2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S Review: Revisiting the Backwards Trike

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2014 BRP Can-Am Spyder ST-S Review

2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S Review
The 2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S. Photo © Basem Wasef

2014 BRP Can-Am Spyder ST-S Review: What's New Since '08?

A lot has changed since Bombardier Recreational Products-- aka, BRP-- introduced their Can-Am Spyder in 2008. Of course the global economy tanked that year, sending motorcycle sales spiraling-- but critical to BRP's survival plan was maintaining interest in their curious backwards trike, and preventing it from becoming a flash-in-the-pan.

BRP introduced a semi-automatic gearbox-equipped SE5 model in 2009, and touring-focused RT/RT-S models in 2010. The lineup has since grown considerably, ranging from the RS ($14,899) and RS-S ($18,099) to the ST ($18,999) and ST-S ($20,349), the ST Limited ($24,849), the RT ($22,999) and RT-S ($26,449), and finally, the RT Limited ($30,499). Add between $1,500 and $1,700 to those prices for a semi-automatic gearbox.

For 2014 they've given their RT model a mechanical makeover by adding a torquey new 1,330cc three-cylinder engine, a six-speed transmission with overdrive, better heat management, and revised bodywork-- yes, the RT hogs the spotlight in 2014, and I'll be reviewing that particular Spyder down the line. But for this review, I chose to focus on the ST-S version, the model I (selfishly) preferred to test on my native Los Angeles streets.

The 2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S ($20,349 with a manual, or $22,049 with the semi-automatic gearbox) is essentially a deluxe version of the ST model, which runs $18,999, or $20,499 with the semi-auto.

Let's ride.

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2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S: The Goods

2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S Review
The 2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S's cockpit... and the open road. Photo © Basem Wasef

Now that the Spyder lineup has expanded, the RS/ST/RT models represent sporty/comfortable/touring variants intended to offer a little something different for every sort of rider. The ST, not surprisingly, is billed as "combining comfort and sportiness," and is a sort of sport touring motorcycle on three wheels with its adjustable windscreen, new high-pressure Fox gas shocks, and a more open-kneed, feet forward riding position.

The ST-S model adds machined front wheels, LED lights on the fenders, and cruise control. Power comes from a 998cc Rotax v-twin engine that produces 100 horsepower at 7,500 rpm, and 80 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. Power steering turns the front wheels, which are mounted via double-A arm suspension with 5.7 inches of travel, and the single rear wheel is driven with a belt.

The SM-5 manual gearbox works like a motorcycle's (using a foot pedal shifter and left hand-operated clutch), while the SE5 semi-automatic ditches the clutch and actuates gears using the left thumb (for upshifts) and the left forefinger (for downshifts). Both transmission options include reverse, and safety systems include traction control, stability control, and ABS.

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On the Road

2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S Review
The 2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S, in action. Photo © BRP

Here's where the three-wheeled controversy usually comes alive: on the road.

Sure, hardcore motorcyclists will endlessly pooh-pooh three-wheelers and say they're not real bikes-- but let's get past those political differences and focus on the task at hand here, which is to convey what it's like to ride one of these so-called backwards trikes.

If you're accustomed to riding a motorcycle-- be it a touring bike, an all-out sportbike, or anything in between-- you've got to un-learn a few habits, namely countersteering. In fact, when I took possession of my Spyder, I was asked to put my initials on a waiver stipulating that I wouldn't try to countersteer when riding, among other things. Seriously. 

Climbing on board is easy: step on the floorboard, and swing a leg over, just as you would on a motorcycle (though there's no concern about tipping the thing over, since it sits on all threes with rock solid stability). Turn the key, acknowledge the safety card by tapping a button on the left switchgear, and you're ready to hit the engine start button and fire up the Rotax. My ST-S model had a fairly vocal, mechanical sound, and an electric parking brake button is the last thing to keeps you from rolling off towards the horizon; press that button, depress the brake pedal with your right foot (the only way to slow down the Spyder), click the "+" button to shift into first, and you're primed to go.

When you're completely un-focused on balance, the road becomes a different sort of canvas: bumps and potholes are less of a concern, and handling characteristics take on more similarities to an automobile than a motorcycle, particularly since the Spyder has articulating suspension, three large contact patches of rubber, and no physical need to lean into corners.

As such, the mentality of attacking corners on the Spyder ST-S involves a different kind of risk taking, one in which corner speeds and steering angles must be taken into account in relation to the intended line through the turn. There's quite a bit of understeer engineered into the Spyder, especially during tighter turns, and there's also the occasional challenge of carving a smooth line since the relatively skinny, 165mm front tires don't always track perfectly with the pavement surface. Hustling a dry weight of 864 pounds, there's a whole lot of chassis dynamics and weight transfer that have to be managed-- and can be overridden by the stability control system, which kicks in noticeably if you come in too hot.

The single pedal brake works rather well at slowing this beast down, and there's strong acceleration to be had when revving the 100 horsepower engine. Shifts occur smoothly at mellow throttle openings (and with a bit more of a pronounced jerk during aggressive maneuvers), and though the system won't automatically upshift for you, it will downshift when speeds drop below preset amounts for each of the five gears. And speaking of gears, the relatively short ratios help the Spyder negotiate urban routes with oomph, though fifth gear creates a 5,000 rpm hum at 70 mph-- which makes a compelling case for introducing the six-speed gearbox into models other than the touring-oriented RT version, especially since the ST-S proved comfortable and long-distance ready, thanks to its accommodating ergonomics, flat footboards, cruise control, and good wind protection.

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Bottom Line, Specs, Who Should Buy the 2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S?

2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S Review
The 2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S. Photo © Basem Wasef

Bottom Line

There will always be a vocal two-wheeled majority who can't see a reason to ride bulky, car-like three-wheelers when they can enjoy the visceral thrills of riding a motorcycle. Those people will likely remain unswayed by Can-Am's Spyder offerings. But then, there are also folks who come from the car world and want to feel wind in their face, but don't want to learn how to ride on a motorcycle... or have balance issues and can't feel safe on a two-wheeler... or simply crave a motorized toy that happens to resemble a snowmobile on wheels.

I can't tell you which recreational vehicle you should gravitate towards-- that's an entirely subjective, personal decision-- but I will suggest that if you're drawn towards a Can-Am Spyder, crave riding something that's out of the norm, and don't mind losing the benefits of a compact footprint or extreme agility, you ought to follow your bliss and consider taking one out for a test ride; after all, isn't the whole point of riding to ride for yourself, not for others?

Update: Polaris has revamped one of its three-wheelers (as these spy shots confirm); we'll have a full review as soon as we can swing a leg over.

Specs

  • Price: $20,349 (manual SM5), $22,049 (semi-automatic SE5)
  • Engine: 990cc v-twin Rotax, liquid-cooled
  • Output: 100 horsepower (@ 7,500 rpm), 80 lb-ft (@ 5,000 rpm)
  • Fuel Capacity: 6.6 gallons
  • Transmission: 5-speed manual or semi-automatic, clutchless
  • Final Drive: Belt
  • Suspension: Front double A-arm with anti-roll bar, Fox shocks; Rear Sachs monoshock
  • Brakes: Front Brembo 270mm, 4-piston; Rear Brembo 270mm, single piston
  • Wheels/Tires: 165/55 R15 (fronts), 225/50 R15 (rear)
  • Dry Weight: 864 lbs
  • Seat Height: 29 inches

Who Should Buy the 2014 Can-Am Spyder ST-S?

Powersports enthusiasts who are seeking a different kind of ride, and don't mind the inevitable eye-rolls from the two-wheeled set.

>>Click here for Can-Am's Dealer Locator site<<

Related: 2015 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler Review