2009 Can-Am Spyder SE5 First Ride

October 28, 2008
By Tim Clark

There is a black plastic kit which you can purchase from Can-Am if you
The Can-Am Spyder created quite a stir when it debuted last year. The 2009 model comes in an automatic version.

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 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.

Innovation is nothing new to the folks at Bombardier Recreational Products. BRP has a steep history in the motorcycle industry dating back to the early Can-Am brand that Jimmy Ellis raced in the U.S. National Motocross series in the early ’70s. BRP is also the company that brings you Sea-Doo watercraft and reinvented the jet ski by introducing the first sit-down version. Then there are the Ski-Doo snowmobiles, which includes the top-selling sled in the world. Plus there’s the Bombardier ATV line, which is now known as the Can-Am ATV line. Toss in a few more companies like Johnson and Evinrude motors along with Rotax, the Austrian-based engine firm, and you’ll quickly see why BRP is known worldwide as a performance company with innovative ideas.

The SE5 transmission is shifted via your thumb and forefinger. Note the tapered grip.
The SE5 transmission is shifted via your thumb and forefinger. Note the tapered grip.

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 model was available. BRP/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 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 will top out at 110 mph and accelerate from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.

85 miles per hour in the pouring rain - no problem!
85 mph in the pouring rain – no problem!

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 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.

The dashboard is hi-tech providing mph  rpm and temperature data.
The dashboard is hi-tech and provides mph, rpm and temperature data.

Wow! 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

With front wheels completely visable  the Spyder is easy to navigate.
With front wheels completely visible, the 2009 Spyder SE5 is easy to navigate.

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.

Can-Am s Vehicle Stability System controls traction  provides a stable ride and comes with ABS braking.
Can-Am’s Vehicle Stability System controls traction, provides a stable ride and comes with ABS braking.

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.
What’s Left?

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.

The Spyder in tour mode complete with passanger back rest.
The Spyder in tour mode complete with passenger back rest.

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.

The Price: The 2009 stock version, which comes in gray, retails for $15,449. If you want a Spyder in yellow or red you will need to add another $400. And if you want the SE5 version, that will set you back another $1,500. Is it worth the price? You just need to compare it to some of the other vehicles on the market. The Can-Am Spyder Roadster is a “stand alone” vehicle. There is nothing else like it. The Can-Am reps keep the actual number of how many Spyders they have already sold very close to their vest. Best guess is in the 2,500 range with plans to triple that number in 2009. A quick look on E-bay will show you there are not too many available second-hand, which means the Spyder should hold its value.

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: There is one state where you will actually need to get a Three-Wheel permit to ride the Spyder – that is Washington (go figure). There are two states where just a standard car driver’s license will suffice – they are Delaware and California (go figure again). You will need a motorcycle license for the other 47 states.

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.

A complete line of accessories are available from Can-Am including this
A complete line of accessories are available from Can-Am including this tank bag.

Where To Buy: Right now there are 500 Can-Am Spyder dealers in America. There are a few dealerships where you might walk in and purchase one off the floor, but most likely you will end up placing your name on a list and may have to wait a few weeks for delivery. Trust me… it’s worth it! Go online to www.brp.com to find the closet dealer.

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 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 BRP/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.

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