There are vehicles that travel to Mars, and vehicles that look like they belong there. The Can Am Spyder from Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP; www.brp.com; Valcourt, Quebec) is one of them. This somewhat extraterrestrial three-wheeled vehicle arose out of a challenge given at a yearly design forum in 1996 to create an on-road vehicle in keeping with the company’s pioneering sprit that, according to Spyder marketing manager Marc Lacroix, “had more than one wheel but less than four.” However, rather than create a motorcycle—or even a “traditional” trike—the company’s designers proposed an elemental wind-in-the-face vehicle that has dynamic stability and safety more in line with that of a car; they placed two wheels at the front and one at the rear. Seeing the concept, BRP’s engineers jumped at the opportunity to make it real, and loaded it with features not normally found on a vehicle classified as a motorcycle.
According to Vincent Morin, director, Spyder Engineer, the Spyder has been through, five years of pre-program investigation and research and three iterations of prototypes. The prototypes established the ergonomics, dynamics, and footprint; then the Spyder was released into BRP’s gate-stage development system. Coming, as he did, from Bombardier’s ATV side, Morin approached the Spyder project with a non-motorcycle vision, and ruled out a welded multi-tube chassis almost immediately. “Tube frames leave little servicing room, require too much welding, and concentrate stresses in the welded areas,” he says, “so we decided to borrow the chassis concept I had just introduced on our ATVs.” That idea, called the “Surrounding Spar Technology” (SST) frame, is both elegant and simple. Defined by upper and lower mandrel-bent, 1.5 x 4.0-in. rectangular steel sections joined by a third tube at the leading edge, the SST is formed in three master jigs, welded in three stations, and envelops the powertrain. Also, all of the brackets—including the frame for the front suspension—are joined to the main structure at this time. “It’s quite simple for our manufacturing people to build,” says Morin, “and each frame is geometrically the same, which is important for the Spyder’s dynamic performance.”
The front suspension also draws from Morin’s ATV experience, and utilizes long-travel (5.7-in.) coil-over dampers feeding their loads into a triangulated bracket with the wheels located by upper and lower A-arms. Steering is by electric power steering that revises the assist level based on feedback from sensors sending information to the Bosch-supplied electronic stability control system. “With the wheel layout we had to make certain the vehicle tracked straight and true no matter the condition of the pavement,” says Morin, “so we have a lot of castor, which could have made steering effort uncomfortable.” Assist is based on steering angle and vehicle speed, and provides a dampening effect that filters out road imperfections without harming feel.
Leaning the Spyder into turns was never considered, though it does respond to the rider and passenger transferring their weight as they move their upper bodies. “Our research showed that leaning into corners is not comfortable for many people, especially those who aren’t long-time motorcycle riders,” says Morin. “And while leaning is central to motorcycling, it’s not part of the DNA of the power sports business where we are used to lateral Gs created across a square-shouldered [as opposed to a motorcycle’s rounded] tire contact patch.”
Nonetheless, the Spyder has a very motorcycle-like dual swing arm rear suspension damped by a coil-over mono-shock. “It allows maximum torsional rigidity, and is the only way to go with one rear wheel,” says Morin. The Spyder even has belt drive from its Rotax 990 V-twin engine and sequential five-speed transmission combination to the single rear wheel. (The engine produces 106 hp and 77 lb-ft of torque, while the gearbox comes with both a fully manual or electronically controlled clutch and an actual reverse gear.) But—except for the handlebars, hand-operated clutch, foot pegs, foot-operated shifter, hand throttle, and sport-touring bike ergonomics—that’s where the motorcycle analogy ends. That’s because—along with the car-like 44-liter trunk, twin front wheels, and power steering—the Spyder uses a sophisticated vehicle stability system that combines engine-intervention traction control, full-wheel ABS with electronic brake force distribution, and the latest version of Bosch’s electronic stability program—which includes rollover mitigation—to keep it on the rider’s intended path. Pressing on the foot brake engages all three brake discs simultaneously, with the four-piston 10.2 x 0.25-in. front brakes doing much of the work. (The rear brake is different only in that it uses a single-piston caliper.) “We wanted to balance performance and peace of mind,” says Lacroix, “such that riders could get a good rush [0 to 60 takes a claimed 4.5 seconds], but if they went too far the Spyder would help correct the mistake or minimize the consequences."