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
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
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
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
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
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
Oh yeah... I think both Fred and Barney would buy one.