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We’ve ridden a Spyder before, but not the nearly full biscuit touring model with a trailer on the back. Unique situation, rollicking good time

I have learnt a few things over the journey from my truck-driving father, including how to back a trailer without making a goose of myself. And his sage advice -- “turn your handlebars in the direction the trailer is moving” – came in very handy the other week when I took the Can-Am Spyder RT-S, complete with trailer, for a gallop through the Royal National Park south of Sydney.

And one part of the ‘exercise’ was putting myself through a tricky backing manouevre, just to see how the RT-S handled the situation. With flying colours I might add, although there isn’t a lot of wriggle room with such a short draw bar.

But the thing that left me really pleasantly surprised about was how well the trailer played ball in the direction that really matters – forward. We’ve all towed trailers which rule with an iron first and simply won’t let go of their ‘power’ base – they buck, weave and are generally mischievous to the point where you would be quite happy to leave the appendage to rot on the side of the road. Any road.

Not this time, and the trailer’s easy-going nature certainly took me by surprise, but we’ll touch on that a bit later.

So where does the RT-S fit into the Spyder nomenclature? As you have probably guessed, it has a sports-touring focus, as opposed the Spyder RS, which is more of the bare-bones sports trike.

With the trailer fitted, the RT-S holds a whopping 777 litres of luggage, so if that’s a key indicator of sports-touring dexterity then the three-wheeler has nothing to worry about.

But the RT-S has more strings to its bow than just being a storage depot, and I also wanted to acquaint myself with the other niceties – as well as just getting another feel for the unique character that is the Spyder ‘franchise’.

My previous Spyder experience amounted to a launch ride through Sydney on the RS, and then a short follow-up outing on the said bike in Victoria.

Both excursions were a little too abbreviated for my liking, because the ‘de-motorcycling’ process takes a couple of hours before you feel totally comfortable on the Spyder. That’s because normal counter-steering rules don’t apply, which of course is the bread and butter of a two-wheel existence.

But once that’s purged out of the system, the Spyder does really become a bit of a trailblazer in its own in unique way.

And I made sure I reached that heightened state of euphoria as quickly as possible this time out, which paved the way for a brilliant day’s riding – even through a heavy burst of rain.

PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
In total there are six separate Spyders in the local line-up – two RSs and four RTs.

All the hardware features the same eight-valve, 998cc Rotax V-twin, with the major difference a fly-by-wire throttle on the RTs as opposed to the standard mechanical throttle on the Rs.

The Rotax mill is certainly getting on, but it’s a venerable design that’s still got a bit of a sting in its tail – and it has to be able to, with the dry weight of the RT-S alone 421kg.

The RT-S engine has been “calibrated the touring”, which simply means that it doesn’t produce as much peak power as the RS, but it’s got more torque – a redeployment of resourcefulness that I’m completely at ease with.

The RT-S produces 106hp (71kW) at 7500rpm (the RS has 106), and torque is a none-too-shabby 108Nm at 5000rpm (RS: 104Nm at 6250rpm).

Higher torque at lower rpm normally makes for a less frenetic environment, which is exactly what BRP has in mind.

The particular bike I rode was a 2010 model RT-S with a five-speed manual transmission, which has now been jettisoned on the 2011 model in favour of the five-speed semi automatic.

The safety and security features include stability and traction control, anti-lock braking and power steering.

The brakes are foot operated, and it does take some time for the mind to completely lock in the absence of a hand lever. But you do come around – especially as the brakes really pack a punch, so it’s not like you’re missing a vital piece of the puzzle.

Other parts of the premium touring package include an electric windshield, cruise control, park brake, ride and passenger heated grips, an audio system with iPod compatibility, and speakers front and rear.

The only one other Spyder which has a higher level of spec is the RT-S Limited, which comes standard with a Garmin GPS and a full set of internal travel cases for the panniers and top box.

The Limited retails for $39,949 rideaway, and the RT-S is $38,649, with the trailer another $6990 on top of that.

But there is a deal going at the moment on 2010 RT-S stock, where the trailer is included free of charge and all the customer has to buy is the tow hitch and rego (if applicable), which comes to around $1250.

Colours on the 2011 model RT-S are in Magnesium, Orbital Blue, Viper Red or Timeless Black.

ON THE ROAD
The RT-S in an institution in itself, and that was evident as soon as I made tracks from BRP’s headquarters in Sydney.

It’s a head turner par excellence, but that doesn’t mean it’s full of airs and graces – far from it. Instead, it’s accommodating to all kinds of riders, which I guess is a positive thing considering that a bike like the RT-S is never going to reach the critical mass of an equivalent mile-munching motorcycle.

That’s not a criticism, it’s reality, but that still doesn’t alter the fact that the RT-S – or the whole Spyder range for that matter – is enterprising in its own way.

One of the secrets to getting the best out of the Spyder is to really relax into the ride – keeping the shoulders forward and arms bent, as it’s not like riding a motorcycle where a more aggressive posture may sometimes be required, such as tucking the knees into the tank.

That said, in the first few kilometres I didn’t real completely at ease, with every jitter and jolt through the front suspension and steering seemingly being transferred straight to my rapidly-starting-to-ache arms. That’s what I was touching on earlier about the ‘de-motorcycling’ process, which I was again going through.

It’s unavoidable for an experienced motorcyclist really, but it had passed within 15 minutes, just moments before the Royal National Park beckoned.

By then I had already locked in some observations: the seat is a beauty, there’s great weather protection from that imposing front end, your feet will never part company with the massive footpegs, and the blinker switch is stickier than a cricket wicket that’s been under the covers for five days.

That’s a resourcefulness (let’s forget the blinker switch) not even a bike like the Honda Gold Wing can’t muster, and that also holds for the brakes on the RT-S, which have no trouble bringing the plot to an immediate stop – trailer and all.

And even under extreme braking, the pulsing through the ABS isn’t too obtrusive, when it could be excused for getting a little cantankerous under such a heavy back-breaking workload.

My trip through the park took on distinctly different dimensions – fine weather in and drenching rain on the way back. On a bike, in simplistic terms that means ‘fast’ and ‘slow’, but I can honestly say the gulf on the RT-S wasn’t that huge.

In the wet the RT-S is a real adrenaline rush. Just tip it in and wait for the stability and traction control to do their thing before rolling on the big V-twin for the exit. And while that’s happening, the body weight is positioned over the inside of the corner, like hanging off an ATV.

I just had to make sure I was in the correct gear, otherwise the RT-S would labour a little bit out of the turns.

Best to keep the engine winding over between 6000-900rpm in those situations, but once that’s mastered – alongside body positioning – the excitement just keeps on coming. It really does become infectious, so much so that I did turn around a few times to retrace my steps.

In the dry the dynamics aren’t that much different, although pushing harder into a turn can sometimes mean a little understeer when the electronics kick in, but it’s not something that’s going to drift you into the other lane.

The RT-S handles bumps very well and, even though there is sometimes some ‘nervousness pushing through the bars, that’s as far as it goes and the likes of potholes and square-edged bumps provide only minor nuisance value for the RT-S.

And the trailer? It’s just like a really obedient child (if that’s not possible try a dog) – not asking for anything and certainly not being recalcitrant.

That’s reassuring on long trips through poorly maintained B roads, which is where RT-S owners are really going to get to – as around town issues like a heavy clutch and the aforementioned blinkers can put a bit of as downer on proceedings.

But get out in the country, and there’s a lot to be said for the RT-S with its quality stereo, a clear and concise dashboard (a mix of analogue and LCD) and cruise control.

The engine spins over at about 4500rpm at 100km/h in fifth gear. That’s not ultra tall, but you’ve got to take into consideration it is a weighty package, so you could just as easily cruise along in fourth gear just to make things are little more snappy and responsive.

All in all, it was third time lucky on the Spyder for me. A small change in mindset did wonders, and I now feel like I have taken the quantum leap from the Spyder’s sparring partner to dancing partner. And I’m keen to try some more.

SPECS: CAN-AM SPYDER RT-S
ENGINE

Type: Liquid-cooled, eight-valve V-twin
Capacity: 998cc
Bore x stroke: 97mm x 68mm
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection

TRANSMISSION
Type: Five-speed
Final drive: Shaft
Clutch: Wet

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Front suspension: Double A-arm with anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: Swingarm with pneumatic adjustable preload
Brakes: Foot operated. Front -- dual 250mm discs with four-piston calipers. Rear --
250mm disc petal with single-piston caliper
Wheels: Aluminium, front six-spoke metallic silver, 14 x 5in, rear 15 x 7in
Tyres: Front 165/65-14, rear 225/50-15

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES

Claimed dry weight: 421kg
Seat height: 772mm
Wheelbase: 1708mm
Ground clearance: 115mm
Fuel capacity: 25 litres

PERFORMANCE

Claimed maximum power: 100hp (71kW) at 7500rpm
Claimed maximum torque: 108Nm at 5000rpm

OTHER STUFF
Price: $38,649 rideaway, trailer $6990
Colours: Magnesium, Orbital Blue, Viper Red or Timeless Black
Bike supplied by: BRP, www.brp.com/en-AU/
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres

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Published : Wednesday, 20 April 2011
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