The Spyder cornered like a go-kart or ATV, not like a motorcycle (there is no leaning when turning). I had to hold on tight to the bars, for the sensation that the Spyder was trying to throw me off in the turns was defiantly there. When pushed hard into a corner the inside front wheel tried to lift off the pavement, but Can-Am’s technology interceded by reducing engine power. A reduction in engine power also could be felt if the rear tire started to lose traction by sliding. This feature made it feel like you could enter a corner at almost any speed, and the machine’s onboard computer would save you from doing stupid things like running off the road. To a small extent if felt like the electronic controls sucked some of the fun out of fast cornering.
Overall, the experience was exhilarating. The engine had good power but the steering was a chore and it was difficult to relax while riding.
THE SECOND RIDE. Fast forward to September 2012 and the test ride of the 2013 machines. Can-Am has made major technical improvements over earlier models – a new, more rigid chassis for increased handling stability, revised suspension, anti-dive brakes, larger front wheels (from 14 to 15 inches in diameter), larger front/rear disc rotors, more efficient Brembo brake calipers, new Bosch ABS braking system and the 998 Rotax V-Twin engine now used on all models. In addition, wheel choices, new colors and other cosmetic treatments abound on the 2013 models.
The big news is the introduction of the brand-new Can-Am Spyder ST. This sport-touring vehicle falls between the RS (sport) and RT (touring) models by providing characteristics from each.
The 2013 models were much improved over the Spyder that I rode four years ago. The Roadster felt more solid in all conditions, probably as a result of the new frame and better suspension. The engine was still powerful but also easily controllable, and brakes felt solid and provided good, predictable stopping power. The suspension was much better, and we tested it repeatedly on rough country roads.
The steering, while feeling a bit more steady, still had the same feel as the 2008 model in that it still darted left and right while riding in a straight line and became more pronounced as we rode faster. I tried to analyze what I was doing to cause the straight-line instability and tried several things to minimize it — the same things I tell motorcyclists when I teach classes: Relax, don’t hold the bar grips tightly and let the machine find its own line. This helped some, but I still had to continually make steering corrections. I tried steering with one hand to break the tug-of-war between my left and right hands. Again the darting was better but still there.
During the presentation the evening before the ride, we were all told that the Can-Am Roadsters were not motorcycles but a unique vehicle, and this information was starting to finally sink in. So I gave in and stopped trying to ride it like a motorcycle, and accepted that it did what it did.
I pushed the cornering speed hard enough to activate the traction and stability control, and found that the point where these systems activate had been moved more toward performance. During hard cornering as the inside front wheel started to lift, I realized that I was really going too fast and the technology did its job -- reducing engine power so I could make the turn.
On a motorcycle the rider judges cornering speed by two factors: lean angle and ground clearance. When you reach the end of your personal comfort zone for the first and run out of the room on the second, your brain hopefully kicks in and tells you to back off the throttle. With the Roadster there is neither lean angle nor ground clearance to tell you when to back off, so in light of my new found mindset (It’s not a motorcycle!) I now have a greater appreciation for the safety technology that Can-Am uses in all of its Roadsters.
So what do other riders think about the Can-Am experience? I searched for “Can-Am Roadster Impressions” on the Internet and found what I was looking for: a review from a motorcycle rider that tried the Spyder and came to the identical conclusions that I did about the steering. So, was I right? Well, probably not, as this was one article in more than 600,000 available online, so I thought I would read a few more. What I found is that, by far, the vast majority of riders really liked the Roadster experience, even many who used to ride motorcycles. The Spyder forums were especially helpful in putting the Roadster into perspective and it seemed a common experience for riders to feel some of the steering issues: however they got quickly used to the handling and had virtually nothing negative to say.