2009 Can-Am Spyder SE5 Review - Motorcycle.com

Alfonse Palaima
by Alfonse Palaima

Smack dab in the middle of two alphabet-class weather events lay a narrow window of opportunity to ride the latest and greatest creations from the Canadian minds at Bombardier Recreational Products. Who closed the door on bluebird Texan skies? Ike did, or maybe you can blame Gustav for whittling our full day’s excursion to a short-order dish. We weren’t even off the hotel property before every stitch of my clothing was drenched in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the rain, it wasn’t a wasted trip. It only took a mile in the rain to experience the technological wonder that BRP has created.

In August of this year, I brought you a longer ride report on the BRP Can-Am Spyder Roadster, a “flipped around” three-wheeler, putting the two wheeled part of the trike in the front of the unit. This revolutionary machine made some buyers consider a three-wheeler for the first time. In the coming year, you’ll be able to get the road-hugging rider-friendly three-wheeler with either the original manual transmission (SM5) or an electronically controlled tranny (SE5). BRP calls the new machine “imPRESSive,” for a play on its new thumb shifting. After experiencing it personally, I would have to agree.

By now, riding the Spyder has become old hat for Motorcycle.com, as this is our third report on the three-wheeler. But honestly, it doesn’t take long for anyone to be well versed in operating the roadster. The newest addition to BRP’s impressive collection of technology is the sequential electronic transmission, which is both impressive and technologically advanced. The SE5 helps in offering an even more automobile-like experience which should open the Spyder up to an even wider audience. BRP calls this a democratizing process for the market as well as the purchasing public. With the ease of use, an automobile driver can feel confident and have fun on the new Spyder, yet the SE5 gives enough wiggle room for an experienced rider to have fun as well.

My first thought when I read about the new SE5 hand-controlled shifting, was that I hoped they got it done better than Yamaha did for the 2006 FJR1300AE. It was a novel idea, but had too many glitches in the execution. BRP’s TCM system performs so much smoother than the FJR1300 that it is seamless in comparison. The Sequential Electronic five-speed transmission (SE5), like the Sequential Manual five-speed (SM5), includes a transmission-based reverse which is limited to 20 km/h.

'...BRP has built in a lot of fun as well as safety.'

Manufacturing their toys around the world with facilities in six countries spanning three continents, the Spyder is built in Valcourt, QC, Canada. Bombardier sold off the recreational products division to a group of investors back in 2003. It was a leverage buyout by a private equity firm and will someday become publicly traded. As such, BRP isn’t part of Bombardier anymore.

Marc Lacroix, Can-Am’s Marketing Director and a veteran at BRP, says, ”We are not a ‘me too’ company,” which means that they prefer to pave their own way instead of following the crowd. Bombardier started this trend in 1959 with the world’s first snowmobile; essentially a horseless-carriage version of the dog sled that was used for winter transportation in the great white north. Living through the success of the Sea-Doo as a BRP employee, when Mark first saw the Spyder he’s reported as saying, “here we go again” and joined the team at the concept stage in early 2006.

The SE5 rides like a snowmobile and matches the overall BRP riding position common to their ATV, Snow and PWC products but it is beneath the cover where these models differ. More computing technology brings even more automobile-like features to the roadster. Reading like a bowl of alphabet soup, the Spyder’s operator manual is filled with safety and performance acronyms like VSS, ABS and TCS which stand for Vehicle Stability System, Anti-lock Brakes and Traction Control System, respectively. The VSS supplied by Bosch can also be experienced on the Chevy Silverado and Toyota Camry. The system intervenes by applying brake pressure or cutting the throttle with the onset of wheel lift or if the G-meter under the seat senses excessive lateral movement.

Despite all the technology incorporated to keep you from rolling over in the turns, BRP has built in a lot of fun as well as safety. The traction control system took a back seat to the giggles on our ride around Dallas as burnouts became rampant. Stocked with the Rotax 998cc engine previously used in the Aprilia but remapped for more torque, the SE5 boasts 106 hp and 77 ft-lbs of torque, letting it run from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

Much like an ATV, snowmobile or PWC, the Spyder has Dynamic Power Steering which is computer controlled and tied to torque and wheel speed. All told, there are five ECUs in the Spyder, in different boxes placed around the machine that are interdependent but have a redundant backup system for safety.

The next generation Spyder is built for an even wider market with the addition of a thumb shifter.

So how exactly does this thing work? I’m glad you asked. A centrifugal clutch ensures no engagement of the clutch under 1,800 rpm, eliminating the need for a clutch lever, leaving you freely idling at full stop. Poking the “+” button opens the clutch, shifts, closes the clutch and reengages gears in 200 milliseconds, which is essentially imperceptible to us humans and smooth as can be expected. Gear ratios are the same for both the SM and SE models. On the downshift, you can manually toggle the “-“ button at your fingertip or you can wait for the machine to automatically downshift itself. Upon coming down to 2,500 rpm in any gear, the system will automatically downshift for you, enhancing the reacceleration ability of the Spyder for any such emergency need to escape danger.

I tested this on the highway and the Spyder happily and smoothly swallowed both down and upshifts from fifth to second and back at 55 mph, never blipping the throttle. I was extremely impressed. First gear was off-limits at that speed due to the intelligence of the system and knowing that gear would redline the motor.

Possibly the coolest thing about the overall system, and where the Spyder’s system differs from an automatic automobile, is that it will not force you into an upshift. This offers the operator the luxury of playing around inside the torque curve all the way to the rev-limiter.

There is nothing on the road quite like the Spyder SE5. Government perception and legislation reflects this as you can drive the Spyder without a motorcycle endorsement on your license in California and Delaware, but will need it if you reside in any other state. The same debate is occurring in Europe where you need that M endorsement everywhere but Greece. Interestingly enough, Canada, the home of the Spyder, still can’t agree on what the hell it is, so the rules have yet to be written. Since licensing and registration differs per state, your best bet is to check with both the BRP site and your local DMV for more information.

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Alfonse Palaima
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