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Spyder roadster crawls into town

"You popped the clutch," Todd Matthews says, flashing a big grin. "You don't want to pop the clutch. Just ease your hand off it."

I nod my head, slightly embarrassed, as I sit on a stalled Can-Am Spyder roadster Saturday in the rear parking lot of Broadway Street's Ollie's Service.

Making its Alexandria debut last weekend, the Spyder was greeted by more than 100 people at Ollie's, each wanting to see for themselves Bombadier's newest high-tech toy.

Many test-rode the three-wheeled, Y-shaped vehicle. Others stood and gawked.

A kind of motorcycle-meets-snowmobile, the Spyder runs about $15,500 and is marketed as a safer, more user-friendly alternative to those who enjoy the feeling of an open-air vehicle but don't like the risks associated with riding a bike.

Longtime motorcyclist Darrell Norby, 52, said he really liked the Spyder's smooth, stable ride.

"Once you got on the road, it turned well," he said. "Over railroad tracks, over bumps - very smooth."

With its wide front wheelbase, Norby said the roadster handles wind a lot better than a bike can, riding more like an agile ATV than a true motorcycle.

"I wanted to ride it like a motorcycle at first, and I was like whoa, OK," he said.

Can-Am doesn't qualify the Spyder as a motorcycle, though the state disagrees.

Minnesota requires a motorcycle license to drive the three-wheeled machine.

Given its lineage, it's easy to see where the roadster's unique design came from. Parent company Bombadier also sells Jet Skis, snowmobiles and four-wheel all-terrain vehicles.

At first glance, Karen Peterson said she wasn't sure what to make of the Y-shaped vehicle.

"The first ones we saw were black, and they were mean," she said. "They looked like spiders."

Peterson, vacationing in Alexandria from Ames, Iowa, said it was after seeing a pair of unique-looking vehicles that she and her husband, Ron Peterson, decided to take one for a test spin.

"It was at night," she said. "They were parked, and they had eyes."

Although she's been riding shotgun on her husband's bike for about five years now, Karen Peterson said she still gets nervous at times out on the road, which is why she's intrigued by the idea of a more stable open-air vehicle.

"I'm kind of a wussy passenger. I don't like semi-trailers or anything," she said. "I think I'll feel safer [on a Spyder]. I don't like to lean into curves."

Back in Ollie's parking lot, it's the curve in the test course that's giving me problems.

Matthews, the Can-Am representative, instructs me to turn the ignition key to re-start my stalled vehicle.

It immediately fires up, and I complete the test drive without any more hiccups.