Tested: 2008 Can-Am Spyder Roadster SE5

2008 - CanAm - Spyder Raodster SE5

  • Model: 2008 Can-Am Spyder Roadster SE5
  • Color: Millenium Yellow
  • Miles ridden: Test Ride ≅ 20 miles
  • Fuel:
  • Location: Cycle World International Motorcycle Show, Phoenix AZ.

I’m tempted to label the Can-Am Spyder as the first motorcycle I’ve ridden that I actually disliked, but I’m not sure it’s fair to call it a motorcycle.

I did a 20-mile test ride (freeway, highway and street) at the 2008 International Cycle Show in Phoenix on October 27, 2007. I found the three-wheel machine to be too bulky, with handling that was too much like a carnival ride and little like a motorcycle.

Arguably, it comes closer to the feel of a two-wheel motorcycle than a trike, due to the suspension that allows the Spyder’s body to lean and rock in curves and turns. The automobile-style tires ride on the flat tread, not on the sies like rounded motorcycle tires.

2008 - CanAm - Spyder Raodster SE5 - Suspension

The Spyder is manufactured by the Canadian company Bombardier, inventors of the modern personal snowmobile, the Ski-Doo. I’ve been told the Spyder handles much like a snowmobile (the machine has suspension which allows the main unit to rock while the tracks maintain steady contact with the ground). I’ve never ridden a snowmobile, so I can’t compare the two vehicles.

The Spyder was indeed very stable. I never felt like a wheel was going to come off the ground send the the whole thing tipping over. The Can-Am reps stressed the stability engineering that makes the Spyder corner and steer with a sureness and encouraged riders to test it for ourselves.

Prior to the test ride, I had to demonstrate my riding skills on a short course. I failed the first go-round by coming only to a rolling stop at a stop signpost. On the second go-round, I came to a full stop and, out of ingrained habit, put my foot down. The Can-Am rep gave me a hard time for that because, of course, the three-wheels machine is not a two-wheel motorcycle and is not going to fall over.

And that underscores what I did not like about this machine: it’s simply not a motorcycle. If you’re expecting a motorcycle’s handling, it will disappoint. It’s also not an off-road four-wheeled ATV. It’s not even a convertible.

But it does have more motion in turns and curves than a typical trike. It also gets a lot of attention on the street. So if you’re looking for something to ride around town that combined bits of all these, this could be the vehicle for you.

Tested: 2008 Yamaha FJR1300AE (Semi-Automatic Transmission)

2008 - Yamaha FJR1300AE  - Granite Gray

  • Model: 2008 Yamaha FJR1300AE
  • Color: Granite Gray
  • Miles ridden: Test Ride ≅ 25 miles
  • Fuel:
  • Location: Cycle World International Motorcycle Show, Phoenix AZ.

The paddle-shift (semi-automatic transmission) version of the FJR1300 was sold in North America for four model years (2006-2009) as the FJR1300AE.  (As of 2015, the model is still sold in the rest of the world, as the FJR1300AS.)

I had a chance to test this bike at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Phoenix on October 27, 2007.

The electronically-assisted shift (introduced in 2006 and discontinued after 2009) isn’t a fully-automatic transmission, but it does allow riders to shift without pulling a clutch lever. The shift control (a short lever that toggled to shift up or down) replaces the clutch normally found on the left hand grip.  The left footpeg has  a traditional shift lever, but it’s a five up, so experienced riders have multiple mental adjustments to make.

The benefit (in my opinion) of the semi-automatic transmission is in stop-and-go commuting. With this bike, you can come to a stop in any of the lower gears, and take off again without shifting down to first gear. (I tried it as part of the test ride included street riding with four-way stop signs.) The motor automatically makes adjustments as you take off until your speed and gear match again.

I think what hurt the bike in this country was that it filled a market segment that was too small.  People who primarily ride to commute are generally looking for smaller and cheaper bikes (or scooters) with great gas mileage. People who are looking for a motorcycle that can do anything, from long-distance riding to commuting were simply unwilling to pay the additional cost of the semiautomatic transmission.

Factor in the large number of motorcyclists who like to tinker with traditional motors and have more direct control over engine performance and the perfectly-good FJR1300A sitting nearby on the showroom floor looked even better. If anything, the AE model cannibalized its sales from standard FJR, which sealed its fate in North America.

Ridden: 2005 BMW K1200S

2005-BMW-K1200S

  • Model: 2005 BMW K1200S
  • Color: Dakar Yellow / Arctic Grey
  • Miles Ridden:
  • Fuel:
  • Location: California—Laguna Woods to Ridgecrest (via Victorville). Ridgecrest to Death Valley (via Trona) and Beatty NV and return. Ridgecrest to Manzanar (via Lone Pine) and back to Laguna Woods.

I rented this bike for three days in January 2009.  I called it the “rumblebee” because of its unique yellow-and-gray stripe paint job (which was stock).

I had hoped to rent a Kawasaki Concours14 to compare with the Yamaha FJR1300 I had previously rented, but it was booked. The rental guy (who delivered his bikes in a “garage on wheels”) said I would be happy with this BMW sport-tourer, and from my notes below, I was.

My first day was short, getting from Orange County over to Ridgecrest so I could check out the Navy base where I lived for many years. The second day was long, over to Death Valley and back. (The distance wasn’t bad, but Death Valley is huge and I wanted to see as much as I could in one day.) The third day was just right, heading up to Mazanar (a WWII Japanese internment camp) then back to Orange Country. I stared the day in sub-freezing temperatures and had to peel off layers as I left the desert and back into the warmer inland empire.

2005 BMW K1200S - Quarterview

January 2009 — I enjoyed this rental quite a lot! My initial fear that this sportbike wouldn’t be comfortable for the long haul across California was quickly dispelled…once I got out of the Los Angeles morning rush hour traffic and could pay attention to the bike.

In freeway traffic, this bike hauled butt in the diamond lane at the speed limit (or a little higher) but was also easily maneuverable on surface streets. Power delivery was very smooth, and overall the engine ran very smoothly in the upper gears. Throughout my trip, I had difficulty deciding between first and second gear at low speeds–– I never felt like I was in the “right” gear.

The linked ABS braking felt very sure. I didn’t have any wet road conditions, but on some of the crumbling desert roads, the bike felt very stable in braking and cornering.

Under less-than-normal conditions, the K1200S performed just as well. Scary crosswinds at Rancho Cucamonga (look it up if you think I’m makin’ it up!) had me drifting across the freeway lanes, but I tucked under and found the bike easy to control, if not relaxing. Later in the trip, a lower saddle height and smooth low-speed grunt even made it possible to crawl through a half-mile of six-inch-deep sand without ditching the bike!

As you might expect from a BMW, this bike has a little adventure-tourer in its blood. It also has all the bells and whistles expected. I didn’t really do much with the electrically-adjusted suspension (preload and rebound/front and rear)…”set it and forget it” was my motto.

Ergonomics were a mixed bag. Despite being a sport bike, the bike had better long-term ridability than I expected. My posture didn’t put as much weight on my wrists as I anticipated, although I still experienced “numb thumb” in my throttle hand after long periods of riding at a fixed speed.

The saddle had a comfortable shape and didn’t cause me to ride up on the tank as much as some sport bikes, but the seat was very stiff and was tough on the pelvic bone. The saddle height was a little lower than I am used to, which may have helped my upper body posture but caused some discomfort with foot position. My feet were tucked a little further behind me than I prefer, making it harder to change foot position during long stretches of unbroken riding.

Still, it was nice to be able to put my feet solidly on the ground when stopped. And while the K1200S is a little heavier than my Bandit, the weight felt a little lower, and I had no problem holding the bike up with just my legs when stopped.

On the night ride home from Death Valley across unlighted desert territory, I really appreciated the bike’s very bright headlights. The high beam seemed to cast a very bright swath far down the road, allowing me to maintain pretty high speeds without fear of unseen curves or obstructions (wildlife). The instrument panel automatically lighted at dusk, which was a nice feature.

On the chilly mornings in the desert, I learned to appreciate having heated grips. I like BMW’s separated turn signals (right turn on right grip, left on left) but as with my last BMW experience, learning to hit the left turn instead of the horn was difficult, and for some reason, the signal cancel button for both indicators is on the throttle side.

Finally, I have to give BMW credit for a great idea: gusseted luggage. The semi-hard-sided bags expand to nearly double-size with waterproof fabric gussets. The bags also managed to not look too out of place on the slim bike and were easy to mount/dismount.

Overall, this bike seemed a little smaller (height and length) than el Bandido, but certainly had all the zip a reasonable person might want. It would make a great commuter, and a perfect choice for weekend trips. For the avid touring rider, it might lack a bit.

Oh, and the paint job totally rocks! This little rumblebee would certainly be welcome in my garage.

Ridden: 2007 Yamaha FJR1300A

2007-Yamama-FJR1300-BlackCherry-StockPhoto-01

  • Model: 2007 Yamaha FJR1300A (FJR13AW)
  • Color: Black Cherry (Colorite # “Very Dark Red Metallic #2”)
  • Miles Ridden:
  • Fuel:
  • Location: Colorado—Denver west and southeast through the Rocky Mountains, down to Four Corners region, up Mesa Verde, and back to Denver.

This rental was my first experience riding Yamaha’s sport-touring motorcycle, the FJR1300A.  It was a rental during my trip to Colorado and the Four Corners area on October 5-8, 2007.

Below are my original notes from my trip, covering 1,416 miles in four days, where I managed to experience the bike in a variety of conditions: a day of very cold rain, a day of below-freezing riding, some high-elevation riding, mountain highway, open desert highway, Denver freeway, and even a little unpaved desert riding.

Prior to this trip, my only experience with a purpose-built sport-touring bike was the 2004 BMW R1150RT I had rented a few months earlier in the same area. As much as I liked the BMW, it felt heavy and bulky compared to the FJR.

I forget how much I liked the FJR until I re-read my original notes, written the week after my trip.  It took me another year or so to decide to buy one, but this is the trip where I was sold on it.

By the way, these rental motorcycles get ridden!  This 2007 model had 17,818 miles on it when I picked it up, and I added another 1,416 over four days.  They may sit for a week (or longer) between rides, but they get a lot of miles when they are ridden.

2007-Yamama-FJR1300-BlackCherry-StockPhoto-02

October 15, 2007 – Rider Review: 2007 FJR1300A

After riding this bike for 1,416 miles in four days, I can say that this bike totally rocked! It wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot about it to love.

The list of things to love started with the shaft drive system. Transitions between gears had a seamless flow, resulting in uniformly smooth  performance. Coupled with a powerful engine that delivered 90 MPH as easily as 25 MPH, the heart of the FJR was nearly perfect.

Although the engine was quiet and smooth, I rarely had any problem knowing what gear I was in; occasionally I did find that I was zipping along at freeway speeds still in 4th gear.

I was also impressed by how easy the bike started compared to the cold-natured Bandit and how quietly the bike idled. My only problem was a surging that occurred when going uphill at high altitude, which I assumed was an oxygen/fuel mixture issue (and I reported it when I returned the bike).

Overall, the bike (equipped with non-stock Metzeler tires) felt very confident on every road surface. The Rockies have an interesting mix of steep grades and sharp curves. I encountered some wet roads, crossed more than a few cattle guards while riding open range land, and I even did a little light gravel riding. While I never tested the anti-lock braking system, the bike’s brakes felt solid and stopped quickly and reliably in every circumstance.

Despite the bike’s dry weight being about 50 pounds heavier than the Bandit, it still felt very nimble in the curves, and seemed to lean effortlessly.

Rider comfort was generally good. The seat itself was as comfortable as the Bandit’s, for about as many hours a day. I don’t know that any seat will be genuinely comfortable for several hours a day, several days in a row. I did feel that the seat/tank form were more crotch-friendly than the Bandit’s even though I rarely have significant complaints in that area.

I was not as pleased with the ergonomics of the downturned handlebar grips. The first couple days I had a lot of problems with my thumbs/wrists going numb. I eventually found that tucking my elbows into my sides and leaning forward a bit resolved the problem. By the end of the trip, I was no longer having much problem, but I would prefer to have the bike adopt to my posture,
rather than the other way around.

Also in the subject of ergonomics: While the FJR’s saddle height is listed as being a half-inch higher than my Bandit, I was able get more air between me and the seat when standing over the bike. I also felt it was easier to make tight U-turns on the FJR, despite it’s wheelbase being about four inches longer.

As for appearance, I don’t think I will ever be totally in love with any tourer. No matter how well-designed they are, saddle bags always add visual weight to the back end of a motorcycle. The FJR has a smaller front fairing profile than most of the other popular sport-tourers, so keeping the saddlebags in proportion becomes more of a problem. The OEM saddlebags didn’t
look too bad, but the bike looks really good without them. I think I would be tempted to leave them at home for daily commuting.

Little things can really please, or really annoy. On the plus side, the footpegs seemed to be a little longer, and the brake and shift pedals seemed to be tucked inside, giving a sense of more room to move my feet around without worrying about accidentally riding the brake or knocking the gear shift.

Another minor detail that I liked was the filter on the gas tank which reduced the splashing that occurs when the tank is nearly fully. It was still easy to see how close the tank was to being full.

The instrument panel was a mix of positive and negative. On the plus side was the digital gauge that offered ambient air temperatures, a miles-per-gallon calculation, a clock, and a couple trip-o-meters, and a gear indicator.

On the negative side was the analog speedometer. I prefer highway speed to be near the middle of the dial (as the 12 o’clock position), making it easier to have a sense of speed without having to actually focus my eyesight on the dial. This speedometer ranged along between the 7 o’clock to 2 o’clock positions, so that highway speeds seemed to be at an arbitrary position.

The motorized windscreen was a real annoyance. It seemed to work best when at its lowest and highest positions; mid-rage positions seemed to create a lot of wind buffeting. Also annoying was the way the screen retracted to the lowest position whenever I turned the engine off, which meant I had to re-set the windscreen to the desired position after every stop for gas, to take a picture, or to consult a map. (I have since found out a lot of owners disconnect the automatic-retraction wiring.)

I did find out about an intriguing feature until after my trip. The FJR’s fairings can be adjusted to direct engine heat onto the rider’s legs during cold weather. I would have enjoyed the additional heat during my unseasonably-cold weather riding.

My rental bike had a Givi topcase on the tail. It was huge, and provided all the storage I needed for several days of riding. However it looked like the over-sized add-on that it was. While I didn’t care for the look of it, I was very impressed with how easy it was to remove it at the motel, and to reattach it for the ride home. However, its sturdy construction also made it a bit heavy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this bike. It felt less bulky and more natural than the BMW R1150RT that I rented a few months earlier. The first couple days, I made mental notes about “this bike,” but somewhere along the way, I started thinking, “my bike.” If I were buying a new bike tomorrow, I would be tempted to make it an FJR1300A.

Ridden: 2009 Honda ST1300

2009 Honda ST1300

Stock photo of the stock 2009 Honda ST1300 in “Dark Candy Red”.

  • Model: 2009 Honda ST1300
  • Color: Candy Dark Red
  • Miles ridden: 1,625 (averaging 331 miles per day)
  • Fuel: 38.5 miles (average) per gallon
  • Locations: Nevada (Las Vegas north to Beatty) and California (Death Valley to Lone Pine, through Walker Pass to Lake Isabella and Bakersfield, down to Mojave, and back to Death Valley via Trona).

I rented this bike in Las Vegas for a March 2011 trip to Death Valley.

It’s hard to mention anything about the Honda ST1300 that isn’t a comparison to the Yamaha FJR 1300. The two bikes are very similar in handling and performance, and ergonomics and styling. So I’ll point out the features that caught my attention.

As far as handling, I mostly pointed the ST in the direction I wanted to go, and it took me there with a minimum of fuss. The bike had plenty of power to zoom up mountain passes far in excess of the posted speed limits. I also did about 30 miles of graded desert gravel roads (and even snowy gravel roads), and the bike handled fine, although it rattled quite a bit on the washboard desert roads. (My “rack and piñons” took more beating than the bike!)

Like my Suzuki Bandit, the ST seems to run fine at any speed in any gear. I was perpetually riding in a higher or lower gear than was optimal.  The combination of uphill and downhill grades, curves, and posted speed limits created a need to shift up and down more frequently than I normally experience.

Front view in Death Valley (2011).

Front view in Death Valley (2011).

2011.03.25-CA.DeathValleyNP-Sunset-02

2011.03.25-CA.DeathValleyNP-Sunset-02

The ST handled high speeds in mid-gears without grunting and handled low speeds in high gears without bucking, and otherwise ran smooth enough that I found myself frequently looking to the tach to determine if shifting would be advisable.  Overall, I rate this as a good thing; if the bike runs smoothly in any gear, I can worry less about the bike stalling, grinding or bucking, and more about engine wear and fuel efficiency.

After one very long and high mileage day,  I was mentally worn out, but chose to come back through Death Valley via the “backdoor” through Wildrose Canyon. The road was paved once back when Death Valley was a tropical rainforest filled with dinosaurs, and most of the blacktop has been washed away, leaving motorcycle-deep potholes. The road itself is tightly twisting, only nominally two-lanes wide, with several places where there is no shoulder, just rock walls (in the canyon) or steep drop-offs (over Emigrant Pass).

I was lagging pretty badly through the hairpin turns and using a lot of rear brake because my judgment coming into the turns was running on fumes. A couple times I just about drifted into the rocky mountainside, but I mentally commanded the bike to stand up straight and stay on the road and it did. So I’d have to say the bike handled rather well!

I did notice some surging at low altitudes (that is, below sea level), similar to what I experienced on a BMW at high altitudes (in the Colorado Rockies); the bike acted like it was not getting enough fuel. Not sure if that is common for this (or any) bike in these circumstances, but the opportunity to ride at such low levels is rare enough I would not consider it a problem.

For ergonomics, I was actually somewhat more pleased with the seating than I am with the FJR. The seat is about the same height, but the bike is a little thinner through its waistline, making it easier to put both feet flat on the ground. The FJR seems to be a little chubbier in the middle, and I can’t always easily get both feet flat on the ground.

One thing I did not like is the clutch lever’s lack of adjustments. With thick winter gloves, I wanted to reduce the lever’s throw, but it wasn’t possible. (The front brake lever is adjustable, however.)

The ST is jug-eared due to integrated rear view mirrors, but this seems to reduce mirror vibration, which is a plus when you’re cruising at high speed and scoping for CHP cruising up from behind.

The bike also has integrated black rubber crashpads which should give some protection if you drop the bike at a standstill, but they also add to the bike’s odd front view.

I did like the way the hard cases appear to be integral to the bike’s overall design, and also that different locking mechanisms were used to lock them versus those used to secure the bags to the bike. (A little more solid feeling than those on the FJR, and less chance of losing one due to mounting it incorrectly.)

I do need to dock a few points for the dim digital gauges that were simply hard to read during daylight, even on their brightest setting.

Overall, I was impressed with the Honda ST1300, which always seems to come in third in the Honda/Kawasaki/Yamaha sport-touring comparisons.