Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Honda NTV600

Honda have managed to go from filling the roads with large numbers of CX500s and VT500s, to making the Revere an extremely rare beast. The reason for this is very simple - they cost £3500 new. For that kind of money, or just a little extra, there are any number of bikes that go much faster, and just to confuse things even more, consume less fuel.

Technologically advanced, with its single sided swinging arm and wrap around frame, it might-be, but a bottom line of 55hp and rather odd styling means it’s been sidelined into a category reserved for the eccentric and rich. But in a world where good used bikes are becoming rare, the fact that a year old NTV with minimal miles on the clock can be picked up for £2500 should not be totally neglected. And the NTV is by no means a bad bike. Just a badly thought out one.

Ugh! The wheels look dreadful, the frame joins headstock and swinging arm mounting point with commendable directness, but the line of the frame conflicts with the angle of the cylinders and the horrible routing of the rear exhaust pipe will have all true engineers grasping for their hacksaw and welding torch. The sculptured tank and integrated sidepanel/ seat unit almost saves the day.

Sitting on the bike is a great improvement, as the seat is low, the bars and pegs well positioned and the gentle burble of the watercooled V-twin encouraging. First tgear, in the tradition of most shaft drive bikes, engages with a loud clunk and the bike can then be ridden off with minimal throttle. 

V-twins have always had a reputation for relaxed riding and low speed torque development. The Honda is no exception with the bonus of a marked lack of vibration and nice precise feel to the controls, the gearchange excepted. The bike can be rolled along in fourth or fifth with the throttle just off closed and 30 to 40mph on the clock. Whacking open the throttle didn’t fluff the engine, nor did it propel the bike forward at a rapid rate. A deepening of the exhaust note was eventually followed by a rise in revs.

Playing with the gearbox like a madman made the thing move a bit faster, but there was no way it was ever going to come close to the arm wrenching lunacy of some middleweights... in fact, it felt very much like a British 650 in a mild state of tune.

The handling was rather good, though. This had little to do with its single sided swinging arm or its mono-shock suspension. It is well known amongst Jap manufacturers and the more experienced journos that there are few real advantages in mono-shock suspension, just a lot of nasty maintenance tasks thanks to exposed, grease nipple-less, suspension linkages. Good handling comes from geometry, strong frames, hefty swinging arms and well supported bearings at the headstock and swinging arms, not to mention decent suspension. All things that can easily be incorporated into twin shock set-ups.

Thus, the NTV’s prime features merely increase the price without giving any benefits. Backing off the throttle in comers upset the NTV a lot less that doing the same on a BMW or, worse still, a big Guzzi, but it felt a lot less safe in such a mode than a sixties Norton or my GPz500.

Apart from this, and a rear shock that didn’t take kindly to having two people on board, handling was commendably neutral and there was enough feedback to make wet weather riding a reasonable proposition. 

Moronic designers who insist on putting a disc brake on the back wheel should be taken outside and given a public flogging. OK, if you’ve got a 900lb Harley with a dodgy front brake, then it just might be a good idea, but under normal circumstances it’s overkill of the most absurd and dangerous sort. The item fitted to the Honda was not sensitive enough to avoid locking up the back wheel and had the caliper placed in an even more ridiculous place than usual, just right to pick up the maximum amount of crud. Technologically advanced? What a fucking laugh!

Luckily, the huge single front disc, was of more reasonable design, although its power was sufficient to twist the forks when used in anger. In fact, after using a similar item on the GPz500, I’m convinced that it’s a much better idea to have two discs out front, despite the increases in complexity...

I did a 500 mile in a day ride on the Honda, a mixture of motorway and fast A-roads. The Honda would cruise up to 90mph without complaint, faster speeds were uncomfortable due to wind blast and the need to rev beyond the power peak of 8000rpm, when vibes made an unwelcome appearance. After five minutes stretching my legs, I felt quite willing to jump on the bike again, something that could not be said of many, much larger machines. Even the nubile was still talking to me.

Just checking the valve clearances on the front cylinder looks like a difficult job, although, these days, most people just change the oil and hope for the best, so perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Fuel consumption, given the lack of go, was the usual appalling stuff, although, these days, averaging 50mpg appears to have many a youthful hack, just out of the cradle, applauding such dreadful thirst. The best that I managed was 63mpg and the worst was 32mpg, the owner reckoned he managed 54mpg, and he rode moderately most of the time. I suspect that the routing of the rear exhaust can’t help engine efficiency, neither does the routing of the carb inlets. Given technological advances, anything less than 80mpg is an insult. I mean, if British twins of similar performance could average 60 to 65mpg three decades ago just what do the Iaps think they are doing?

The rear tyre was worn out after 4500 miles and as the owner was an old chap this is pretty disgusting, but by no means exceptional. The front tyre had about another 1500 miles life left. The engine unit has been around in VT500 form long enough to iron out any minor problems, so should be long lived and reliable.

The NTV is a nice enough bike to run around on, but in no area really exceptional for a late 80s Jap. As a cheap hack, the engine and frame would certainly be useful, but that’s not an area that the NTV is aimed at. There is, I suppose, a market for bikes with the aura of quality - and it does have that - that BMW pursue with their overweight, underpowered slugs, and in that context the Honda is no worse value than a BMW.

As it stands, the new price is far too high although used prices are more reasonable. I suppose there are enough mechanically ignorant, disgustingly rich, half blind yuppies out there to sell a few new ’uns that the more discerning of us can then pick up for a song on the secondhand market.

Al Culler

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