Can-Am is betting the three-wheeled Spyder will revolutionize the motorcycle industry. We took the radical new design out for a spin in sunny Southern California.
Everywhere you look these days, companies are inventing or reinventing vehicles that are said to revolutionize the transportation industry. Some succeed, others fail. The vehicle Can-Am believes is going to change the way the world views the open-road riding experience is the Can-Am Spyder Roadster.
This triple-tired contrivance has garnered a load of interest from the public and has been the focus of numerous debates regarding its purpose in this industry. The most important question on everyone’s mind is how does it feel?
We got our chance to find out when the Spyder was recently unveiled to the working press in San Diego, California. Attending journalists were first trained in the art of three-wheeling on a closed course, which was then followed by a guided tour of the SoCal coastline for a pithy taste of what this supposedly revolutionary ride is capable of.
Behind the scenes of this endeavor is renowned motorsports manufacturer Bombardier Recreational Products, parent company of Can-Am, Ski Doo Sea Doo, Rotax and others. With designers who have developed everything from watercraft and ATVs to snowmobiles pouring heart and soul into this project, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that something as inimitable as the Spyder is what crept out of their collective minds and onto the production line. Can-Am believes this vehicle is going to bring the motorcycle riding experience to an entirely untapped pool of consumers while offering those who already have the bug another interesting option.
The turning characteristics of the Spyder take some getting used to, with the rider not feeling the leaning sensation they expect on a two-wheeled vehicle.
During the Spyder introduction, the Can-Am brass announced that they believe the Roadster is going to have the same impact on the motorcycle industry as the sit-down jet-ski had on the watercraft industry. We’re not here to debate that claim, but certainly people are intrigued with its concept, so let’s start out with a look at what makes the Can-Am Spyder Roadster work and what its like to ride. Or drive.
At the heart of the Spyder is the chassis. The Surrounding Spar Technology (SST) steel frame wraps around the liquid-cooled BRP-Rotax 990cc V-Twin, providing the platform for the Y-architecture design that gives it the unique configuration. If you haven’t already noticed, the Spyder features two wheels in front set 59.3 inches across and a single rear wheel for a lengthy 68-inch wheelbase. No lane-splitting on this thing. The front wheels are mated to the frame by a pair of steel double A-arms with 5.6 inches of suspension travel and an anti-roll bar that is a functional part of the Stability Control System (SCS).
A pair of specially designed 165/65R14 tires, mounted to either three- or four-spoke aluminum wheels, are one of the most striking features of the vehicle. That mass of rubber that makes up the forward contact patches provides plenty of cornering traction but they require a sacrifice be made. It doesn’t lean over in the turns, so the rider remains upright with only a bit of dive from the suspension offered up to satisfy the railing fix. A pair of 260mm rotors, one on each wheel, work with a pair of 4-piston calipers to slow the Spyder down. They are also an integral piece of the stability system. A very, very long steel swingarm and monoshock hold a solitary wide 225/50R15 rear tire wrapped around an aluminum wheel with spokes matching the two wheels up front. A Kevlar-reinforced belt drive is on the rider’s left side and a 260mm disc brake and single piston caliper equipped with all the vital ABS components is on the right.
The Spyder’s Rotax V-Twin produces a claimed 106 hp at 8500 rpm and 77 lb-ft of torque at 6250 rpm, channeling the leftovers and noise out of a 2-into-1 exhaust.
The entire braking system is linked to a single brake pedal located on the right side of the Spyder, where the rear brake pedal traditionally resides on a motorcycle. No front brake lever is to be had. This takes a bit of getting used to, especially during panic stops, when a rider’s natural instinct is to grab for the lever, but the fact remains that the combined efforts of the Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and ABS system hauls the Spyder Roadster down from any speed in a hurry. The grouping of a linked system operated by a single pedal and the associated electronic gizmos assisting it results in not much feel transmitted back to the rider. It isn’t a concern or complaint because it is similar to the systems found on BMW streetbikes these days. Plenty capable, but it takes a bit to get used to it.
Hidden under the sculpted aerodynamic bodywork is the Rotax V-Twin, an offshoot of the fun motor in Aprilia’s sportbikes. This mill gets the Spyder moving right along and transmits very little vibration to the rider. Crack open the 57mm throttle bodies, allowing the multi-port fuel injection system to breathe, and the Spyder accelerates on par with any typical sports car this side of a Vette. It seems to build speed about equal to an SV650 or similar small-displacement sportbike for those who prefer a two-wheeled comparison. Can-Am claims 106 hp at 8500 rpm and an impressive 77 lb-ft of torque at 6250 rpm. Although I cannot vouch for the numbers being on target at the rear wheel, the Spyder always has plenty of power on tap as long as the tach is hovering around the 6000-rpm range. The massive 2-into-1 exhaust system really keeps the sound of the Twin in check. Fortunately a better looking, better sounding and lighter slip-on is available from Can-Am.
A Rotax V-Twin powerplant delivers power to the rear wheel via a 5-speed gearbox, which is available in either a manual of electronic shift.
Putting that power to the single rear wheel is a 5-speed gearbox that is available in a manual or electronic shift, opting for either a traditional shift lever or push button/paddles. The test unit was a manual and it was precise and didn’t require much effort to change gears. A reverse gear is standard on all models. Getting the Roadster rolling backward is similar to putting a snowmobile in reverse. Flip a switch, engage the transmission and gas it. No problem at all.
As soon as the Spyder takes to the street it begs to be ridden aggressively. Maybe because of the riding position, its sinister stance, or perhaps the knowledge of that big high-performance V-Twin powerplant lurking within the attention-grabbing lines of the bodywork (available in Full Moon Silver and Millenium (sic) Yellow), the Spyder gives off the aura that it belongs sideways with the tire smoking and the bars at full lock heading into the first turn of a ATV supermoto race. Unfortunately, it’s not meant for that type of riding.
The Spyder does attract a lot of attention when you are cruising through suburbia, however, so it is as a plus for those who crave attention. And for those people who just want to ride, it actually goes down the road just fine too. The suspension actually soaks up rough roads rather well, and what it doesn’t absorb the plush one-piece seat seems set to mask eagerly. The fuel tank is concealed under this same seat and requires it to be lifted to gain access. Since the front end features two front wheels, it should not come as a surprise that it is more susceptible to the side effects of trucker ruts and braking bumps. Both these street imperfections transmit movement to the bars, much like when your car tracks in the trucker ruts etched into the slow lane on the interstate. Since this happens to cars and bikes anyway, there is no reason to expect the Spyder to be immune to it.
Out on the road the Spyder feels most like an ATV when is comes to cornering. The two tires up front also create more bar wobble with ruts and bumps than on a traditional motorcycle.
As far as cornering prowess goes, this is where the Spyder is not like any motorcycle but is similar to an ATV. For those who have ridden a sport quad with low-profile tires on asphalt, you have a pretty good idea how the Spyder feels in motion. It takes a bit of effort to turn the bars and initiate a turn, despite the presence of Can-Am’s Dynamic Power Steering (DPS), but when the input reaches the tires it turns with authority. This could be a surprise to someone initially, but it quickly becomes merely the nature of the beast. It makes it fun.
The wide, flat front tires grip the road rather well, so traction is not an issue, but the rider has to put effort into making the Spyder turn, despite the presence of DPS. The effects of the pitch and roll elements and the potential for a highside are the fundamental forces working against it, and the engineers at BRP have worked diligently to protect Spyder riders from them. Heading into turns the outside suspension compresses so the inside front wheel wants to lift. Naturally the rider needs to shift body weight to the inside of the turn to maximize the available traction which is part of the different sensation associated with riding a Roadster. Using body English is definitely a part of the Spyder experience, much like a snowmobile, quad or sit-down watercraft. Is there a connection here?
After reading this you might be concerned that the 700-plus-pound Can-Am Spyder would be prone to flipping over if the rider over-cooks it into a turn, but the good news (or the bad news depending on how you look at it) is that Can-Am has taken this into account and developed the Vehicle Stability System (VSS) and Stability Control System (SCS) to ensure the Spyder riding experience is incident-free. The way it works is once the inside wheel lifts to a point determined to be dangerous by the SCS, braking power is engaged at the appropriate caliper necessary to keep the platform stabilized.
The braking duties on the Spyder are controlled via the lone right side brake pedal. ABS and the three-wheeler’s Stability Control System ensure the Spyder doesn’t get out of control.
This is where opinions on these systems will start to polarize people. Is the security from getting into trouble worth the sacrifice of not being able to make that decision? Protecting riders from themselves may not be attractive to some two-wheeled stalwarts, but to a consumer that doesn’t know any different, or the motorcycle rider seeking out an option to the typical motorcycle riding experience, it could be the reason for them buying a Spyder Roadster. That is exactly what Can-Am is hedging its bet on. It’s safe and easy to ride. Anyone can do it. And you don’t even need a motorcycle endorsement.
The Spyder may not lean into corners or split lanes but it does allow the majority of the sensations of riding a motorcycle to filter through its electronically controlled and systematically stabilized ride. The wind is still a factor, the unobstructed view of the environment you are riding through is still there, and, of course, direct contact with the outside elements like the sound of the road humming under the tires and smells of coffee shops, restaurants or the sweet ocean air still reach the senses. And that is what riding is all about isn’t it? Being out there, exposed to the elements and soaking in all the Mother Nature can throw our way? The San Diego coastline was a fine olfactory backdrop to the politically correct police-escorted tour we were subjected to. The extent of our hooligan behavior was limited to a few lengthy burnouts, but we weren’t there to stunt, we were there to ride.
Sure the Spyder is a safer ride due to the ABS, VSS and SCS systems. But with his visor up you can almost read Hutch’s mind, “Screw these three-letter safety systems, I just wanna do some burnouts!”
In a straight line the Spyder will light up the rear tire like no one’s business, leaving a black mark on the street until it finally catches traction or starts to get sideways – and that’s when the Traction Control System (TCS) kicks in and the antics come to an abrupt halt. There will be no donuts or sliding sideways out of the dealership antics here. As soon as the Spyder reaches a certain degree of yaw (sideways motion) the motor’s ignition will cut-out to bring things it back into line. The ever-present Spyder stability systems are in place to ensure the riding experience is a safe one. In a sandy parking lot it was possible to bust out some drifting antics, but no such luck on the dry pavement. It’s too bad, too, because that seems to be exactly what the Spyder Roadster should be allowed to do: Act the fool as a three-wheeled answer for hooligans everywhere. But Bombardier has different plans. This is a vehicle intended to fill the need for an attention-grabbing, easy-to-ride roadster with a prestigious pedigree.
Rider accommodations are definitely on the sporting side with a surprisingly sporty riding position that is reminiscent of a streetfighter with its low bars and high pegs combined with a comfortable seat and low windscreen. Passenger space appears to be pretty good, and an optional back rest looks trick and should make long distance rides easier on the significant other.
The police escort meant our street ride was lame, er tame, making a true evaluation of the Spyder’s abilities problematic. Not that we’d ever bend any traffic laws during the course of our testing routines.
As soon as you climb on board the Spyder it feels like a snowmobile, but the view ahead, replete with curved front fenders and an information laden dashboard, are reassurance that this is an on-road vehicle. The dash includes an analog tach and speedo, as well as a clean LCD screen which provides info on fuel, engine temperature, gear position, outside air temperature a clock and a digital speedometer. All switchgear and levers are traditional motorcycle-type components, with blinker and horn switches on the left bar along with the clutch lever, and the shifter is in the traditional location at the left footpeg. A twist throttle, on/off switch and starter button all reside on the right side along with the lone brake pedal located by the right peg. Mirrors include integrated turn signals and offer up an excellent view of the events taking place behind you, and all the instruments are positioned so that they can be seen with just a glance. Despite all the goodies that it does come equipped with, it is the lack of automotive-style features that stands out.
With such a prime opportunity to load the Spyder Roadster with both automotive and high-end motorcycle amenities, it is a surprise that Can-Am came up short in value-added appeal of the cockpit area. It would have been great to see an integrated satellite stereo system, navigation system, heated grips, heated seats, adjustable power windscreen or any other tasty amenities – but none of them are found on the Roadster.yet. Those extra features could put an entirely different spin on the open-road riding experience and a perfectly tie in to the allegation that the Spyder is a combination of a motorcycle and a convertible car. There is an auto-like cavernous trunk space in the front of the Spyder that’s big enough (44 liters) for a sizable load of groceries, laundry, PC with monitor, camping equipment, pony keg or whatever various sundries you might want to take with you on a ride.
That’s right, the Spyder Roadster is meant to be ridden, not driven. There is no steering wheel, no windshield wipers, no air bags or doors. It is not a car for those same reasons. It is an entirely new vehicle being mass-produced at a price much more affordable than similar forms of transportation – $14,999 for the base model and $16,499 for the automatic clutch version. Plus, with a two-year factory warranty, an established support network from Bombardier and a good amount of buzz surround its arrival, there is no reason to expect the Spyder won’t make some sort of impact.
Three wheels may be a tough sell, but considering the only current options for street-legal three-wheeler are kit trikes, the Spyder is an attractive and sportier option.
There are plenty of niche demographics that would be perfect for a vehicle like the Spyder. The largest would be those who are afraid to ride a motorcycle because of the fear of having to be strong enough to hold it up. That includes oldsters who currently only have the option of traditional kit trikes, with a single front wheel and two in the rear. Then there are folks with debilitating injuries that could easily make the transition to open road riding, which could help return some freedom of movement to their lives that an auto just cannot offer.
The list goes on, but in the end the Spyder Roadster should have a purpose in this industry. Only time will tell if it is going to be the revolutionary ride Can-Am hopes it will be.
Let us know what you think about the new Can-Am Spyder and the three-wheeled, high-performance concept in the MCUSA Forum. Click Here