Can-Am Spyder : Sport Touring Model : A Review

Some Background:

My new Spyder parked in the visitors parking lot at the top of Monarch Mountain off Hwy 50 in Western Colorado.

DCIM100MEDIA

After purchasing several two-wheeled motorcycles over the last decade or so, starting with a 2002 Yamaha V-Star 1100, then a 2008 Honda Goldwing, then a 2007 Yamaha FJR1300 and then a 2012 Harley Street Glide I switched to the three-wheeled 2013 Can-Am Spyder STS SE-5.

Why so many bikes? Simply stated, I was searching for a comfortable touring motorcycle that I could keep in an upright position, particularly at slow speeds, at stop signs / lights on inclines or in stop and go city traffic. With the exception of the V-Star and now the Spyder, there were multiple incidents where I simply lost my balance on the two-wheeled bikes and laid them down. This was not a good thing, especially since I travel alone, often in remote areas, and simply do not have the physical strength to pick up one of these big bikes.

One memorable ‘lay down’ occurred on a remote highway in far Eastern Colorado several years back. I stopped on my Goldwing to adjust some luggage I had secured into the passenger seat. As I turned to tighten up a bungee cord I lost balance on the bike and it laid over onto the guard. I knew immediately I was in trouble. Only a few seconds after the lay down a small vehicle stopped, four young men jumped out, ran back to my position, righted the Wing onto the kickstand and rushed back to their vehicle. They were already getting into the vehicle when I yelled a “Thank You”. One of the young me looked back at me and yelled “No problem, my dad has a Wing and that happens to him all the time!”.

The end of my two-wheeled career came in August of 2012 in a roundabout outside a small town in South Eastern Kansas when my front tire hit a (hidden) curb dividing an outside driving lane from what I thought was an inside driving lane, but was a ‘non-driving’ lane where 18-wheeler rear tires could roll as the long trailers attempted the tight curve of the roundabout. My Street Glide went down, my left foot entangled in the shifter, resulting in a badly broken fibula and a torn major ligament in the ankle.

The EMS team who responded to the accident diagnosed my injury as a bad sprain, so with the help of the deputies who also responded to the accident we righted the bike (that had only superficial damage) and I rode the bike some eleven hours to my home in Colorado. Needless to say, as time passed during that eleven hour ride the injury became more painful, and it was only with great difficulty that I was able to get myself and my damaged motorcycle to my home.

While I could have chosen a ‘trike’ for a stable ride, the more typical three-wheeled ‘motorcycle’, I never liked the ‘look’ of the trike. I first noticed the Spyder during an early 2012 tour into the Dakotas while riding the 2012 Street Glide when what must have been a Spyder Club passed me on the highway. So, during my recuperation over almost a year now, I decided to sell the Street Glide and purchase the Sport Touring model of the Can-Am Spyder. I took delivery of the Spyder in March of 2013.

Handling:

The first difference that you will notice on your first ride of a Spyder is the complete and total difference in the handling of the three-wheeled footprint of this bike versus the ‘normal’ two-wheeled motorcycle. For the first several hundred miles on the Spyder the steering feels loose, with the bike seeming to wander over the driving lane. The steering seems to be so loose that even holding the handlebars tightly the bike will wander. This sense of looseness will disappear as miles are logged on the bike, and seems to be related to the rolling stability of the two-wheeled motorcycle experience of the rider. With almost 5,000 miles on my Spyder at this writing holding a straight line with only one hand on the handlebar, or ‘no hands’ while removing a glove, for example, is much easier, and even comfortable.

The other aspect of handling, and a much more important one, is making a turn on the Spyder versus the two-wheeled motorcycle.

Two-wheeled bikes require counter-steering and lean to navigate a turn. If the turn tightens you push harder on the handlebar on the inside of the curve and / or lean more into the curve. Experience with your bike will dictate how much push and lean are possible without touching the pegs to the pavement. The tight curves and switch-backs on the two lane roads in the mountains of Western Colorado are both exciting and challenging on a two-wheeled bike, and even more challenging on the Spyder.

The Spyder uses the same steering into a curve as a four-wheeled ATV, for example, with a pull on the handlebar on the inside of the curve. More importantly, since there is no ‘lean’ of the Spyder itself, the rider MUST slide their body to the inside of the curve to shift the center of gravity of the bike-rider mass to hold the curve. Some pressure on the outside handlebar will also help stabilize the front wheels during the turn. There are safety features built into the Spyder that will automatically slow the bike if the front wheel on the inside of the turn comes off the pavement. You know that your speed into or during a curve is too high if the Spyder starts drifting to the outside of the curve. Holding the handlebar in a very stable position during a tight turn is critical, with the handlebar wanting to re-center itself if allowed. Simply stated, it takes practice and technique to master turning the Spyder.

Windshield:

The windshield of the STS model is a bit larger than the RT model, and is manually adjustable, up and down. The windshield at the top position is not high enough to prevent bug strikes into the face of any rider over 6’ tall. The windshield’s location well in front of the rider allows side winds to buffet the rider. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the design of the windshield is that there is a space between the windshield and the front cowling of the Spyder that allows bugs to not only splatter against the INSIDE of the windshield but to impact the chest and face of the rider. A face mask and goggles / glasses are critical to the safety of the rider during any ride where bugs are present, which is most anywhere except a totally dry desert area. Cleaning the bug strikes from the inside of the windshield in front of the cowling is difficult due to the limited access to that area.

Warning Placard:

The most annoying (and unnecessary) aspect of the starting procedure for this bike is that you are FORCED to reply using the Mode Button on the left handlebar to the display of a reminder to read the Warning Placard in a pull-out drawer in the upper console of the bike. Exactly how many times does one have to read this placard before the information is learned? This portion of the starting procedure should be totally eliminated from the starting process… it serves no useful purpose and is a total waste of time after the first hundred or so startups!

Handlebar Controls:

Many of the controls on both the left and right handlebars critical to the safety of the rider are virtually impossible to use when the rider is wearing heavy, insulated gloves. The size and usage of each of these controls should be re-examined by BRP with respect to functionality when the rider is wearing heavy, insulated gloves.

Left Handlebar Control Lighting:

The high-low beam rocker switch, the turn signal switch and the horn switch are NOT lighted when the other controls in that left control module are lighted during night-time riding. During night-time riding locating each of these unlighted switches is difficult, and distracts from the rider’s attention to the road when trying to find these switches in the ‘dark’, creating a potentially dangerous riding situation.

Turn Signal Switches:

A variety of issues with the turn signals have been noted on forums by Spyder owners. On my Spyder the left turn signal operates correctly with left direction lane changes signaled by moving the turn signal to the left, and then as the lane change is completed, depressing the switch to turn off the signal. The right turn signal on the other hand is a real problem. A lane change to the right is signaled by moving the turn signal to the right BUT simply depressing the turn signal at the completion of the lane change WILL NOT turn off the signal…. The turn signal slide button MUST BE re-centered, and THEN depressed (quickly) to turn off the signal. Again, during a lane change losing focus on the roadway to ‘fiddle’ with a turn-signal control is NOT a good thing! BRP should give this fault their IMMEDIATE attention!

Gas Tank Filling:

Filling the gas tank takes some getting used to. First, if you have any luggage located on the passenger seat the weight of that luggage will prevent the seat from staying up, out of the way of the filling nozzle. I plan on attaching a rod on a hinge under the front of the seat that can be turned vertically to hold the seat up to its highest location for easier access to the filling nozzle. The hinged rod can then be folded under the seat when the gas fill up is completed and the seat returned to its riding position.

The design of the baffle inside the fill nozzle doesn’t seem to prevent splash out as the tank gets close to full. It is difficult to know when this splash will happen because the level of gasoline in the tank with fill nozzle inserted cannot be seen. Gasoline pumps with high pressures make this filling even more difficult, with the vapor control devices on California fill nozzles making filling the Spyder tank a real challenge!

Achieving a full tank during filling on the Spyder is critical with the limited range of the bike even on a full tank but more importantly because there is no feature on the bike to notify the rider of exactly how many gallons and therefore how many miles are left in the tank when the gas gauge shows near or total ‘empty’. Other motorcycles I have owned have very precise notifications of remaining mileage as the tank gets close to empty.

A spare gas can with at least a gallon of gasoline (35 additional miles, maximum) in the trunk of this bike is a must. After wasting dollars and time trying to adapt the regular plastic gas can to be leak and fume free I finally found the Reda brand gas can that actually is leak and fume free.

Rear Fender : No Splash Guard

The wide rear tire of this bike has a fender but its coverage is not sufficient to prevent that tire from throwing up water (and mud) from a wet pavement onto the rear seat, luggage (or passenger) if on the passenger seat and even onto the back and back of the helmet of the rider. To put it mildly, the rear of the Spyder will be a muddy mess if the bike is ridden through any rain, and on any wet pavement, especially before the rain washes the normal dirt off of that pavement.

In the absence of an OEM splash guard I  plan to purchase a generic splash guard to be attached to the back of the fender, and, perhaps more importantly, to the front of the fender where it appears that much of the muddy water is originating and being thrown onto the back of the bike and rider.

Additional Gearing : Or Change in Ratios

The gearing of the transmission of this bike is adequate but a huge improvement in the drivability of the bike could be achieved if an additional gear were added to the transmission. Adding a gear between 3-4, or 4-5 would be great, with the new 6 (old 5) being used at interstate speeds. The rpms in 5th gear on this bike at speeds above 65mph provide a power curve that allows acceleration and power for dealing with traffic above the 65mph comfortable cruising speed of the bike. In gears 3 or 4 the rpms and speeds seem to be ‘off’, either too high or low rpms in either of those two gears based on the mph of the bike.

‘Stall’ Warning:

On aircraft there is a buzzer in the cockpit to indicate that the aircraft is nearing a stall condition… for those who pilot aircraft a very critical and necessary device. If the engineers who designed this bike could add some sort of similar buzzer that sounds when either front tire is close to coming off the ground (in a turn), with the buzzer sounding quietly as the load on the tire begins to lighten, and progressively gets louder as the load on the tire lessens, to zero, to buzz very loudly, if the tire actually clears the ground. Sensors are already in place to react to this driving situation…a buzzer would only augment the automated response by the bike allowing the rider to know that an automated response was about to happen.

Conclusions:

With only 5,000 on my new STS SE-5 there is still a lot of ‘getting used to’ ahead of me. I must say the bike gives me a comfortably secure ride as I continue to recuperate from the accident almost a year ago now.  In heavy traffic, at stop signs on grade and in stop and go traffic this bike is easily operated and controlled. The automatic down-shifting as the bike comes to a stop is a wonderful feature. The paddle shifters seem to be getting harder to operate as usage increases, with an occasional refusal to shift from 1st to Neutral.

My purchase of the OEM passenger seat bag now seems to be a waste of money since it does not hold enough gear for even an overnight trip. I have modified a large duffle luggage bag that holds sufficient items for long range touring, and attaches securely to the passenger seat.

In the (front) trunk I store the emergency (Reda) gas can, a bike cover, my rain gear, cleaning supplies and a small bag containing numerous small necessities for an extended trip. In the large duffle on the passenger seat I store heated gear (in season) and all clothing and supplies needed based on the length of the trip. To the duffle I have added stiffening sides, ends and bottom of thin masonite (peg board) to maintain the structure of the bag even when partially filled. Elastic belts (made from suspenders) hold that bag in place very nicely, plus the bag supplies some back support for those long and tiring rides.

Two 12v female adapters and two 12v coax adapters have been added to the top left and right, as well as center top panel of the bike. Ram-Mount brand ball mounting adapters, one to each handlebar, hold the GPS and Video camera during my rides. The two coax 12v adapters in the top panel allow use of heated clothing during cold weather rides.

I log all mileage at each fill up both for verification of credit card charges but more importantly to determine the miles per gallon and range during my touring. These records show a varying miles per gallon performance of the bike that so far is unexplainable. For instance on my last 2500 mile trip the miles per gallon ranged from 21.3 to 45.6 per fill up, with an average of 35.6, all totally confusing and unexplained. The emergency gallon of gasoline in the trunk is even more important under these apparently unpredictable mileage stats.

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About justanoldguy

Retired Computer Programmer. Born and Raised in Missouri. Graduated from Missouri School of Mines in 1964. Retired in 2003. Moved to Colorado in 2010. Enjoying good health and 'front range'. Touring frequently on Can-Am Spyder motorcycle. Skiing during the Winter months at Monarch Mountain Ski Area (for free!).
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