Jalopnik Drives The Can-Am Spyder!

When it comes to segment blurring, the team at BRP's Can-Am have aimed a shot across the bow of both ultralight sports car makers and motorcycle manufacturers with their new Spyder. We've been following the release of this snowmobile with wheels since spy shots first surfaced back in December. And now we've just made sweet, sweet test-driving love to it. Given this is such an oddball vehicle, it makes a lot of sense to get into the hands of reviewers and early adopters to build some buzz before it's on the show floor, thus the TrySpyder campaign. Authorized dealers all over this great nation are passing around a couple of Spyders and letting the eager public (and dealership employees) beat them like rented mules. Test drive a 106 hp, Rotax-powered, first-of-its-kind, backwards trike for free? No strings? Thank you sir, I believe I will.

Upon approach, the Spyder is smaller in all dimensions than it looks in pictures. It's surprisingly low to the ground; the saddle is only a little higher than a Harley Fatboy, but nothing close to a BMW GS. From a styling point of view it's either love it or hate it. The bodywork is nicely sculpted, with fancy ducting around the front wheels and a carefully styled seat section. The headlight and windshield "pod" is the only part that looks a bit off, but in operation it makes sense. One thing I wasn't expecting was a Corvair-like trunk up front. There's enough room for your helmet and jacket or a bag of groceries or (shudder) a briefcase. Neat-o!

On the nuts and bolts side of things, the engine is a 998cc twin Rotax affair which also powers an assortment of Aprila models to great effect. The fat rear wheel is hooked up to a dual sided monoshock swingarm and is driven by is a carbon-fiber reinforced belt . The vehicle features linked brakes and an all-wheel ABS system. This bike/car also has stability control in the form of ignition cutout when you start doing something stupid. More on this later. Now things get weird. The double A-arm suspension up front is designed for Ackerman steering, self centering, and a pretty neutral kingpin offset. This means it's basically a car suspension up front and doesn't allow for leaning the vehicle into corners like a motorcycle. As a result, motorcycle purists think it's the work of Satan, while we're a little more pragmatic about it.

Hopping onto the Spyder is no different than onto a bike, except you can get on from either side without looking like a moran [sic]. The seating position is quite comfy and sort of like a cross between a rocket bike and touring setup. Your body is fairly upright while your feet are underneath. From a motorcycle rider's point of view, when driving the Spyder, there are a couple of things that are unsettling at first. The linked brake system is at the top of the list. The front brake normally offers 80% of total stopping power and is the first line of defense at your right hand. Here there isn't even a handle, just the twist throttle. All braking is done with the right foot, normally reserved for the weaksauce rear tire. This only causes temporary unease because after the first full panic stop, you can't help but praise your deity. On a motorcycle if you lock the front wheel you will go down unless you're very lucky. It's called low siding. I've done it and it's not fun.

Acceleration is smooth and controllable and the transmission is very fluid. Despite the displacement, the engine feels a little bogged down with an extra couple hundred pounds. So it's only about as fast as a modern 600cc rocket bike, which is to say still very fast. The engine note is delightful — a grunty howl with a dash of gear whine, however, I'm pretty sure a slip on can would really make it sound cool. Now the big question, cornering. If you've ever ridden a quad before you'll note cornering mechanics of the CanAm are almost identical. Hold onto both grips, keep your torso high, move your body around with your legs and use it like a lever against chassis roll. My first high-speed corner had me lifting the inside wheel and squealing the outer one. This machine is very predictable. The long wheelbase and well sorted suspension work together to soak up bumps that would unseat you on a motorcycle.

This all sounds like the makings of an ideal hooncycle, and in an ideal world it would be. However, I have one complaint. The traction control nanny is a bit of a killjoy. They need to dial it back from 11 to about 7. Half the fun of riding a quad, snowmobile or jetski is to let things hang out a bit —oversteer, play in the dirt, get squirrelly and in general have some fun. It seems that with the Spyder, just when things get fun (read: dangerous) the engine ignition cuts out the power and what you think is going to be a powerslide through the gravel turns out to be a sputtering plod through the gravel. Or when you really lean into a corner and get on the gas, the rear tire slips a little and that perfect apex you were aiming for disappears. Oh well. Lawyers.

To sum up: Not a motorcycle, not a car, something different. Maybe better. I'd love to have it for a week to test it as a daily driver. As effete as it may seem, the locking trunk is a huge selling point. Carrying a backpack full of stuff is a hassle and sweaty in the summer. Throwing the boat anchor out without worrying about locking up is really nice. Is it $15k nice? Nope, but once the other manufacturers jump into the market (Honda, Kawasaki, BMW... are you listening?) I suspect competition will have a nice effect on that problem. I can hardly wait to see what generation two looks like.

Related:
Can-Am Spyder Website Goes Live, Trike Fanatics Hearts Aflutter [internal]