Riders looking for a different take on the motorcycle touring experience should consider the 2011 Can-Am Spyder
RT Limited ($28,099). With its three-wheel configuration it blends some of the open-air freedom of a motorcycle and the convenience and ease-of-use of a convertible-style car equating to an experience all its own.
As soon as you lay eyes on it there’s no denying how peculiar the Can-Am looks. While we appreciate its exterior profile and shapely body panels, it resembles something that you’d see in a sci-fi movie or video game more than an actual machine you sit on and drive. Swing a leg over the saddle and it feels like you’re straddling an ATV
or snowmobile, which may be a big plus for those who don’t want to deal with balancing act of a motorcycle at a standstill.
The seat height (30.4 inch) is a little taller than both the Honda (29.1 inch) and BMW (29.5 inch in the lowest setting) but it works well and positions the rider in a slightly more commanding way. The reach to the handlebar is short and in general the riding position is relaxed and conducive to all day rides. The seat is wide and comfortable similarly to the Gold Wing’s but is no more or less comfortable than the other bikes.
All of the controls are laid out similar to a motorcycle. The handlebar is used for steering with a twist-style throttle for acceleration. Our RT Limited featured a sequential manual gearbox which does away with the clutch lever and allows the rider to change gears by pushing either the up-shift or downshift paddle on the left-hand side of the ‘bar. Rather than two independent brake levers there is just one foot pedal (on the right-hand side of the machine) that activates both the front and rear brakes. In our braking test the Can-Am
stopped from 60 mph in 135 feet—two better than the BMW and six feet shorter than the Gold Wing. The ABS system is well calibrated and the brakes are powerful without being overly sensitive or hard to use.
Starting the engine is a process that consists of flipping the key to ‘on’, turning the engine run/stop switch to ‘run’, depressing the mode button on the handlebar (confirms you’ve read the pull-out safety card located inside the dash), and pushing the starter button. At that point the engine fires right up. Release the electronic parking brake and you’re ready to drive.
Dial in some throttle and the Can-Am pulls away cleanly from a stop without the need for any fancy clutch work. And if you’re looking for the easiest machine to just hop on and ride at a legal pace than without question the Spyder RT is it. Engine power is smooth and not overly powerful so you don’t have to worry about it getting away from you as the rpm increase. As opposed to the BMW’s sweet exhaust note, the Can-Am emits a bland, industrial sounding drone. At idle it’s also the loudest emitting 82 dB. However at half of maximum rpm (4800) it tied the BMW
at 92 dB. For the most part the ride is and buzz free but we did notice a tad of inherent vibration from the V-Twin engine.
Looking at the dyno chart shows that the Can-Am’s engine pumps out the least amount of power. A maximum of 64.21 lb-ft of torque is available at 5500 rpm. That’s over 37 lb-ft down on the Gold Wing and almost 50 lb-ft on the BMW. The maximum horsepower rating was also way down on the competition with it registering just 78.28 horsepower at 7700 revs. Add in to the fact its 1000-plus pound curb weight and it’s not much of a surprise it did so poorly in our zero-to-60 and quarter-mile acceleration tests. Fuel economy also suffered with it registering an average of 22.6 mpg equating to a range of only 149.1 miles based on the capacity of its 6.6-gallon fuel cell (located underneath the rider seat).
“I thought it was funny that the speedometer goes to 200 mph but in actuality the Can-Am could barely get to 100 full tuck downhill,” laughs our video camera man and beginner level test rider Ray Gauger. “It just doesn’t have the power to keep up with the other bikes in this test. But if you’re simply riding just for the heck of it and aren’t concerned with outright speed and acceleration performance the Spyder does just fine.”
All of us enjoyed the simplicity of its automated gearbox and shifting gears proved to be a simple affair. We did notice that the transmission took a bit of time to exchange between cogs after the button was pushed but based on its intended application we’d spring for the clutch lever-less tranny. Another thing we like about the Spyder is having a reverse gear at your disposal. Imagine having to back that beast up by foot! The RT gets top billing for best backward parking lot manners. The Wing also has reverse but you still have to balance that beast while backing up.
“If I was buying this bike I would opt for the sequential transmission,” notes our more experienced test rider Brian Steeves. “The whole allure of the Can-Am is in its simplicity. Based on that, I’d want the machine to do as much of the ‘driving’ as possible so I can focus on taking in the scenery. And that’s exactly what it does.”
On the road the Can-Am delivers a nice pleasant ride over most road surfaces. When the road gets bumpy though its three-wheel stance transfers more road imperfections to the rider which makes it suffer compared to the two wheelers. It’s still by no means bad, the chassis just doesn’t stay as composed as the motorcycles and the ride is rougher. Like the other bikes the Spyder offers some degree of suspension adjustment via cockpit switchgear. We preferred the hardest setting as it reduced chassis pitch during acceleration and braking without compromising ride quality. Amenities like the electronically-adjustable windshield function well but it doesn’t offer the level of height adjustment as the BMW. The seat and hand grip heaters all work well and on a level comparable to the other bikes. Passenger comfort was also rated high, second only to the Honda
The primary analog instrument gauges are fairly easy to read, but lack the slick design of the Honda or BMW. The LCD display is too small and is a little bit hard to read especially at interstate speeds. Navigating through the menu system also proved to be a little bit more difficult and the handlebar buttons lack the tactile feel of the BMW and Gold Wing, which meant that we’d have to hit the buttons twice sometimes to get it to activate. The audio system also came up short with the sound quality lacking. Furthermore there is no standard auxiliary audio input so we couldn’t play our beloved iPods on the Can-Am. At night we noticed that the headlights/fog lights aren’t nearly as bright and far-reaching as the adaptive headlamps of the class-leading BMW or even the big beams of the Honda.
Dip the Can-Am into a turn and it requires much more steering muscle than the other bikes even with its power assist steering. Since it has three wide tires (165/65-14 fronts and a 225/50-15 rear) it offers an astounding level of lateral grip which is fun in its own right. For most optimum handling it’s advised to adjust your body position to the inside of the bike (ATV riding-style) which helps you take corners with added speed. Even still, the Can-Am’s vehicle stability system is calibrated on the conservative side and can come into play very abruptly if the rider is too aggressive with throttle or steering inputs. However at pace in accordance with the posted speed limits the Spyder handles well, though it is not even close to being as fun to ride as the motorcycles.
“The Spyder is great vehicle for someone who wants to ride around and enjoy the scenery,” explains Steeves. “However, if you’re like me, and are more interested in experiencing what the actual machine has to offer, then it comes up short. If you try and ride it with even a hair of sporting intent the stability control comes in immediately and shuts it down. So for me, I’d have a better experience on a motorcycle.”
Considering how large it is, it’s no surprise that the Can-Am offers the most storage capacity. There are two trunks (one at the front and one rear) and two saddlebags that offer nearly 41 gallons of storage room. Each container is slickly integrated into the bodywork to the machine and are lockable. When it comes to the transportation part of touring, the Spyder RT can haul a load of gear for you.
Overall our test crew didn't find the Can-Am nearly as enjoyable to ride as the BMW and Honda motorcycles because it lacks the performance to be a real threat in terms of offering an outright thrill ride. It is however, much easier to operate from a beginner’s standpoint and is an excellent option for aging riders, new riders or someone simply looking for a different approach to the Luxury Touring experience. The Can-Am is obviously here to stay but in this comparison test it falls victim to some low marks in both the rider subjective and performance objective categories, not to mention its lofty price tag. As a result the 2011 Can-Am Spyder RT is relegated to last place.