2012 Can-Am Spyder Roadsters First Ride

December 16, 2011
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
Cruiser Editor |Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

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Get a feel for the ride of a Can-Am Spyder in our 2012 Can-Am Spyder Roadsters First Ride Video.

“This is not a motorcycle.”

I ruminate over this point BRP reps pounded into our heads while jumping on the saddle of the 2012 Can-Am Spyder Roadster for the very first time. After reaching for the brake lever that’s not there for the umpteenth time and after spending the afternoon pushing and pulling on the bars of the Can-Am Spyder, I’m beginning to realize what they mean. But the Roadster does possess attributes which appeal to motorcyclists and the sensation of riding exposed and unrestricted is there. Not to mention the 998cc Rotax V-Twin spools up nicely and can still lay down a slick patch of spent rubber when you rev it up.

We could regurgitate the Spyder’s bio, but changes to this unique three-wheeler in 2012 lean more toward aesthetics and rider amenities than performance as Can-Am continues to refine its machine. The major revision has been to the front suspension of the 2012 Spyder RSS Roadster that now features lighter Fox Racing Shox, which we’ll touch on later. Beyond that, the complex technology at the heart of this machine has already been expounded on. At its foundation is its Y-architecture and double A-arm design that allows Can-Am to run the two front, one rear wheel design. The Spyders still

Can-Am invited Motorcycle USA to sunny SoCal to ride the 2012 Spyder RS and RT Roadsters.
Can-Am offers its Spyder Roadsters in a variety of styles and colors, from the sporty RSS to the touring-ready LT Limited.

utilize Can-Am’s proprietary Surrounding Spar Technology frame that supports the Y-design and allows the Spyder’s center of gravity to remain low by mounting the engine behind the front wheels. The vehicle’s stability still relies heavily on its sophisticated Vehicle Stability System (VSS), the one developed with help from Bosch, that incorporates automotive-derived technologies such as anti-lock braking and traction and stability control systems to keep this thing planted, even when carrying plenty of speed into corners.

For 2012, there are several variations of the two major versions offered, the Can-Am Spyder RS and the Can-Am Spyder RT Roadsters. The 2012 RS is the sportier package aimed more at the solo rider with a slightly more aggressive riding position and less bodywork while the RT is a full-on luxury tourer. The 2012 Can-Am Spyder RT is the basic package but is offered in three variations, the Spyder RT Audio & Convenience, Spyder RT-S, and Spyder RT Limited. Add-ons run the gamut from more spit and polish to an improved sound system with iPod compatibility, AM / FM and (optional) satellite radio, handlebar-mounted push-button controls, adjustable rear air suspension, GPS navigation, LED lighting, and exclusive colors. For a more detailed account, be sure to check out our 2012 Can-Am Spyder RS/RT First Look article.

Coming from the push-a-button-and-go mentality of a motorcyclist, the starting procedure of the Spyder Roadster takes a little getting used to. After you turn the key on, a “Read Safety Card” message flashes across the digital display and riders must hit the “Mode” button to acknowledge you read the card, which comes on each Spyder tucked away at the top of the console. After depressing the brake pedal, you can finally thumb the electric start button, which is located on the right handlebar just like a motorcycle’s. To complicate matters for us, the mode buttons on the RS and RT are in different locations, too, which made our group of seasoned motorcyclists look dumber than fifth graders. The parking brake needs to be off, too, and its location also varies between the RS and RT. By the end of the day, the procedure became more routine, but at first it created a bit of confusion.

The paddle shifters for the semi-automatic Spyders are conveniently located and easy to use. Sweet! Can-Am offers the Spyder in a variety of striking colors. New Fox Racing Shox anchor the front end of the Spyder RS models this year.
(L) The paddle shifters for the semi-automatic Spyders are conveniently located and easy to use. (M) The RSS is as fun to ride as it looks. (R) New Fox Racing Shox anchor the front end of the Spyder RS models this year.

No sooner did we pull out of the parking lot of Hollywood’s Renaissance Hotel then we were jumping on the 101 freeway. With all three wheels translating road conditions to the rider, as much as I wanted to resist the analogy, my first experience on the 2012 Spyder RT Limited felt comparable to the sensation of riding a snowmobile. At highway speeds, it’s got a bit of the floating sensation of a snowmobile even though it’s stable. With the trike feeling like it’s wiggling around beneath you even in a straight line, motorcycle riders at first will have a tendency to try to oversteer, giving the bars too much input as it takes amazingly little effort to engage the Dynamic Power Steering (DPS). The system factors in steering angle and acceleration and getting accustomed to its nuances takes a little time. Once a motorcyclist re-conditions themselves and stops fighting the controls, it steers easily. Can-Am Spyder Specialist Kurt Otteson summed it best with his advice that “smooth is best” as far as corner entry and exit is concerned.

Taking in these first highway miles we are able to enjoy some of the touring luxuries of the 2012 Spyder RT Limited. We’ve got the electronically adjustable tall windscreen almost all the way up and the air is being diverted around us. Our route has

The Spyder LT Limited is a classy package full of the amenities and comfort touring riders demand.
The Spyder LT Limited is a classy package full of the amenities and comfort touring riders demand.

been punched in to the Garmin zumo 660 GPS mounted between the handlebars which is situated high enough that glancing at it doesn’t take your attention from the road and is a standard feature on the Limited edition. The seat is well-padded as we sit comfortably in an upright position.

A push button beneath the handlebars allows riders to set the rear suspension on the fly. Better yet, all models are equipped with a sensor, basically a plunger switch, which depresses when a passenger sits down and the ECU automatically adjusts for load. Having the convenience of push-button adjustability is a bonus, though we never ventured from the stock settings which suited our 225 pound test rider just fine. The ride quality provided by the suspension is firm but forgiving, the dual front shocks with its automotive-style double-A set-up bearing most of the weight while operating within its generous 5.9 inches of travel, while the single hydraulic rear situated beneath the rider is equally effective. Together the suspension is well-sorted and provides a comfortable, enjoyable ride.

Another feature which enhances the riding experience on the RT Limited is its slick semi-automatic transmission with its electronic 5-speed gearbox. It’s a paddle shifter mounted on the left handlebar where a push of the thumb runs up the gears while a flick of the forefinger brings it back down. The tranny is impressive as it slips seamlessly between gears. Noise is nominal and engagement is smooth. Can-Am has done a good job of making shifting gears as idiot-proof as possible as the transmission on the RT will automatically shift down for you if a rider doesn’t. It allows riders to stay in first gear at a stoplight without clutching in, too. The only demerit we could find is its resistance to going into neutral on occasion at full stop. Fortunately, it comes with a reverse gear as well, which is mandatory to get this 929 pound (claimed dry weight) behemoth backed up. The first couple of gears provide a wide spread of power, with first propelling riders up to just over 50 mph before hitting redline. Second gear is capable of dropping down to low rpm while still having enough power to pick speed back up toward the generous top end. We know because we spent majority of time riding through the twisties in second gear because of its wide range of power which tops out at about 75 mph. Seldom did we find ourselves in top gear unless we were cruising on the highway.

The Spyders continue to source a 998cc Rotax engine for power. Though its cylinder heads are canted at a 60-degree angle, the engine and its absence of vibes has more of the character of the Aprilia RSV1000R, which it did duty in prior to the Spyder, than a classic V-Twin. Its powerband is linear, not punchy, and downshifts provide little engine braking. Can-Am claims it has 106 hp at 8500 rpm and 77 lb-ft of torque down lower at 6250 rpm. We can attest that it gets riders up to highway speed quickly. The RT has been tuned to provide more bottom end torque, and by no means are you going to confuse the RT for the RSV1000R, but considering the amount of mass it has to set in motion, the engine provides a spirited ride. Sitting atop the three-wheeler seems to give riders the sensation of going faster than they are, too.

The Spyders VSS does an admirable job of keeping the front end grounded when youre hustling through turns.
The Spyder’s VSS does an admirable job of keeping the front end grounded when you’re hustling through turns.

When it comes time to rein the beast in, the triple braking system is strong. Brakes that provide this much power on a motorcycle would have a strong initial bite, but that isn’t the case on the RT Limited as power is progressive and even. The brake pedal under the right foot engages all three brakes simultaneously as four-piston calipers bite into 250mm discs up front while a single-piston, sliding pins caliper does the same out back. The RT Limited comes with the added bonus of ABS as a standard feature. The Spyder’s ABS reacts more like a car’s system as it takes a good push on the pedal to get it to engage and even then it’s fairly unobtrusive. The pulse we’ve become accustomed to on cruiser motorcycles equipped with ABS is non-existent. Overall we came away with positive impressions at the hydraulic three-wheel braking system’s ability to scrub off speed.

As our route ventured off the beaten path and headed for the twisties of Angeles Crest Highway, steering required a lot of bar action. We found ourselves pushing hard on the bars and since there’s no transitioning because the front shocks are removing sway, a lot of G’s are exerted on the body. Managing through the twisty stuff gave our upper body a workout. Granted, we were trying to hustle through the turns at a good pace and found ourselves instinctually moving our body around to weight the inside wheel, but there’s a lot of pushing and pulling going on seeing as how you point the bars in the direction you’re heading, the complete opposite of what you do on a motorcycle. The Spyder was very stable and never even came close to tipping thanks to the efficient VSS, but the machine’s sheer weight and girth comes into play in the tight stuff.

Can-Am has done a great job of giving the Spyder Limited RT even more curb appeal. The angular, aggressive bodywork has sports car charm. Its mirrors, exhaust tips and heat shield have been gussied up with chrome accents. The new aluminum six-spoke chrome wheels look sporty, too. Can-Am keeps in the good graces of passengers by proving them with their own heated hand grips to go along with their own audio controls for the two additional rear speakers the RT Limited sports. Built for taking two people long distances, the Spyder Limited RT has a phenomenal amount of storage. Between the top case, side bags and front storage compartment, the RT has a claimed 41 gallons of storage space. These compartments have hard travel bags which can be packed beforehand and slip in and out easily. Can-Am also offers an optional pull-behind trailer called the RT-622, which offers an additional 164 gallons of storage. Can you say road trippin’ time?

Switching to the 2012 Spyder RS, a few differences are immediately noticeable. Riders are now positioned in a more aggressive, forward-leaning riding position. The one we tested had the manual five-speed gearbox with the standard motorcycle arrangement. The manual tranny still shifted with little fuss between gears. The engine feels a bit more peppy because you’ve shed a couple hundred pounds (230 to be exact) and it’s tuned to provide a little more top-end. The RS gets the new gas-charged Fox Racing Shox Podium front suspension, aimed at improving the front end’s compression and rebound damping. Seeing as how this is the first Spyder I’ve ridden, I can’t comment on how they stack up against the old units, but again the suspension overall does an admirable job of smoothing out the ride. With the absence of a big windscreen, the air rushing into a rider’s face makes the experience more motorcycle-like, and the lighter, lither machine ups the fun factor.

Riding the twisties on the Can-Am Spyder can be fun but requires a lot of bar work.
Riding the twisties on the Can-Am Spyder can be fun but requires a lot of bar work.

Can-Am North America V-P Yves Leduc was at the press gathering to share the tale of the Spyder Roadster, a story which has been unfolding over the last four or five years. He said Can-Am has experienced a 45% growth in the U.S. in 2011 and has expanded its presence in the European market as well. The vehicle has been successful in getting people in to dealerships, many of them being those Can-Am labels as “non-non’s” – non-motorcycle, non-powersports people who are still attracted by the motorcycle lifestyle. This is supported by Roadster buyer demographics that state 27% of Spyder buyers have never owned a motorcycle before. Over the next five years, Can-Am anticipates appealing to an even broader spectrum of riders with the new additions to the lineup it has in the works, foremost among them a hybrid Can-Am Spyder. Leduc said he had recently ridden a prototype of this new three-wheeled hybrid. Can-Am is working on the project with Sherbrooke University in Quebec with funding provided by the government of Canada. They have ambitious goals of reducing emissions by 50% and increasing efficiency by the same margin without sacrificing power or performance. This will be achieved with a smaller, 600cc Rotax engine mated to a 20 kW electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. The new power source will be a major improvement in fuel efficiency compared to the current iteration of Spyder that Can-Am reps stated gets an average of 27-32 mpg, depending on riding style, and up to 35 mpg in special cases.

With the Spyder, Can-Am has done an admirable job of making it easy to ride right out of the box with control systems designed to keep all three wheels on the road and a semi-automatic transmission to make running through the gears as easy as possible. It offers both sport and touring variations, giving them a broad demographic of riders to appeal to. Speaking of appeal, it transcends lines, attracting both motorcycle riders and car drivers. Licensing varies by state, but many don’t require a motorcycle license to operate one. The Spyder does have its nuances to acclimate to. By the time I finally got acquainted with them and was able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, our day unfortunately was done. I give Can-Am props, though. They’ve created a unique riding experience, which isn’t easy to do, and the Spyder performs worlds better than a conventional trike. At the press gathering, Can-Am hinted it had plans to attract an unnamed demographic it hasn’t tapped into yet in addition to creating a hybrid. Full of ambition and backed by a deep-pocketed mother company in BRP, it will be interesting to see what type of tangled web the Spyder will weave.