2020 CANAM SPYDER RT
Curiosity pulled me in. Fun kept me in.
• Open air freedom • UFit system • Muscular design • Cruiser comfort • Carry convenience • Performance
THE MEET AND GREET
As I approached the 2020 CanAm Spyder RT from behind I noted the nicely integrated appearance of the saddlebags and lighting. Very nicely done with a flawless fit and finish. The drive tire has a nice wide footprint and is just barely visible with your walk by and I thought this was good because it will help keep the bike clean. Overall attention to fit and finish and detail looked good so far.
Continuing to the front I found more streamlining but not of the usual jellybean type. The curves and gentle angles allow your eyes to slide over the bodywork as you pass by. There are no visual conflicts and that is as it should be. The style is distinctive and somewhat understated and found that I was consciously thankful it didn’t have big bulging round headlights on a stalk on it.
The halogen headlights are tucked away just under the windscreen and if I wasn’t actually looking for them I may have missed them altogether. The side marker and turn signal lights are mounted to the front fenders which is kind of neat and they are LED units. There is a trunk up front too, just big enough to hold my helmet to give you a practical idea of its size. Overall the body design is smooth, refined and functional.
The front wheels are styled 6 spoke in a deep glossy black which by contrast showcases the drilled front disc brake rotors and attractive calipers. Looking past the wheels and brakes you will note a sophisticated double wishbone suspension with a roll bar. While this arrangement has become commonplace since it was widely introduced in the mid 1980’s, it has also become known for it’s smooth ride and exceptional handling abilities compared to previous designs. You’ll also note the tires are radial design which compliment the suspension nicely. The rear suspension is a single shock swing arm with manually adjustable air assist.
I was pleasantly surprised by the seat height. It’s very inviting. However, At just 26.6 inches it’s right below the range of most motorcycles so it really is lower, it’s not just the visual perception. The configuration of the two front wheels do contribute to the overall perception of a low, lean and agile ride.
Swing a leg over it though and you’ll find it isn’t really that different than a motorcycle. The handlebars and foot pegs were as expected, further contributing to a familiar feel. There is a neat LCD pod for the gauges, a 4 speaker stereo, heated hand grips, cruise control and a glovebox with a usb cord inside it. It is a lot more like a Touring motorcycle than any sort of car.
All in all my first impression was positive. I found my curiosity was amplified rather than answered. I wanted to see the gauges light up, hear the stereo, start the engine and rev it up a little. Would it sound muscular or be quiet? I wanted to drive this thing on all kinds of roads to test the suspension and handling. How would it ride? How would it steer? Would it bump steer? What was it like braking in a corner? So many questions. My curiosity was becoming excitement.
So you’re sitting on it and you turn on the key. You’re greeted by the now standard and expected warnings and disclaimers arriving within the large 7.8″ LCD electronic display. After a moment a very nicely done speedometer, tachometer, odometer, trip meter and an unexpected hour meter are there along with avg mpg, gear indicator, engine temperature, ECO mode smart assist, a fuel gauge, a clock and some other things if you’ve selected them.
Plus there are even more settings you can scroll through and adjust to your preferences. Of course you can pair your phone and enjoy that too courtesy of the “BRP Connect™ system which allows the integration of vehicle-optimized smartphone apps such as media, navigation and many others all controlled through the handlebars”. There is Bluetooth and a 3.5mm cord provision as well.
Touching the starter button brings the engine to life after a couple of revolutions (it always did this) and you’ll discover it has a nice muted muscular sound. You will also notice the engine itself sounds very busy down there as if it’s a little factory continually creating horsepower. Speaking of which, there is 115 hp available at only 7250 rpm and torque peaks at 96 lb-ft. at only 5000 rpm from the Rotax® 1330 cc ACE™ in-line 3 cylinder liquid-cooled and electronically fuel injected and throttle controlled engine, so maybe a little noise is expected after all. Remember Spyder means performance. Besides, it’s not banging or clanging or anything, it’s just busier than most engines we are used to.
Instinctively I turned the handlebars and immediately realized I would come to love the standard DPS Dynamic Power Steering. The absence of clutch and brake levers on the handlebars was a little concerning but then I remembered the foot pedal on the right side and the standard anti-lock braking system. There is no foot shifter. The 6 speed semi automatic transmission shifts up with a paddle under your left thumb and downshifts with your left index finger or downshifts automatically as you slow down or brake. It does not upshift automatically.
There is also traction control and a hill control feature. And of course electronic cruise control. All the remaining light switches and controls are in the usual places. Except the radio controls are on the gas tank cover between your knees. On top of all these features is the Stability Control System, so I was even more curious about the driving experience. I was looking forward to checking it out.
There is a reverse button on top of the left switch cluster and it requires its own necessarily finicky procedure that I was quick to learn. I also quickly learned to love that reverse button. I cared not what parking space was available to me. I could just drive backwards and get out! It was very manageable and not the least bit weird or intimidating. The finicky procedure became second nature. Somehow it was – once again – familiar. While I recognize the utility of reverse on the Honda Goldwings I had never really appreciated it. I now understand. And I now want that feature on all motorcycles over 400 pounds. Thank you CanAm for resetting my reality.
The seat was plush and comfortable and not too wide. It has some measure of built in lumbar support too. The windscreen was crystal clear and seemed a bit smallish so I wondered about that too. The footpegs were in bit of a cruiser position, slightly more forward than a standard and appear to be adjustable fore and aft. The seat is a step design so the passenger pegs are up higher but within proportion so they seemed to be comfortable enough.
The saddlebags opened and closed without any issues and appear to be well made. They are unlined and form fitted to the underlying motorcycle components. They have a generous seal and cable stays built in to prevent them opening too far. The locks were nicely designed and functioned properly. There is no rear trunk on this model, it is an accessory and I’d recommend it if you’re serious about touring. I was able to pack about two days of clothing and necessities in one saddlebag. However it really was just the minimum. I did not utilize the front trunk in this effort as I was using it to hold my helmet. That area certainly would provide even more storage.
I folded my mesh riding jacket and put it into a saddlebag. As I said, a couple days of clothing would be no problem because jeans and shirts and socks can be much more neatly organized. So you should check this aspect for yourself. I think you’ll find it to be perfectly adequate.
SPECIFICATIONS AND FEATURES
THE TEST DRIVE
The very first thing I had to do was back up. So I had to do the procedure. Foot on the brake, right hand off the twist grip, reaching over to push the button on top of the left switch cluster, left finger presses the paddle and there is an audible click as reverse is engaged and you’re ready. It’s really very simple. I’ll answer your question right now. You take your right hand off the throttle to avoid revving it up and slamming it into reverse. Once it’s in reverse you take your foot off the brake and back up with just a little throttle.
When you are finished, you stop, keep your foot on the brake and shift into first gear by pushing the paddle with your thumb. Forward gears go forward with thumb. Downshifts and reverse happen with left finger pushing the paddle back. No, you can’t downshift too much and hit reverse at speed; that is unless you’re somehow pushing that safety button on top of the left switch cluster.
So I backed out and was looking at the road ahead of me and everything in my brain was screaming at me to absolutely unleash all 1330 cc’s of power and torque just as fast as that paddle shifter could go. But I didn’t. I know doing that on unfamiliar bikes can hurt quite a lot. So I paddled first gear and simply rode away.
Immediately I began to feel out the steering. It is quick, and I remember thinking maybe it just seems really quick because of the extra tire grip, power steering and low ride height. Later that day I would realize it’s only slightly quicker to steer than a modern sportbike. I realized this after a couple miles on various road surfaces when I felt myself begin to relax. The bike was actually responding to my nervousness. I had crashed a good number of 3 wheeled ATV’s in my youth and was being overcautious I guess. I quickly found that once I settled in the bike was much happier and so was I.
In fact it’s steady and precise. It changes lanes easily and will do so aggressively if you so desire. Again, very similar to riding a sport bike. It simply does what you ask of it without much delay.
So I put about 20 miles on it just enjoying the steering and suspension and shifting it up and down and eventually took a different route than I normally use on my initial test drives. I chose one I knew would offer plenty of stops. I was enjoying just rolling up to a stop, hearing and feeling the automatic downshifts and sometimes doing them myself with my left finger. I was even enjoying not taking my feet off the pegs at the stops. I was definitely enjoying the acceleration too.
There is more than enough power and torque on tap and regardless of throttle application the upshifts and downshifts are nearly instant. No doubt this is the reason the bike has electronic throttle control coupled with electronic fuel injection and a paddle shifter. It’s hard to detect but these three systems work in conjunction to interrupt the power flow just enough to allow gear changes at the speed of electricity. It’s fun and addicting.
One thing that took a bit more time to get used to and accommodate is the rear wheel. For me it was natural to aim to straddle potholes and debri with the front tires, as you would do in a car. Unfortunately I discovered this may line up the rear wheel for a full encounter. In fact I had to discover this a couple times as some minor potholes and rough patches were quick to remind me. I simply had to adjust and so I did.
I put about 50 miles on it that day and topped it off and went home to check the tires and give it a general look see. I’d be riding at least one full tank of gas – over 7 gallons worth and hopefully between 220 and 280 niles out of it the next day. I had some routes picked out that comprised secondary highways, back roads and paved farmland roads, some in town driving in a couple destinations, a lunch break to give the engine and fuel systems a good heat soak; which is when you shut off a fully warmed up vehicle on a hot day in a parking lot and let it bake itself while you go do other things. If there is a flaw in the cooling or charging or starting systems this is a good way to discover them.
It was a nice day when I started out and I wondered how I’d feel after a an hour or two in the saddle. Well really I was fine. You can truly ride this bike all day. I know because other than lunch and one short stop for a bottled water that is exactly what I did. As I said, once I settled down the bike was very user friendly and on that second day it was immediately the same. This proved to me that my initial impression was due to my nervousness, which I usually do not feel. So just take it easy and let it ride. On that second day I had no such sensations. The steering was light, confident and exact. I began to explore the cornering capabilities.
I do not have any scientific testing equipment except what’s built into the seat of my pants and the top of my spine which really aren’t that far apart. So I began to reach my personal G force detection and alarm limits sooner rather than later but I was easily keeping up with two wheelers and there was definitely room for more fun while cornering. The thing felt like it was glued to the road. Honestly I never approached slippage or drifting because I figured with all the built in safety controls the limits would be beyond the roads I was on and perhaps the other bikes I was with.
The bike is fun to ride and easy to ride smoothly, two of my favorite criteria. I love setting up for a curve or a left or right turn onto a street when you can see far enough ahead and smoothly making that turn without scrubbing off any more speed than you have too. I like to complete the process by smoothly accelerating out of it back up to the speed limit. This bike makes it easy. Just take your time to get used to it and learn it and you’ll change your mind about it too.
So it goes and turns well. How about braking? Wow does this thing stop. I had to get it off the road to activate the Anti Lock Brakes. There is so much tire grip you really have to be stopping hard to get that tell tale pump/feel from the ALB unit. You may never even need it under the majority of your riding but it is nice to have. Overall the brakes ar powerful but not touchy at all. In fact, they are nicely modulated and require an active application. You can easily shave some speed off or slow down quickly even to a complete stop. I had to literally slam on the brakes as hard as I could to activate the Anti Lock and of course that was very well controlled.
Would I buy one? Maybe. If I were in the bike market I absolutely would consider one. It meets all my criteria. It’s fast. It handles. It stops. It looks good. And as a bonus there’s the electronic infotainment built in plus a generous amount of storage. If you are in the market you really should take one for a test drive. Heck, even if you’re not you should drive one. You might be in the market and not even know it until you experience one of these.
I thought I’d finish with a bit of commentary about the name of this motorcycle. It wears the name Spyder, which is somewhat odd because that is a car model designation. However, do not let this put you off. Like everything else we encounter it’s only odd until it simply isn’t odd anymore. The CanAm 3 wheeled motorcycle really isn’t odd anymore if you’re being honest with yourself.
Except it is a motorcycle and it has three wheels not two and it wears a proud name usually applied to small Italian and european convertible cars. See? I’m being honest with myself too, and it made me curious. So I dug into it.
The term “Spider” actually traces back to the early 60’s and the exotic foreign convertible sports car scene. Technically it can be argued that it dates back to the earliest days of the automobiles but that is actually a different story altogether. So, believe it or not some influential person in such automotive matters expressed the opinion that when the convertible tops were up on these cars they looked like a little Spider scurrying about. And it stuck.
I had always sort of known the term but not it’s real history so I did some quick research and I found that the Italians were responsible for the insertion of the “y” into the name and the reason is amazingly simple. Far from just being different, the Italians coined the term Spyder simply because there is no letter “I” in their alphabet. Thus the little italian sports cars with their tops up busily scurrying about town or the countryside became Spyders. Being just a bit more exotic it too stuck and largely replaced the traditional spelling. Eventually it was applied to various performance models and even some closed coupe race cars.
Thus, Spyder made it’s way into the racing scene, further being defined and enhanced in it’s heritage by association with racing and enhanced performance. So, through the ages we now discover this proud term has come full circle to once again define little convertible sports cars such as the Porsche Boxster Spyder and the Fiat 124 Spyder and the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder and so on … and of course it also represents the CanAm 3 wheeled motorcycle. But it’s not a car and it’s not a convertible and there I go being honest with myself again.
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