First Ride: 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

Riding the Can-Am Spyder Touring three-wheeler.

Photography By Brian J. Nelson, Tom Riles and Lanny Thompson

2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S - First Ride

2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S - First Ride

After my wife and I climbed off the "Timeless Black" RT-S Spyder in the parking lot of the Can-Am employees' golf-course restaurant in Quebec, Canada, the key question that needed answering about this machine was still bugging me: Was it, as Bombardier Recreational Products' Can-Am division claimed, really "the best of the car and bike worlds" for touring riders interested in big-rig turn-key touring bikes like the Honda Gold Wing

As a rider whose disability (a mostly AWOL left foot and leg) precluded me from riding a Gold Wing, much less any other standard motorcycle, for me the answer was: Sure. The 2010 Can-Am RT-S provided a comfy environment, capacious and cleverly designed storage, on-board entertainment and enough power from the 100-horsepower V-Twin Rotax to get up to respectable speeds reasonably quickly and sustain them without effort, even when the vehicle is loaded with stuff. And the BRP guys even boasted the first-ever OEM trailer to expand the capacity of the RT by some 200 pounds, with plug-and-play hitch, ball, wiring and the corporate guts to face the slavering liability lawyers who have so stifled so many other innovative designs over the last 40 years. My wife, who shared the ride for about 75 percent of our journey from Valcourt to Quebec City and back, also had no complaints at all, save that the ride on the freeway was so boring (as they are on anything) she almost fell asleep. Presumably one reason why Can-Am provides the RT-S backseat rider with separate audio controls.

At $24,999, the RT-S is about $4000 more than the "base" RT and $2000 more than the "Audio and Convenience" RT, which provides the buyer a choice of gearboxes (either the standard SM5 foot-shifted gearbox or the SE5 sequential electronic gearbox, shifted with the left thumb and forefinger) and a slew of audio and comfy goodies. The trailer adds $4000, and the swingarm-mounted hitch-package $400. These are steep numbers, but in line with current big-rig turn-key touring-bike pricing, just as the claimed 929-pound dry weight of the RT makes it roughly comparable with those rigs. But, of course, the extra wheel up front and all the electronics that Bosch integrates to make this "snowmobile for the street" behave in the most civil manner make the RT comparable to nothing yet on the road.

From a Spyder Ryder's perspective, the main differences between the RT and sportier RS (for "Roadster Sport," the new moniker for last year's "GS") are the obvious ones of riding position, weather and wind protection, and carrying capacity. Less obvious is the difference in operational efforts—the RT's wider track (about three inches), much higher, more pulled-back, wider handlebar, as well as what the Can-Am guys call more "relaxed" steering geometry, yield a substantially different riding experience. Turn-in and line selection are much less demanding than with the RS, and thus, with the electronic cruise control engaged, the RT rider really can steer the thing with two fingers of one hand, something much less easily done on the RS. This translates to much less attention required to keep the half-ton of vehicle aimed where you want it, and in concert with the much more upright riding position, also demands less muscular effort. Likewise, doing away with the foot-operated parking brake on the RS and replacing it with a push-button electromechanical system is a big improvement.

Less welcome for me was that the brake pedal, which operates all three disc brakes, is placed so that my size-11 foot can't simply stab it on demand in an emergency. Though the footpeg itself is well located for comfort, the pedal is mounted too high for me, which means I had to lift my foot and move it forward to use the brakes every time. This got tiring in traffic and could easily eat precious time in an emergency. Can-Am told me that the pedal is not adjustable, but it should be, just as the RS's should be.

My hearing being far below optimal for listening to speakers on a motorcycle at speed (thanks to racing two-stroke GP bikes 40 years ago), I didn't bother to evaluate the entertainment system. It is a sophisticated setup that allows an iPod or MP3 player to be entirely operated from the mode-control module on the left handlebar. Given the attention to detail elsewhere on and in the RT, I doubt that those who need their tunes while under way on the superslab will have complaints about the RT's in-flight entertainment.

They might complain about the fuel economy of the big three-wheeler, though, just as many big-rig two-wheeler riders are far from happy with their machines' fuel efficiency. Unlike the RS, the RT requires 91-octane premium, and because even Can-Am admits that the average for the RT is "mid-30s," the 6.6-gallon tank will have to be refilled with the expensive stuff every 150 miles or so. My '91 Honda ST1100 routinely returned more than 50 mpg, but Father Physics can't be denied, and propelling some 1500 pounds of people and machine with a 991cc V-Twin obviously has drawbacks. On the other hand, in terms of power and torque delivery, the Rotax engine is adequate to the turnpike cruiser task, and I found that the acoustics of the bodywork made the throaty thrum of the Twin amusing in itself.

Best of both worlds? To be decided by one buyer/rider at a time, not by anyone else. But clearly, the RT in any guise provides, as the old Barry Goldwater campaign slogan put it, "a choice, not an echo" of the standard big-rig touring bike. And more extensive test time will be necessary to disclose exactly what kind of choice this version of the Spyder makes as Can-Am continues to pursue its objective of "redefining riding."

014 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

012 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

009 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

005 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

021 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

020 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

019 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

018 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

017 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

016 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

015 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

013 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

011 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

010 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

008 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

007 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

006 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

004 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

003 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

002 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S

001 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT-S