First Ride: BRP Can-Am Spyder Posted by: Dale Franks
on Saturday, June 09, 2007
Today was a good day. It was a good day, because I got to spend it driving this:
This is the 2008 BRP Can Am Spyder. Bombardier is sending out Spyders to various dealers to drum up some interest this new street trike, which will be available in October. The Spyder pictured above is the one I drove for the demo.
The demo, by the way, was very cool. All you had to do was fill out about five forms, including a waiver of liability, which made it clear that you were driving a prototype vehicle, so if anything happened to you, it was on you. After I had done so, they copied my license. Then they gave me the key and let me just...leave with it.
It was an...interesting experience to ride. Bear in mind with what follows that this is a prototype vehicle, so the actual production version may be a bit different.
LOOK AND FEEL
The picture really doesn't give you a good perspective on the size of the trike. It's a 700-pound motorcycle, and it looks fairly massive in person. It's squat and wide. And everything on it is large. The single rear drive wheel is about 8 inches wide, and, although the front wheels are narrower, they're fairly wide, too.
Sitting on the bike is a little odd, too. Your upper body is fairly upright, like you're on a touring bike, but the pedals are set back in more of a crotch-rocket position. After a while, it's not nearly as comfortable as a touring bike, where you can stretch your legs forward to the front pegs. After about an hour, my right ankle started to get a little sore, from having to use the brake pedal because the placement is a bit uncomfortable.
The seat is nice and wide, and it was comfortable initially, but after a while, I began to be a bit sore. I don't know if it was the seat, or the fact that I'm not used to riding any more.
When you're on the road, this is a 'cycle that turns some heads. A number of times, I noticed other bikers just staring at me, open-mouthed. Children pointed and screamed.
Even more amusing were the people in cars. A few times I saw men driving with their wives. The men were pointing at me, talking excitedly to the women, who looked at me with ill-disguised horror. I can only imagine the conversations that were going on.
There's a big head-turning factor to this 'cycle.
One of the things I found a bit irksome about the bike was the throttle/clutch combination. The throttle doesn't ease you into high RPMs. It zoomed from an idle to 6500 RPM after only the tiniest twist of the throttle. At the same time, the clutch was very tight. You release, release, release, with nothing happening, then in the last 1/4 inch of travel, the clutch just pops out on you.
So, the first thing I did while leaving the parking lot of the cycle center, was to stall it out. Then, I stalled it out at the first stop sign. So, I went into an empty section of road in a residential area, and just practiced starting from a stop. I did that about 20 times, until I got used to the clutch/throttle combo in first gear. Once I got used to it, it was fine, but it took some getting used to.
I think what it was, was the fact that the Rotax 996-cc V-Twin engine is a very responsive, very high-RPM engine. The redline is 10,000 RPM. That's pretty hot, especially when you're used to a low-RPM touring bike. There's a noticeable difference in the way you drive a low-RPM, high-torque bike, and a bike with a high-RPM racing engine.
On the other hand, shifting after you get started is just smooth as glass. Drop it, clutch it, kick it, crank it, and boom, you're done. The tranny is a standard 5-speed, with a one down/four up foot pedal and it shifts in an instant.
The range of first gear also seems a bit narrow. For instance, when taking a left hand turn from a stop light, you have to shift into second while you're halfway through the intersection, unless you keep it dialed way back.
Although, having said that, it could just be me. Since you can't just ride around watching the tach all the time, you really shift by engine sound. But the Rotax V-twin can wrap up really, really high, and, since my experience is with a low-RPM engine, maybe I was just shifting sooner than I needed to.
Turning is an interesting experience, too. BRP says you don't have to lean into turns. BRP is wrong.
Well, actually, I guess in theory, you don't have to lean into turns, but if you don't, and the turn is sharp enough, the Bosch Vehicle Stabilization System (VSS) that monitors the trike knows when the inside wheel is about to come off the ground, appies a bit of brake, and the ignition interlock kicks in, so that the cylinders fire only once in every other revolution. That means the engine starts to sound funny, and your speed drops right off.
The VSS saves you from yourself, in other words.
So, even though the bike doesn't lean, you have to. If you lean into the turn—which is odd, because the bike doesn't lean, just you do—your weight keeps the inside wheel on the ground, so when you get into the half-way point in the turn, you can gun it, and power your way through the turn.
That is fun.
Although the effort to turn is an effort. The Spyder has a variable power steering. The lower your speed, the more assist it gives you. But, even at low speeds, it takes some effort to turn it. You've got a lot more rubber on the concrete, so there is some extra amount of effort to overcome the stiction. Also, this is a looong motorcycle. The front wheels are way up there, so it just doesn't have as tight a turning radius as a regular motorcycle.
The final thing is that there's no front brake handle. The three-wheel Bosch anti-lock brakes are all operated from the foot pedal, so when you first get on, you have a tendency to try and grab something with your right fingers that isn't there.
When you hit the brakes, though, this sucker stops.
Well, now, reading back over what I've written, it sounds a bit negative. It shouldn't. Because it really is fun. Very fun. It's just not a motorcycle like any I've ridden before—and I haven't actually ridden for a while—so the first half hour or so, there was a tendency to white-knuckle a bit. It's really a ride you have to get used to.
After that, though, it just gets funner and funner. Actually, it gets fantastic.
During the ride, I took the trike through three environments: curvy, hilly roads, downtown street traffic, and the interstate.
It's a 'cycle that wants to move. Do not ignore the speedometer on this bike. I opened it up just a little bit on an isolated straightaway for a few seconds, and when I glanced down at the speed, I was doing 85 in a 35. I just didn't expect that kind of acceleration from such a big 'cycle. Overall it performs about like a 600cc crotch rocket. For most folks, that'll be quite fast enough.
In fact, on the highway, you have to exercise a lot of self-control. 65 MPH feels like sitting still on this 'cycle. And passing acceleration...oh yeah. It has it.
Driving in street traffic...torture. It is almost painful to poke along at 35. Fortunately, my commute is mainly on the open interstate, and this trike seems to love the highway.
Part of it is the stability you have while riding. It just sticks to the road. And there's no danger of falling over, and no need for any effort to stay balanced. So every nerve you have just screams to push it.
It's just way too much fun.
And the power curve is just incredible. There's just no RPM at which this 'cycle doesn't feel like it's got power to burn. It gives you full power across the entire range of the engine, even at lower RPMs.
On curvy roads, it's just as fun, but riding it has an ATV feel. The 'cycle stays perfectly upright, but you have to throw yourself from side to side. When the bike doesn't lean, it's a totally different feel.
If there is a drawback to riding this motorcycle, its that the body has a vent for the radiator that's right in front of your right knee, and it's about six inches wide. After a while, your right leg gets uncomfortably warm, because the vent feels like a blow-dryer pointed at your leg. It's not bad on the freeway, but driving in the city, there's not enough airflow to cool your leg off, or to lower the temp of the air passing through the vent.
BORING TECH STUFF
I guess another possible drawback is the Rotax V-twin engine itself, at least in terms of possible maintenance. It's a very solid engine, supposedly, but, if something does go wrong, it just isn't a very fixable one.
For instance, if you ever have to replace the timing chains, you're pretty much screwed. It's not like some of the Hondas, where there's two belts behind an access plate. No, for this baby, you not only have to pull the heads and crack the engine casing open, you have to pull the head on one side, replace the chain, reassemble it, then pull the other head, and finish the job.
Apparently, talking to the engine guy at the cycle center, the current plan is just to pull the engine and drop in a replacement.
Now, of course, that shouldn't happen, because the Rotax engine is, by all accounts, a very solid engine. But if it does...well, grab hold of your wallet. So, you'd probably want to be careful about wrapping it up to 9,000 RPM too much.
Oh, yeah. I want one. I wanted one before I drove it. Now that I have driven it, I want it even more.
And I think a lot of other people will, too. There are, I think, a lot of people like me who a) just have too much invested in life to ride a regular motorcycle, or b) are getting old enough so that holding up a 700-pound touring bike is getting to be too much of chore to be enjoyable. I know several older riders who've had to give up riding in recent years, and they've all been intrigued when i've told them about it.
On the other hand, this isn't a touring bike, so long-range comfort for the rider is going to be an issue, mainly because of the peg placement. For commuting or day trips, though, I think BRP might just have a winner on its hands. This is a 'cycle that wants to be ridden, and I think there just mught be a big market that wants to ride it. I have a one-way thirty-mile commute every day, and I can't think of too many days when I wouldn't want to use it.
Oh, yeah, and with gas prices slated to rise above $4 per gallon, at 40+ MPG, you might just about cover the payments in gas savings alone. That might be an increasingly bigger draw, too.
The Spyder will be available at Bombardier dealers in 14 states—including California—in October, and in the rest of the US, Spain and France sometime in 2008. As an added plus, riders in California, Connecticut, and North Carolina will not need a motorcycle license to ride one.
Now, what I'd really like is for BRP to give me one for the next couple of months for a long-term road test, to see what daily ridership and maintenance is like. Naturally, I have no personal interest in such a test. It's all about journalistic integrity.
I just had an opportunity to ride the Spyder as well. Although it was only a 20 minute ride with 4 other riders and a Can Am rep., I was still able to get a feel for the bike. I didn’t experience any stalling with the bike, and found it quite easy to ride right off the bat. It shifts fluidly and easily through the gears, with little effort from the clutch. The abs brakes are great. There really is a high fun-factor with this vehicle, and it begs to be ridden fast and hard. I was actually quite surprised at how quickly I was able to ride the Spyder with confidence. True, it rides a bit more like an atv than a motorcycle, but it has speed to burn and handles pretty well when you lean into the turns.
Cons: I found the riding position a bit uncomfortable—I would prefer the handlebars further back, and the foot pegs moved forward—but I’m six feet tall and accustomed to the riding position on my Harley. Of course, the $15,000 price tag is a bit of a con as well, but when put in context with big cruisers it’s pretty reasonable. Finally, with all the high-tech aspects of the Spyder I was dissapointed they didn’t include a stereo/cd player. There is room in the dashboard for a system and speakers, so perhaps an after-market will be made available.
What struck me most about the ride was perfectly echoed in Dale Franks review:
"There are, I think, a lot of people like me who a) just have too much invested in life to ride a regular motorcycle, . . ."
Although the Spyder still has potential safety issues, the three wheels, anti-lock breaks and stability control really did make me feel safer than riding my Harley—especially when one adds loose gravel and slippery roads into the mix.
Will I buy a Spyder? I’m still not sure. But the test ride gave me something to think about, and a few days later I’m still thinking about how much fun it would be to take it to work, the beach, etc.
I just had my first test drive and view of the spyder on 6/12/07 at Laconia Bike Week in NH. I must admit, when i first saw the first pictures of these, i thought they were a bit ugly and i would never want one. Well, I was definately wrong when I got to see it in person. The ride was amazing. It feels so much like I am riding my Ski-Doo REV 600 h.o., I felt right at home. It is very fast! You twist the throttle and hang right on. It swallows up the bumpy roads and spits them right out. I was very happy with the smooth ride. I would recommend that everyone try it at least once. Its a whole new feel for the road, and I think these will be selling very well. I went down to a second test ride on 6/21/07, and then ordered one! Mine will be Yellow, and will take delivery by March 31st 2007. There are only 2500 units being sold in the first round, and the dealer i went to just ordered the last one they can get. I will get a plaque from Can-Am with the number of my machine (ex: #257 of 2500). I will also recieve a special edition riding jacket. Do not wait if you want to be one of the first to own one of these bikes. I highly recommend them!
After testing the Spyder 2 days ago, I have to admit I totally agree with Dale Franks impressions. The handling feels heavy, the clutch has a short course, you have to lean to better turn. I would add, it drives like a snowmobile but on the road. I imagine a lot of buyers would be snowmobilers, ATV drivers or a more mature (I’m only 49!) bikers. I already ordered mine even I’ll drive it mostly on week-ends but it gives me the opportunity, the freedom to enjoy the road, the smell of the country and the security to reconciliate with motorcycles. The silver is my choice, with the performance pipe (it’s almost a must-the sound is much better,not to mention the look) and the backrest (for my wife). I don’t think I’ll change my mind...