Road Test Review
Crossing the moonscape Mojave under a gray wool sky, large rain drops splatter on my face shield as I glance down at the cockpit display. The full-color screen, nestled between the large analog speedo and tach, dutifully indicates it’s 41 degrees F outside, the cruise control is set at 70 mph and my iPod is now playing the ambient, abstract sounds of Bowery Electric. Sitting comfortably at the helm with grip warmers on high, nothing is out of place, everything fits. My 800-mile round trip to Arizona and back through cold wind, heavy rain and variable road conditions provided the perfect opportunity to test the Can-Am Spyder RT-S.
When we got our hands on the 2008 Can-Am Spyder, I packed my gear and hit the road for 2,600 miles (see Rider, September 2008). The Y-configuration stance and Bosch-engineered Vehicle Stability System were perfect for touring, but the base-model Spyder (now called the RS) was short on amenities. For 2010, three touring models are available—RT ($20,999), RT Audio and Convenience ($22,999) and the full-boat RT-S ($24,999) tested here—each with a long list of new features. All have integrated side bags, a rear trunk and generous accommodations for the rider and passenger, with more futuristic styling and dimensions that are 0.8 inch longer and 2.6 inches wider than the RS.
Both the RS and RT are powered by a 998cc, 60-degree, liquid-cooled V-twin with a bore and stroke of 97.0mm x 68.1mm, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, 2-into-1 exhaust with catalytic converter and multipoint electronic fuel injection. For touring duty, the RT’s engine has been tuned for torque, topping out at a claimed 100 horsepower and 80 lb-ft, with peak torque reached at 5,000 rpm. Though not as smooth or powerful as engines in most open-class sport tourers, it pulls well enough and the V-twin rumble and throaty exhaust are satisfying. New on the RT is throttle-by-wire; the lightly sprung twist grip delivered power immediately without abruptness.
The double A-arm front suspension is controlled by dual gas shocks with 5.9 inches of travel and cam preload adjusters (turned with a spanner found in the well-stocked toolkit), whereas the rear single shock has 5.7 inches of travel and is pneumatic. The RT-S has its own compressor and push-button adjustable rear preload; on other RTs, head to the nearest gas station and add air to the valve under the seat. Though sophisticated, the suspension felt undersprung and insufficiently damped, with too much bouncing over bumps. The Vehicle Stability System combines ABS with traction control, stability control and power steering, and is calibrated to work with the optional 622-liter trailer (not tested). If you crank it too hard in a corner and the inside wheel starts to lift, power is reduced and braking is applied to the outside wheel. The nanny effect can be rather abrupt, but it works. Despite power assist, steering requires effort with a firm pull on one grip and a push on the other.
Our test unit’s manual, five-speed transmission shifted smoothly. The throw from first to second was a tad long, but clutch action was light and the lever adjustable (a semi-automatic transmission with paddle shifters is an optional upgrade). On the other hand, I had to get used to the lack of a front brake lever. To slow down or stop, step on the brake pedal to actuate brakes on all three wheels simultaneously. Stopping power was plentiful, though I had to use the binders any time I wanted to reduce speed as engine braking was minimal.
Sitting on the Spyder RT is a pleasurable experience, with an all-day comfortable seat and upright, neutral positioning for both rider and passenger. Ample legroom is provided by the 30.4-inch seat height and reach to the handlebars is just right. The windscreen can be electrically adjusted to see over or through, providing a mostly quiet, still pocket of air. At night, too-bright blue lights on the center console reflect distractingly off the top of the windscreen in its highest position. Those lights illuminate large, flat toggle switches for the parking brake, front trunk release, grip heaters, rear preload and fog lamps. The heated grips worked well in temperatures in the low 40s in pouring rain, though the left grip seemed to cycle on and off occasionally. Can’t say as much for the heated passenger grab handles, which with bare hands got merely warm on the high setting.
Basic controls—throttle, ignition and kill switch, cruise control and hazard lights—are operated by your right hand, but the left switchgear puts nearly every conceivable function within reach. In addition to high beams, turn signals and horn, there are buttons for windscreen adjustment, PTT, reverse and the Roadster Electronic Command Center. RECC does a lot in a little space, with Mode, Set and up/down/left/right buttons used to navigate through screens (default, audio, CB, trip, preferences) and adjust settings, including full iPod integration. The small, hard plastic buttons don’t depress much, so getting a feel for them with gloves takes practice.
With regard to passenger accommodations, our tester remarked that the seat’s comfort is “like a Gold Wing,” with a wrap-around backrest that provides a sense of security and good lumbar support. Large floorboards round out a high-quality passenger perch. Soft rubber buttons on the passenger audio and heated grip controls made it difficult to tell if the correct button had been pressed with gloved fingers. The situation was made worse by the controls being located below the passenger’s legs, out of the line of sight. Wind noise made it hard for our passenger to hear music from the rear speakers. Adjusting the windscreen didn’t help, and the passenger volume control didn’t seem to work. From an operator’s perspective, handling deteriorates with the additional weight of a passenger and gear. Even on firm settings, the suspension is too soft and the combined mass of rider, passenger and gear amplifies the centrifugal feeling of being pulled to the outside of curves. Keep the speed down and everyone will be happy.
The RT has 155 liters of storage space and 517 pounds of load capacity. By way of comparison, a Honda Gold Wing holds 147 liters and 405 pounds. Whereas the Gold Wing has a rear trunk, side cases and glove box, the RT has these plus a front trunk. With just 5 percent more storage capacity spread over more compartments, the end result is smaller spaces. On the RT, left and right cases hold 26 liters each and the rear trunk holds 43 liters; comparable figures on the Gold Wing are 40 liters and 65 liters. The RT’s front and rear trunks are deep, narrow and awkwardly shaped, and only the front holds a single full-face helmet (helmet locks are located under the seat). The side cases are difficult to close/latch, and the single lock barrel for the rear and side luggage didn’t work.
At a moderate cruising pace, the Can-Am Spyder RT-S is a comfortable, secure, well-appointed tourer. Loaded with a passenger and gear, it can be a handful in the curves at speed. Not unsafe, just challenging. But that isn’t necessarily a drawback if your approach to touring is more about taking in the scenery than getting there in a hurry. A more serious limitation is poor gas mileage. With a large frontal area and 960-pound wet weight, our RT-S averaged only 26.1 mpg. Fuel costs will be high (91 octane required) and gas stops all too frequent. The 172-mile range is merely an average; we saw the low-fuel light come on as early as 90 miles.
The RT realizes much of the touring potential of the Spyder platform. Rather than just slap on hard bags, passenger accommodations and a bigger windscreen, BRP swung for the fences and built a fully appointed luxury tourer. For a first attempt, the RT is quite an accomplishment, but touring riders are a tough crowd to please. While the overall package works well, seemingly small details like hard-to-close bags or hard-to-use passenger controls can be like splinters that become more irritating over time. Admittedly, some of our criticisms of this preproduction test unit may be addressed by the time RTs reach the showroom. With more refinement and greater touring range, the Spyder RT-S will be in a league of its own.