2023 Honda Transalp Review

Story by David Booth// Photos by David Booth
August 29 2023

The return of the prodigal son does not disappoint.

Once again, I must salute the esprit de corps of the good folks at Sondrio, Italy’s, Stilmoto Honda dealership. No sooner had I entered the shop — after a year’s absence, no less — than Danielle and Matteo were offering up their new Transalp 750 demo for me to ride in anticipation of it coming to Canada in the near future. And, as always, they did so with absolutely no restrictions, so you’re getting these first impressions directly from the Bernina Pass, exactly the type of road the Transalp was designed for.

Ask anyone — an author, a recording artist, hell, even a motorcycle designer — which is harder: hammering out your first bestseller/chart-topper/runaway segment topper, or its follow-up. Unless you’re the Beatles or Massimo Tamburini, the answer is almost always the same. Remaining at the top is a damned sight tougher than getting there. One-hit wonders, whether they were a-ha (who brought you the ultra-catchy Take on Me) and Craig Vetter (he who designed the Windjammer and then a whole bunch of crap best left forgotten) are far more common than the Paul McCartneys that remain at the top of their game for their entire career.

Ditto for motorcycles. Look at Suzuki’s GSX-R750. It fairly created the concept of the Japanese superbike some 45 or so years ago and yet, now that it may be homologated into the World Super Sports “New Generation” regime, it remains relevant all these years later. Now compare that with Honda’s CBR1000RR. When was that last relevant? Like I said, the first one is easy. Following up is hard.

Redo of an Icon

Which brings us to the case of another Honda remake of an icon: the new Transalp 750, the latest new re-creation hoping to beat the odds. A true cult classic — at least over in Europe — in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the original Transalp became the very definition of the do-anything, go-anywhere motorcycle. BMW’s R80 G/S may have started the adventure craze, but it was the Transalp that popularized it.

Blessed with an unburstable V-twin engine, sophisticated (for its time) suspension and just enough bodywork to justify the touring aspect of the “adventure” genre, the Transalp quickly became the standard by which a motorcycle’s versatility was measured. Even today, XL600- and XL650-Transalps remain in great demand, pristine examples commanding significantly more than their original MSRP. Amongst the hardcore adventuring sect, the original is nothing less than a cult classic.

Thirty-five years later, the not-quite-in-Canada-yet 2023 Transalp might be about to repeat its predecessor’s impact. Like its predecessor, its key strength is that it has no outright flaws. The engine, for instance, is…


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