2008 Can-Am Spyder

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Tom Riles

Looking more like an imaginative prop from a sci-fi movie than a product you can buy on the spot from your nearby dealer today, the new Can-Am Spyder strikes a radical pose.

Part motorcycle, part automobile - with perhaps a touch of ATV, snowmobile and PWC in it - the Spyder is certainly unlike anything else out there. According to literature from its manufacturer, Bombardier Recreational Products, the Spyder "roadster's" three-wheel Y design was intended to "provide buyers with the performance of a traditional motorcycle with much of the peace of mind of a convertible sports car."

Power comes from a liquid-cooled 990cc Rotax DOHC V-twin similar to those used in Aprilia's Mille motorcycle series. In the Spyder it rates 106hp at 8,500rpm, putting out 77 pound-feet of torque at 6,500rpm. We found that the multipoint fuel injection allows the engine to start easily, delivering immediate throttle response, with a nice torque-y pull through the gears supplying plenty of passing power. Can-Am tags the top speed at 110mph and 0 to 60mph comes in 4.5 seconds, acceleration rivaling some of the most-powerful sports cars around.

You can choose a manual five-speed gearbox with conventional clutch lever or the ,500 optional semi-automatic five-speed with push-button controls, and both have a reverse gear. The manual-box clutch is smooth and chatter-free, although neutral was sometimes a tad difficult to access. The semi-automatic uses a centrifugal clutch and shifts gears using electro-hydraulic actuation. It takes some getting used to, but it soon felt normal to make shifts with the left hand. A small lever must be pressed for up-shifts, but as you slow toward a stop, the transmission does the downshifting for you. We got to ride the only available semi-automatic, a pre-production model which developed some problems downshifting. When that gets sorted out, the semi-auto should be fun and well-suited to folks who can't handle manuals.

Chassis & Suspension

The steel backbone frame uses the engine as a stressed member, and the ride is plusher than most motorcycles because the suspension and tires soak up more bumps. Kenda KR21 tires offer decent traction, but the low (11-17psi) recommended air pressure makes them feel moderately squirmy in fast corners. The Spyder's speed-sensitive Dynamic Power Steering (DPS) produces a light feel at lower speeds and reduces boost at high speeds. In fast tight turns, the steering feels a bit heavy, like an ATV. Motorcyclists will find it odd to be cornering without leaning and counter-steering, but ATV riders and other non-motorcyclists, particularly those intimidated by steep lean angles should feel at home.

A Bosch electronic stability system (ESS) controls the standard anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control and stability control with roll-over mitigation. Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) works in conjunction with the ABS and ESS to apply brakes selectively, helping keep the Spyder from lifting a front wheel in a corner or spinning. The ESS also limits rear-wheel spin when the steering is turned or speed exceeds 35 mph.

A mechanical left foot-actuated parking brake applies the rear caliper. Regular braking is controlled from the right-foot pedal, which may be great for newbies accustomed to cars, but it requires some readjustment for motorcyclists. Braking is strong and confidence-inspiring, thanks especially to the ABS and stability control.

The low windscreen and fairing provide reasonable wind protection and the mirrors offer an ample view behind. A wide handlebar, footboards, and a long, plush 29-inch-high seat provide a comfortable riding position for most body types. Passenger accommodations are also comfy, with a roomy seat, well-placed pegs and large grab handles. The total vehicle payload of 440 pounds should be sufficient for most riders and passengers.

With 44 liters of volume, the locking front storage compartment has enough room to fit a full-face helmet, jacket and more. Options include low or high windshields, a passenger backrest, xenon headlights, fog lights, a mono-seat cover, "racing" exhaust, travel bags, and a cargo-compartment liner.

A standard-equipment Digitally Encoded Security System requires the proper key, foiling lock-busting thieves. The instrumentation consists of an analog tach and LCD digital speedometer, a fuel gauge, twin tripmeters, coolant and ambient temperature readouts and a gear-position indicator. Information is displayed in easy-to-read U.S. or metric units.

The Spyder's overall width of 59.3 inches and length of 105 inches take up considerable space on the road (and in a garage), and even where it's legal, lane-splitting is impossible. With that said, we enjoyed riding the two versions, which seem well-designed and ably crafted with good fit, finish and quality parts. It's a quick, responsive ride, and easier to learn how to operate than a motorcycle while bringing most of the two-wheel experience to more people - and in some states only a regular driver's license is required to run one. Initially Spyders were for sale in 11 states and several Canadian provinces at the end of 2007. During 2008 they will be available in 20 more states and several more provinces.