Costa goes to the launch of the new CanAm Spyder RT touring model. More capacity, retuned motor and lots of options (blond passenger not included).
IS THREE ALWAYS BAD?
Since trikes and sidecars are adaptations of motorcycles, as such I believe their third wheel has a greater detrimental effect on handling when placed at the rear or to the side than when put up front (as in the Y configuration used by the Spyder as well as Piaggio’s MP3, which also leans).
Their chassis simply weren’t designed to handle the increased loads that the third contact patch adds. A trike also has heavy steering in either direction, and if turning aggressively it either pushes the front tire or tends to want to tip over (remember the 3-wheeler ATCs?).
My experience with this type of vehicle is limited to a Lehman Gold Wing, and I had felt all of the above when riding it. Granted, you’d have to push a Lehman, or a Harley Tri Glide, well beyond its design limits to tip it, but that slight feeling of insecurity was always there.
A sidecar — and I’ve ridden several — is no better. It’s worse in fact, as it also has heavy steering (more so on one side), wants to lift the inside wheel when turning one way, while resisting turning in the other, and pulls to one side when accelerating.
Oh, and both trikes and sidecars have an exaggerated tendency to wobble the front wheel – just more proof that odd numbers don’t always add up.
At the risk of offending some of CMG’s readership, I’m going to come clean: for the longest time I never understood three-wheelers — had always thought of them as the bastards of motor vehicles.
Maybe that’s because I’ve always considered vehicles with an odd number of wheels fundamentally flawed — unbalanced. Be it a trike (two wheels at the rear), a Y configuration (two wheels up front) or a sidecar rig (that one’s obvious), they all exhibit undesirable handling characteristics.
Ever watch someone glide smoothly by on a unicycle? Exactly.
My perception of these wheeled anomalies was recalibrated however, after riding the Can Am Spyder GS last year. With two front wheels it handled more like a car when turning, and it was much more planted through turns, as well as more stable in a straight line. And front-end wobble is as likely to occur as it would on a Chevy.
It achieved this cornering stability partly because of its Y configuration, but also through complex electronic wizardry that senses wheel spin, wheel lift and other parameters, and subsequently curbs engine power, or automatically applies the brakes to get things back under control.
Bombardier Recreational Vehicles (BRP) calls this VSS (vehicle stability system). Personally I see it as a bit of a fun-killer, but I can appreciate it as a necessity in the interest of rider safety.
Since then I’ve become even more convinced that a three-wheeler has a place in the motor vehicle grand scheme of things after attending the recent press launch of the Spyder RT touring model, held at BRP headquarters in Valcourt, Quebec, about 130 km east of Montreal.
For all those who didn’t think the Spyder concept would take off, BRP has some news – they’ve already surpassed their sales forecast twofold, with an impressive 20,000 units sold worldwide to date. In North America alone, 12,000 Spyders have hit the streets.
According to BRP’s market research most Spyder buyers are around 50 years old. Unlike CMG 50-somethings, Steve Bond and Larry Tate, Spyder owners tend more towards scenic country cruises than knee-dragging laps around a racetrack (though with their recent shenanigans, Bond and Tate may do well to try a Spyder).
As a result, BRP has added the new RT (for Roadster Touring) to its Spyder line.
The RT looks much larger than the sportier RS model (formerly known as the GS), as it should considering it has 155 litres of cargo space for carrying travelling amenities in its forward compartment, integrated panniers and top case.
From the rear, it can be easily confused with a big touring bike, until you see the two wheels jutting prominently on either side.
In the cockpit, the seating position is upright, relaxed and comfy, and a wide, plush seat hugs your backside.
You’re not immediately ready to hit the start button, though; after the ignition switch is turned on, a message appears in the central LCD display telling you to read the pull-out disclaimer located atop the instrument panel and then hit the mode button on the left-hand switch assembly to acknowledge you’ve complied.
BRP claims this saves numerous unsightly decals, and thankfully you don’t actually have to read the disclaimer; hitting the mode button alone activates the start button.
UP TO THE JOB
Rotax supplies the motivating force beneath the Spyder, but it is retuned in the RT to produce more peak torque at lower revs (80 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm versus 77 lb-ft at 6,250 rpm for the RS). Peak power is down slightly to 100 hp from 106 hp.
It’s the same basic 998 cc, 60-degree V-twin used in Aprilia’s RSV1000 models, but it has five forward speeds and a reverse as opposed to the RSV’s six cogs. New on the RT is fly-by-wire throttle control.
Power is immediate right off idle and acceleration is surprisingly peppy, especially when factoring in the machine’s 421 kg (929 lb) claimed dry weight. That weight might scare off some two-wheeled enthusiasts, but it’s almost irrelevant being you don’t have to hold the Spyder up at a stop or even pick it up after a mishap.
The Spyder uses the same vacuum-assisted clutch as the Aprilias, and clutch effort was relatively light. Shift action was effortless, though the shift lever had a slightly spongy feel. To select reverse, you must push a button atop the right-hand switch assembly then push down on the shifter twice from neutral.
Previous Spyder experience dictates that along tight, twisty bits, both rider and passenger work overtime fighting G-forces. Thankfully our route from the factory though Quebec’s Eastern Townships follows picturesque secondary roads that are open and flowing, and are perfectly suited for a Spyder cruise.
They are also surprisingly smooth for this province (I live here, so I know), prompting speculation that maybe BRP is funding the roadwork within a 100-km radius of the plant.
The bumps we do encounter pass beneath the machine almost unnoticed (with three tracking wheels, it’s hard to miss them), and ride quality is surprisingly plush.
Steering, which is assisted, has been recalibrated to be lighter than on the RS, and it is lighter, but still heavier than on a motorcycle. I never picked the pace up to a sporting level, so I can’t tell if steering gets much heavier at speed, but the RT isn’t about getting the G-force meter into the red zone.
As a motorcyclist, I was somewhat wary of the width of the RT’s front end, especially when riding around Quebec City. With my brain in motorcycle mode, it was all too easy to misjudge distances and clip a bumper or curb with the front wheels although I became accustomed to this rather quickly and had no mishaps.
Snowmobile and ATV riders won’t likely have to make this mental adjustment when hopping on a Spyder. They are, after all, BRP’stargeted buyers.
Wind protection is at least as good as on a full touring bike (though it’s still not at the level of the BMW R1200RT, which is uncannily free of noise and turbulence), and especially good below the waist, where the machine’s wide front end serves as an excellent buffer between the rider and the elements. This was especially appreciated on the return trip to Valcourt, where we stuck to highways.
Some light helmet buffeting is present with the windscreen at its lowest level, but the push of a button raises it (it has a vertical adjustment range of 100 mm) and eliminates the buffeting, though you’re then forced to look through it, not over it.
As I was riding solo, I wanted a passenger’s opinion; the Spyder RT is, after all, a touring machine. At least that’s the line I pitched to Sarah Eastburn, a cute blonde who was attending as part of BRP’s PR firm.
She obliged and reported that the passenger seating was very comfortable, but surprisingly that the wind flow was smoother for her when the windscreen was lowered. A contoured backrest kept her from flopping over in turns, and large grab handles provided additional support (sadly negating the need for her to hold on to me).
APPLES AND ORANGES
The base model costs $24,499 and the midrange RT sells for $26,499, adding a two-speaker, iPod-compatible sound system and heat to the passenger grab rails.
The RT-S adds chrome trim, fog and LED marker lights, two more speakers with rear controls, and a self-levelling rear air suspension that is adjustable for load with the push of a button ($28,499).
All models come with cruise control, an electrically controlled windscreen and ABS. A semi-automatic transmission is a $1,500 option on all but the base model.
Pricing puts the Spyder on par with current touring bikes, competing almost head-on with an Electra Glide Classic and BMW K1200LT ($24,149 and $25,990 respectively in 2009).
You’d think that adding the purpose-built trailer, at $5,489, would put the base model RT out of bounds, but even then it would still cost $900 less than the base Honda Gold Wing.
But we’re comparing apples to oranges here. Put the RT against the only other touring three-wheelers produced by a major manufacturer and available in North America, Harley’s trikes (which start at more than $35 grand), and it beats them hands down.
Of course, if you’re a dedicated motorcyclist, you probably have no interest in the Spyder regardless of how much it costs. But if you seek the sensory stimulation you get when touring on a bike but are intimidated by balancing on two wheels – or you’re just plain tired of holding up your loaded touring bike at a stop, it’s hard to beat the Spyder RT.
SPYDER – CAR OR MOTORCYCLE?
According to Mark Lacroix, marketing director at BRP, 50 percent of Spyder buyers are motorcyclists. This is probably because in Canada and most U.S. states, you need a motorcycle license to operate one.
What that tells me is that there are probably lots of potential Spyder people who aren’t making the move to buy one because of the licensing hurdles. Why must someone be forced to learn to balance on two wheels to operate a vehicle that doesn’t fall over at a stop? Coutersteering? Irrelevant.
BRP is currently running a three-year pilot project in Quebec, which has one of the most stringent licensing regulations in North America, to introduce new legislation that would put the Spyder somewhere between car and motorcycle.
BRP believes that holders of automobile permits can easily ride Spyders after some basic training — manipulating a handlebar instead of a steering wheel, shifting with your foot, proper riding gear, that kind of stuff.
The project ends on June 17, 2011, and according to Lacroix, the outcome looks favourable. If it does go through, other provinces and states would likely adopt similar regulations, and the easier access could likely see an explosion in Spyder populations across North America.
At least that’s what BRP hopes to achieve, probably much to the joy of powersports owners and automobile drivers who would like to experience the sensory stimulation you get when riding a motorcycle, but who are simply put off by the dynamics and licencing requirements of two wheelers.
|Bike||2010 Can Am Spyder RT|
|Engine type||DOHC, 60-degree V-twin, liquid-cooled|
|Power (crank – claimed)||100 hp @ 7,500 rpm|
|Torque (claimed)||80 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||25 litres|
|Carburetion||EFI with electronic throttle control|
|Final drive||Five speed with reverse, belt drive|
|Brakes, front||2 x 250 mm discs with four-piston calipers|
|Brakes, rear||Single 250 mm disc with single-piston caliper,|
|Seat height||750 mm (29.5″)|
|Wheelbase||1,773 mm (69.8″)|
|Dry weight (claimed)||421 kg (929 lb)|
|Colours||Silver, blue, black|