From the Wild Side – To the Nice Side

Story by Glenn Roberts//
May 1 2009

Honda has a reputation for being fairly conservative in the styling department. They have a history of not ‘rocking the boat’ so to speak in the way of design and stay focused on the efficiency of every product they produce.

Honda hasn’t introduced any significant models in the last few years, with the exception of the Varadero last year, but that has now changed. Two new models have now been released that have changed Honda’s traditional conservative viewpoint while still maintaining the high efficiency of their products.

Honda will be the first to admit that, in general, the cruiser style of motorcycle has stagnated in design over the years and they intend to change that. In fact, Honda intends to release a new series of cruisers consisting of ten new models in the near future, the Fury being the first one out of the gate and the next new release to be announced before the end of the 2009 riding season. That’s big news for the cruiser crowd, and important for Honda.

While at a press launch in Daytona Beach during the 2009 Bike Week, Honda Canada released the 2010 Fury and the 2009 DN-01 to us media types. Both models offer a huge departure from the traditionally conservative styling that Honda is known for.

The target market for these two motorcycles stretches to the far ends of the scale when seeing them side-by-side, each with a significantly different type of rider in mind. The Fury has a long stature with a low seat height and high degree of rake, making it look like it was designed for the rich and famous by a big name builder, but affordable enough for the general public.

The new fully automatic DN-01, on the other hand, seems to have a market all its own. Interestingly, that market is not targeted at the motorcyclist, but the cage driver wishing to get some wind in their face without having the aggravation of clutches and gears to deal with.

 

FURY

The most interesting to me of the two new models was the Fury, fuelled by an internet leaked image of a dark and blurry radically styled motorcycle that begged the question; is it true that this poor image of a stretched chopper might be a new Honda model? The Fury was ‘officially’ unveiled to the Canadian public during the Edmonton Motorcycle Show in January, sitting proudly on a pedestal surrounded by on-lookers vying for a chance to grab a glimpse of the new machine.

The radical looking Fury, designed in the United States by Honda engineers, is a huge styling departure for Honda and looks as if it would be more at home rolling out the doors of a custom builder’s shop instead of an assembly line from a manufacturing plant.

Like most chopper-styled motorcycles, the Fury is a minimalist bike without any bells and whistles. Honda wanted to get back to basics and provide an easy to handle, stripped down minimalist ride that is fashioned on the premise of the ‘original chopper’. The Fury is basically a pair of wheels and an engine tied together with a basic tube frame. While the fit and finish is immaculate, as is the case with all Honda products, the real focal point is the in-your-face engine that stands out loud and proud.

The power plant is the same 1312 cc engine as is used in the VTX1300. The newly designed air cleaner takes the same shape as the V-Twin’s cylinders, and like the exhaust and the foot peg’s mounting hardware, don’t block the view of any part of the liquid-cooled 52-degree V-Twin engine. The twin-plug heads and the electronic fuel injection delivered crisp throttle response and unless you were riding at a lower-than-normal RPM, the engine has plenty of torque to pass a slower vehicle in front without downshifting.

Honda has done a great job of allowing the V-Twin’s exhaust note to pass through the silencers giving the engine a deep throaty rumble, but the volume of the twin mufflers is in no way obnoxious to the masses.

The five-speed transmission shifts flawlessly and the lever easy to reach and operate, as is the rear brake pedal. The cable-operated clutch is a little on the heavy side, but not enough to cause undue stress to your hand, and I was able to handle the rigours of stop-and-go traffic during Bike Week.

Unlike the traditional chopper, power is delivered to the rear wheel via clean and quiet shaft-drive, but to think of a shaft on a chopper seems so out of place. Again, Honda’s research and finesse of styling does a good job of concealing the bulky shaft housing with the swingarm portion being black in colour and the differential portion silver making it look similar to a drum brake.

Ergonomically, the Fury is comfortable with a low seat height of only 678 mm (26.7 in.), easy to reach footpegs and the chubby handlebar with equally fat handgrips that reach back to meet the riders hands, all of which are vibration free. While I wasn’t able to get many continuous hours of seat time on the Fury during the press launch, I think the seating position would be adequate to allow a few hours of continuous riding without discomfort.

While the Fury excels at straight line handling as would be expected from a long bike with an exaggerated rake, it also does a surprising job of keeping slow speed tight turns under control with a bit of practice. I haven’t seen a published number from Honda for the degree of rake, but by quickly measuring a photo, I would hazard a guess that the total rake is in the vicinity of 37-38 degrees.

To add to the chopper look, the Fury has a single disc brake at the front that does a great job of showing off the new nine-spoke front wheel. The dual-piston caliper and 336 mm front disc needs a firm squeeze to slow things down. I thought the front brake felt a little vague with the single setup and can’t help but think that a second rotor and caliper up front would be most helpful in slowing the 302 kg (666 lb) bike down quicker with a lighter squeeze. (Weight noted includes fluids, battery, fully fueled and ready to ride.) The rear 296 mm rotor and single piston caliper also requires a firm foot on the easy to reach pedal.

We didn’t get into any rough roads in the south where frost heaves are non-existent, but the 102 mm (4 in) of travel on the 45 mm front fork and the 95 mm (3.7 in) of movement in the rear easily handled any road imperfections we ran into, like lowered manhole covers. The single rear shock offers adjustable rebound damping and spring preload in order to fine tune for rougher tarmac.

The Fury oozes style and clean lines all around. Honda engineers have done a fine job of concealing the liquid cooling of the engine. The radiator fits neatly between the frame’s downtubes allowing it to blend in and be quite inconspicuous. The only visible coolant hose is the top rad hose, only showing a very short section from the front cylinder head into the top of the rad while the bottom coolant hose is tucked up under the engine and completely out of sight.

Wire harnesses are hidden and apart from the clutch cable, the frame is completely uncluttered. Even spark plug wires are not visible. A nice clean touch and very well thought out.

Sitting on the bike gives the rider a clear view of the minimal speedometer and looking down, the rider is rewarded with a good view of the cylinder heads on the big V-Twin since the long, stretched 12.8-litre gas tank becomes progressively thinner as it slopes down to meet the seat. I wasn’t able to determine a fuel consumption number, but with only 12.8-litres of fuel on board, don’t expect many hours of saddle time between fill-ups. I would estimate a fuel range of about 225 kilometres. But then again, this bike isn’t built for long distance travel and is more suited to cruising the main vein of your favourite town.

The seating position was comfortable and to add to that comfort, the gas tank rising up in front and the speedometer housing do a good job of keeping the windblast from your chest, but does leave your head in clean, non-turbulent air.

It’s because of that radical rake and the open look above the front cylinder that gives the Fury a unique look for an assembly line bike. Adding to that classic chopper look–the 21-inch front tire and 250-section 18-inch rear boot mounted on good looking wheels, the low seat height and the long skinny fuel tank–along with the reasonable price tag of $16,115 for Red or Black colours, or $16,315 for the Special Edition Grey, and my bet is that the Fury will be a stylish best seller for Honda.

 

DN-01

They call it a crossover bike, but the big question would be; what styles of bike is it crossing over? I’ve heard it called a scooter. Even though it is an automatic, it isn’t a step-through like a traditional scooter. It would take a big stretch of the imagination to think of it as a cruiser, although the seating position is similar to a cruiser and it does have floorboards. It has no storage so it couldn’t be considered a touring bike, although sidebags are being developed for it. It doesn’t have the ground clearance, the acceleration, or the sporty stance or ergonomics to be considered a sport bike. So what is it?

It’s a DN-01, and the Honda Motor Company seems to have created a whole new category, which as of yet, doesn’t appear to have a name. That new category though just might be its appeal and Honda is counting on that.

The target market for the DN-01 isn’t really even the existing motorcyclist, but a brand new buyer that wants to get into the sport of motorcycling. That new rider doesn’t want the hassle of learning how to clutch and change gears. It’s hoped that the new buyer will find the DN-01 exciting, non-intimidating and possibly prestigious. Since everyone is familiar with cars, it is most likely that the new buyer will be an experienced car driver, so Honda has built many similarities of an automobile into the DN-01.

First and foremost is the fully automatic HFT (Human Friendly Transmission), which is the highlight of this machine. It’s because of this little engineering marvel that the DN-01 is thought of as a scooter, but there really is no comparison between the two. A scooter uses a belt-driven CVT with a small engine usually mounted on the swingarm, whereas the DN-01 uses a traditionally placed engine and a technologically advanced hydraulic/ mechanical CVT transmission that is comparable to the performance and efficiency of a manual transmission. And unlike a belt-driven CVT, the transmission in the DN-01 is maintenance free and does not use special oil, it uses the engine’s oil to operate.

Don’t be concerned that this transmission technology is an experiment as his style of hydraulic transmission is not new to a Honda product. Honda utilized a similar technology in 1991 with their TRX500FA Rubicon ATV that has proved over the years to be very reliable and trouble-free in this heavy-duty application. This technology, albeit much less sophisticated, has also been used in heavy equipment like fork lifts and bulldozers.

By operating controls on the right and left switchgear, the rider has the option of selecting three different modes of transmission operation. Those are two different modes of fully automatic or a 6-speed fully manual mode.

The DN-01 always starts in Neutral and by thumbing the Drive/Neutral switch with your right thumb you engage the transmission, the regular shifting mode is automatically selected by default. No other action is needed, you simply twist the throttle and go. If you wish to change modes, the left thumb activates the regular or sport shifting mode.

Let me just clarify, because this is a variable transmission technology you cannot actually feel the transmission shifting in the traditional sense of the word. Instead the ECU progressively adjusts the transmission hydraulics in a linear fashion to keep engine RPM in the optimal range. The so-called shifting is so smooth the rider is unaware of it except for watching the tachometer needle stay in the optimal range while you gain speed.

In the default regular mode, the ECU keeps engine RPM at an optimal range for a balance of torque and fuel economy. In sport mode, the ECU allows the engine to rev higher for peak performance and crisper acceleration. An indicator on the well appointed digital instrument cluster indicates whether you are in regular or sport mode.

The right forefinger can activate a button on the front of the right switchgear that changes the transmission from automatic to the fully manual mode. The dash indictor then changes to tell you which gear you are in. The button that activated regular or sport mode now becomes the upshift and downshift buttons. A simple thumb of the switch tells the ECU to shift and that in turn moves the transmission-side swash plate to a predetermined angle causing a noticeable traditional feeling shift. It’s as close to feeling like a regular motorcycle shift as possible, albeit without a clutch.

Power is produced by an electronic fuel-injected liquid-cooled 680 cc V-Twin engine. Power delivery is smooth and the big triangular exhaust on the right hand side is very quiet, so-much-so that you sometimes wonder if it’s running. The transmission transfers torque to the rear wheel via shaft drive, the housing of which acts as the single-sided swingarm.

There is no question that the design of the DN-01 is unique. As mentioned earlier, the Honda engineers designed the motorcycle to some of the similarities of a car without the surrounding cage. The seating position is very much car-like. From the rider’s viewpoint, it has an instrument panel similar to a car and the front of the bike stretches out in front, much like a car does. While the DN-01 does have a front brake lever, the large rear brake pedal does offer limited braking power to the front brake helping to make braking less intimidating. The ABS system alleviates any concerns new riders may have of accidentally locking up the front wheel in a panic situation. Honda hopes these factors will help sway someone that is thinking they want the wind in their face to accept the easy to ride, user friendly DN-01.

The wide comfortable seat offers lots of wiggle room so you can find your proper riding position quickly and easily. I did find that after an hour or so of riding that my lower back felt some discomfort, but I couldn’t quite figure out why, considering the ergonomics are comfortable. Maybe it was the forward slope of the seat?

The low windscreen does two things. It relieves any wind pressure from mid-chest down leaving your upper torso and head in the wind. Because it is clean wind I felt no buffeting of my helmet. The other thing the windscreen does is block your view of the digital sweep tachometer at the top of the instrument pod. Considering it’s an automatic, this isn’t a big deal at all and moving your head down slightly does reveal the whole instrument pod.

The instrument assembly features the digital sweep tach, a digital speedometer that is capable of changing from mph to km/h, a fuel gauge, gear indicator, two trip meters and a clock.

In ready to ride trim, meaning all fluids, battery and a full tank of fuel, the DN-01 weighs in at 270 kg (595 lb), the DN-01 was easy to lift off of the side stand and was a breeze to ride. It handled just as well on a 70 mph Interstate as it did in congested city traffic.

One commonality with the sport bikes of today is the 17-inch wheels front and back. The DN-01 wears a 130/70 up front while the back utilizes a 190/50 ensuring that top quality rubber will always be easy to find. Stopping those 17-inch pieces of rubber is a pair of 296 mm rotors with 3-piston calipers on the front and a dual-piston caliper squeezing a 276 mm rotor out back. The Combined Braking System delivers exceptional stopping control and it takes a very strong squeeze to get the ABS to kick in.

The DN-01 was released in Europe last year and its sales far exceeded expectation. With an MSRP of $17,625, it will be most interesting to see how sales progress in North America. Most motorcyclists will consider the price tag expensive, but the motorcyclist is not the intended target for the DN-01, and Honda is banking that those new to the sport will buy into the idea that ease of use outweighs the asking price.

Both the Fury and the DN-01 will only be available through Honda’s Powerhouse dealerships. Honda has developed a new ABS system unlike anything seen before. Read all about it in the June issue of Motorcycle Mojo Magazine.

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