When you become the owner of a high performance vehicle, it’s natural to show it off to your friends and family. So when Joan Mitchell, a Blacksburg Realtor (RE/MAX 8 associate broker), got her 2014 Can-Am Spyder RT, she took her mother for a ride on the three-wheeled touring machine.
Like a motorcycle, the Spyder is open-air and has a single rear wheel – but it has two front wheels. The manufacturer refers to it as a “roadster,” but in technical terms, it is more of what has been traditionally called a trike, although a trike usually has two wheels in back.
Like many motorcycles, it has a powerful engine – a 115-hp, three-cylinder, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, four-stroke Rotax 1330 – and a reverse gear. “That makes it easier to maneuver in parking lots,” Mitchell says.
Drivers must have a motorcycle permit to operate a Spyder, and helmets are required when riding. That wasn’t a problem for Mitchell, who got her motorcycle license several years before acquiring the barely used Spyder in 2015.
Her mother enjoyed the ride and the Can-Am, but that didn’t stop her from offering her daughter a report on her driving performance. As it turns out, Mitchell’s mother had been a motorcycle safety instructor who has logged more than 100,000 road miles as a motorcyclist, mostly on Honda Goldwings.
Like her mother, Mitchell took up the sport of motorcycling midway in life. Her mother started once her children were raised. Mitchell started in 2009, a few years after she moved to Blacksburg. Her husband, an experienced rider who owns two BMWs, encouraged her to get one of her own. “I was content to be a passenger,” Mitchell recalls. But when she took a motorcycle class at New River Community College in Dublin, she fell in love with riding. She also fell a couple of times, laying the practice bike down. But that didn’t discourage her. “I was determined,” she declares.
Prior to finding the Spyder, Mitchell had two two-wheeled motorcycles – a Honda Rebel and a BMW F650GS, a multi-surface bike. Giving up two wheels for three doesn’t eliminate the windswept feeling she gets when riding. “You might not lean the same way as on a two-wheeled motorcycle,” she explains, “but there is still centrifugal force, and human body mechanics have to respond to the road and the curve. There is a lot of enjoyment and challenge out of the ride.”
With the Spyder, which features upright, legs-down seating, there is also a stability control system, designed to keep both front wheels on the ground when the driver takes a corner too quickly, too sharply, or both.
Can-Ams are made by BRP, the recreational products division of the Canadian aircraft company Bombardier (BRP also makes snowmobiles). The RT weighs more than 1,000 pounds and is just shy of nine feet long. Though there is a semi-automatic version available, Mitchell’s Spyder comes with a manual 6-speed transmission with a hand-operated clutch lever and foot-operated shifter like most motorcycles.
There is plenty of storage with two side cases, a back case and a “frunk” or front trunk. Mitchell has installed GPS and a power adapter into her Spyder. With the adapter she can power accessories like her heated riding jacket. “One of my friends loves to tease me about my Realtor personality, which is very business-like, and my biker personality, which is all play,” she reveals. “She always remembers when she saw me pull up on my BMW, take off my black motorcycle jacket, and there I was wearing a pearl necklace.”
Mitchell goes riding most frequently with her husband, but also enjoys solo and group riding. “It’s definitely a couple’s sport. It’s wonderful to encourage each other and share a passion for riding.” The two of them belong to a local riding group which includes several three wheelers. The group is very informal, and some of them – “motorcycle breakfast buddies” – have been riding together regularly for more than 30 years. Mitchell and her husband are newcomers, since around 2010.
“With three-wheelers you can continue to enjoy the sport of motorcycling as you get older,” Mitchell explains. “Not to say it’s an old person’s ride. You can still enjoy riding twisties, but the trike is definitely easier on your hips and knees. Not having to put down a foot at a stop or worry about balance during slow-speed maneuvering makes the Spyder easy to operate. ”
A Spyder is a good option for women who may not be comfortable on two wheels. “It’s a more secure way to get started,” Mitchell believes. Her other vehicles include a Hyundai Genesis (or “couch on wheels,” as she affectionately calls it), but she loves motorcycle riding in the New River Valley. “We have world-class motorcycle riding here. Wonderful roads, wonderful scenery. I even love riding at night. There’s something appealing about riding through a tunnel of darkness.”
One of Mitchell’s more memorable rides was taking her identical twin sister, Jean, for a ride around Smith Mountain Lake. “We had a fabulous time! I try to ride it as much as possible – because it’s fun.”

Text by Karl H. Kazaks
Photos by Tom Wallace