2010 BRP Can-Am Spyder RT Touring Trike Review

BRP's quirky ride gets the touring treatment

Photo © BRP

If you can imagine the spectrum of open-air touring machines with a motorcycle at one end and a convertible sports car on the other, the BRP Can-Am Spyder RT sits somewhere between the two.

BRP’s quirky three-wheeler was difficult to pigeonhole when it was first unveiled in 2007, but this first major spinoff since the original RS model reveals a goal that’s easy to set but difficult to achieve: becoming the ultimate long distance tourer. How do the new Can-Am Spyder models differ from the first-gen RS… and more importantly, how do they compare against dedicated two-wheeled tourers?

The Goods: Tweaking the Notorious Three-Wheeler for Touring

Rather than slapping on hard cases, a tall windscreen, and calling it a day, Can-Am set out to modify their Spyder from the chassis up for touring duty. The Y-shaped steel frame has been reinforced, and the wheels are now three inches further apart for stability.

The liquid-cooled 998cc v-twin now produces slightly more torque (80 lb-ft) which peaks earlier (5,200 rpm), and slightly less horsepower (100) at 7,500 rpm. Fly-by-wire throttle has been added, while the same basic A-arm suspension up front and single rear monoshock are retained, along with ABS, stability and traction control, and greater power steering assist. Manual (SM5) or semi-automatic (SE5) transmissions offer five forward gears and reverse.

Three levels are available: the RT (priced at $20,999), the RT Audio & Convenience (which comes in at $22,999), and the top of the line RT-S (which will set you back $24,999.) All three models have front storage, side cases, a glovebox and a top case for a total of 155 liters of storage (10 more than the Honda Gold Wing), and each can be mated to a $3,999 trailer for a total of 777 liters-- more than the Jeep Compass and Nissan Rogue. The trailer requires a swingarm-mounted hitch that runs $499. All models come with an electric windscreen, cruise control, heated driver grips, and a 12-volt outlet. The Audio & Convenience package adds a two-speaker AM/FM audio system with iPod integration, heated passenger grips, and remote front cargo release. The RT-S ups the ante with two more speakers, fog lamps, 5-LED accent lighting, shiny trim, and remote adjustable suspension.

Swing a Leg Over: Relaxed Ergonomics for the Long Haul

Climbing aboard the Spyder is easy; the operator steps onto a foot peg and swings the other leg over, and the passenger can do the same with an adjustable, flip-down floorboard. The inherent stability of this three-wheeler—especially at a standstill—makes mounts and dismounts drama-free.

Rear passengers of most body types get plenty of room, and can sit upright or lean against a padded backrest. The operator’s posture is more ergonomically accommodating than the RS’s; knees are positioned at a near-90 degree angle, and the handlebar has been lengthened to offer more leverage. All touring models get a small electronic display permanently nestled between analog gauges, though the optional removable navigation unit—a Garmin Zumo 660—runs a steep $1,199.

Saddle cushioning is ample, but the operator doesn’t have the option of a factory-made backrest or highway pegs (since BRP doesn’t want riders moving their foot away from the Spyder’s only brake lever, situated at the right foot.) BRP acknowledges that this need will soon be filled from aftermarket suppliers.

As for the operator controls, anyone familiar with a motorcycle should feel at home in the cockpit; clutch, shifter, and foot brake are in the same position (though the Spyder lacks a hand brake lever), and the SE5 semi-automatic gearbox ditches the clutch and is available on all three models… for more info on that transmission, read my Can-Am Spyder RS SE5 Review.

On the Road: Plush, But Not Always Confidence-Inspiring

Riding the standard Spyder requires a few adjustments for traditional motorcyclists. For starters, countersteering and leaning must be removed from your riding repertoire. But the touring model’s dynamics—at least on the units we tested on a several hundred mile ride through Quebec, Canada—added another dimension of challenge. The RT models weigh 929 lbs dry, 230 lbs heavier than the non-touring RS model. When loaded up with cargo and a passenger, the RT-S feels less lively than the RS off the line, and despite the revised powerband it’s still rather gutless (and no match for torquey sport tourers like the Kawasaki Concours 14, or traditional tourers like the Honda Gold Wing or Victory Vision.)

Odd handling is another issue to contend with. Our test units were setup with the front suspension in its softest setting, which translated to a smooth ride but sloppy handling. Adjusting those shocks requires lifting the bike—not exactly a casual driveway operation. The electro-pneumatic rear suspension on the RT-S adjusts with the push of a button, but even in its stiffest setting the bike doesn’t inspire confidence: turn-in is vague, and it’s difficult to gauge how steering input translates to direction change. Blame overboosted steering, suspension geometry, or the whale-ish amounts of weight this three-wheeler is forced to carry on the road. Bottom line: the Spyder RT’s disconcerting handling takes the fun out of direction changes.

Straight-line riding also requires attention, as the somewhat numb steering feel can translate to lane wandering unless you’re absolutely focused on the road. I’d gladly trade some of the Spyder’s plush ride for sharper handling, which I got a taste of when I dropped my passenger off and rode solo for several hours. On a positive note, the saddle is well-padded and proved comfortable over the long haul, though riders might want to consider one of the three aftermarket windscreens available from BRP, as we couldn’t quite get the right amount of deflection from the stock unit.

Incidentally, BRP brass warned us that our test vehicles were not yet validated for production, and that engineers were working to solve the issues before the production line opens in October, 2009—not an uncommon experience when testing pre-production units, and one we hope will be addressed before the Spyder RT becomes commercially available.

>>Page 2: Conclusion<<

In Conclusion: Great on Paper, But...

The Can-Am Spyder has always flaunted its unconventionality, and the RT models are no exception. As touring machines, they stand out in a crowd of custom trikes, hopped up long distance motorcycles, and everything in between. The Spyder’s intrinsically stable platform opens up a multitude of riding possibilities for those who don’t feel secure on two wheels, and that’s a strong selling point for a myriad riders who aren’t comfortable with two-wheeled riding.

But the Spyder RT underwent a few sacrifices on the road to touring, and unfortunately lost some of the thrill along the way-- especially when loaded down with cargo and a passenger. More intuitive handling would go a long way towards making the Spyder RT an involving ride, as would a more powerful engine that whisked it along less laboriously.

The Can-Am Spyder RT still provides a unique riding experience. But in the realm of balancing the comfort of a dedicated touring machine with outright performance and fun, the RT is one of those rides that works much better on paper than it does in the real world.