OK, so I just got done with a 75 mile test ride on a 2013 Can-Am Spyder ST Limited. This is a brand new model for 2013, positioned between the sporty rider-lean-forward RS/GS models and the decked out touring RT models that have the rider sitting almost straight up. I found the test ride to be quite revealing and wanted to share my impressions and observations with you; specifically in comparison to the original 2008 Spyder GS models, which I have two of and have ridden them for over 63,000 miles.
For anyone that owns a 2008-2012 GS or RS sport model, the new ST models for sure have gotten our attention as we have been waiting for something to upgrade to other than the full-touring RT models. The premise of having a riding position that is in-between the leaned-forward GS/RS and more upright RT is attractive and Can-Am has smartly positioned the ST models as fitting in-between the RS and RT models to give us choices.
You can only get so much out of reading brochures, so you really need to get out on one and do the comparison yourself. Of course, the seating position of the new ST is what you notice before you even start the engine, as you are much more upright and your feet are further forward, with the handlebars higher and further back. This was pleasant for my tall 6’ 4” frame. It was much closer to sitting on a REV XP snowmobile and not so much of a lean forward sport bike riding position. The seat was also noticeably softer than the stock seat on the GS/RS.
Once you fire it up you notice the RT-like features, things like the LCD display in-between the gauges. Sweet. The left and right hand control blocks on the handlebars have many more buttons and functions, but after a quick go-through they all make sense. The LCD menus seem to be intuitive and easy to navigate for a pleasant user interface. There’s also an adjustable windshield, which is nice to be able to set it high for cooler days or bug deflection, or set it lower for shorter riders or if you like the warm air in your face. You decide.
I had demo ridden several SE and RT models over the years but am always impressed with how well the SE semi-automatic transmission works. Personally, I do not mind the control of the vehicle afforded by the SM-5 manual transmission, but I can appreciate how easy the SE-5 is. Smooth, easy to use, and the automatic downshifting to first gear is the best part of it. It shifts best when you stay into the throttle and don’t let off in the slightest. Once you get the hang of this, it is easy to operate, and almost boring to some degree that you don’t have to work a clutch. Old habits die hard.
Most revealing was how smooth and quiet the new ST Limited is. It was so much more refined than the 2008s I have. But at the same time, I was surprised at how the ST Limited is much closer to an RT than it is an RS/GS model. The power is noticeably down compared to my 2008s, with a flatter torque band and almost sluggish throttle response in comparison. This surprised me, as I had always chalked up that behavior on the RTs as being a touring model that weighed more, so on the ST I expected more. Now I understand the cries for more power from the RT crowd. My GS models really light up compared to this ST Limited.
The handling response was another surprise. While going straight down the road I really liked the smooth ride quality and cruising capability, but through the corners it was a huge eye-opener in terms of how soft the front end was, how much it wandered, and how much body roll there was. Way more like an RT than a GS/RS. This took some serious adjustment to try to compensate, as I was twitching all over the place through familiar corners. If there would be a single objection to the ST Limited compared to the 2008s I am used to, this is it. The handling was too vague, too isolated, too cushy. No way could I go charging through corners that I know very well with the same level of control and confidence, let alone at the same speed. Not a minor difference, I would say significant difference. Again, far more like an RT than a RS/GS.
I really liked the improved rider protection and adjustable windshield, and the larger mirrors are in a far better location for improved rear vision. The floorboards were noticeably comfortable, as you could move your feet around and not be so riveted to the pegs. But then there is the raised brake lever. It is positioned noticeably higher than the floorboards, where the brake lever used to be almost level with the foot pegs on previous models. Where before all you did was pivot or rock your foot on the peg to hit the brakes, with the raised lever on the 2013 it is a much more deliberate “raise and press” motion to get into the brakes. This almost got me into trouble the first few times I had to stop. I assume BRP did this to keep people from riding the brake lever, as the stability control “nanny” doesn’t like that (and neither do the brake pads), but for someone used to the brake lever on an older model this took more effort to lift the foot into the right location, compared to simply rocking it on the foot peg for actuation. I suppose one would get used to it, but this was something that stood out.
I could take about the cosmetics, but you can see that for yourself. The ST Limited just looks “new” compared to the 2008s, mostly from the new headlights and fenders. The new fenders are cool, the LED lights are cool, the added side reflectors are cool. Even the heated hand grips would be so very nice to have. But as I drove the 2013 ST Limited back to my Can-Am dealer, I had to seriously ask myself if I could justify over $20,000 for a new ride when what I have works so well. I would have a hard time with the different handling and the loss of power. I like how my GS models rail around the corners, I like how they have a stronger powerband, I like the firm response. I never thought of myself as an aggressive rider, but I am not ready to sit back and relax and go touring on an ST Limited quite yet. OK, I am only 50 years old and have logged over 63,000 miles on my two 2008 Spyders, and when I go for a ride I am out for 200-300 miles most every time, and while I would love the riding position and things like cruise control and the LCD display of the ST Limited, my personal preferences do not yet match up with the ST Limited. This is a highly refined vehicle and its performance was flawless, but it just isn’t “me”. Maybe in five more years.
I am very curious to learn if the ST-S has a different suspension calibration. The ST Limited is so very close to an RT in so many respects, so I would expect the ST-S to be even sportier in comparison. I would like to see the ST-S handle more like an RS/GS, but with the relaxed seating position. I realize that by virtue of the new seating position the handling is going to be different, but the shock/sway bar calibration can be sportier and give the ST-S tighter handling. I can only hope.