Can-Am’s attempt to bring riding to the masses is more serious than ever with the new Can-Am Ryker family of models. We road test the Ryker and go deep behind the scenes to understand how the Canadian brand hopes to succeed where most motorcycle manufacturers haven’t.
I’m at Can-Am’s head office in Valcourt, Quebec for a sneak peek at the Ryker before its official world launch and the chance to ask questions of the people behind it. Looking at it in the flesh for the first time, I’m surprised by the number of desirable features. After all, the new family of models is first and foremost built to address the biggest single issue potential buyers of these three-wheelers have always had: cost.
Since the launch of the first Spyder RS in 2008, those open to the idea of riding a non-leaner had to fork out a substantial chunk of change. Today, that amounts to about 20 grand for a base F3, a number that blows up to about $35,000 if a top of the line RT is the preferred choice. And these are reduced for 2019 MSRPs. 2018 models sold for even more.
Pricing for the 2019 Ryker family starts at $10,499 and, obviously, that changes everything. Like, you could get two for the price of an F3 or three instead of a single RT Limited. But selling Rykers two or three at a time isn’t the goal of the new machine at all. Selling one to someone who can’t afford a more costly Spyder, though, is. According to Senior Vice-President for Can-Am On-Road, Josée Perreault, that someone is familiar to them:
“We know our customers,” she says. “We know which demographics they belong to, why they buy a Spyder and why they don’t. All that data tells us we have a massive growth opportunity and here’s why.
“Our regular customer is 62 years old on average. Sure, that’s high, but isn’t 60 the new 50? Seriously, that our average buyer’s age is on the high side doesn’t bother us at all. Actually, we’re embracing it. These are people who have both a comfortable amount of disposable income and time to enjoy life. They use their Spyders to travel, to be with their friends, to have fun, and they love ’em. Like, profoundly. They’re awesome customers and we intend to keep taking care of them.
“On the other hand, we know there’s a substantial mass of potential that would love to own a Spyder but can’t. Our dealers keep telling us how they snap up a used unit as soon as one becomes available. We also know there are people out there wondering if they’d really like the riding experience or not. They’re uncertain. We know others just want a toy to occasionally play with. And we know there are young people who’d love to go ride, but can’t afford it.
“What’s common to all these groups is the desire for a price low enough to make it easy for them to make that decision and buy a three-wheeler. You could say ‘easy’ is the entire goal of the Ryker : easy to buy, easy to operate.”
Listening to Perreault’s straight talk and no nonsense explanation, I can’t help but experience some feeling of déjà vu. It’s incalculable the number of times in the past decade I heard motorcycle manufacturers say, “We’re trying to reach new, younger customers.”
I’ll also admit to some skepticism toward the whole slashing the price in two and three thing. I mean, what’s left when you go that far? All these preconceptions contributed to my surprise when I finally got the chance to walk around the Ryker. It looked young and hip compared to every Spyder I had seen so far, maybe with the exception of the sportier F3.
From a distance, the Ryker looked airy and cool, even alien-ish from some angles. But it definitely didn’t look bland or cheap, which, again, caught me off guard.
Still, I thought there must be a catch, so I looked closer. But the more I paid attention, the more I actually saw desirable characteristics, which is completely counterintuitive on a low-cost model. For example, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the humongous single-sided cast aluminum swingarm. It’s a completely exposed component that looks beefier than just about anything I’ve seen on a bike. And it’s definitely sexy, which was the weirdest part, since I was looking for cost-cutting evidence.
“Hold on a minute,” I said. “I don’t see a belt or a chain?”
“There’s a shaft drive inside the swingarm,” was the response.
Wait, what? But even the two and three times more expensive Spyders don’t have a shaft drive… This was getting confusing. I had the same reaction when I noticed a big single nut, à la Panigale, attached its wheels.
“That shouldn’t be there,” I noted. That’s an exotic part, not a low-cost measure.”
“Well, actually, it’s fewer parts, so less expensive,” said she.
It was the weirdest thing, almost as if the Can-Am people I was talking with didn’t realize how upscale some of the Ryker’s characteristics actually were. I’ve always felt there was somewhat of a disconnect between that brand and the motorcycling world. They only seem to know and care about our world vaguely, certainly not as intensively as rival motorcycle companies know about each other’s products. They operate in a different universe where familiar products are ATVs, side-by-sides, snowmobiles and personal watercrafts, not to mention boats up to a few years ago.
And even though their three-wheelers exist alongside all of motorcycling, they don’t seem to be swayed one way or the other by what’s happening on two wheels.
A good example is the transmission chosen for the Can-Am Ryker, a CVT, a technology very common at BRP. In the motorcycle world, it’s just a scooter transmission (which is a dumb perception since CVT remains one of the best automatic solutions so far on two wheels, but that’s another debate), but to them, it’s simply the ideal twist-and-go solution needed on a model that absolutely has to be as easy to operate as possible.
That ease-of-use priority had several other impacts on the Ryker, not the least of which is the starting procedure. To understand this, you need to know that for whatever reason, Spyders have always required a checklist just in order to start: press this first, accept that, press that second, then do it all over again if the ignition has been turned off. The same is true when engaging reverse, which you regularly do on these things.
I always found the whole ritual profoundly annoying, hence my astonishment at the Ryker’s starting procedure: turn the key, roll the throttle forward to validate and push start. Reverse? Just pull a lever on the left front side to reverse and forward to ride. Progress is wonderful.
As for braking, as usual, it’s left to a single pedal on the right side, which means a Ryker is among the simplest powersports products to operate: a throttle to accelerate, one pedal to brake.
In terms of interesting features, the Ryker is remarkably generous considering its price point. For instance, it offers an adjustable riding position by way of an improved U-Fit system. Without tools and in a matter of seconds, both the handlebar and the pegs can be adjusted back and forth.
As for storage, the big volumes of the Spyder family aren’t there, but there’s still a practical seven-litre compartment right above the engine. Speaking of engines, there are two choices: a 47-horsepower 600cc parallel twin and a 77-hp 900 triple, both installed vertically and longitudinally. The entry-level $10,499 version is powered by the smaller motor while choosing the bigger motor raises the price to $12,499.
A passenger seat that also requires a separate rear frame (about $700 total) is an option. The Ryker is also offered in a Rally Edition costing $13,999. It is the first Can-Am three-wheeler with off-road capability; it comes with the rear frame already installed, with longer travel suspension (plus one inch), with the 900 Triple, with aggressively grooved tires and with a Rally riding mode that allows drifting the rear.
All versions of the Ryker are equipped with Can-Am’s own Vehicle Stability System (VSS) which includes ABS and traction control. Standard warranty is one year instead of two for models of the Spyder family. Finally, owners can customize their ride’s look by switching body panels at relatively low cost and without tools.
The Can-Am Ryker : Behind the Scenes
My sneak peek gave me access to several key people involved in the development of the Ryker, notably Senior Vice-President, Design, Innovation and Creative Services for BRP Denys Lapointe. He’s one of those guys that’s gold for interviews because he’s not afraid to talk and explain how the sausage is made, so I let him. We began our discussion with me simply asking how difficult it was to build with such a lower MSRP as a goal.
“It’s really difficult to build a high-quality product at low cost,” he said. “And I mean, really. It not only required all of our resources, but it also demanded we work differently. We went through a similar experience a few years ago when we built the Spark. (The Spark is a Sea-Doo personal watercraft that sold for an almost unbelievable entry price of $5,999 when it was introduced). “Our process is already very integrated for our regular products, but for Ryker, we had to push it way further. To explain it properly I have to go back to the beginning. We knew when we launched the first Spyder in ’08 that we were going to need a low-cost model. Remember what our original goal was: we wanted to democratize on-road riding. We hoped three wheels would have a similar effect on the world of two wheels than the sit down personal watercraft had on the stand-up (Jet-Ski) market.
“We completely changed that market. All of a sudden, anyone could have fun on the water, not just the very skilled. We thought the same was possible with on-road riding. And we still do, but we quickly realized one of the main barriers of entry into the three-wheel option we offered in 2008 was going to be pricing, so that’s when the low-cost project first began. And that’s also when we realized what a challenge it was going to be.
“Initially, we thought we could fit a smaller engine in a de-featured Spyder RS. We tried, but it just wasn’t working. What we were ending up with wasn’t satisfying us and cost was still much higher than what we were aiming for. It became clear that getting what we wanted would mean starting from a blank page.
“But at the time, our resources were already committed to the future products of the Spyder family and we just couldn’t get into another big project. We concentrated on the RT the ST and the F3 models for about six or seven years, so from about 2008 to 2014 and that’s when we went full steam ahead on the Ryker project.”
I asked: So what was so tough about that concept specifically and in hindsight, was it a good thing you ended up pushing back the project a few years?
“Oh it was absolutely a good thing,” says Lapointe. “We learned a lot with our Spyder family. Don’t forget we were in uncharted territory, and we actually kind of still are. There were no precedents; no one has offered products like ours before. So everything we learned, we did as we went on.
“Over time, two barriers to our ultimate goal of democratizing on-road riding became very clear: pricing and ease of access. Spyders have sold well, but we were frankly hoping for more. We announced during our 10th anniversary last year that ‘more than 100 000 units’ had been sold so far. It was the first time we released an official number regarding Spyder sales and like you, some mentioned it wasn’t bad. But that’s when you compare that to motorcycle sales numbers. We’re not uniquely in the motorcycle business.
“We know motorcyclists well, many are now customers of ours. But if we get back to the original intent of the three-wheel idea, back to that wish of democratizing on-road riding, then we find that it (over 100,000) isn’t really a lot. Because we’re not just talking to the very small percentage of the population that already rides, we’re also looking at a much bigger pie: essentially, everyday people who have a driver’s licence and are open to power sports.
“It’s with that perspective that we say we think much higher sales are attainable. And that’s how what we learned over the past decade with Spyder becomes so important.
“For example, we now know for a fact that if the price point was lower, a whole new category of buyers would entertain the idea of owning a Can-Am three-wheeler. That information is the reason the Ryker exists.
“As for what was so difficult about building it towards the goal of a $10,499 MSRP, well absolutely everything, starting with the way we usually build.
“When the end product’s retail price is relatively high, fewer questions have to be answered. Everyone still works together, of course, but designers can do their thing, engineers theirs, marketers theirs, etc. That structure doesn’t work with a very aggressive price point. If the product still has, say, a thousand parts, then that’s a thousand parts that have to be produced and paid for and there’s just no way to cut costs enough to get to the end goal.
“You need to think differently and in a way you weren’t forced to do before. Fortunately, we had the Spark experience and we knew that. It basically comes down to a lower part count and a higher number of functions per part. Because many components are exposed, design must also be part of the equation. And to add to it all, we also had the goal of making the Can-Am Ryker highly customizable by the average owner. It was a fascinating exercise that ended with some surprises.
“For example, we chose a single-nut wheel-locking system because it had a lower part count than the typical multi-nut system. But in the process, we ended up with something more desirable and very cool looking. That type of logic was applied to absolutely everything on the Ryker, even though it can’t always be seen.
“There’s one single big molded plastic part above the whole front end that holds together a high number of other parts, which saved a high number of brackets and fasteners. We even brought in suppliers and asked them to think in a new way so that they could build to a lower cost and with a higher number of functions per part. They came through. It really needed to be done that way and it paid off.
“Our parts count is considerably smaller and weight is down from about 900 pounds for a Spyder to about 600 for a Ryker, so about a third less too. That’s massive. All that being said, one thing we didn’t do was to forget the end goal. It’s easy, while cutting cost, to go too far, enough to change the nature of the product being created.
“For instance, the Ryker not only had to be affordable, but also had to be easy to operate even for someone completely new to power sports. A big part of that ease of use has to do with the transmission choice. We went with a CVT, a tranny we use in many of our products and that we know well. It wasn’t the cheapest choice, but the Ryker had to be a twist-and-go product. Having to deal with a clutch and gears would have helped to cut costs, but it would have contradicted the concept of a three-wheeler anyone can understand how to operate in a matter of minutes. Which we knew the Ryker absolutely had to be.”
And yet, a low MSRP was only half the battle. The other was accessibility. One massive obstacle for new riders is getting their licence. It’s a long and expensive process and Can-Am says it knows for a fact it’s one of the major barriers motorcycling faces when it comes to attracting new people to the sport. Of course, extensive training is absolutely necessary before getting on the road with a two-wheeler, but what about a non-leaning three-wheeler, especially for someone who already has a driver’s licence?
Can-Am’s point of view is that you shouldn’t have to learn to ride a motorcycle in order to ride a three-wheeler, and that if you already drive a car, then you should only need minimal training to hop on something with three wheels. And the Canadian brand is on a full-on mission to change the rules.
Since 2010, their home province of Québec has been serving as the test bed for that change: over there, if you only have a car licence, a seven-hour course is all you need before being legally allowed on the road with a three-wheeler. At the time of this writing, Josée Perreault had said the goal is to extend the policy to the rest of the country.
In the United States, a market with huge potential for Can-Am, 39 states have already accepted the change, and the goal is for all those remaining to follow. Different provinces and states have different rules, but Ms. Perreault says the three-wheel course varies from a few hours at the minimum to four or five days at the most depending on the place.
And they didn’t stop there. Key to Can-Am’s easier accessibility plan are riding schools, so they created a new Rider Education Program and one by one, state by state in the US, the brand is partnering with existing schools with the goal of making it as easy and as inexpensive as possible to ride a three-wheeler.
Wisely, they involved their dealers who will loan Spyders and Rykers to local schools in the hope that the students will become the new customers of those dealers.
The Can-Am Ryker : The ride
The world press was invited to LA to ride the Ryker in town and in the Malibu Hills. Since the new family of models isn’t aimed at experienced motorcycle riders Can-Am split the intro in two days, one for the specialized motorcycle press and another for, shall we say, the rest of the press. When I mentioned to the manufacturer I thought it might be interesting to ride with the second group, I was warned it wouldn’t be fun. “It’s going to be a much slower group, it’ll be boring for you,” I was told. “To give you an idea, some of the guests don’t even have a motorcycle licence.” That’s when I knew I had to join the second group. Totally inexperienced people were going to ride a new model purpose-built for them in LA traffic and in canyons: I saw this as the ultimate proof of concept played live in front of me and I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.
The group was quite a sight, a good mix of male and female, most with borrowed gear. One dude didn’t have gear at all. He had a purple shirt tucked into his tight office pants. He wore formal shoes with no socks and had no gloves. I had noticed him during the breakfast/morning tech briefing. While the Can-Am staff was doing its presentation, he was noisily stirring his coffee, constantly getting up to fill his plate and fiddling with his phone non-stop. Car journalist, I thought. He was, actually, from a German publication. Another guy said he’s always been curious about motorcycles, but never rode one. He was mostly into ATVs. And so on. I was definitely in the right group.
The Ryker really is extraordinarily simple to operate, especially from a motorcyclist perspective: disengage the parking brake, push start and roll the throttle. Exactly as on a scooter, there’s no clutch, no gears, not even a neutral. The seat is very low and there isn’t anything wide under it, so the rider can easily put both feet on the ground if he/she prefers.
The footpegs can be adjusted horizontally over about eight inches (lift, slide and lock by pushing back down) and the handlebar over about four inches, also without tools.
I opted for a relaxed cruiser-ish position with the pegs pushed all the way forward and the handlebar all the way back, but someone shorter could have configured the ergonomics entirely differently in seconds.
The seat is very reminiscent of an average street bike seat and just isn’t in the same league as the remarkably comfy perches found on all models of the Spyder family.
Suspension is immediately felt as firmer than on a Spyder, yet remains plush enough to offer a fairly smooth ride on bumpy roads. The front wheels glide over most bumps while the back always hits a bit harder, but still generally without being harsh.
As for the steering, it’s also quite different from a Spyder’s. On the latter, it’s assisted and effortless, but on a Ryker, it’s unassisted, demands a certain effort and offers a much more direct feel, à la go-kart. If the two families of models are compared, Rykers feel more basic but also more playful than the more comfortable and mature Spyders.
Riders used to anything on two wheels, even scooters, will be surprised at the way the Ryker’s CVT works, especially at how high revs climb during normal use. Leaving a stoplight, both engines immediately rev up to around four or 5,000 rpm then stay there while the CVT does its thing and generates acceleration, which is better than expected.
The 77-hp 900 will easily spin the rear tire when leaving from a standstill and then accelerate about as hard as a 1330cc triple-powered Spyder. No matter from what speed, passing power is plenty satisfying.
One aspect of the 900 that’s a bit disappointing —especially for a triple— is the uninspiring and characterless Sea-Doo-like drone it emits during acceleration. Surprisingly, the clearly less powerful 600 twin always gently pulses and offers a more pleasant sound and feel. At 47 hp, it’s no missile, but it remains torquey enough to easily leave car traffic behind when leaving a light. Highway speeds are attained and maintained without any issues and it’s only when passing that the lower power has to be taken into account. All in all, the 600 works just fine, which is very important because it’s the version with the catchy $10,499 price.
At the other end of the pricing spectrum is the $13,999 Rally version. It is equipped with better and more adjustable suspension, has more ground clearance and tougher wheels shod with aggressively grooved tires. Because it’s built to go on non-paved roads, there’s even a skid plate and a Rally mode that allows the rear tire to spin more freely. Unfortunately we didn’t ride off-road, but I’m guessing it must be good fun to toss and drift this thing around on a dirt road.
Because I’ve seen with my own eyes a group of total newbies —and even a car journalist— climb on the Ryker and go have fun in canyons without any kind of training and without mishaps, something that would be absolutely unthinkable on anything with two wheels, I can confirm Can-Am has in fact delivered on its promise to make “riding” as easy as possible.
And even though Rykers don’t have the posh feel of the more expensive Spyder models, they work very well nonetheless. They are much less equipped, but very little of the Spyder gadgetry is actually missed on the road. It remains to be seen if the Canadian brand will succeed where every manufacturer has so far failed and be the one to solve the new rider enigma with this unique take on riding. Now that they’ve dropped pricing this far, what happens next will be interesting to watch.
by Bertrand Gahel