheeler over its younger, friendlier touring oriented RT sibling today, and as the wind and rain bite hard into the sliver of exposed flesh between my collar and helmet, I curse myself for not, like the other journalists, having opted for the comfort of the RT’s heated seat and handgrips and its electronically adjustable full protection windshield, (even the guides are riding the touring model on what was scheduled as an RS ride). I also wonder if the event I’m here to cover, the first ever European Can-Am Spyder Homecoming, will turn out to be a complete disaster. After all, who would be crazy enough to ride one of these things in sub zero temperatures through the serpentine, snow covered mountain roads I’d seen earlier (accompanied by a jaunty Tyrolean folk music soundtrack) on the Austrian weather channel, just to be able to spend a rainy day in a massive parking lot amongst a few hundred other Spyder owners? According to BRP’s communications manager Johanne Denault, 550 riders along with 325 roadsters from 17 countries are expected for today’s inaugural event, but BRP Powertrain VP General Manager Gerd Ohrnberger, the de-facto host here in Austria, admits he’s worried that the inclement weather will ruin his party.
BRP held its first ever Spyder Homecoming event in 2008 at its Valcourt, Quebec plant, the place where all Spyders are built. A year later they had a similar rally in Hollywood, California in conjunction with the premiere of the movie Transformers 2—a Spyder apparently makes a brief appearance in the Michael Bay opus. BRP’s goal with these events, CEO José Boisjoli tells me, is to create a community of Spyder owners similar to what Harley-Davidson has done with their Harley Owners Groups.
Our ride mercifully over, I make my way to the main event to see how many hardcore Spyder riders there really are in Europe—me obviously not one of them. Surprisingly the massive parking lot is full of Can-Am three-wheelers, coming from as near as a few hours drive to as far away as Murmansk Russia. Powersports dealer, Andrey Utenkov has ridden what he calls his “snowmobile on wheels” over 3500 km from Murmansk to be here along with 8 members of the St. Petersburg Bombardier Club. He likes the Spyder’s unique styling, he tells me, and the fact that it provides him a motorcycling experience and lifestyle in a safe and easy manner. The same goes for 26-year-old Berliner, Christian Flüggl, a Suzuki GSX R-1100 rider, but Spyder convert since January. Flüggl adds the RT’s practical storage capacity to its list of positive attributes.
Perhaps the biggest common denominator amongst Spyder owners here today is the fact that you don’t need a motorcycle licence to ride Can-Am’s roadster in any European country but Greece. A regular driver’s licence is sufficient. Here in Canada, the same driver’s licence only rule for the Spyder exists solely in BRP’s home province of Quebec. The Canadian manufacturer is of course actively trying to persuade the rest of the country and North America to follow suit. Koen Bonny from Eeklo, Belgium tells me he went to his local dealer in search of a motorcycle, but left with a customized Spyder RS instead. After a weekend-long test drive, Bonny quickly realized that the Spyder provided him the same thrilling, elemental riding experience he was looking for from a two-wheeler, and the fact that he didn’t need to spend extra time and money to acquire a motorcycle licence was a huge bonus. Long -time ATV rider Hans-Georg Sunrieski bought the first Spyder in all of Austria and Germany for the same reason in 2008. He and his wife Francisca say they rode everywhere on it and clocked 30,000 km before they were rear-ended and nearly lost their lives. “We love the Spyder and already have a 2,000 km on our new one.” Sunrieski says, Francisca nodding in agreement. They’re extremely happy to be here and, like Koen Bonny, see themselves as Spyder ambassadors, saying that events like this give BRP’s three-wheeler a higher public profile and are a perfect way to spread the Spyder gospel.
Miro Weindich is here as a different kind of Spyder ambassador. It’s not immediately clear to me why Weindich, from Poland, has parked his seemingly stock black RT amongst the luridly coloured modified Spyders waiting to be judged in the custom competition. And then I see his wheelchair. Miro is a paraplegic. He and his friend Rafal Kozlovvski, who’s come along by car, modified a semi automatic model so that Weindich could operate it using only hand controls and also easily mount his wheelchair on the back without any help. Previously a motorcyclist, Miro’s desired (and now achieved) goal upon seeing a Spyder for the first time, was to experience the joy of riding once again. He’s come here to show BRP executives and others that, with a few modifications, the Spyder RT can provide people with disabilities like his the opportunity to ride just like anybody else.
Near the registration tent I run into Rotax honcho Gerd Ohrnberger again. He seems more at ease now that the precipitation has abated. People have emerged from the arena-sized banquet tent to mill about the custom machines and chat. A police escorted parade of all the Spyders here today, through local towns and countryside, is still to come and it looks as if the weather might comply. As if on cue, a colleague arrives to give Ohrnberger the attendance stats. Approximately 90% of the 550 registrants have shown up. “It’s a success!” he says beaming.
The next Spyder owners event takes place June 24-26 in Chicago, Illinois.