This is a historic moment for motorbikes as interest in electric power grows. Not just because of potential technological upheavals, but the chance for some to revisit history. The famous British brand BSA, for example, is about to make its EV comeback. And soon, Zero and Harley-Davidson won’t be the only major North American players in two-wheeled electric vehicles. After decades of silence, it’s time for Can-Am Motorcycles 2: Electric Boogaloo.
BRP resurrects Can-Am motorcycles to go beyond the Spyder and into an electric future
You may not know the Canadian company Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) intimately, but you probably know its products. The founder of BRP invented the modern snowmobile with the Ski-Doo while the Sea-Doo brand helped establish the personal watercraft market. The company also owns engine manufacturer Rotax, which has supplied engines for Harley-Davidson, BMW and CCM.
And, more importantly here, he owns Can-Am, which today makes well-reviewed ATVs and the Spyder trike legally a motorcycle. However, it didn’t start that way.
In the 1970s, BRP needed something for their Ski-Doo dealerships to sell during the summer, Bonham Explain. At the time, dirt bike sales were booming. Two-stroke dirt bikes, with their simple, lightweight but powerful powertrains, were particularly popular. So, with the help of motocross champ Jeff Smith, BRP designed an off-road frame for Rotax’s all-new rotary-valve two-stroke engines. And the first Can-Am motorcycles, the MX-1 and TnT, were born.
Can-Am’s motorcycles immediately proved their competitive worth, with TnT riders placing first, second, and third in the 1973 International Six-Day Event. Then, in 1974, MX-250 riders swept the championships of AMA 250 motocross bike. But over the years, Can-Am’s search for more powerful motors has rendered its bikes nearly unusable. BRP sold it in the early 1980s to CCM’s predecessor, which closed Can-Am in 1987.
Now, however, BRP is breathing new life into Can-Am Motorcycles. Only this time it won’t be a two-stroke or a four-stroke brand. Instead, it makes electric motorcycles.
What types of electric motorcycles will Can-Am make?
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As shocking (sorry) as the electric resurrection of Can-Am Motorcycles may be to some, it didn’t come completely out of nowhere.
For one, BRP unveiled several electric concept bikes in 2019, including a BEV trike, bike world Remarks. Second, last year it confirmed that all of its product lines would offer electric vehicles. And patents revealed earlier this month suggested BRP had a full line of electric motorcycles in the works. Plus, expanding the Can-Am On-Road brand by bringing back a historic nameplate is a solid marketing move.
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, we don’t know what types of electric motorcycles Can-Am plans to release first. The patents describe five types of bikes – cruiser, retro, roadster, sportbike and all-terrain – but the BRP teaser only shows four silhouettes. However, the company’s press release refers to “everyday commuting” as well as “recreational driving on and off road”. And one of the silhouettes in the teaser looks like a dual-sport bike or maybe an adventure bike.
Does Can-Am Motorcycles’ Electric Return Mean Alta Motors’ Return?
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There is another wrinkle to this story, however. As of this writing, BRP has not released any technical details on upcoming Can-Am electric motorcycles. But it might not just be because of the timing. It could also be from where he could get his EV tech: Alta.
Just a few years ago, California-based Alta Motors was a rising star in the electric motorcycle world. Riders praised its dual-sport Redshift EXR; a bike world The reviewer even said they might be faster on the EXR than a gas-powered bike on tight roads. And in 2018, Harley-Davidson announced that it would partner and invest in the company.
However, soon after Harley decided to go it alone with electric vehicles and Alta suddenly went bankrupt. For legal reasons, no one has been able to discuss it officially. YouTube motorcycle channel FortNine explains in the video above that it could stem from a combination of poor trading decisions and financial pressure trading tactics. Either way, this is where BRP comes in and things get tricky.
After Alta went bankrupt, BRP purchased some of its assets in 2019. But because of Alta and Harley’s attempted partnership, BRP couldn’t just put Alta’s technology into its electric motorcycles. Yet the purchase included at least some intellectual property rights and assets. So it might not be much, but a bit of Alta could live on in Can-Am motorcycles.
We will know more before 2024
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However, it will be a while before the electric technology these new Can-Am motorcycles pack hits the streets. BRP says the first bikes should arrive at existing Can-Am dealerships by mid-2024.
But we might not have to wait that long for more details. A spokesperson for the brand told me that more news should arrive in the coming weeks. In the meantime, welcome back, Can-Am, how’s your electric toboggan?
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