First Ride: BRP Can-Am Spyder
New 'roadster' boldly ventures where no 3-wheeler has before.
After inventing the snowmobile in 1968 with the Ski-Doo and creating the modern personal watercraft in 1988 with its Sea-Doo, Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) has now taken to the streets. BRP's Can-Am Spyder is a three-wheeler that is neither motorcycle nor sports car, but an intriguing blend of both. First launched in select markets, the Spyder is now available in 35 states. With its unique blend of performance, safety and open-air thrills, it might be the start of something fun.
From Snow and Water to Asphalt
With the markets for motorcycles and sports cars maturing as quickly as their target audience (the ubiquitous baby boomer), planners and designers at BRP saw an opportunity for a different kind of vehicle — one that could deliver most of the liberating thrills of a motorcycle without the inherent risks of a fundamentally unstable machine.
The team decided on three wheels: two in front and a wider drive wheel in back. It would be a vehicle you sit atop and ride rather than sit in and drive, unlike several three-wheel, sit-in designs that already existed. And since three wheels are more unstable than four, BRP's new creation would make extensive use of modern electronic stability technology.
Design work started in the first years of the century and advanced prototypes were being tested extensively in 2004. The new Spyder 'roadster' was unveiled in February 2007, to be marketed under the Can-Am brand. Originally created by Bombardier in the early '70s for a successful range of motocross, enduro and dual-purpose motorcycles, the name Can-Am was revived for BRP's line of ATVs. The first production Spyder rolled off the Canadian assembly line in Valcourt, Quebec, on September 14, 2007.
A Solid Foundation
The Spyder is 105 inches long with a 68-inch wheelbase, and its front wheels span a track of 51.5 inches. Its total height is 45.1 inches and the seat is perched 29 inches off the ground. The claimed dry vehicle weight is 697 pounds. Not bad for a vehicle with two wheels in front (with 165/65R-14 tires) and one in back (225/50R-15), plus three disc brakes.
By comparison, various models of Honda's revered GL1800 Gold Wing touring motorcycle weigh in from 845 to 885 pounds. The Spyder's relative lack of mass can be attributed to its "surrounding spar" chassis and shrewd engineering.
The front suspension is a classic double A-arm with an anti-roll bar, and the rear has a swing arm controlled by a monoshock. The coil springs can be adjusted for passenger and cargo load with a small tool provided in the standard kit. Most owners would probably be more inclined to make these adjustments if the springs had integrated levers.
That said, as delivered, the Spyder feels utterly solid and stable on the road. The ride is compliant over all surfaces, with the front wheels absorbing all manners of bumps, cracks and joints independently, while the rear wheel keeps tracking true. BRP has done an impressive development job in this respect.
Steering is by handlebar with a linkage to the front wheels, with adjustable rods for alignment. Straight-line stability is about faultless, and the Spyder dissects turns and corners quickly and precisely in the city. Once out of town and speeds increase, however, the physical effort needed to steer into turns is too high. BRP needs to crank its Dynamic Power Steering up a few notches.
Conversely, it needs to tone down the standard vehicle stability system (VSS) that cuts in and reduces power at the very slightest imaginable sign of rear wheelspin, even when rounding a street corner at low speed. Full direction changes also require sufficient space and, lacking this, you can use the reverse gear to make a three-point turn. Steering angle is not very pronounced and the turning diameter relatively large for a machine this size.
Great V-Twin Heart
The Spyder is powered by a 990-cc V-twin engine that delivers 106 horsepower at 8500 rpm. Designed by BRP's Austrian-based Rotax division, a world-leading builder of small engines, it is the same you get with the vaunted Aprilia Mille RSV 1000 R sport bike, tuned with a greater emphasis on torque.
This 60-degree V-twin is counterbalanced, and runs smoothly on 87-octane regular gas. Final drive is by a carbon-reinforced belt. Our tester had the optional Hindle 'performance silencer," a $599.99 option. Much slimmer than the canister-like standard item, it helps the Spyder's right-side looks and has a glorious sound, but it is rather loud and not likely to please the neighbors.