It was February 2007 in San Diego when BRP first introduced the Can-Am Spyder, a hi-tech, three-wheeled vehicle with a bit of a twist - two wheels in the front, one in the rear. For decades, custom three-wheeled trikes have been available with powerplants ranging anywhere from Harley-Davidson Twins to small block V-8s, but these trikes have always sported a single front wheel with two trailing and a reputation for not being the best handling machines. Enter the Can-Am Spyder, a revolutionary direction for three-wheeled transportation.
In an effort to not be categorized with these previous triple-tire vehicles the folks from BRP/Can-Am prefer the Spyder be classified under the term Roadster. Now, the question is, should the Spyder Roadster be classified as a motorcycle?
It doesn't take but a few miles in the cockpit of this testosterone-laden chariot to quickly realize that the characteristics of two-wheeled motorcycles are not apparent. Yes, the Can Am Spyder sports a pair of handlebars, and yes, there is a twist throttle - but after that you'll find the Spyder Roadster to be in a class of its own. Previous articles have claimed that the riding experience falls somewhere between a motorcycle and a convertible sports car; I would say it's more like a cross between an ATV and a snowmobile - but with asphalt underneath you.
Back to the Spyder Roadster... We were invited to Dallas, Texas, to test the 2009 version, which is virtually identical to the 2008 model, except this time the SE5 Spyder model was available. Can-Am was anxious to show-off their latest techno advancement - one which they felt would help the Spyder appeal to an even broader base of enthusiasts.
The SE5 Sequential Electronic Five-Speed is a semi-automatic transmission shifted via your left thumb and forefinger, similar to the Yamaha FJR1300AE. The SE5 version has no shift or clutch lever and takes only a few minutes to understand the simplicity of how it works.
The amazing feature of the Spyder SE5 is not only how it up-shifts through the five speeds but how it automatically downshifts for you. Once the engine trickles down to the 2500 rpm range, the SE5 automatically starts grabbing gears and by the time you reach that stop sign, you are already in first. Call me lazy, but I found this to be a great feature... You can also manually downshift by easily pulling in on the shift paddle with your forefinger.
No matter how you describe the riding experience, the one word that keeps surfacing to the top is "fun." Plus amazing, unreal, incredible, awesome and a whole slew of positive adjectives. Bottom line is the Can-Am Spyder Roadster is an absolute kick-in-the-butt to ride. Here are some of the reasons why:
Where's The Power Come From?
If you own an engine company that already has global recognition for building hi-tech performance and reliable powerplants, why not start there. The Can-Am Spyder runs a variation of the Rotax V-Twin found in the Aprilia sportbikes. This is a liquid-cooled 998cc V-Twin with multi-port, electronic fuel-injected 57mm throttle bodies, which Can-Am claims produces 106 hp at 8500 rpm with an impressive 77 lb-ft of torque at 6250 rpm.
Can-Am also claims the Spyder accelerate from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.and is governed to a top speed of 110mph.This is the same basic engine found in the superbike series and they pump out 200hp ,so there's something for the very brave to play with.
My experience was in the pouring rain on a Texas freeway at 85 mph with plenty of throttle left to easily surpass the 100 mph mark. Overall the engine feels very strong throughout the entire band. Both the electronic and manual shift easily glide through the five-speed gearbox with a solid performance and plenty of power.
The exhaust is a 2-into-1 system that amplifies a substantial but subdued sound without much limitation on the performance. Can-Am does have an alternative slip-on exhaust that pumps up the horsepower another 4 ponies and kicks out a classic sound for those looking for a little edgier appearance and performance.
One "Big Fun" feature that the BRP designers put into the Spyder's performance package is the Burn Out factor. Drop the clutch from a standing start and the Rotax 990 will light up the rear tire... And not just for a few feet... I'm talking 30-40 feet! Anytime under 35 mph, feather that clutch and grab some throttle and you have black streaks trailing behind you. I'm convinced it is designed to sell more rear tires, but who cares! If you're 20 or 60, it's always fun to light up the rear.
Getting In Gear
We already touched on the Cam Am Spyder SE5 transmission, but here are some more technical details that set the Can-Am Spyder apart from other performance vehicles. Let's start with reverse. No self-respecting motorcycle has a reverse, especially one that touts itself as a cutting-edge performance machine
It is so cool... Just pull into any parking lot, pull on the reverse lever, push down another gear and back right into your spot. The SE5 version is even easier - push the "R" button and start backing up. Dang, I must be getting old! You have to remember, the Spyder Roadster weighs in at about 700 lbs so the reverse becomes a must-have feature.
The Spyder is belt driven with a carbon-reinforced drive belt. It has a wet clutch (operates inside the case with oil) via a hydraulic piston. The drive ratio is 28/79, but really, once you feather that clutch lever and leave a smoky patch of rubber in your neighbor's driveway, do you really care about drive ratio?
Let's Talk About The Backbone
With two wheels in front and one in the rear, you can only guess that the geometry of the Can-Am Spyder frame will be a bit unique compared to your average motorcycle or ATV. It all starts with what Can-Am calls the skeleton and the SST frame (Surrounding Spar Technology) featuring a steel center beam that surrounds the engine, minimizing weld points and increasing structural integrity. It is what they refer to as a Y design, which you also see utilized throughout all their marketing materials.
Okay... Here Is The Tricky Stuff
Two wheels in the front, one in the rear... This thing must handle like Fred Flintstone's Brontosaurus. No! Even Wilma would be right at home peddling the Spyder through its paces. You see, the engineers at BRP have created what they call the VSS (Vehicle Stability System), a control system they developed in conjunction with Bosch (a German-based leader of technology - check them out on the web at www.bosch.com).
There are three parts to the VSS:
1- The Stability Control System (SCS) - which continually analyzes the motion of the vehicle and assists the rider in correcting any negative situation. The SCS individually brakes the wheels and reduces excess torque until rider control is regained. I found this to be an amazing feature that instantly develops confidence on how this machine will handle under adverse conditions.
2- The Traction Control System (TCS) - which optimizes rear wheel traction to prevent any excess rear wheel spin. Unless, of course, you are in that burn-out factor range where the designers allow you to spin the rear tire as long as you have the Spyder pointed straight.
3- Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) - helps you maintain control of the vehicle while braking, no matter how quickly you need to come to a stop. Fred used to wear out the bottom of his feet but with the Spyder, sensors monitor the rotation of all three wheels independently and help the rider maintain control steer through any adverse situation.
And then there is the DPS (Dynamic Power Steering). The DPS provides a computer-programmed variable power assist that helps adjusts the amount of steering effort required according to your speed. Okay... That came right out of their marketing brochure, but I can tell you the SCS, TCS, ABS and DPS add up to a combined safety feature found only in high-end sports cars. You can push the Spyder through the turns and the on-board sensors will respond. Barney would be jealous.
To help prevent theft, there is the DESS (Digitally Encoded Security System). The vehicle will not start without the correctly coded key.
The Appearance: Sexy comes to mind. The Spyder has what Marc Lecroix, the Marketing Director for Can-Am Spyder, calls "Flowing Edge Design." The Spyder's appearance creates the impression that the vehicle is in motion, even at a stand-still.
Cargo: Just like the old VW bugs, the Spyder has a storage trunk in the front which allows you to carry 35 lbs of whatever you need to take to where ever you are going. Plenty of space for a week-long cruise.
Gas Mileage: If there was one area for improvement, it would be the gas mileage. You can expect somewhere between 30-35 mpg depending, of course, on how you ride it. Not bad really considering the fun factor you'll have getting there.
Warranty: Top to bottom. Front to rear. Soup to nuts. The Spyder comes with a 2-year warranty excluding only "wear" parts like the brakes and the rear tire you left all over your neighborhood.
Driver's License: just a standard car driver's license will suffice in the UK
Accessories: Can-Am has a complete catalog for accessorizing your Spyder. There are performance products like the exhaust and glamour parts like the six-spoke wheels and beauty rings. If you are into touring, there is an adjustable backrest for your passenger along with tank and tour bags and touring windshields. Can-Am even has a complete line of riding apparel and sportswear.
Who Should Buy One? If you are into quilting, save your money. If you are into high-performance, sensor-driven acceleration, don't want to be surrounded with metal cages, enjoy the wind in your face and the smell of rubber, then the Can Am Spyder might be for you.
What Would I Change? I would prefer a bit more forward footpeg position - but then again that's just my opinion after five knee surgeries. I can imagine a reduced version (about 10% in size) for around town that housed a 600cc motor and nurtured 50 to 60 mpg. And then I can imagine the Spyder with a 1200cc engine that would top out at 140 mph. One thing for sure, the design team at Can-Am are already way ahead when it comes to design conception. You can bet the Spyder will soon spin another web.
Conclusion A few hours on the Spyder will tell you it is a lot of fun and easy to ride, especially with the SE5 version. Our plan now is to take one for a long cruise. There is no better way to understand the pros and cons of a bike - or Roadster - than to spend some serious time with it. Stay tuned.
Oh yeah... I think both Fred and Barney would buy one.