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Reader test: Can Am Spyder

2010-01-15 08:04

Neil Dillingham

Arrive at News Cafe or your local roadside Mugg n’ Bean in a ground scraping sports car and people will think you’re a toss. The only reaction you and your 3 million rand Italian showboat will generate is resentment or boredom.

Arrive on a Can Am Spyder and get ready for lots of jaw dropping stares. Strangers of every age, sex, colour and persuasion will form discussion groups around your bike, armed with cell phone cameras and loads of questions. Do not buy this bike if you don’t like attention.

The Can Am Spyder is NOT a “runabout” or fuel saving town commuter. You can’t squeeze it between cars in rush hour traffic but frankly, I don’t care.

It’s a people magnet, a conversation piece, a swank, high performance, sexy, fun, safe touring bike that shouts ”I bought it because I can afford it”.

First ride on the Spyder

I have MX bike, quad bike, scooter and limited superbike experience, but here I found I needed to learn how to ride all over again.

No front brake lever, no leaning into corners, no drifting or counter-steering out of bends, and I had to shake the habit of putting my feet down at red robots.  

It takes half an hour in a vacant (preferably wet) car park to get the gist of it. Gears, clutch, accelerator and controls are all the same as a normal road bike except for a reverse lever on the handlebars. Analogue and digital dials display temperature, revs per minute, speed in km/h and mph, fuel and trip info.

The Spyder, with its fuel injected DOHC 990cc V Twin Rotax motor (same as that used in the Aprilla bike) packs plenty of punch (79kW and 105Nm) to shift its 317kg around. 0-100 in just over 4 seconds and a top speed electronically limited to 180km/h.  

I chose the optional R7 500 Performance Exhaust which officially adds 3kW that feels more like 11kW because of the “psychological noise factor”. A 25-litre unleaded fuel tank is good for 350km of “sensible” riding.

Cornering is excellent in long sweeping bends and high speed weaving or lane changing on the highway; the faster you ride it, the happier it is in these manoeuvres. Enthusiastic riding requires hanging off the inside of the Spyder in corners and a certain amount of upper body strength. Speed sensitive dynamic power steering makes the trike predictable at any speed. 

Slow sharp turns require some acceleration technique. I got my first attempt very wrong.

Instead of powering away from the robot, turning left and treading a big black stripe around the corner leaving everyone cheering in my dust, the VSS (Vehicle Stability System) detected the slightest oversteer; adjusted engine timing to reduce torque and automatically braked individual wheels as required, resulting in a safe and pedestrian splutter around the corner.

To the onlooker it looks that you have no idea how to ride and sounds like the bike is in the wrong gear and running out of fuel. Engine revs are kept low enough electronically so that I could actually hear bystanders calling me a loser. 

The geeky stuff

The VSS is defiantly the highlight of this vehicle. Designed by Bosch, it is similar to Audi’s ESP and BMW’s DSC. It comprises of several main components: ABS, EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution), and stability control with roll over mitigation, and traction control. The symphony of electronics, made up of five separate computerised modules, work in harmony to make the Spyder almost idiot proof.  

Enter a corner too fast and Spyder’s yaw rate, speed, acceleration and steering position sensors will detect the front end losing grip.
Engine power is automatically reduced and the perfect amount of brake force is applied to the appropriate front wheel, bringing the trike back in-line. It’s like using your foot to slow one wheel of a shopping trolley to make it turn.   

Accelerate hard in a corner and before the back end gets a chance to slip away and overtake you (oversteer), the system intervenes once more and limits the power to the rear wheel and, if required, brakes one of the front wheels.

Being a quad biker I was miffed as I couldn’t get the machine to oversteer and drift; the VSS and traction control kicks in and magically takes the bike where you point it. We even tried getting it sideways on dust, we couldn’t.  

We tried disengaging all the fun limiting stuff, we couldn’t do that either. Stomping on the single brake pedal, even mid corner, results in the ABS and EBD modules sending the right amount of brake force to each of the three wheels, ensuring stable and undramatic stopping on any road surface. Braking on slippery wet roads is astounding.  

Looking at the bike, one would expect the front inside tyre to lift in hard cornering.

During fast weaving between cones I was unable to make this happen, largely due to the Bosch brain overriding my fun/stupidity. It felt like the bike was impossible to tip over. The VSS with roll over mitigation will detect any of the front wheels starting to lift in a hard
corner and will bring things under control. 

Spyder comes with a safety and instruction DVD that explains how all this stuff works, it’s produced by Americans who assume that all consumers are completely retarded but it’s worth watching nevertheless.

At almost any speed, the hardest thing to do in the wet is to keep that fat back tyre firmly plastered to the tarmac. Don’t try dropping a gear and flooring it uphill at full throttle even in fourth or fifth gear, easily induced wheel spin will result in the VSS shutting off power, making it almost impossible to overtake.

These systems give the rider enormous confidence and peace of mind. Power to the rear wheel is delivered via a carbon reinforced toothed belt negating the need for lubrication.

Once you and the electronics become acquainted and you know exactly when to pile on the power, the three-wheeler will let you brake late, enter a corner faster than you should, quickly set the bike up for the exit and then blast out.

With the handlebars in the straight direction and assuming the electronics don’t detect that you are doing anything too stupid, the traction control will allow wheel spin in the first few gears from the fat rear 225/50R15.

The features I enjoy most are the car-like safety systems; the 44-litre water-resistant boot, the snarl from the performance exhaust, reverse gear and of course the huge amounts of attention the Canadian Import attracts.

I would have liked a few more goodies added to the trip computer (fuel consumption and average speed etc.) The parking brake is not always effective and powerful Xenon headlights are set up for right hand road driving.

Who would buy one?

Harley riders looking for an alternative that has performance, safety and awesome technology.
Motorcyclists with back or leg injuries who didn’t learn the first time around.
Lady or smaller riders who want something different but don’t want to fall over at red robots.
Wealthy adrenalin junkies scared of two wheelers.

At R179 000 for the manual transmission Spyder excluding the extras (performance exhaust R7 500, passenger backrest approximately R11 000 and mags R5 500) including a two-year warranty, the Spyder RS is an expensive toy but great value-for-money compared to the Harley trike or Honda touring bikes.


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