mercredi 27 janvier 2016

Essai - Giles (en anglais)

Un essai qui rejoint parfaitement ce que j'ai ressenti avec cette machine. Superbes photos

A purist is one who desires that an item remain true to its essence and free from adulterating or diluting influences.

In 1984 Honda developed a water cooled rally bike to take on the extremes of the then very popular, long distance overland races. Enter stage left the NXR 750. In1986 it entered it’s first Paris - Dakar rally, and subsequently won, not just that race but for four years consecutively. It was the first water cooled bike to do so.

In1988, based on its development and competition experiences, Honda released its production version for public sale - the Africa Twin. Designed for long distance adventure travel, it was built to be robust, easy to repair and a go anywhere motorcycle.

Production ceased in 2003.

Fast forward to 2016!

Now I’ll confess to the fact that I never owned an Africa Twin, and of all the bikes that I have had a play on, I can’t remember ever swinging my leg over an Africa Twin. But that doesn’t stop me from understanding its roots and its heritage. So without even riding it, I get the passion of its heritage.

The challenge for Honda is creating a twenty first century version. If it has no electronics, no onboard computers, no variable traction control or lean angle gizmos, then we’ll all complain that is an analogue bike in a digital world.

If the bike is dripping in technology but ultimately doesn’t feel anything like the old Africa twin or what it stood for, then we’ll also complain that the bike has lost its roots and its identity (has the latest WC GS fallen foul of exactly this ??!), so from an engineering perspective Honda have to please a very wide audience of differing generations, it’ll be no easy task!

My immediate impressions walking around the bike and having a quick brief from the dealership, is that joy of joys, there are big buttons to press! I really like that! Thank you Honda for doing away with menus, select buttons, back space and ‘home’ !! You want to turn off traction control to your rear wheel? Well just press one big button. You want to put it back on? Press it again.
There was a button for everything - Manual or Auto? It’s just one click. ABS off at the rear? You got it …
Sometimes in life, you want the easiest option. Scrolling through my onboard KTM computer, is sometimes a complete pain in the backside.

The build quality looked to be the typical high standards that we have learned to expect from Honda, and the side stand had a great big foot on it. (KTM, why oh why do you give me the end of a walking stick for a side stand, on a bike that I’m going to take off road??! It’s not rocket science is it?! The guy that designed that has either never been off road in his life, or has clearly tried to put aesthetic form in front of function. It’s the little things in life that bug us!).

As I pull away I’m instantly impressed with the smoothness of the low rev pick up. Now that is pretty crucial on a clutches bike, and in my opinion they've nailed that. It is … beautifully smooth and without a hint of euro emissions hiccup . It’s a tentative U turn on full lock (a good lock by the way) and whilst I’m sure I’d get used to it in time, that for me is, unquestionably its first compromise.
There are times on my own bike, when I’ll be feet up, full lock, the bike stationary by means of the rear brake, and the revs and clutch bubbling. I’m in complete control. I’m sure with practise the clutchless bike would do something similar, but I question whether it would do it as well.

The gearbox gives you a variety of options, and if you’re new to DCT (which I am) and you want to get the best out of it, I reckon you’re going to need a few months on the bike to become completely instinctive in your selections. And I have no doubt that that would happen. It would seem such a waste to just stick the bike in Auto and let it do everything for you; I say learn its variables and learn to become so unconscious competent in your choices, that like a kid on an X box game, you can flick between S1, S3, full Auto and full manual to suit your environment and riding style. The joy of it all, (back to those buttons again!) is that it’s all one or two clicks away.

Full manual sees a tiptronic style box that you take control of. The box will come down for you at a red light, (so you can’t ‘forget’ and drive off in say fifth) but it won’t change up for you, however high you take the revs from say first. After an hour or so of riding, I found myself defaulting to S3, with the odd manual over-ride. And that manifested itself in mostly short shifting up the box in town or taking a manual lower gear before a bend out in the sticks. The over-ride button for Manual / Auto, is absolutely bang on where your right thumb would want to default if you asked it to press a button. Sigh …. Soooo easy, and done in the blink of an eye.

One aspect that I would have love to have seen, is to give me the option with my left fore finger to shift both up and down (with that fore finger). Some bikes have a ‘trigger’ full beam / flash button, where flicking that button away from you puts you on permanent full beam. To select a lower gear there is a push thumb button, having the option of pull and flick with my fore finger trigger as well, would have been a great touch.

What was interesting, and something that I could see myself doing, is that wax and wane of hooligan and sensible as you enter and exit derestricted and restricted speed limits. Out in the nationals? I press my big manual right thumb button and take control. Drift into a thirty? I select full ‘economy’ auto and chill out.

Brakes were very average for a modern bike, and by average I mean exactly that - all bikes come with good brakes nowadays. There are some bikes out there with truly exceptional brakes (BMW S1000 models for example) and I would say that these Honda brakes were par for the course. My only criticism was that they lacked a little feel or modulation for my taste - in the pendulum swing of wooden to soft, I like my brakes to err ever so slightly on the side of tactile squidge!

Every review has a ‘But …’ in it doesn’t it? Within half an hour of road riding, I was finding that ‘But…’. And for me it was the motor. This is no KTM 1190, and for all it’s smoothness, magical fuelling, and what I feel will clearly be super smooth dyno chart lines, I regularly found myself on the throttle stop. (This is pretty rare on my 1190!). For me, there wasn’t that eye popping rush that I want in a road bike. Little crests in the road that the 1190 would float a front wheel over with a shrug of it’s shoulders, saw the Honda pinned to the tarmac. The feel of the bike was lovely, it’s ergonomics, seating position, legs and arms …. all spot on, but ….. it’s just that ‘but’ again …. It was very Honda, was all getting a bit …. boring?

Despite the fact that this is a dealer demonstrator bike, and despite the 70/30 road biassed tyres I decide to take it off road. There are a few byways around here, and I know a local loop that has a quick mix of simple graded trail, some descents with a few water bars, and some snotty mud. I stop, and just take a double check with my options for traction and ABS. Again, Honda score so well here - Traction control on the rear is ….. yes you've guessed … it’s a button! Thank you Honda! Not only is it just a button, but I can do in on the fly and in milli seconds! That’s real world stuff, and not just the whimsical mutterings of journo reports and biking blogs. I would see myself flicking that traction control on and off as the surface changes. For now I flick it off - it’s an easy graded trail thats well drained and is begging for that rear wheel to be lit up!

At this point in the test ride, I hit a eureka moment. The veil over my eyes was lifted, the penny dropped and suddenly (and we’re talking within seconds!) the world made sense to me. Up until now the bike had been, well, yes very nice, beautifully made, super smooth, but …. it’s there again isn’t it …. it’s that ‘but..’ again.

Taking this bike onto the dirt, and there are no buts. It was utterly sublime. I instantly found myself grinning inside my lid. It was a feeling of home coming, of walking up to your front door having been away for weeks, meeting your dog as he runs to greet you frantically wagging his tail, and the shout of ‘Hello - you’re here at last’ from the back of the kitchen as you put down your suitcase in the hallway, the smell of your favourite supper wafting towards you…

How clever. I am very very average off road. I know the ropes, enter the odd big bike rally challenge or daft Taffy Dakar, but I am no off road God by any stretch of the imagination. But this bike made it feel so easy. Within a hundred yards I felt like I was in my favourite armchair, the back of the bike snaking about behind me, I felt like I’d owned it for ever. The gearbox just did its thing, the super smooth throttle did it’s thing, and the bike just floated down the trail. It was beautifully balanced, and felt light! This thing is what, 220KG? Where is it?!

The gem for me for this bike, is the chassis.

Take yourself back to the early years of Ducati in MotoGP. Everybody complained that the bike was unridable (apart from Stoner!) because it was too stiff. There was apparently no feel for the bike, rider after rider lost the front because he couldn’t feel his limits.
The conundrum in getting the right behaviour of any motorbike, is getting the right balance of stiffness and pliability. The machine needs to give us, the rider, the right balance of razor sharp control (chassis, suspension) and feel.
And this bike has it in spades!
Honda have done a brilliant job of giving us softness without compromising performance. Softness gives us feel. It gives us confidence, we know where we are with the limits of the bike, we can feel slip, slide, tree root, off camber mud on chalk. We can feel each wheel and what it’s doing, where it is, how it’s behaving ….

For half an hour I played on the mixed conditions of mud and graded trail. What a great bike! What a clever bike, and how clever to engineer feel.

I hit the tarmac and head back to the dealer (Via the jet wash!!). I have a completely different mood now. I forgive the bike for not ripping the tarmac up like my brutal 1190, because …. it’s not a brutal bike! It’s not meant to be a brutal bike, it’s meant to be a machine that will take you anywhere and every where - and at any time. And to do that, it cleverly plays the long game.

My lasting impression of this bike, is that it truly is an exceptional all rounder, and is one of only a handful of bikes out there that can truly claim that title. It may not set the road alight with the raw savagery that I like in the 1190, but I can see it making huge sales in those parts of the world where tarmac and dirt roads naturally live side by side, and with riders who have a keen interest in taking this bike on a proper adventure.

Honda should be applauded for cleverly getting the right balance between the essence and feel of the original Africa Twin, with the modern digital world. They have done a great job of re-inventing a classic bike of our time.

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