Motorcycle or Scooter? Alun Davies checks out the new Honda X-ADV and delves into the mind of the UK biker
If he were still alive, I’d have commissioned Dr Anthony Clare to co-write this review of the new Honda X-ADV. The good Dr, just to remind you, presented the excellent In The Psychiatrists Chair on BBC Radio 4 between the years of 1982 and 2001.
A master of incisive interrogation, Clare conducted in-depth interviews with prominent people from different walks of life, inviting them to answer penetrating questions about their lives. Often moving and always insightful, Clare’s questions went to the very heart of his subjects as he encouraged them to talk frankly about their deepest fears, innermost feelings and what type of two-wheeled transport they self-identified with? Motorcycle or scooter; mod or rocker; Sting or Brando? Just in case you’re wondering I made the last bit up.
Anyway, prior to the launch over in Sardinia any mention of the Honda X-ADV would be accompanied with the words ‘Honda’s new adventure scooter’. However, having now inspected and ridden the machine I can tell you it’s no scooter, and neither is it a motorcycle when held up against traditional two-wheeled psychology or ideology.
It possesses features of both a motorcycle and a scooter but even if you pinned me up against a wall with a spinning drill bit feathering my temple I’d not deem it to be either. The Honda X-ADV is a genuine hybrid. It’s new, it’s interesting, it’s inventive and it’s a very bold move by Honda. Let’s put it this way, both Sting and Brando would probably need a bit of self-image counselling before mounting one.
The launch opened with a very enthusiastic presentation by Honda’s Italian R&D team who’d spent many a year trying to convince their counterparts over in Japan of the viability of the X-ADV. In the words of the originator Daniele Lucchesi, ‘the Japanese just didn’t get it’. And I’d imagine there’s quite a few reading this very feature right now who’d share that sentiment.
Daniele’s idea for the X-ADV was conceived a long while back on the Greek Island of Ios whilst attempting to chauffeur his girlfriend by scooter to Manganari Beach for a spot of relationship building. Unfortunately, the trail was too gnarly for the scooter and so (a presumably frustrated) Daniele came up with his dream concept… A go-anywhere machine featuring a combination of the best features of a motorcycle and a scooter.
I kid you not, this is where the idea of the X-ADV originated, and what followed was an almost religious pursuit of making his dream a reality whilst faced with numerous ‘I don’t get it’ replies from the men with the money over in Japan.
Daniele told his story with such great passion, humour and sense of pride that I was left thinking I should buy an X-ADV to keep the story alive. And fair play to Honda for eventually backing creativity and offering us, the two-wheeled consumer, something genuinely new and inventive.
So, what we’ve got here is a cross between a motorcycle and scooter (booter or sike?), with looks that carry a hint of Honda’s Africa Twin. And there’s a reason for that, Maurizio Carbonara, a Honda designer based in Italy, is the architect of both. Maurizio was next up in the presentation, and in an equally passionate display told us that his creation came from a vision of combining the best parts of a scooter, adventure bike and SUV. He’s a blue-sky thinker is Maurizio.
Checking out the X-ADV at close quarters, I have to say that there’s a lot of different surfaces to stroke, angles to catch the eye, features of interest and quality engineering to keep you intrigued. There are also parts from the Africa Twin and, with a nod in the direction of SUVs, there’s even an automatic ‘luggage lamp’ in the storage area under the seat. I’d imagine there’s a Touratech aluminium adventure luggage lamp guard in the pipeline as I type.
Having seen the machine up close, my overall first impression was that this ‘hybrid’ was not some sort of two-wheeled freak, nor the makings of a design department given too much rope, but a well put together and serious product from a respected manufacturer. However, the impediment I see, feel and detect is that Brits may ‘just not get it’.
Unlike our European counterparts who go straight from the breast to riding a scooter, the UK is predominately a motorcycle nation, and I can foresee the possibility of a self-image buying constraint. Will I still be a ‘biker’ on a X-ADV? Do I wear leathers? Or textiles? Or maybe even flip flops and shorts? This machine challenges the emotional pull and connection of buying a motorcycle and the self-identification that comes with it. I went to bed with images of Brighton being torn apart by Mods, Rockers and X-ADVers.
The next morning, I swung a leg over the new machine and thought… ‘That was a lot easier than climbing on a tall adventure bike and it’s just like sitting on a Harley’. The stance is legs forward, spine dead straight and arms straight ahead, though at 6ft 2in I felt the bars could have been positioned a little further forward. If you’re used to riding an adventure bike then it’s going to feel a bit strange, but if you’re coming from a cruiser you’ll feel at home.
This ‘big bike’ riding position is very much at odds with the small front end of the bike which, from the saddle, looks more like you’ve just stepped on a moped rather than what is quite a sizeable 750cc two-wheeler.
But don’t get me wrong here, the riding stance is comfortable, and the dashboard layout is spot on, easy to read and offers enough information to enable you to land a space shuttle on Mars. It’s just that the front end appears very small and, dare I say it, ‘scooterish’. A couple of other pre-ride observations of note; the parking brake is a work of art built into the front fairing and you get hero blobs on the centre stand.
Pulling away from the hotel the X-ADV certainly sounded like a motorcycle, in fact very similar to the DCT Africa Twin I’d been riding just the day before. The bike is also fitted with Honda’s twist and go Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) of which I am a confirmed fan, but for those who like manual operation you also get bar-mounted paddles for rider controlled changes.
The engine is the same parallel-twin as used in the Honda NC750 motorcycle, but with 500rpm at the top end. It’s also been tuned for a 270-degree firing order, which means it feels more like you’re riding a V-Twin and accounts for the pleasing exhaust note and mild throb of the engine. You also get three engine modes with a standard (D) setting for around town plus Sport 1 and Sport 2 for when you need a bit of get up and go.
With 52bhp the X-ADV is not going to create any new land speed records, nor is it going to cause your eyeballs to recede into your skull under acceleration, but that’s not what this bike is about. It’s fast enough though, and it is great fun to ride and if you’re in the mood for a red mist moment you’ll get to use all the engine, which is becoming a bit of a novelty these days. Try doing the same on a hyper-powered adventure bike and I’ll bake you a cake with a file in it.
And if you’ve noticed that I’ve started to refer to the X-ADV as a bike then here’s the reason; if it sounds like a motorcycle and handles like a motorcycle then it’s a… I’m still not sure.
The suspension provides a very comfortable ride and therefore it’s also a little wallowy, but overall the handling is very good, precise and sharp with the centre stand hero blobs getting a good workout during the day. It handles and performs far better than I thought it would, and it certainly stood up to some serious right-hand exercise on the snaky Sardinian back-roads.
The long-wheelbase (1,590mm) also means it’s pretty rock solid when ridden flat out, but what I did find was that when smacking over any largish bump in the road, I’d slide forward into serious wedgie territory.
Riding at 70mph is effortless and speed appreciation felt just about right. In other words, when I thought I was riding at 70mph I was. At these motorway speeds, I found the adjustable screen to be adequate but a little on the narrow side which meant some buffeting at the shoulders and, at 6ft 2in, the knee bend angle was just a little sharper than I’m used to on adventure bikes. Overall though, this is a very comfortable machine and I’d have no worries setting out on a long-distance ride across Europe on the X-ADV.
The brakes provide good stopping power but you do get a significant front end dive, and it was noticeable how early the ABS cuts in. It’s also quite a juddery ABS system. Putting the brakes to the test in a car park on dry, grippy tarmac, I found the ABS activating when there was no need to and during our off-road trial I found it impossible to come to a stop without the ABS cutting in – which in some instances meant I didn’t come to a stop when I wanted too.
But then I doubt any X-ADV owner is going to ride at the pace we did in Sardinia, or thrash the bike on serious off-road trails, in which case the brakes are more than adequate.
Talking of off-road, the ride out included a short section of gravel and sand near the coast and a dusty, rutted forest trail up in the hills. It was just enough to establish that the X-ADV will cope well with gentle off-road conditions taken at lower speeds. And in fairness to Honda, I’ve been on adventure bike launches where we’ve not been allowed off the black stuff.
Over the course of the day, I began to accept the X-ADV for what it is rather than projecting what I thought it would be. I started to think how useful that huge space under the seat would be for a tobacco run over to Belgium, how user-friendly it would be for commuting through the gridlock chaos of a Stratford upon Avon summer, and how much I’d value its character on a relaxing run through the stunning scenery in Mid Wales. In short, the X-ADV won me over.
Specs at a glance:
54hp @ 6,250rpm
50.14ftlb @ 4,750rpm
41mm upside-down forks
Front; 120/70 17. Rear; 160/60 15
As a commuter
The X-ADV would make a great stylish commuter with its excellent mpg and huge under-seat storage. Agile enough for the city and comfortable and powerful enough for longer distance commutes.
As a weekend tourer
What’s not to like. Comfortable, economical and just enough power from the 750cc engine to make the ride stress free on motorways and pleasurable on less crowded A and B roads. Plus, you’ll appreciate the under-seat storage and maybe, just maybe, even taking on the occasional easy green lane.
As an off-roader
Honda has made a brave attempt at making the X-ADV off-road capable. In reality, it’s OK on forestry roads, but you’re not going to buy this machine for its mud plugging prowess. If you have off-road aspirations look elsewhere.
As a continental road tourer
This is no rocket ship mile muncher, it’s a mid-range tourer that’ll still cover the distance in comfort and have you enjoying the scenery rather than blasting through it. You’ll appreciate the mpg, secure under-seat storage and if you’re like me, the relaxed nature of the ride.
As an RTW overlander
You know, given the time I’d like to be the first to take an X-ADV around the world. I’ve no doubt about its capabilities to circumnavigate the globe though I’d pick my route carefully to avoid the more gnarly options.
As a pillion carrier
We’ve yet to get a long-term verdict from the pillion seat, but it looks comfortable enough for two-up touring.