When a motorcyclist hears the name Can-Am, they probably think about those raucous three-wheel trikes, but it wasn’t always that way. Over three decades ago, Can-Am was known for motorcycles so fast they earned nicknames for trying to kill their riders. Now, after what will be a 37-year gap, Can-Am is back on two wheels with the electric Origin dual sport motorcycle and the electric Pulse roadster motorcycle.
Bombardier Recreational Products has been on a roll in recent years with a flurry of exciting vehicles. Last year, I got to leap a Can-Am Commander through Utah, taking in big air jumps and rally car-style drifts. Then I got to take the company’s Ryker, a hilariously fun tire-shredder, on a 600-mile journey through California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway. And earlier this year I hopped through the desert like a trophy truck in a Can-Am Maverick. I even had a blast with Sea-Doo’s wild modular pontoon boat-meets-personal watercraft Switch.
Through this time, I was wondering if the Canadian powersports manufacturer was ever going to get closer to its roots. Well, I have the answer now, as earlier this year, Can-Am teased that it’s working on a set of electric motorcycles. Now, we finally know what they look like.
One of the two motorcycles introduced this week is a dual-sport meant for on-road and off-road.
The aptly named Origin is an off-road oriented machine that calls back Can-Am’s motorcycles of decades ago. But while those old ones were motocross style, this one appears to be taking on the look of a Dakar racer. The fairing rises upward and like other motorcycles of this style (like a Ducati DesertX) the fairing is stubby. There appears to be loads of ground clearance and everything looks to be tucked under the plastics.
The other motorcycle here is the Pulse, and this one is for the street riders.
Can-Am mentions that this one is aimed at making city riding and commutes fun. It has more of a standard motorcycle style, and swaps the wire-spokes for cast wheels and ground clearance for a lower seat height. It’s a sculpted design, but not overly aggressive.
What Is Can-Am’s Past?
To understand how Can-Am got here, you have to know where it came from in the first place. Born in 1907 in Quebec, Canada, Joseph-Armand Bombardier was obsessed with snow transportation. As a 1992 issue of Popular Mechanics wrote, at the young age of 15 Bombardier had already built his first snow vehicle, a sled combined with the running gear of a Ford Model T and a propeller. Deemed too dangerous by his father, he took it apart. Bombardier would later become an auto mechanic and start a family, but the idea of the ideal snow vehicle was still on his mind.
In the winter of 1934, Bombardier’s two-year-old son, Yvon, died from appendicitis. There was a hospital 30 miles away, but the snow made it impossible for a vehicle to get there.
Fueled by the tragedy, he got back to work making a vehicle to conquer the snow. Bombardier combined a passenger vehicle body with skis up front, continuous tracks driven by toothed wheels in back, and powered by a car engine.
Bombardier’s invention rolled out of his shop in 1937.
His snow car was so good at getting through snow that logging companies, resorts, and hospitals all wanted their own. Thanks to his work, people could get to a hospital when cars couldn’t get through snow. As Popular Mechanics wrote, it was so successful that he closed down the auto shop and worked on snowmobiles full time. L’Auto-Neige Bombardier Limitée (Bombardier Snow Car Limited) would be incorporated in 1942.
Later, he would scale down and change his snowmobile design down into what would be initially launched as the Ski-Dog. But thanks to a printing typo, that name came out as Ski-Doo, and Bombardier went with it. Bombardier and his company would go on to be known for innovation. Sadly, Bombardier would pass in 1964, before he got to see where his company went next.
The company would later diversify, adding the famous Sea-Doo personal watercraft and in 1972, Can-Am Motorcycles. The company’s motorcycles were powered by engines from Rotax of Austria, then itself a division of Bombardier. These engines featured oil injection and rotary-valve induction. And motorcycles were designed with the help of World Motocross Champion Jeff Smith. But most importantly, they made loads more power than the competition.
In a wonderful overview of Can-Am’s motorcycling past, Ryan “FortNine” on YouTube points out that Can-Am didn’t just win races, but it slaughtered the competition.
In 1974, it swept the podium at the 250 AMA National Championship. And by 1977, Can-Am’s bikes were so fast and so wild that some riders refused the challenge. Bikes like the MX-3 threatened to kill so much that after factory rider Jimmy Ellis hit a spectator he allegedly called it a “Black Widow.” And yet, Can-Am went on to win race after race for years.
1987 marks the last year for Can-Am motorcycles. Bombardier itself shifted focus to transportation, and built a name for itself building trains and planes. The company produced Canadair Regional Jets, Learjets, R62A and R179 subway cars, and so many more.
Then something strange happened in the mid-aughts. Bombardier ATVs won the punishing Dakar Rally in 2004 and 2005, then took the entire podium in 2006. Bombardier Recreational Products seized the opportunity and relaunched Can-Am, and the company’s first road vehicle in years, the Spyder trike, was launched the next year.
But even today, Can-Am has been riding without a two-wheeler in its lineup. The company says that changes in 2024, or 37 years past the last two-wheeled motorcycle to sport the name.
BRP is keeping details about these machines close to the chest, but it says that they will be powered by Rotax E-POWER technology.
These motorcycles will be capable of highway speeds with horsepower and torque described as plenty. We don’t get an idea about pricing, either. But BRP does give us a timeline. Further details will be revealed around this time next year, with launch in 2024.
If these are even half as fun as the Ryker is, then Bombardier might have something real exciting coming. I reached out to BRP to see if we can get any more details.