RoadBike: 2012 Can-Am Spyder Review
Words by Jonny Langston, Photos by Brian J. Nelson
Remember the original Kawasaki Jet Ski? Launched in the early-to-mid-’80s, it featured a handlebar on a rigid, hinged steering column. It required its operator to start on his knees, then pop up to a standing position once enough speed was reached that the rider could maintain his balance. Like surfing or single-ski waterskiing, this initial starting maneuver was tough to master; and like those other sports, everyone who did it said that once you got the hang of it, riding a Jet-Ski was easy and fun. But because it was difficult to even get started, the market for Kawasaki’s new water toy was quickly saturated.
Then, everything changed. In 1991, Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) released the Sea-Doo Xp. Using technology swiped from its Ski-Doo snowmobiles, the Sea-Doo puts its operator in a seated position, eliminating the tricky pop-up start and doing away with standing altogether — and revolutionizing the personal watercraft industry overnight. Think that’s an overstatement? Consider this: in 1992, at the height of its popularity, Kawasaki was selling around 20,000 Jet Skis per year; in 1995, BRP moved more than 100,000 Sea-Doos. That number has remained a constant. Kawi, meanwhile, doesn’t make stand-up watercraft anymore.
The point of this anecdote is to illustrate that BRP is not a company content to rest on its laurels. Rather than simply make advancements to an existing platform, it reinvented a vehicle, and revolutionized an industry. With the Can-Am Spyder Roadster, BRP is attempting to do the same to open-air riding.
“It’s not a motorcycle. Don’t think of it as a motorcycle, and don’t ride it like a motorcycle, because it’s not a motorcycle.”
Drilled ad nauseum by the BRP marketing team, both at the media presentation the night before and while suiting up for my ride the following day, I pulled out of the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel aboard a 2012 Can-Am Spyder RS with that mantra running through my head. By the time I merged onto the 101 Freeway north not three minutes later, I no longer heard it in my head; instead, I felt it in my bones and under my butt.
Based on appearance alone, it’s easy to appreciate that the Spyder is different from a motorcycle. But it’s more than that. Built on technology gleaned not from the motorcycle industry but from years of personal watercraft, snowmobile, and side-by-side production, and full of technological advancements such as vehicle stability system (VSS), power steering, and a clutchless, semiautomatic transmission, BRP has developed a vehicle it calls a roadster, and it’s unlike anything else on pavement.