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Can-Am Sonic : Project 20

The Can-Am Sonic 500 was built in limited numbers: a mere 500 units. This one is Number 409 but it’s undergone major revisions.

Some of you will remember the 1977 Suzuki PE250 I finished rebuilding in 2020. It was the 19th major project I’d undertaken in my 55 years of riding and building motorcycles and when it was featured in Canadian Biker (issue 350) I mentioned work had begun on Project 20—which is now completed and stands before you on these pages.

Project 20 is a 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500, a retired race bike I purchased in 2016. It was used for off-road racing according to the previous owner and though no history was provided beyond a brief profile the bike still shows some battle scars. 

In 1982 less than 500 Can-Am sonic 500s were produced before the parent company Bombardier stopped production of all motorcycles and got into the more lucrative rail transportation business. Mine is Number 409, and with many donations from 18 different sources it has undergone a cafe/scrambler transformation.

Bombardier’s involvement in the world of motorcycles was brief but intense, beginning in 1971 with the development of a series of MX and enduro bikes powered by 125cc, 175cc, and 250cc two-stroke Rotax engines—Rotax being another Bombardier subsidiary—and marketed under the Can-Am brand name. The fledgling company brought MX World Champion Jeff Smith on board as a test rider and to spearhead a race program. The results were immediate. Within a year of first production, Can-Am riders were already claiming AMA and ISDE titles.

ca-am sonic 500 instrumentsThough Can-Am’s original two-stroke Rotax engines were horsepower monsters by the standards of the class, Japanese motorcycles had begun to assert their dominance in the off-road racing category and by 1980 Bombardier was already in the process of easing out of the bike business. But not before trotting out a 494cc four-valve single making a factory-spec 45 horsepower. Equipped with Marzocchi forks and Ohlins shocks, the 1982 Sonic 500 was the first four-stroke ever offered by the Can-Am factory but 1982 was also the only year of the bike’s production in Canada. The following year Bombardier’s Can-Am branch was sold to the British company Armstrong, whose CCM division manufactured military bikes.

The transformation of my Can-Am Sonic was an end-to-end process that included everything from upholstery to motor work. With the teardown I introduced a Wiseco piston, a Mikuni 38mm flat slide carb, K+N filters, and hand-built exhaust from BG Fabrications capped with a SuperTrapp canister that is maybe a touch on the loud side.

The revised suspension components include WP forks and wheels from a Husaberg 650SM, fitted with Avon tires and tubes. Over top of the wheels is a Yamaha WR426 rear fender and an Acerbis SM front fender with the bib cut off. Liquid Venom Hydrographics created that carbon fibre look on the fenders. Controlling the wheels are Kawasaki handlebars adorned by an aftermarket Harley mirror. Also from the Harley aftermarket are the toolkit and headlight. A battery for security lights is fitted in the tool bag, and I turned to ARO Upholstery for the checkplate-style leather seat cover.

ca-am sonic 500 side shot orange outsideThe custom rear shocks are from Stadium Suspension while the steering damper and mounts are Scotts Performance products. For stopping power I mounted wave rotors gripped by Beringer Brakes front and Brembo rear calipers.

At age 71, the process of building bikes is still an enjoyable for me. For this one I designed cardboard templates for the side panels and brackets and took them to the plasma cutter. I also cut sections of stainless pipe and duct taped them in position with a gap for tack welds and refit before the final welds. I also drew the seat design which ARO carved into a work of art.

There are so many people who made contributions to this build—a true Canadian team. But ultimately it seemed as though in some ways the project kind of created itself.

Kirk McClelland Canadian Biker #354


ca-am sonic 500 new fancy seat outside

Related: Project 19


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