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Can-Am Spyder RT-S Review

BRP has taken its three-wheeled Spyder to an inevitable place on the motosport map—the open road. For 2010, the touring Spyder RT is a natural and logical progression of the species.

The wave. An acknowledgement of the camaraderie among motorcyclists. We are out there on the road and we catch one. Now throw an additional wheel into the equation and a specifically unmotorcycle-like profile. Does the operator of a Can-Am Spyder elicit the same universal hand-signed symbol of rider fellowship? The wave, or the lack thereof, is not a precise instrument of social science but it is a measurement of gut-level responses on an anecdotal scale.

And while motorcyclists are not exclusively the target market for the Spyder product, they certainly do comprise a significant ownership segment. Perhaps this explains why proffered waves during our test session with the 2010 Spyder RT were as prevalent and plentiful as they have ever been, leading us to conclude that while the Spyder is not technically a motorcycle, it has a similar spirit. Many have felt that spirit. The Spyder RS has been a surprise hit among conventional motorcyclists and individuals whose previous open-air experience was limited to a rented Sebring. Given its inherent characteristics, a touring version was an inevitable and natural progression. Now, it seems likely the Spyder RT will become the top-selling model in the Can-Am lineup, simply because it makes sense.

Among a literal brochure full of additional features, the Can-Am Spyder RT model adds integrated saddlebags and top case, a fairing and windscreen and a bigger and more comfortable seat as the most obvious changes to the Spyder RS. But it would be unfair to call the RT an accessorized version of the RS as the differences are significant. The motor has been modified, the front track has been widened by three inches and the suspension beefed up to handle additional loads.

Like any large, dressed, touring bike, the Spyder feels best on the highway where its attributes are most apparent. So a 650-kilometre day in the saddle was necessary to gather a true impression. From the rider’s seat on the broad saddle, the bars pull back to create the very upright, comfort, rather than the sport, position. In the cockpit the analogue gauges for speed and rpm are separated by a LCD screen that repeats the same information and controls the audio and information system. Along with a lot of others, there are scrolling and panning buttons mounted on the handlebar. There is even a button to press prior to hitting the ignition. This is a litigious world and the Spyder requires different skills. So, there are a variety of counter-measures to make you remember this fact. A rider must acknowledge his or her familiarity with the machine with a push of a button and message on the LCD display before the machine will even start up.

Rising up before the RT pilot is an adjustable windscreen. At its lowest point a six-foot rider can look over the top, while in its highest position it creates a large pocket of calm for both the rider and the passenger with the aid of deflectors just below the mirrors.
BRP has focused on the motor’s power delivery to incorporate the different characteristics appreciated by a rider with a heavily-loaded machine—as opposed to the requirements of a solo rider on the RS model. The RT weighs 421 kg./929 lbs. dry (as compared to 317/699 with the RS). Add in the rider, passenger, trailer and luggage, and the weight could reach the maximum vehicle rating of 839 kg/1,850 pounds. Having additional torque that occurs sooner in the powerband is going to assist in getting that much load moving.

The engine received a number of major revisions to make this work including different sized throttle bodies and a substantially higher compression ratio which in turn requires high-test 91-octane fuel.

The additional torque of the 100-hp 991cc Rotax V-Twin is most apparent when accelerating from a standstill. The maximum torque of 80 ft/lbs. arrives at 5,000 rpm which is both four ft/lbs. more and 1,250 rpm sooner than the RS version.
Accelerating hard, the Spyder RT will squat back on its haunches and take off from both a standstill and roll-ons. The trade-off is in the top end as the Spyder runs out of steam at around 160 kmh but, given its potential load rating and trailer towing capacity, this is adequate speed.

The transmission on our test unit was the five-speed manual. The clutch pull was very light and allowed for smooth engagement—a definite plus considering the mass to move if you’re starting from standstill on an upslope. Fifth gear is tall and our unit ran more comfortably at highway speeds in fourth as there was a period of bogging and vibration between 5,250 and 6,000 rpm, which is just above peak torque. Factory reps told us that early-production units such as ours were experiencing “mapping” issues in that zone, which reportedly have since been addressed.

Keeping the motor in one of two rev ranges—above 6,000 rpm or within a sweet spot between 4,500 and 5,000 rpm—provided the smoothest ride, but maintaining that throttle position would take a toll on the fuel range—such as it is.
Regarding the transmission, thankfully the normally heavy machine features a reverse gear, engaged by a handlebar control.You push the button and click one down from first gear and work the throttle to move the machine.

The Spyder is a technical masterpiece with many safety features including anti-lock brakes, traction control, and vehicle stability and stability control systems that keep the vehicle from tipping under sudden emergency manoeuvres. The linked braking system, operated by a single foot pedal, is integrated into most of the safety features as the Spyder will apply the stoppers on different wheels to keep the vehicle on all three. Initially you will find yourself grabbing for the non-existent front lever but that instinct soon disappears. The challenge for me getting back on my bike after a long day on the Spyder was remembering my front brake lever .

Some of the Spyder’s technology may give riders pause. All systems including cruise control, fly-by-wire throttle, push-button parking brake, power steering, and electronic suspension adjustment are computer dependent, explaining why the bike also has an upgraded alternator. These drains on the electricity power supply don’t even take into consideration the heated grips for both the driver and passenger, and the four-speaker audio system and LED “accent lighting.” It is almost as though BRP has taken cues from high-end automobiles rather than motorcycles. Through trial and error we did manage to navigate through the radio and cruise control options. Our tester was the RT-S model that lacks not a single goodie, with the exception of the push button electric transmission, which would be yet another computer-controlled component.
For all that your computer co-pilot will do to keep you on the road, it is the rider who has ultimate control. With familiarity comes comfort and with the Spyder this is particularly true. By the end of the day and 400-plus kilometres into the ride I was surprised to see the speed with which I was negotiating a winding mountain road. While the Spyder does not respond to the subtle inputs of body language that are so crucial to riding a two-wheel machine, body weight can be used to full advantage. Leaning off the Spyder in the direction of the corner keeps the weight on the inside wheel and compensates for the lateral forces that are pushing the rider toward the outside. If you have seen extreme snowmobile riding you know the position. The harder you push the Spyder the more effort it takes to ride, although the weight of the machine is mitigated by the three wheels holding it upright.

But the lateral forces in cornering require opposing force and sustained steering input. As I mentioned earlier, the RT is not the RS with its focus on comfort rather than speed. The adjustable suspension setting and comfortable but singular riding position allow for long, pleasurable, pain-free hours of riding. The suspension is interesting. While it is firm side-to-side—body roll would be an unwelcome attribute—it is pliable front-to-back.There are a few questions though around the fuel range of the RT: 180 km from completely full to deep into the indicated red zone. However, filling up required only 17 litres, leaving eight still in the tank, which might have been good for an additional 80 km or so. But load the Spyder to its rated maximum and this mileage will surely drop even further. To be fair the unit we had arrived with less than 300 km on the odometer, so mileage may improve.

The exhaust has an especially throaty growl. With the windscreen raised to the uppermost position the noise, while enjoyable during a vigorous riding session, could get annoying on long freeway stretches because it intrudes into the cabin and hampers conversations between the driver and his passenger.

So why a Spyder RT? The comfort and convenience features. Stability under a heavy load. The ability to carry luggage in three rear bags and under the front hood. If you really want to tow a trailer, be it OEM or otherwise, this is the vehicle to do so. True, they will sacrifice the subtleties of motorcycle riding , but rider and passenger are still out there in the elements enjoying the wide-open, which is really what motorcycle touring is all about. And for the passenger there are the aforementioned heated grips, personal audio controls and speakers, and a substantial raised seat for better sight lines. Finally it looks good. People on the street found it fascinating, but beyond that the Spyder is integrated, stylish and sophisticated, all of which is what you want from a vehicle pushing $30,000.

John Molony Canadian Biker


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