The “Almost” Problem

2015 Acura TLX 3.5L

Soichiro Honda (1906-1991) was an automotive genius. In 1958, he created the Honda Supercub, about the least motorcycle you can buy, but which is still produced in many countries. There have been over 60 million Supercubs produced, making it the best-selling vehicle ever produced.  His Honda Civic and Accord led the Japanese charge in the 1970s to overturn the Big Four’s control of the American auto market. The company he created, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., is the world’s number one producer of internal combustion engines. In 1986, it became the first Japanese automaker to create it’s own luxury brand in Acura. Which brings us to the big push Honda is currently making for the all-new 2015 Acura TLX.

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Hanging In There

2013 Honda Fit

“Why,” you may be asking, “are you writing reviews of 2013 models when we’re already a couple of months into 2014?” Well, the thing about the Honda Fit is that there isn’t a 2014 model. The tsunami in Japan last year messed up things at the factory in Sayama where the Fit is made, forcing them to skip the 2014 model year. A new 2015 model has been announced as the next refresh of the model, and it will be an all-round update to the car, inside and out. For now, though, the 2013 model is the only Fit you can buy.

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Always buy the KitchenAid

2014 Honda Accord EL-X V6 Sedan

Some cars are appliances. They aren’t exciting and massively powered. They don’t cosset you with sumptuous luxury. You just, you know, drive them, and they take you places. The Honda Accord is one such appliance. But the thing about appliances is that they aren’t all the same. In fact, some of them are quite good. You can buy a mixer from Hamilton Beach, and it’ll be alright, and do what you expect it to do. But, if you want a mixer that will not only do a fantastic job, but can be passed down to your great-grandchildren, you buy a KitchenAid.

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Weight Loss

2013 Honda Gold Wing F6B Review

Honda’s Gold Wing has long been the luxo-barge of touring motorcycles. It has pretty much everything you can have on a motorcycle, like stereo, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, massive storage capacity, room for two people, and even an 1832cc flat 6 power plant that seems like something you’d expect to see in a car, rather than a motorcycle. Of course, weighing in at 933 lbs., the standard gold wing is near enough to being half a car anyway.

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Coming to America?

2010_Honda_CB1100_Wallpaper 3

If You were around in the 1970s, this bike might look familiar to you. It’s the return of the classic Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM), in the shape of the Honda CB1100, a bike previously only available in Japan. It looks like nothing other than a slightly modernized version of the venerable 750 Four, right down to the chrome fenders, and it brings back lots of childhood memories. Now a new generation will get to admire the UJM outside of Japan, as the French and italian motor press has revealed that the Bike will be available in Europe next year, where its already been sited in testing. If Europe gets it, can the US be far behind? Stay tuned.

2011-Norton-Commando-961-SE-Right-Angle

And speaking of motorcycles from my childhood, Norton is back with the Commando, now in a modern 961cc version, and the lads in Donnington have announced that the Commando 961 will, in fact, be coming to the US. Norton has announced that the three Commando variants have all completed both EPA and CARB durability testing, the first step in getting 50-state approval to import the modern resurrection of this iconic motorcycle.

The Versys has competition

Honda-NC700XFor a couple of years now, perhaps the best all-round bike has been the Kawasaki Versys. It’s a great beginner bike, a great bike for experience riders, a perfect commuter bike, has great gas mileage…the list goes on.

Honda’s new NC700X new aims to knock the Versys off that perch.

With a base price of under $7,000, a fully kitted out model, like the one shown here, will still run you just under $9,900. That’s with the standard transmission, of course. Honda also has an option with the second-generation DCT transmission, much like the one on my VFR, that also has ABS included in the package, for another 2 grand.

Motorcycle.Com has a full review of the bike, and they really seem to like it. In fact, they say Honda has done nothing less than bring back the UJM—Universal Japanese Motorcycle—with this bike, concluding, "its practicality, performance, comfort and value can’t be overlooked." And speaking of practicality, let’s include gas mileage in that, because the testers got better than 60 miles per gallon.

It’s interesting how quickly Honda has gone to include the DCT automatic transmission in its model line-up. Honda is betting the DCT will become every bit as accepted in motorcycles as it has been in automobiles, where the flappy-paddle gearbox is the standard option on pretty much all the high-end sports cars. I can tell you, from owning the DCT model of the VFR1200F, that the DCT works, and works well.

Other manufacturers should probably take notice.

Honda Crosssrunner First Ride

2011 Honda Crossrunner
2011 Honda Crossrunner

Motorcycle Daily has taken the new , VFR800-based 2011 Crossrunner out on the road to put it through its paces.

The Crossrunner was introduced last fall as a 2011 model at the EICMA show in Italy as bike with offroad pretensions–and pretensions is pretty much all they are. Really, this is a street bike, although one powered by the 782cc V-4 VTEC mill that powers the European version of the Interceptor. That’s not a bad heritage for any streetbike.

Unlike the VFR, however, the Crossrunner sports comfy, upright ergonomics to go along with its V-4 character.

The pluses appear to be  a bike that, like the Suzuki Bandit, offers you a torquey engine with 100HP, a relaxed riding position. The down side for the sporting enthusiast, is the 530lbs wet weight, but in general it seems like it would be a fun bike.

Quick Notes

If I was to tell you how packed my schedule has been this week, you’d be so bored you’d want to slit your own throat. So I won’t. But I do have time to take note of a few things.

The ATK/Hyosung GT650R I’ve been evaluating for ATK is doing fine. I’m convinced that, given some ergos more forgiving to my 46 year-old frame, it’d be a fine commuter/city bike. It’s easy to ride, with predictable performance, and has a surprisingly comfy seat.

The Honda CBR1000RR is about the deadliest racing weapon imaginable in the hands of Casey Stoner.

Is the new Kawasaki ZX-10R good enough to beat the BMWS1000RR in a head-on comparo? No. Seems like a close call, though.

I got my FJR back from the shop on Saturday. Embarrasingly, I had managed to hang my good luck bell in the perfect place…to cut the main wiring harness with the edge of the bell in a full-lock left turn. I’m glad I was backing out of a parking space, instead of trying to do a U-Turn, when the engine went dead.

Instead of spending money on a second bike, I’ve begun wondering if I shouldn’t just get an exhaust system, PowerCommander, and K&N Air Filter.

2012 Honda Gold Wing breaks cover

2012 Honda Gold Wing
2012 Honda Gold Wing

Honda has announced the new 2012 Gold Wing, which I guess is the premier, non-Harley touring bike.

There was some talk that Honda would be coming up with a big redesign of their flagship bike, but…not this year. The changes are essentially these:

  • Less curvy, more angular styling
  • Increased wind protection, which I didn’t actually think was possible.
  • New saddlebags with 7 liters more space
  • Redesigned dashboard
  • tweaks to the suspension.

Other than that, it’s pretty much unchanged.

The base model pricing comes in at $23,199, which is 1 shiny dollar cheaper than the Wing’s new competition, the BMW K1600GTL.

Honda, of course, has an entirely different take on the amazing amazingness that is the 2012 Gold Wing, and if you want to read that, Honda’s press release is below the fold.

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“Really, DCT is awesome”

Wes Siler, of Hell For Leather, has already been pretty vocal about his unpleasant experience on the new Honda VFR1200F, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see him not only back one one, but liking it. What he likes, specifically, is the one thing I’ve been leery about, which is the new Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT).  Owning an AE-model FJR with the electronic clutch, I’ve found it convenient in city traffic, but a bit scary in parking lots, as I’ve mentioned many times before.

This new DCT, however, seems to be a different beast.

The thing that makes this transmission so brilliant is that it actually, honestly, really improves control over the bike at low speed. Yes, some hydraulic pumps, two clutches and an electronic brain are better than my left hand at smoothly, predictably modulating power. Tight u-turns become a cinch, barely requiring your concentration. Pulling away at a crawl is as easy as twisting your right wrist. Coming to a halt, you just stop, the transmission simply cuts the power unobtrusively and instantly.

And that is precisely the bit of information I wanted to know about. The FJR AE has a problem with slow speeds.  Once that tach drops below 2500RPM in first, the clutch engages and you lose all power.  This mainly happens inevitably when you’re leaned over a bit pulling into a parking space, making the FJR AE want to flop over on it’s side.  The key is to give it some throttle, and stomp on the rear brake to slow down.  This requires a fair amount of hand-foot-eye coordination. That seems to be completely unnecessary with the Honda.

Of course, it also comes at a steep price, bringing a DTC-equipped VFR to a sticker price of $17,499. That’s perilously close to BMW territory when it comes to pricing.  But, without the BMW’s large-capacity bags, heated seat, grips, ESA, traction control, and usably large fuel tank.

With gas mileage in the 30s, and a 4-gallon tank, the VFR is hardly the best equipped “touring” model of the sports-touring category, unless “touring” to you means stopping every ton for gas. And the available luggage for the VFR is pretty small compared to the rest of the bikes in the sport-touring class.

It seems like a great, powerful bike with some great technology, but the high price and assorted drawbacks don’t impress–at least, not in a good way.

The rumor, of course, is that Honda already has a sport-tourer version of this bike in pre-release (as well as an adventure version). Perhaps they’ll rectify some of the current range and luggage issues with that bike.  I suspect, however, that the drawback of high sticker price won’t be solved.

Shootout: Honda CBR250R vs Kawasaki Ninja 250R

Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R
Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R

One of the things the Europeans do as a matter of course, and we in the US do very rarely, is to ensure that beginning riders are restricted to smaller-displacement motorcycles to get some experience before stepping up to the big boy bikes. All too often, this results in a new rider purchasing a Gixxer 1000 as a starter bike.

This is an extraordinarily bad idea.  I do a lot of work with the US military, and  the number of kids who come back from the sandbox without a scratch, and then promptly smear themselves and their new Fireblade across the pavement is truly troubling.

And it’s not just kids.  Because I do a lot of work on a military installation, and ride a motorcycle as my primary transportation, I had to take an MSF course in order to ride my bike on base, as per DoD rules. One of the guys in my MSF course was a 40-something Navy retiree, who had decided to buy a motorcycle, after having never ridden before.  His choice for a first motorcycle: A Buell Ulysses.  He said he trucked the bike home, unloaded it, and decided to try it out on his residential street.  He started it, gave it some gas, then released the clutch…at which point he grabbed a handful of throttle and went on a very short but terrifying “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”, that ended a few seconds later in a crash.  He decided that maybe he should take the MSF course before getting back on.

The Ulysses is a great bike. Not a beginner bike.  And it’s tame compared to a literbike.

Beginners who are interested in sportbikes really do need to start off on the lighter, smaller, and more maneuverable bikes.  But, for years, the only really decent beginner sportbike was the Kawasaki Ninja 250.  Now, however, new riders have a choice, with the introduction of Honda’s new CBR250R.

Visually, the new CBR250R is a much more attractive bike.  Unlike the rather dated look for the Ninja 250, the CBR250  looks modern. Indeed, it looks like a miniature of the VFR1200F.  The Honda also has a linked ABS option, too.

So, how do the two bikes stand up to each other head-to-head? Well, Motorcycle USA tested them to find out, and the comparison makes for interesting reading.

Speaking of Honda…

…A&R reports that:

Honda Motor Co. is all set to unload a choice piece of property in Kern County this year (Southern California residents should find this statement funny), as the company has put up for sale the Honda Proving Center of California (HPCC). Consisting of a total of 4,255 acres (give or take a few), the proving ground facility consists of a 7.5 mile oval, a 4.5 mile track of winding city roadway, skid pad, MX/SX track, support facilities, offices, warehouses, and plenty of desert terrain just to name a few of the highlights.

So, if you’ve got the money, and are looking for your own private race track, here’s your chance.