Just over a year ago, Canada’s Can-Am announced that after a long 37-year hiatus, it will be making two-wheel motorcycles once again. The Can-Am Origin adventure bike and Can-Am Pulse roadster are electric motorcycles that will bring the brand right back to its race-dominating roots but with modern power. As production edges nearer, the brand has released some real-life imagery of its new motorcycles and things are looking great.
When BRP’s Can-Am first unveiled the machines last year, the firm included press images that looked a bit too “digital.” Have you ever looked at an official image from a manufacturer and it looked like a rendered vehicle plastered into a digital background? Those images get the job done, but it’s hard to get a grasp on the scale or how the vehicle will look in the flesh. Can-Am has some fresh news about its motorcycle revival project, some real working prototypes, and tasty pictures.
The New Can-Am Motorcycles
Sadly, Can-Am still has not provided any real information about these steeds other than the fact that they will be hitting the road in late 2024. According to press materials, Can-Am plans on releasing specifications and opening the ordering books next summer. So, we have a bit of a way to go before we get anything confirmed.
The motorcycle riding on street tires is the Pulse roadster. It has cast wheels, a standard riding position, and Can-Am says it’ll be for urban riders and commuters.
The more aggressive motorcycle of the pair is the Origin, and it has a fitting name because this is the electric motorcycle that’s supposed to be a nod to Can-Am’s racing heritage.
Though, it’s not exactly tracing the same paths. Can-Am’s original motorcycle efforts were motocross bikes while this one looks closer to a Dakar runner. Both of these motorcycles are supposed to slide into the middleweight category, which means electric motorcycles like the LiveWire S2 Del Mar and the Zero SR/F will be competing with it.
With that said, there are some clues as to what’s going on behind the scenes. The images in this article originally had file data saying “Pulse-35kWh” and “Origin-35kWh.” Now, in EV terminology, “kWh” usually refers to battery capacity.
(Update, August 29, 2023: BRP reached out to us and confirmed that the aforementioned file data was a typo from the photographer. Further, BRP informs us that the motorcycles will not have 35 kWh batteries and that they will not be released in the 2024 model year.)
The original story continues below.
If we assume “35kWh” to be the battery capacity, things get really interesting. The battery in my long-term tester 2023 Zero DSR/X is a chunky 17.3 kWh unit. For comparison, a Smart Fortwo ED/EQ used a pack with about the same capacity. Zero’s best battery setup is 21 kWh and Energica, one of the biggest names in electric motorcycles, offers up to 22.5 kWh. Are the Canadians going to be fitting middleweight electric motorcycles with what would be a game-changing battery? A 35 kWh battery would likely give an electric motorcycle better range than a gas-powered bike.
We found Bombardier Recreational Products’ patent application for these future motorcycles. As a note, Cycle World found them as well. In them, you’ll find that the Origin has a three-phase motor mounted in the front of the swingarm. It spins the rear wheel through a reduction gear and a drive belt.
The motorcycle’s entire drivetrain is right there on the swingarm. You can see it on the prototype machine below. Cycle World noted in its analysis that by having the motor on the front of the swingarm, its inertia should be reduced.
Of course, placing the entire drivetrain on the swingarm means the main chassis of the motorcycle can be designed to hold as much battery and associated equipment as possible. The patents show seven modules of 70 individual cells, totaling 490 cells. The battery and its electronics are said to be liquid-cooled. Some simple math (35,000 divided by 490) suggests that each cell needs to put out 71.4 Wh to reach 35 kWh. High-capacity cylindrical cells like those do exist, but BRP’s own patents suggest an up to 10 kWh battery, which is on par with other middleweight electric motorcycles on the market:
The batery cells 230 are cylindrical batery cells 230, specifically 490 (four hundred ninety) total cylindrical batery cells 230. In the present embodiment, the batery cells 230 are 3.5V cylindrical cells, such as LG™ M50L cells, but it is contemplated that different versions of cells could be used in some embodiments. For example, battery cells could vary in nominal energy capacity, usable energy capacity, discharge rate, cell chemistry and cell type.
Though, as that paragraph notes, the battery cells can vary, so a big battery is still possible. The patents also note that the motorcycle will have regenerative braking to help feed energy back into the battery.
Cycle World also notes that a 35kW battery would likely weigh around 257 pounds on its own. That makes the Can-Am bikes sound like porky machines, but the patents show that the battery would make up much of the bike’s structure. To use the LiveWire S2 Del Mar as an example, that bike weighs about 436 pounds, so Can-Am still has some breathing room to be competitive on weight.
There is another possibility, and it’s that “35kWh” is a typo and it’s supposed to be “35kW,” indicating motor output. That comes out to be 47 HP. That would be a pretty low rating as other electric middleweights double that output.
Why This Is A Big Deal
BRP’s Can-Am division is known today for its thrilling and capable side-by-sides and three-wheelers with Cadillac levels of comfort. A Can-Am Ryker is a burnout machine that isn’t afraid of dirt. The Spyder is a touring beast with alien looks. Meanwhile, Can-Am’s off-road division is chock-full of side-by-sides that make you feel like a superhero. All of these vehicles also come with some fascinating engineering. Just look at the control links of the 2024 Can-Am Maverick R:
Wild, right? Despite all of Can-Am’s fun machines, one thing the brand hasn’t done for decades is sell a two-wheel motorcycle. Can-Am is celebrating 70 years of existence this year, yet for about half of that time, the brand has been without the kinds of motorcycles that launched it in the first place. Clearly, Canada wants to change that.
I won’t go over the entire history of Bombardier, but if you’re interested I have written about it in a couple of pieces. For this, the important part starts in 1973, from my previous pieces about Can-Am history:
Thanks to a 1970 acquisition of Austria’s Rotax, Can-Am’s motocross bikes would benefit from two-stroke engines with oil injection and rotary-valve induction. Can-Am pinched skilled engineers, including World Motocross Champion Jeff Smith, to help develop its motorcycles. Riding the machines would be two-time AMA 250cc National Motocross Champion Gary Jones with teammates Marty Tripes and Jimmy Ellis. Can-Am’s motorcycles saw immediate success on the racetrack, with Ellis riding a Can-Am to an AMA National MX win in 1974. The bikes would continue winning, dominating the field to the point of an AMA 250cc National Motocross Championship sweep that same year. That set a record that would take until 1986 for Honda to break.
The secret sauce to Can-Am’s domineering success was a factory team of skilled riders and motorcycles that made crazy power. As Can-Am continued to crank up the power, they earned a reputation, from my piece on Can-Am history:
[B]y 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.
Unfortunately for the Canadians, its place at the top of the podium would be short-lived. It was around 1980 when Japanese firms figured out how to crank up their own power. Can-Ams were still award-winning machines, but the competition was catching up. By 1983, Can-Am passed the division to England’s Armstrong/CCM, which kept production going just long enough for Can-Am motorcycles to die in 1987.
Wait And See
The motorcycles you see here today? This is Can-Am saying it hasn’t forgotten its heritage and it’s time to get back into what started the brand in the first place.
If Can-Am really is gunning for a 35 kWh battery, the company would leapfrog itself to the front of the electric motorcycle pack. That would be a fitting way to get back into motorcycles. Nearly four decades ago, Can-Am launched into the pages of racing history with unbeatable two-strokes. Perhaps the brand can pull it off again and beat everyone else with electricity.
While Can-Am is now willing to show the world what these motorcycles look like, ultimately, we’ll have to wait until next summer before we figure out what’s going on under the plastic.
(All images: BRP)
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