Bike Review – 900 Miles with the Honda NM4

In Japan, Reviews by Abhi9 Comments

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I’ll say it…I think this bike is gorgeous. With that said, despite 3 weeks and 900 miles with the Honda NM4, I’m still not sure what I think of it.

It looks like what someone in the 80s thought bikes would look like today, and it looks like it should have a 300 horsepower engine and machine guns that deploy out of the fairing (which by the way, should be allowed to steal the “batwing” name from Harley’s fairing). Instead, it’s hard for me not to call this a maxi-scooter that’s powered by a 54 horsepower engine paired with an automatic transmission. Would I prefer this bike with a clutch lever and a manual transmission? Absolutely. But it’s not an option, and it’s not what Honda was shooting for, so I won’t waste any more time on that subject.

The Good:
– Gorgeous styling (hope you like being the center of attention).
– Automatic transmission works almost flawlessly.
– I got 66 miles per gallon.
– Flip-up backrest greatly adds to driver comfort.

Photo by Aaron Schasse

The Bad:
– Luggage compartments are disappointing.
– Though I said the automatic transmission is almost flawless, there’s one big issue – holding a steady or slightly increasing RPM in a long sweeper can trigger an upshift, which unsettles the bike mid-corner. Absolutely infuriating.
– Mirrors just show you the grips and your hands.
– Bizarre fuel gauge behavior.

The Verdict:
Almost seems unfair for me to know what this bike is supposed to be when Honda isn’t even sure of it themselves – they call it a touring bike:

Honda NM4 - Positioning

but the cargo capacity is laughable and long distance comfort if you’re 2-up isn’t great. As a commuter, this would be an excellent motorcycle. But the gap between what it looks like and how it performs is hard to reconcile – it would be like a car that had the styling of a Lamborghini Sesto Elemento:

photo from http://gta.wikia.com/File:Lamborghini_Sesto_Elemento.jpg

photo from http://gta.wikia.com/File:Lamborghini_Sesto_Elemento.jpg

that had the powetrain from a Honda Civic – disappointing. I guess if you’re willing to pay an extra couple of grand (compared to the “normal” CTX700) to stand out from the crowd and don’t mind an automatic transmission, this is the perfect bike.

Read on if you’re looking for more thoughts…
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When I picked up the bike, I was immediately surprised by how low it is.

A quick walk-around revealed several well-thought features:
– storage cubbies up in the front fender, one of which has a 12V cigarette outlet

photo from Honda

photo from Honda

– integrated rear luggage
photo from Honda

photo from Honda

– passenger seat that flips up to become a driver’s backrest
– LED headlight – this is one of the best headlights I’ve ever enjoyed on a motorcycle

My walk-around also confirmed something for me almost instantly – I think this bike looks great (but then again, I’m a child of the 80s). You may or may not agree with me, but you can’t deny that it’s striking and I have to commend Honda for taking such a styling risk. They have a recent history of taking styling risks, like with the Fury, the DN-01, or the Rune…

Photo from http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/289/7274/Motorcycle-Article/Memorable-Motorcycles--Honda-Rune.aspx

Photo from http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/289/7274/Motorcycle-Article/Memorable-Motorcycles–Honda-Rune.aspx

…but the NM4 is something else.

Hopping on the bike also revealed a couple of things right off the bat. First, muscle memory is a powerful thing – I kept reaching for the non-existent clutch lever whenever I slowed to a stop. The transmission is effective, and has three modes. In Drive (where the LCD gauges all light up blue), the scoot is all about fuel economy. It shifts up way too early and zaps any grunt the V-Twin might have given you. I highly recommend you don’t spend any time there. Instead, engage Sport (gauges light up purple), where the transmission computers let you wind it out before it upshifts on you. Or if you’re looking to ‘shift’ yourself, you can engage Manual mode (gauges light up red). Shift up with your left index finger, down with your left thumb. There’s an override to make sure you don’t act too stupid, but I thought the manual mode followed my commands well.

Here’s what it looks like when you switch from Drive to Manual and back:

After spending too much time playing with the color changing gauges (25 options, if you’re into that),

photo from Honda

photo from Honda

I spent some time around Los Angeles trying to get a feel for the bike in town. Was this going to be the new savior of motorcycling?

Highlights included an impressive single disc brake up front, excellent wind protection from the optional tall windscreen, comfortable posture thanks to the flip-up backrest, and attention from everyone.

Felt like every time I looked back at the NM4, someone new was checking it out.

Felt like every time I looked back at the NM4, someone new was checking it out.

I was constantly asked at stoplights or parking lots what the bike was, with people telling me that it should be the next Batcycle. Whenever I said that it was a Honda, I was usually met with puzzled expressions.

Photo by Aaron Schasse.

The NM4 is very easy to ride, but there are two big issues. First, nearly everything to do with fuel on this bike is needlessly complicated. The bike has a 3 gallon tank, but the low fuel warning comes on with 1.2 gallons left. The problem is, once you hit reserve, the bike starts counting UP from a flashing 0.0, which does nothing except scare you into thinking you need to refill ASAP. Once you go to refuel, the filler neck is at an awkward angle so you can’t fill up the tank to the brim. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not terrible, but it’s definitely more of a pain in the ass than it needs to be.

Photo by Aaron Schasse.

The second issue has to do with the transmission when you’re in Drive mode (which is the fully automatic setting). In Drive, the tranny likes to upshift as early as possible. So if you’re in a medium to fast sweeper and you’re at constant or slightly open throttle, the bike will shift up, which can throw you off your line and bog you down lower in the RPM range. It’s fantastically annoying, and if you’re really on the limit of lean angle, it could be dangerous. I think the transmission should get an input signal from a lean sensor to hold the bike in gear in a corner if you’re really pitched over.

The girlfriend and I decided to test Honda’s claim of this being a touring bike by going 2-up to Vegas:

The optional rear rack has a backrest, but she found it to be too short to yield useful support. In terms of comfort, she rated it in the bottom half of bikes she’s been the passenger on.

The rack also helps the storage woes a little bit, allowing you to mount a soft bag or top case. You could theoretically mount a soft bag without the rack, but the slope of the tail is quite sharp:

I know that some riders will immediately dismiss this bike because of the automatic transmission, but that’s not fair. While I do prefer manuals (with cars and bikes), this bike is very competent with day to day riding, and the lean angle is better than you’d expect from a bike with floorboards. I do have to admit that I’m still not sure who Honda thought their target market was with this bike, but I’m just glad they’re taking chances.

The NM4 is easily capable of cruising at 90 miles per hour (not that I’d ever do such a thing).

Here’s what it boils down to. The Honda NM4 is a motorcycle, and I love bikes. It doesn’t matter what I’m riding, I’m going to find a way to have fun with it. Would I spend $11,000 of my own money on this? No. But as long as you don’t mind not shifting, it’s a good bike that turns heads.

So many bikes look too similar nowadays, and I can’t applaud Honda enough for going a bit off the deep end from a styling perspective. May other manufacturers follow their lead.

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