Honda Deauville


By Kevin Ash

Pictures: Double Red, Giuseppe Gori

There was a sense of inevitability about how the bike press was going to treat Honda’s middleweight weight touring bike when the thoroughly revised version appeared during 2006, after eight years of nothing much happening. The Dullsville it was known as: the motor didn’t howl like a racer’s, the steering was slow and safe, it was upright and comfortable, it looked inoffensive, it barely did 100mph for goodness’ sake! It was therefore dull, worthy but not worth much space in magazines, where outright performance was deemed to be a priority. And the new one isn’t very different really, not in its fundamentals.

Deville_17Click on image for galleryAll of which sounds like a pre-emptive apology for not coming down hard on a boring bike, but context is crucial and in fact although the Deauville is good at what it’s supposed to do, it’s not perfect at addressing its aims. The first version arrived in 1998 with the primary function as urban commuting machine, a motorcycle version of a scooter, but thanks to its shaft drive, comfortable riding position and integrated luggage it also took on the role of middleweight touring bike, a previously unpopulated category it invented almost serendipitously. There are still no direct competitors, although other bikes do the same job very well, notably Suzuki’s 650 V-Strom, a bike I rate very highly and which is now available as a fully-loaded Grand Touring version.

Deuville_26Despite apparently being long overdue for an update, it seems the final spur to create the new model was legislative anyway, as the then-imminent Euro 3 emissions regulations would have outlawed the old bike’s engine by 2007. So the near-classic, liquid-cooled V-twin gained 33cc for a total 680cc capacity, along with alterations to clean up the exhaust and sharpen its response. While the performance might not inspire some writers, technically it’s an interesting motor. The old version was a product of Honda’s flirtation with three valve heads, although that’s finally changed on the new Deauville which has the conventional four-valves (the central spark plug these allow makes a big improvement to the cleanliness of the combustion which the three-valve layout couldn’t match). But the crankshaft is still unique in motorcycling with its offset crankpin arrangement: rather than both conrods sharing one crankpin, as on other V-twins, the Deauville motor has an extra central crank web with the two crankpins set apart from each other around the crankshaft, a design which has the 52-degree V mimicking a smoother, 90-degree V in terms of primary balance.

Deville_12But thanks to the cylinder head and many other changes (including the addition of fuel injection) the motor gains a much-needed 10bhp with 15 per cent more torque. No, I’m not reverting to performance mode, these are needed here as the Deauville is a fine two-up machine, and when that’s two-up touring it means carrying a considerable load, something the old model could be overwhelmed by. It’s still not fast but it is easy and relaxing to ride, as the engine pulls comfortably from low rpm in higher gears, so meandering up mountain passes is not the effort it once was. Less impressive is the engine’s motorway behaviour, another important distance traveller’s concern. While it responds well enough and can maintain anything up to 90mph (145kph) regardless of topography, the vibration becomes harsh. With more than 6500rpm on the rev counter, around 80mph (130kph) on the road, the motor buzzes strongly through all points of contact with the rider, and the discomfort will annoy some riders. Honda is aware this is an issue and says it will look at altering the engine mounting arrangement to deal with it, but it’s very late to put right something like this, so for now expect the showroom bikes to be little different.

Deville_14As for that load-carrying capacity, the Deauville is still weak in this respect. The built-in panniers are larger than before but still don’t impress with their volume – you’d most definitely want to add a top box (available as an option) and a tank bag too, and even then two people would have to pack light. The pannier system does include a hole between the two cases crossing from side to side, which Honda says a French baguette stick loaf will fit inside, but in fact if this really is important to you you should note that the standard length of a French loaf is about 24in (60cm) (some of its dimensions such as the 5-6cm width and 3-4cm height are defined under French law – you learn a lot on ashonbikes eh!) which is slightly too long for the Deauville. So you’ll have to chop up your baguette first... But anyway it’s the basic volume rather than shape which will trouble some riders, even with the optional deeper lids. You’d need a top box too to fulfil the bike’s original guise as commuter vehicle, as without it there’s nowhere to put a briefcase, and even strapping one on the seat isn’t easy as the smooth rear end finish offers nowhere to hook elastic straps to.

Honda_Deauville_01In other respects the Deauville does well. Comfort is extremely good and weather protection is not bad, although your hands are exposed to the rain, while the suspension is exceptionally good, providing a very high ride quality with good control in cornering and under heavy braking. The stoppers themselves have improved, although they were already good, thanks to an excellent incarnation of Honda’s proven ABS (a £300 option in the UK which will appear on most Deauvilles) and front-rear combination braking. The bike’s range will be better too, as the fuel capacity is up slightly to 4.3 gallons (19.5 litres) and Honda says economy is eight per cent better. As the old bike would manage 50mpg (17.7km/l, 5.65 l/100km, 42mpg US) easily enough, that means (tap tap of calculator…) you should be able to cover 230 miles (370km) before running dry.

Annoyingly, the so-called easily-adjustable screen demands at least 10 minutes’ spanner work to raise or lower, making Honda’s suggestion that riders would lower it in town then raise it for country riding look rather weak. I don’t know any who’d bother. It’s a real shame a simple lever system hasn’t been incorporated as it would improve the bike usefully.

It’s not a bike for riders looking to savour a communicative chassis or punchy motor, but for getting places in comfort and just enjoying being on a motorcycle, it does a good job. It could be better though.

Joined: 24/03/2011

Its worth noting that in 2008 Honda updated the screen mechanism and made it manually adjustable without spanners and with five positions. Its easily adjustable now when stationary (but not on the move). An electric adjustable option is also available (but not cheap).

kevash's picture
Joined: 05/10/2008

Thanks for that Andy, I didn't know that, and it was definitely worth doing. On-board adjustability would be even better though!