Can-Am Spyder SE5 - BRP ups the ante with the "Press and Go" transmission
by Marc Pukos
When BRP invited SpyderTalk to attend their media event in Tampa, I jumped at the chance to spend a day riding Spyders in sunnyFlorida.
Let me first admit that I am a card carrying member of the powersports testosterone club, a club that values all the finer things in life -- horsepower, torque, nice exhaust note, etc. I also consider it blasphemous to put an automatic transmission in a German sports sedan or Corvette.
With that in mind, I expected my first ride on the SE5 Spyder to be like a pleasant Sunday drive through the countryside. I thought the SE5 would prove to be a nice addition to the growing Spyder line-up. Especially to lure new riders to the open air experience--those that didn't want to learn about that clutch "thing".
SpyderTalk first reviewed the SM5 Spyder in October 2007 and I was impressed with the Spyder as a performance vehicle. It provided a new dimension in open road riding without sacrificing the rush of a motorcycle. Because the Spyder was different, I was comforted by grabbing a familiar clutch and shifting one-down, four-up. I knew that there was a "semi-auto" model in the works, but given the aforementioned testosterone issue it wasn't on my radar as an option for the true performance enthusiast.
After riding it for the first time, I can now say I was wrong. The SE5 can stand proud next to the SM5 and it may just up the ante for the performance enthusiast.
Operating the SE5 is simple. The push button shifter is cleverly designed.
Imagine holding your left grip, but instead of wrapping your thumb and index finger, you position them on the front and back of the shifter control. Basically, it feels like you are loosely holding a small block under the grip. Push the shifter with your thumb (+) to upshift, pull the shifter (-) with your index finger to downshift.
When you push/pull the lever, an electronic component opens the clutch and increases hydraulic circuit pressure via a solenoid valve. This action initiates the actual "shift" and also increases hydraulic circuit pressure in a second solenoid valve which confirms the shift. Solenoid one then releases pressure which re-engages the clutch. This all happens almost instantly and the shift is complete.
During my first few miles on the SE5, I chose to downshift while coming to a stop, habit I guess. But as the miles passed, I found myself letting the SE5 do the downshifting for me for mundane traffic stops. The SE5 will always have you in the correct gear as you come to a stop, so you can accelerate for an emergency maneuver if needed. It's a very free feeling to sit at a traffic light without having to hold a clutch or worry about balance. You become relaxed very quickly on the SE5 allowing you to enjoy all the attractions of open air riding.
Lighting up the Spyder's back tire is great fun with its straight-line performance, but where the Spyder really stands out is riding the twisties. This is where the performance of the SE5 really shines for a couple reasons.
First, the shifting between gears is almost instant. You can actually shift while still maintaining your RPMs with hardly any lapse in power to the road. The SE5 is more accurate than a manual, thus providing better performance. BRP did not comment on the SE5's overall performance - but with less clutch time I suspect it is faster.
The second improvement to aggressive riding is simple, but something that many may not consider. On a motorcycle, you lean through twisties and on a Spyder you steer through the turns. The SE5 provides the marked advantage of keeping two hands firmly gripped on the bars while riding aggressively. It may seem like a minor difference, but it allows you to push performance inspired riding to new levels.
Originally, I thought the SE5 was developed to further simplify Spyder operation to entice new enthusiasts to the open air experience -- allowing the inexperienced rider to skip the learning curve of a manual transmission. BRP hit the mark on that goal as the SE5 is simple to operate and a new rider will be piloting the Spyder with confidence from day one.
But make no mistake; this is not an "automatic". The SE5 is the next generation of manual transmissions. Whether planned or not, the icing on the SE5 cake is the new element of performance that it adds to the Spyder experience. From a guy who demands traditional manual transmissions on motorcycles and sports cars, I may just prefer my three-wheeled Roadster with a sequential electronic gearbox. When the SE5s begin hitting the roads in the Fall of 2008, I can see up to half of potential Spyder buyers opting for this "point and shoot"
model. After all, priced at $16,999US -- it's a ride that can satisfy nearly everyone, even the members of the powersports testosterone club.
Click here for Can-Am Spyder SE5 video