2012 Can-Am Spyder Roadsters Review [Video]

Both the RS and RT enter the new year riding high on three wheels


Can-Am began its Spyder Roadster project more than a decade ago at the home of a BRP engineer. In short, the uncommissioned three-wheeler was presented to Can-Am brass which saw promise in the concept and were willing to gamble on its success. The subsequent R&D years culminated into the RS and RT models available now, and in the process the Spyder became the largest investment in Can-Am’s portfolio.

Speculation appears to be paying off as Can-Am is boasting 2011 market share for the company’s enigmatic Spyder to be greater than that of Victory’s cruiser line-up. Harley-Davidson need not be concerned, but Can-Am’s ability to surpass Victory, no matter how minimal the margin, is notable when considering the short time frame of the Spyder’s availability. Further evidence of the Spyder’s appeal is our first review of the Spyder back in 2007 that remains one of our most popular reviews and videos.

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Can-Am followed the initial launch of the 2008 Spyder RS with the more luxurious RT in 2010. From those two models exists a choice of six iterations (RS, RS-S, RT, RT Audio & Convenience, RT-S, RT Limited) ranging in price from $16,500 for the base RS to $28,900 for the RT Limited. For 2012 Cam-Am is taking a breather with minimal upgrades/changes (see below) to the next year’s models, but if we’re to believe comments from Can-Am, the five-year outlook of future Spyder models promises more ground-breaking, technological advancements.

2012 Can-Am Spyder RS

A recent day spent aboard every model in the 2012 Spyder line-up provided clarity and insight into what the variety of Spyder models offer – the most obvious being the stark difference between the luxurious RTs and the more brute appeal of the RSs.

New For 2012

2012 Can-Am Spyder RS RS models for 2012 receive a new amber-colored LCD display meant to improve night-time contrast and a new Steel Black Metallic color choice, while Pearl White Metallic returns for another year.

New gas-charged Fox shocks are the big news for the front of the RS-S. The anodized aluminum shocks with carbon-black colored springs are 33% lighter than those on the base model RS, boast improved compression and rebound damping and feature preload adjustability. Handlebars and footpegs also receive the carbon-black treatment. A new multi-function display with better nighttime contrast also adorns the RS-S models, while Neutron Green/Satin Black and Can-Am Red/Satin Black bring new color choices to the RS-S line-up.

All 2012 RT models receive a new amber-colored, multi-function dot-matrix display and come in a variety of new colors (except the base model RT). The RT Audio & Convenience model’s new color is Quantum Blue Metallic, as is the 2012 RT-S which also features a Dark Mist Gray front wheel colorization.

The 2012 RT Limited receives a little more treatment with new chrome mirrors, heat shield and exhaust tip, and aluminum six-spoke chrome front wheels. The new color for the Limited is Bronze Metallic with the option of an embroidered tan or black seat.

RS vs RT

With its upright riding position, extensive fairing protection and plethora of optional luxury amenities, the RT makes a great case for inclusion with touring heavyweights such as Honda’s Gold Wing or BMW’s K1600GTL. Endowed with 155 liters of storage space (complete with semi-rigid, wheeled, travel bags for the Limited) the RT, in fact, boasts more storage capacity than Honda’s GL.

At a claimed 929 lbs dry the RT outweighs the 699-pound claimed dry weight of the RS by 230 lbs. The additional heft affects the RT’s handling, but it’s not nearly as detrimental as it would be if these were two-wheel motorcycles. Built upon the same basic frame architecture, and considering how much stability the two front wheels provide, it’s possible to charge a corner with almost equal abandon – charge being the operative word.

2012 Can-Am Spyder RT luxury tourer

December showers can leave our beloved SoCal canyon roads peppered with gravel on the blind side of corners, forcing motorcycles to approach with timid entry speeds, but the Spyder needn¹t worry about such impediments. With three points of contact the Spyder raises confidence by diminishing the possibility of an untimely get-off.

Owning the confidence-inspiring handling manners of the RT, the RS experience is one of visceral appeal much like that of a two-wheel motorcycle. Not only is the riding position sporty and the fairing coverage minimal, the RS isn’t equipped with the noise-deadening airbox shroud or extra engine covers that come on the RT, allowing its rider to hear and feel more of what’s happening with 998cc Rotax V-Twin.

2012 Can-Am Spyder RS corneringWhere the two models are the same but different is in the computer-controlled Vehicle Stability System (VSS). A needed component to maintain safety in this unconventional design, the Spyder’s VSS interprets multiple inputs and reacts via a multitude of tools including Traction Control, Anti-lock Brakes and the vehicle’s ECU to moderate power output. The RT’s VSS is more intrusive than the RS, but the RS’s stability control is aggressive enough to bother skilled riders.

I found myself arguing with the VSS when exiting corners and applying throttle, only to have it stifled until the VSS deemed the situation safe enough to warrant more power. We’d prefer a graduated VSS that allows a skilled rider to adjust the amount interference the Spyder’s ECU delivers in the same way sportbikes adorned with traction control can be dialed back according to rider preference or road/track conditions.

A cool option on both the RS and RT models is the optional SE5 transmission (standard equipment on the Limited). RS and RT models come equipped with the SM5 transmission, which, like a motorcycle, operates via a left-hand clutch lever and left-foot shifter. A Spyder purchaser can order the SE5 transmission for an extra $1500, which features left handlebar-mounted paddle shifters with upshifts initiated by a rider’s thumb and downshifts via an index finger. The semi-automatic transmission (the system downshifts automatically when low revs are reached) works amazingly well, and I found myself preferring it to the manual transmission. Both the SM5 and SE5 transmissions have a reverse gear.

2012 Can-Am Spyder RS

Passenger Accommodations

Gold Wing comfort mentioned above serves the Spyder RT passenger as well as its operator. My passenger co-tester, Maria, felt relaxed enough to fall asleep on the freeway jaunt back to Hollywood following the long day-ride through the canyons north of Los Angeles.

Because of the chilly temperatures she also made use of the heated passenger grab handles on the RT. With the electronically adjustable windscreen in the high position wind buffeting wasn’t a factor, but when speeds exceeded 80 mph a low-pressure bubble was uncomfortable enough for her to request that the windscreen be lowered, which increased wind noise and disturbance but was preferable to the high setting at elevated speeds.

2012 Can-Am Spyder RT with passenger

On the RS, with its more spartan passenger accommodations, Maria was at first uncertain whether to hold on to me or the passenger grab handles. For a while she tried a combination of both, but finally decided the grab handles work best.

For a woman who enjoys riding pillion on sportbikes and the side-to-side thrill of canyon strafing, I was a little surprised at the end of the day to hear that she preferred riding the RT, saying she just couldn’t get comfortable on the RS.

Unique is the best word to describe the Spyder experience. The Spyder certainly isn’t a motorcycle, but its two-wheels-in-front design makes it much sportier than a traditional trike. While the RT could give a Gold Wing rider pause for consideration, the RS is no replacement for a Gixxer Thou, but, presently, there exists no head-to-head competition for the RS.

The Spyder’s full potential has yet to be reached and its niche is growing, including a hybrid version recently announced, plus also a tilting/leaning version we suspect is currently in development.

To better understand the Spyders for yourself, we recommend finding a demo model and taking one for a test ride.

2012 Can-Am Spyder RS rear view

Related Reading
Can-Am Spyder Hybrid Roadster Development Update [Video]
BRP Developing Tilting Can-Am Spyder
Shelved Harley-Davidson Penster Tilting Trike Prototypes Revealed
2011 Can-Am Spyder RT Limited Review [Video]
2010 Can-Am Spyder RT Model Intro
2009 Can-Am Spyder SE5 Review
2008 Can-Am Spyder Test
All Things Spyder
2011 Can-Am Spyder RT Recall

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