This is getting a little ridiculous

Honda asked some bike designers to go all out with their visions of the Honda Fury, the factory chopper Honda’s been touting for several months now, as well as the new Stateline and Saber.  They got these:

Honda Concept Furious
Honda Concept Furious, by Nick Renner. Based on the Fury.
Honda Concept Slammer
Honda Concept Slammer, by Erik Dunshee. Based on the Stateline.
Honda Concept Switchblade
Honda Concept Switchblade, by Edward Birtulescu. Based on the Saber.

There’s nothing wrong with these concepts visually, if you don’t mind a bit of motorcycle with your Arlen-Nessiness.  But, at the end of they day, they’re all 65HP VTX1300s.  No machine based on the VTX1300 can possibly be “Furious”.  Of course, I’m a grown-up, so I realize that there’s not much marketing magic in calling a bike the “Mildly Annoyed”.

On the plus side, you would at least look good tooling along at 45MPH on one of these babys.  Just don’t expect things to turn out well if someone offers to race you for “pinks”. Not that anyone would, because, you know, who’d want to take one of these away from you? Their best-case scenario is that they’d win a VTX 1300.

Yes, yes, it’s a Honda, so I’m sure it’d be finely crafted, smooth, and reliable as all hell. But the VTX1300 platform is, in a word, boring. It’s as dependable a platform as you could ask for…but who would.  Honda’s a fine company, and they make some great bikes (see CBR1000RR or Gold Wing), but the VTX1300 is far closer to “workmanlike” than “great”.

Honda NT700V Test Ride

2010 Honda NT700V
2010 Honda NT700V

Motorcycle Daily has a new ride review of the “Baby ST”, Honda’s NT700V.  This twin-cylinder light tourer–called the Deauville in Europe–is really less of a tourer than a mid-sized all-rounder with nice luggage capacity.

Comparing the NT to other motorcycles is a bit hard to do, since it really is a unique bike. It’s not as good looking or as fast as BMW’s F 800 ST, but it is less expensive considering the extras that are included in the NT’s base price, and would serve as a better all-around bike out of the lot. Compared to Suzuki’s V-Strom or Kawasaki’s Versys it’s a bit expensive, but then again it has superior creature comforts, shaft drive, and bags. This new import from Honda may just fill a niche that those bikes don’t; great for the more rational riders among us who are turned off by the idea of a 700+ pound touring bike or cruiser, and excellent for the novice or thrifty commuter looking for a usable, maintenance-free workhorse. Whether these riders come out of the woodwork to buy up NT’s by the boatload remains to be seen, but I can’t deny the bike is a pleasure to ride.

It seems like it might be a good choice for the beginning rider, or even the experienced rider who doesn’t put a premium on sport performance.

Honda’s new DCT awarded

Motorcyclist has named the new Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) on the Honda VFR1200F to be the best new technology of 2010.  The magazine gushes:

The DCT is not the first automatic motorcycle transmission, but it is the first to offer performance that will satisfy even the most demanding sport rider. Borrowing heavily from Formula 1 racing technology-and generating more than 100 patents in the process-Honda has created a transmission that offers full-auto or semi-auto (the rider selects shift points using finger triggers) operation and delivers quicker, smoother, more transparent shifts than any manual gearbox. Honda’s DCT is everything a conventional automatic transmission isn’t. It’s light, fast and intuitive, and genuinely enhances the sportbike experience.

That seems like pretty high praise, and you have to assume that, being motorcycling professionals, the folks there know what they’re talking about.

I have no direct experience with the DTC.  Indeed, I don’t know of an shop in the local area that even has a VFR in stock that has it, so I don’t even know where I could go to test it.

Having an FJR1300AE model with the electronic clutch probably isn’t a close enough comparison to make an educated guess, but I’d like to try out the DTC, though, to see how it compares.

Honda returns to EICMA

Honda didn’t show up at last year’s EICMA show in Italy, citing the world economic crisis.  This year is going to be quite the reverse.  Honda has announced that it will not only be returning to EICMA, but it will be debuting eight motorcycle models at the show as well.

There’s no official word on the bikes that will be unveiled, but one of the most likely candidates will be the new VFR1200 model that is slated to replace the ST1300, which has long been Honda’s flagship sport-tourer.  The new model of the VFR will probably include both the dual-clutch transmission, and the cylinder management system that has been touted by Honda for the last year.

Honda ST1300 replaced by an ST1200F?

The Spanish Motorcycling web site SoloMoto is touting an exclusive (in Spanish), which is that Honda will replace the venerable ST1300 with a touring version of the new V-4-engined VFR1200F. They state that their information is that a presentation of the new model will be held at the international motorcycle shows in Cologne or Milan (October or November respectively).

They report that the new model will be available with or without bags, as well as with or without the new DCT transmission option.  Compared to the new VFR, this touring model will have higher handlebars and more relaxed seating position, suitable for touring.  Based on the drawings they show, the preload adjustment for the rear suspension will be moved to the right side of the bike, and the front braking system my be different from the current VFR, due to having inverted forks.  They also speculate that the rider’s seat height will be adjustable, and that the windshield will have electrical height adjustment. The new bike also seems to keep the dual-layered fairing of the current VFR.

So, for all you ST1300 lovers, Honda may be providing you with something to love even better.

Let’s just hope that while they’re piling on all these touring amenities, they give us a fuel tank larger than the VFR’s 4 gallons.

Honda VFR1200F: Shamu?

Man, the guys at Hell for Leather really don’t like the VFR1200F. They took it out to the track, supposing that, since Honda says the bike has tons of sporting pretensions, it’d be kind of fun.  Turns out, they thought it was terrifying.

Their four main complaints:

  1. Suspension is too soft
  2. Ground clearance for cornering sucks
  3. Controls are unpredictable and fueling is monumentally bad
  4. The ergos are poor.

Wes Siler sums up:

It’s nowhere near fast enough to be a Hayabusa or ZX-14 rival and doesn’t handle nearly as well as either of those bikes either. The riding position is more forward-leaning and uncomfortable than a Kawasaki Concours 14 and the Honda doesn’t come with luggage as standard. It kind of looks like a rival for the BMW K1300S, but that bike would run circles around Shamu in a corner and feels notably quicker.

What we’re left with is a bike that’s got a sporty riding position, but corners like it’s made out of jelly. A bike that’s got a big engine, but isn’t terribly fast. A bike that’s as heavy as a tourer,  but looks like a sportsbike. A bike that’s supposed to be friendly, but is difficult to ride.

That’s more or less what I’ve been saying.  An interesting bike that fills some incomprehensible niche. An all-round sports-touring bike that does neither well. I just don’t get it.

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Honda’s new VT1300 Cruisers

2010 Honda Sabre II
2010 Honda Sabre II

Honda is really jumping into the mid-size cruiser market by really ramping up their product line of VTX1300s, introducing three new models. Motorcycle USA’s Bryan Harley has gotten to take them all for a spin, and he’s written up his impressions of them, concluding:

Honda’s 2010 VT1300 Series covers the gamut, from what Big Red hails as its ‘big impact bike’ in the form of the Fury to a boulevard-cruising pro-streeter in the guise of the Sabre. The range includes a big-fendered cruiser with more traditional styling and a bike factory-equipped for the long haul. The styling of the VT1300 Series is a big leap forward for the traditionally conservative Japanese manufacturer. But the bikes maintain Honda’s reputation for performance and reliability. It’s an ambitious venture for the company, but Honda believes that there is enough variation in the VT1300 Series to appeal to almost every area of the cruiser demographic. With almost 83,000 VTX models sold, it’s hard to question their reasoning.

The three new models add to the “factory custom” movement Honda Joined by producing the Fury last year, and these new bikes are built around the same idea: producing a more distinctively-styled bike, with Honda’s reliability, at a price point below $13k.

As far as I can tell, these new models look like Honda met its goals.

2010 Honda Interstate
2010 Honda Interstate

All of the bikes are powered by the same 1312cc liquid-cooled 52-degree V-Twin, with a SOHC and single-pin crankshaft, and three valves per cylinder.  Vibration is kept in check through the use of dual balancers. New for these models, however, the VTX powerplant now uses a Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) system that features a single 38mm throttle body, with an auto enrichment circuit, doing away with the old CV carburetor.

The three new models break down as follows:

The Sabre is a boulevard cruiser with a nicely raked front end.  In fact, that 33° rake on the front end stretches at the wheelbase to a whopping 70 inches.  The fenders are nicely chopped, and the frame leaves lots of space between the top of the engine and the steering head.  It’s definitely designed as a street custom.

The Stateline, on the other hand, is a much more traditional-looking cruiser, with longer fenders, a larger front tire, and blacked-out engine parts.  it’s still a bit more aggressively styled than the old VTX, but not unpleasantly so.

Finally, there’s the Interstate, which is essentially the Stateline, but with a  more touring-oriented accessory package, including leather covered hard bags that have a hidden latch system and 22 liters capacity, floorboards, a heel-and-toe shifter, big honking brake pedal, and a windshield.  And, even with all that, it still comes in under $13,000, which seems like a nice value for the money.

2010 Honda Stateline
2010 Honda Stateline

So, what could possibly be wrong with any of these bikes?  Well…they’re still a VTX.

Now, look, I understand a lot of people like the VTX.  After all, Honda’s sold 83,000 of them.  But that VTX 1300 engine really is a deal-breaker for me.

The thing about that powerplant is that it’s just gutless at the top end.  When the rev limiter kicks in you’re maybe doing, 85 or 90, and you’ve wrung everything out of her that you’re going to.

Now, maybe in town that’s OK, but the the Interstate, especially, has designs on doing some touring.  And out here in California, when you hit the Interstate, 80 or faster is just the normal rate of traffic flow.  The VTX just won’t offer you anything in terms of passing power at the high end, if you’re already bumping up near the rev limiter just keeping up with the flow.

I understand that not everybody is into the sport-touring, triple-digit sightseeing deal, and that’s fine.  But even my Sportster could top 120 on the highway.  I know.  I did it.  The VTX1300 isn’t a bad engine, it’s just not a very powerful one, even compared to the 1200cc mill on the Sportster.

For just a bit more money, you could spend $12K on a Harley Super Glide, another $2000 or so on the touring accessories, and for one grand more, have a Big Twin that will handle the highway much better than the VTX.

The VTX1300 obviously has its afficionados, but the Interstate seems like a stretch when it comes to touring.

2010 BMW K1300S vs Honda VFR1200F Shootout – Motorcycle.com

Motorcycle.Com has the results of their shootout between the BMW K1300S and the Honda VFR1200F.  On paper the bikes are a really close match with the Beemer putting out 146.8HP and the Honda throwing out 146.4 HP.  BMW has the edge in torque, though, with higher torque all along the rev line, except at the tippy top, and maxing out at 89.6 ft-lb compared to the VFR’s 82 ft-lb.  The BMW hit max torque 700RPM shorter, too.

On the other hand, they write that the Honda is easier to ride, more maneuverable, more comfortable, and carries its weight better than the BMW.  Both bikes sport about 5-gallon tanks, so neither one is all that impressive when it comes to touring range.

So, what’s the bottom line?

“Although the BMW may not have the utter refinement of the Honda, I wouldn’t be ashamed or regretful of having a K1300S in my garage if I’d purchased one and then later had the chance to ride a VFR1200F,” says Pete. “Furthermore, the practical techy options like anti-spin control, ESA II, etc, that have real-world application raise the K13’s’s price by only $1,800 more than the Honda’s, making a case for the BMW being the better value. Frankly, the BMW’s Premium Package option is simply worth the added cost over base MSRP, especially so if you amortize that $1,800 across the term of a loan.”

The price on the Honda is the kicker.  For what you get for the money, I’d agree that the BMW is probably a better deal.  You really do have to ride a BMW to really get how good the ESA is.  And the BMW cruise control really is excellent.

I really wanted to like the new VFR a lot, but this 1st-gen model doesn’t seem to quite have “it” at the price Honda’s asking you to shell out.

Another Literbike Shootout

Motorcycle USA Motorcycle.Com has posted their 2010 Literbike shootout, comparing the newest European bikes to the top Japanese 1,000cc rockets.  From Europe, they test the Aprilia RSV4 R, and the BMW S1000RR.  From the Land of the Rising Sun comes the Honda CBR1000RR and the Kawasaki ZX-10R.  Like nearly everyone else who’s riddewn it, they give the top marks to the BMW.

BMW S1000RR. If you want the literbike with the most power, best brakes, a wonderfully compliant chassis and best available options in 2010, these are the only letters and numbers you need to know.

Everybody loves this bike, it seems, in the sportbike set.

And yet, in World Superbike, where the S1000RR is in its second season of competition, its riders have been on the podium…um…not a single time.

Honda VFR1200F Pricing Announced…Partially

Honda USA has announced the pricing for the manual-transmission version of the VFR1200F as $15,999.  Still no pricing for the dual-clutch model, but we can expect it to be significantly higher, I suppose.

I guess I still don’t get it.  Who is this bike for? Certainly not touring people, who will hate its “fuel-suckery +_small tank = limited range/no standard luggage” equation.  Not sport-bikers, who’ll hate dragging around it’s lardy bulk.  Honda had the chance to bring out a really game-changing sport-tourer or hyperbike.  People who’ve rode it say it’s nice, but not spectacular.

Even the old VFR fans I’ve talked to seem disappointed by the specs for the 1200.

And, for 16 grand–probably 17 grand for the duel clutch version…well, that’s almost in BMW territory.

Somehow, I don’t see K13GT riders making a switch to the VFR any time soon.

2010 Honda VFR1200F First Ride

Since Motorcycle-USA’s Ken Hutchison was already in Japan for the Tokyo Motor Show, he was conveniently available to go out to the Sugo racetrack and hop aboard the new VFR1200F at the press demo.  In return, he’s provided us with a nice first ride review that’s pretty comprehensive.

I’m not going to steal his thunder by quoting extensively from his review, but I was interested to read this bit about the new Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT):

When riding the DCT bike it’s clear that the system is dialed in. There are two modes to can select from while on the fly, D-mode for regular or street riding and S-mode for sport riding. In D-mode the bike shifts well-before it starts making real power. Instead, it just chugs along, shifting gears and accelerating in a mellow manner in order to maximum fuel efficiency and minimize strain on the rider. Don’t be misled into thinking the auto clutch is a snoozer. In S-mode the motorcycle is as fun as the standard version. To my surprise the bike shifts in a very intuitive manner, making both up- and downshifts precisely and effectively on the track to the point where I was comfortable letting the bike do the work while I focused on enjoying myself on the winding, twisty Sugo race track. The VFR never initiated an unwanted shift, and yet if you don’t agree with the gear it chooses then simply select a different gear with the paddle shifter. The bike reverts to manual mode as soon as you intervene.

It’s interesting to see this, personally, because I ride a Yamaha FJR1300AE, the one with the YCC-S electric clutch system.  It operates similarly to the Manual” mode of the Honda DCT, but I’ve really developed a love/hate relationship with it, and I’m ready to go back to a standard transmission bike.

The YCC-S has its positive points.  Upshifts are generally speedy and so seamless you don’t even have to let up on the gas to shift.  It’s also nice in city commuting traffic.  But, it also has its problems.  Downshifts are slow, and require attention, because kicking the shift lever, or flicking the handlebar shifter doesn’t necessarily result in an instant downshift.  Or, sometimes, any downshift at all.

And the YCC-S really does want to try and kill you in parking lots.  The clutch engages/disengages at around 2500 RPM.  Or 2700.  Or 2300.  Whatever.  So, you often find yourself at slow speed, maneuvering into a parking lot when the clutch engages, and you lose all power to the rear wheel–which is not something you’re keen to happen when you’re leaning over at 5 MPH.

So, I’m curious about Honda’s DCT system.  It appears to work fine on the track, but I’m wondering how easy it is to live with when pulling into the local Albertson’s or Safeway.  My experience with the YCC-S makes me wonder if it’s really all that great.

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