It combines the open air exhilaration of two-wheeled transport with the stability of four, but it's not a motorbike and it's not a convertible sportscar. In fact, direct comparisons with anything else on the highway are largely useless because there's simply nothing out there like the Can-Am Spyder Roadster.
Around a decade since BRP first began to explore the idea for totally a new breed of three-wheeled road going conveyance and four years since the styling was finalized, the world wide roll-out of the Spyder is now in full swing.
We've followed the development of the Can-AmSpyder Roadster with interest in recent years with its unique Y-architecture and undeniably sharp looks proving an immediate hit with Gizmag readers, but in case you missed some of our previous coverage , here's a quick run-down.
History and development Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) is a global company based in Quebec, Canada with a history that's littered with big innovations including the pioneering Ski-Doo snowmobile, the first sit down jet ski (Sea-Do) and the first two-up ATV. The Spyder Roadster, which shares the Can-Am brand with the company's ATV range, was officially launched in February 2007.
At a glance The stock standard reaction from those who encounter the Spyder for the first time is simply: "What the hell is that?" Eye-catching is an understatement, and few vehicles in our experience have attracted the level of attention on the street that the Spyder does - particularly when traveling in a six-strong procession. The two-at-the-front Y-architecture is the clear reason for this wow factor, but it's backed up by slick styling (particularly in profile) and stand-out paintwork (yellow or "Full Moon" silver).
On-board most of the most of the controls will be familiar to motorcyclists with a few notable exceptions - there's no front brake lever, with all three disk brakes controlled simultaneously by the right foot pedal, and the "hand brake" sits behind the left foot peg. There's also an additional lever on the left grip which controls the fully geared reverse. Apart from that indicators, horn, lights, electric-start and ignition controls are all where bikers would expect to find them. The instrument panel layout is simple and effective with a digital readout (for which different modes can be set (time/trip etc) flanked on either side by a taco and speed gauge of the traditional dial variety.
Another big departure from a motorcycle is the storage space. This comes in the form of a 44 liter (max 16kg) "trunk" at the front of the vehicle. A top box can be added but the design doesn't accommodate panniers.
Engine and drivetrain The Spyder's low center of gravity Surrounding Spar Technology (SST) steel frame surrounds its Rotax 990cc, liquid cooled V-Twin engine that puts out 106hp at 8500rpm and peak torque of around 104Nm at 6250rpm. Rotax engines have been proven over a period of 80 years (BRP purchased the company in the 70's) in which they have produced about 350 different types of engines totaling around 6 million all told. Credits include the Aprilia 1000R sportsbike and the Helicon V-Twin specified by Buell for its 1125R and designed in collaboration with BRP-Rotax.
The five-speed gear box also has a transmission based reverse (as opposed to electronic reverse drive systems found on the Honda Goldwing and other large touring motorcycles) and the final drive uses a carbon reinforced belt set at a 28/79 ratio.
Electronics The addition of a third wheel also allows for the addition of all sorts of electronic control systems and BRP have thrown everything at the Spyder in this regard, giving it a Stability Control System (SCS), Traction Control System (TCS) and ABS - everything you would expect to find in a modern car. The net effect of these systems is improved handling and safety - ABS allows you to jump on the brakes in a way that's just not possible on a motorcycle and the TCS minimizes loss of traction at the small-car like rear-wheel, though its still possible to get some movement happening (and have some fun) when exiting a corner. There's also Dynamic Power Steering designed to adjust the amount of effort required depending on the speed, load and torque.
The ride "Forget what you know about riding a motorcycle" was the advice of from BRP's Duncan Knight before we set off on a 300km ride through the winding coastal roads south of Sydney, Australia. He was right. For a motorcyclist, the way the Spyder behaves - particularly through corners - is counter-intuitive and it has to be treated as a whole new ball-game.
Unlike a conventional motorcycle or the only other vehicle we have tested that incorporates a 2+1 platform, the (albeit very different) Piaggio MP3, the Spyder with it's flat profile car-like tyres is not designed to tilt or lean. Therefore counter-steering is not an option and throwing your weight sideways won't significantly effect the way it handles through turns. The body of the bike actually swings away as the front suspension works into the corner and you don't have to try too hard to lift the inside front wheel. This is where the stability control kicks in, countering the lateral movement by using a system of sensors to assess the situation and automatically applying a response through individual wheel braking and/or reducing engine torque. It takes a little getting used to, and initially you feel like you are wrestling to avoid running wide through sharper bends, but you come to understand that the machine really needs to be steered, not just nudged through corners and trust that where you point it is where it will end up. Couple this with the ability to brake late and hard you begin to grow in confidence.
Several other motorcycle habits also need to be put to the back of your mind. Obviously there's no need to put your foot down when you stop at intersections and although you feel like your on a motorcycle, the footprint at the front is approaching the width of a small car so you need to be careful when weaving through tight spots or "taking a peek" before overtaking. It also takes a while for the itch in your right hand to disappear as you become accustomed to the absence of a hand-operated brake lever (why not include one anyway you ask? - this aspect of the design stems from the fact that the Spyder is registered as a car in some parts of the world).
The Spyder's acceleration is smooth and by no means sluggish - around 0-62mph (0 - 100km/h) in 4.5 seconds. Cruising at highway speeds is effortless - a fact that's unlikely to change with a pillion on board. A speed limited geared reverse (which is very convenient for a vehicle with a 316kg dry weight) is added to the 5 speed gear box and there's plenty of mid range torque to make light work of negotiating city traffic.
It's also one comfy ride. The wide seat and relatively upright seating position is based on a sports touring motorcycle and after a full day of riding I felt little of the expected soreness. You do cop a higher than expected buffeting from the wind at speed, but different shields sizes are available to cater for this and there's also an optional riser for the handlebars which delivers a more upright seating position. A back-rest is also available as an add-on for pillion passengers.
Fuel capacity is a total of 27 liters including the reserve - enough for a range of around 400km (depending on how you treat the throttle of course).
The manually adjustable pre-load suspension has 144mm of travel in the front and 145mm in the rear swing arm and is effective given the way the wide front end tends to pick up the bumps. Initially the Spyder does feel like it could track off course if you release the handle bars, but again its just a matter of becoming accustomed to the unique handling characteristics and letting the front suspension do its work. The combination of all that rubber on the road in a relatively lightweight vehicle also results in the use of lower tyre pressures - specified at 89-117kP - which further softens the ride.
Overall, the Can-Am Spyder is undeniably a uniquely enjoyable experience and one that will appeal to touring enthusiasts, with the likelihood of attracting more of the female demographic than motorcycles because of the stable platform, sophisticated electronics and relatively simple operation it offers. All of this comes at a price of course - around US$15K (in Australia the Spyder is now selling for AUD$26,990 and the SE5 semi-auto transmission model will arrive in October). I would stop short of saying that we've seen the full potential of the unique Y-architecture, but its definitely a format we're sure to see a lot more of. We'll be watching with interest (as no doubt will some of the other key players in the motorcycle industry) to see how this new kid on the block is received in the market and how the design evolves in coming years.
More details and video can be found at the Can-Am Spyder site.