2010 Can-Am Spyder RT: Three-Wheeled Technological Showcase

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I rode the Can-Am Spyder when it was first introduced almost two years ago, and one of the thoughts that crossed my mind was that this would be a good platform for a touring machine. Evidently I wasn’t the only one who had this idea, and now Can-Am has come out with a touring model, the Can-Am Spyder RT Roadster.

The Spyder isn’t the first three-wheel mode of transportation to be developed—there have been several different variations over the years—but the Spyder is probably one of the most successful. It’s no longer a surprise to see one on the road, and there are already Spyder clubs and owners groups across the country.

The amount of electronic technology in the Spyder is unsurpassed by any other two- or three-wheel machine out there. There is the Vehicle Stability System (VSS) which includes the Stability Control System (SCS), Anti-Lock Braking System ( ABS) and the Traction Control System (TCS). What does all of that do? In a nutshell, the Spyder has a series of electronic stability controls, which prevent you from spinning it out, tipping it over, or locking the brakes.

Before we got to take a test ride on the new RT, the Can-Am technicians who were putting on the demo ride had us watch a video that showed what the Spyder can do, and what you can’t make it do. The video showed a test rider on a wet obstacle course slam on the brakes and swerve, and in doing so demonstrated how you are able to steer around an obstacle as you slow from a high-speed panic stop. It also showed a test rider cornering extremely hard without the inside front wheel lifting off the road and losing control. It really was a pretty impressive display of the vehicle’s technology.

The RT really has too many features to fully appreciate in one short ride, or write about in one short article. Items you can check out for yourself include an electronically adjustable rear suspension, electronic parking brake, electronic cruise control, and electronic “fly by wire” throttle control. You also have the Dynamic Power Steering (DPS), and to top it off a DESS (Digitally Encoded Security System). A Stealth fighter may have more electronics, but I can’t think of anything else that does.

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In the looks department, the new RT model shares styling similarities to the original model, but has been tastefully upgraded with a new front end, different lights, and an overall tougher look. The storage areas on the back and sides are very well integrated. I don’t think referring to them as “bags” is very accurate. They are part of the machine.

As with any motorcycle that is made for touring, luggage capacity is important, and the more the better. With storage available on the sides, back and in the front, the RT has a whopping 155 liters of storage space, plenty of room for you and your main squeeze to pack for a long road trip. The front storage compartment in the nose is lined, and also has an internal cargo light to help you get your stuff out when you’re in a hotel parking lot late at night, a well thought-out feature.

I wasn’t able to ride the RT on the interstate, but I was able to get up enough speed to play with the fully adjustable electric windshield. To me, if you have a big windshield on a bike it has to be adjustable, unless you happen to be lucky enough to be the perfect height. The Spyder’s windshield has 4 inches of travel, and moved up and down smoothly with a push of the button so you can get it just where you want it. The wide, low body of the Spyder offers excellent wind protection, and could probably extend your riding far into the cold weather months.

The ergonomics on the new RT have been changed with long-distance touring in mind. The seating position is more upright, and the seat has also been re-contoured for both the rider and passenger to accommodate longer periods in the saddle. Can-Am engineers understand that you can only ride as long as your passenger is comfy, and they have built in not only a passenger backrest, but also heated passenger grips.

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There is an iPod jack mounted in the tail case that not just holds your iPod, but it also integrates it with the gauge cluster (aka Electronic Command Center). So while you’re traveling down the road you can see your iPod song menu, and pick the songs you want with the controls mounted on the handlebar, a pretty neat feature.

Speaking of the gauge cluster, the gauges on the Spyder are very good. The cluster consists of two circular gauges (speedometer and tach) separated by a square, color dot-matrix screen that shows your speed, odometer, trip meter, and several other bits of info such as your radio station and volume levels. It was a very sunny day when I rode the Spyder and the screen was still very bright and easy to read. The tachometer on the right rotates counterclockwise, and that did take a little getting use to.

Performance wise the RT has the same 991 cc, fuel-injected Rotax V-twin engine that powers the base Spyder, but it has been retuned for more torque and better touring capability. It still pumps out 100 hp (the RS makes 106), but torque is up 3 ft lbs to 80 at 5,500 rpm. Acceleration is pretty stout. Not quite the same as a 1000cc motorcycle, but still very good.

You have your choice of transmissions, a conventional 5 speed with a manual clutch, just like any conventional motorcycle, and a new semi-automatic clutchless 5-speed with a thumb shift. Both transmissions feature reverse. I wasn’t able to sample the automatic version, but the standard transmission shifted with a very positive feel, and the clutch effort was very easy.

The computer-controlled, variable-assist power steering has been recalibrated for the RT, and it seemed less touchy that the original model I rode. The Can-Am technician that was present at the ride told me that I had likely rode an early production model, and that Can-Am had worked quite hard at perfecting the correct amount of power assist by reprogramming the steering software.

When we were sitting through our pre-ride briefing, it was stressed time and time again that the Spyder is not a motorcycle. It doesn’t handle like a bike, or steer like a bike. There is no counter steering at all. You turn the bars in the direction you want to go, just like an ATV or snowmobile. The machine also doesn’t lean into the turn, so when you turn you have to hold on to the bars and seat much more than you ever do on a bike. The trade-off is that you don’t have to worry about gravel, slick spots, or wet pavement.

As I was riding the Spyder and looking at the rear tire of the Spyder in front of me, I began to wonder what it would be like in snow if you put studded tires on it. That could be pretty cool! Traction control, anti-lock brakes, and great wind protection. Hmmm. You could tour in the winter and not even worry about the weather. (Actually, there is a YouTube video of someone riding one in the snow. It doesn’t do great, but it still does a heck of a lot better than a bike!)

Three wheels means that you can also get on the brakes as hard as you want to without worry of locking up the front or rear wheel. The braking for all three wheels is integrated and controlled by the foot pedal, just like the rear brake on a standard bike. When some bonehead talking on a cell phone pulls out in front of you, all you have to do is stand on the brakes (literally). Just be ready for very rapid deceleration.

So what you have here is a three-wheel alternative to a motorcycle. It isn’t a bike, but it’s closer to a bike than it is to a car. You do give up the handling that a motorcycle has, but you gain a level of safety and comfort. I asked Charlie Jansing, the owner of Alcoa Good Times, who has been buying the Spyder and he told me, “There has really been a mix of everyone. The sales have been pretty strong, and we’ve had everyone from people who are first time riders, to experienced riders who want to try something new. It really has a very broad appeal.”

Thanks to Alcoa Good Times for inviting us out to the Can-Am Demo day.

SPECS

Engine Type: BRP-Rotax 991 V-Twin DOHC w/ 4 valves per cylinder

Displacement: 998cc - (60.90 cu. in.)

Gear Box: 5-Speed manual or 5-Speed semi-automatic

Front Tires: 165/65R14

Rear Tire: 225/50R15

Weight (Dry): 929 lb.

Total Vehicle Load Allowed: 525 lb.

Trailer Towing Capacity: 400 lb.

Fuel Capacity: 6.6 US gal.

Seat (Top) Height: 29.5 in.

MSRP: starting at $24,499

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