The small team at Can-Am developed the first bikes within 24 months, having 125 and 175 prototypes running by 1972. These received extensive testing, including being locally raced at amateur events in Quebec by Jeff Smith himself.
Several features of the bike set them apart from others of the day. Using identical chassis for both models (MX and TnT), a radical concept was the adjustable steering head angle. The use of solid cams in which the steering head bearing rest allowed riders to either change the cams around or replace with new ones, allowing a steering head angle of between 25 and 30 degrees. This allowed the machine to be tailed to rider’s style and alternative forms of completion, such as motocross or trials where quicker steering if often sought.
Another feature was the rigid frame made by a large diameter back bone tube. This allowed injection oil to be carried in the frame, with the engine driving a Mikuni oil injector pump, eliminating the need for pre-mix, while allowing mixture levels to be set by rpm of the motor. As a part of the motor design by Rotax (a Bombardier company as well) the engine requires direct oil injection into both the main bearings and rotary vale.
The use of the Rotax engine was no surprise. Bombardier had acquired them a number of years prior to starting Can-Am as the main supplier for their snowmobile engines. Therefore to develop a motorcycle engine, was a matter of adaption. What resulted was a small, slim line rotary value 2 stroke, with the ability to start in any gear as part of its 6 speed gear box.
Rotary valve injection had been tried for a number of years, but largely dismissed due to the requirement to mount the carb on the side of the engine, making it vulnerable to falls and hits. Rotax solved this through the use on an induction tube, allowing the carburettor to sit in the conventional location. Rotary valve induction is believed to provide a broader range of torque with a smoother power curve, while delivering increased tractable horsepower. One thing Can-Am’s were never criticised for was lack of power!
Despite constant new models, Can-Am technical development remained underfunded, with significant funding reduction being made as early as 1976, just when the Japanese were pouring effort and money into innovations in suspension developments. It was a time when between major events, bikes often gained completely new set-ups, fuelling a technology race that would continue into the early ‘80’.
“With this kind of versatility and determination“, stated in 1977 edition of On Two Wheels, “it would not be surprising at all to find that, in the future, some of the most innovative motorcycles in the world may be produced not in Japan but in Canada”.
Alas for a while it was true.
Rotax motors still exist today and still owned by Bombardier, although they are largely used in karting and small aircraft. The cutaway motor featured in an early Cycle magazine technical article. Can-Am produced several of these to explain the principals and workings of the disc motor.