Honda DN-01

Honda_DN01_15

By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Francesc Montero, Ula Serra, Felix Romero




Confusion. If there was a consistent theme running through the presentation of Honda’s new DN-01, then this was it. Confusion first in exactly what the DN-01 is or is meant to do: it looks more like a scooter than anything else, and it has a twist-and-go transmission, so as with any other scooter, you turn the twistgrip and ride away without having to worry about gears or clutch. But its engine is very much a motorcycle unit, the easy going if rather unexciting 680cc V-twin found in the Deauville tourer, detuned to a soporific but new-licence-friendly 33bhp, and final drive is by shaft rather than the usual belt. Between the two is a two-wheeler first, a fully variable, automatic transmission dependent on hydraulics rather than the usual belts and variable diameter pulleys. It’s certainly clever, using a swash plate (a disc mounted centrally on the end of a drive shaft, tilted like a wobbling plate) to drive hydraulic pumps which in turn drive hydraulic motors that power the rear wheel. The swash plate’s angle is varied by an ECU-controlled solenoid, effectively altering the gearing automatically.

Honda_DN01_13Click on image for galleryBecause of this unique transmission and the V-twin motor, among other reasons the DN-01 is not really a scooter, according to Honda. But the bottom line is, you sit on it, you open the throttle and off it goes, and it won’t matter to the majority of owners (assuming there’s more than one...) whether it’s belts, hydraulics or witchcraft beneath the very strange looking bodywork.

It’s easy enough to ride, a design aim I do understand and happen to agree with. The transmission takes up power smoothly and the engine pulls quite strongly, with better acceleration than a Rolls Royce Phantom... yes, without any sense of the absurd, we were told that the DN-01 has a superior 0-60mph time than the quarter million pound luxury car. That’s 5.8 seconds, if you’re interested, which happens to be very slow for a middleweight motorcycle. But then it’s not a motorcycle, says Honda, although it’s not exactly a luxury car either, is it? And the Phantom will have it for top speed, should you ever meet one on the autobahn.

Still, the DN-01 meanwhile steers very well and the ride quality is pretty good (but I doubt it’s quite up to a Phantom’s, which is probably why the car comparison was dropped at this point), although if you’re above average height you have to duck down to see the instruments as the tiny screen’s only function appears to be hiding them.

Honda_DN01_18This does relieve the back ache tall riders seem to get though, even after a short ride. Your legs are set well forward but the bars are close to the rider, so you feel as if you’re leaning slightly backwards, and for me and others, it starts to hurt. You’re also perched upright in the slipstream and even 70mph is hard work on the arms. Again, a Phantom does rather better by comparison.

You can if you wish alter the transmission to a sportier mode, which lets the engine rev higher, or switch to ‘manual’ where a rocker on the left bar lets you select from six virtual ratios. In practice this is merely annoying as it’s so nannying you can’t change down unless the engine is almost idling – try to select first from second for example at anything more than 8mph and it refuses. It’s not even unique, exactly the same functions have been available on the Suzuki Burgman 650 since 2002, using an electronically controlled conventional belt drive, but on that you’re allowed to change down at any revs that won’t destroy the engine, and even then the novelty wears off after 10 minutes. Aside from a little more crispness in the Honda’s drive, you’d not tell the difference either, and it’s no more efficient at power transmission than a variable belt system, but it does cost 50 per cent more than a manual gearbox to produce. Confused? I was.

Honda_DN01_03So who is it for? Honda’s marketing say the DN-01 is aimed at techno early adopters who aren’t motorcyclists, an alleged species that buys stuff because it’s technically interesting, and buys it straight away to be different. The problem here is, they’ll first need to rush out and get their CBT and bike licence, which rather takes the spontaneity out of it, adding instead a heavy layer of exactly the sort of commitment I doubt these people have. If they have licences already then they’re motorcyclists or scooterists and won’t understand the DN-01.

It’s also meant to look very cool, sufficiently so to sell to people previously uninterested in bikes. Again we have the licence problem, but that’s not the only one. Maybe this is because I’m coming at it from a motorcycle and scooter angle, but I think the DN-01 looks faintly ridiculous with someone on board stuck bolt upright in the middle of its long, low form, and certainly not cool. At best, it’s interesting.

Scooter riders won’t be the slightest bit interested as the DN-01 not only offers no wind or weather protection, it has no storage space. That’s as in, none at all, not even a tiny glove compartment, although if you buy a doughnut of the right size it will slot over the fuel filler neck. It might taste of petrol afterwards though.

Honda_DN01_09But having told us about these super trendy early adopters with handy bike licences but no interest in bikes, the marketing bods then explained that the DN-01 is so different, essentially they’re releasing it to see who does buy it. And that’s why it has no storage space or optional luggage, because these would impose categories and preconceptions on it that will not allow it a full and free reign to find its own way. I think I got that right. And I think that sounds like confusion: rather than opening up possibilities, it closes them down. The DN-01 might have been a trendy choice for recently bonused city execs, except they can’t even fit a fat wallet in it, or it could have been a cool(ish) weekend away tourer. As it is, Honda will never know.

As well as the lack of weather protection and storage, one other factor distinguishes the DN-01 from other scooters (let’s face it, this is a maxi-scooter devoid of the advantages or the point of other maxi-scooters), and that’s the price. Okay, it’s cheaper than a Rolls Royce, but at £9000 (seriously) it’s as much as a Honda Fireblade. To put this in perspective, that has more storage space and better weather protection than a DN-01, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s much, much more cool. It’s also an awful lot faster than a Phantom.


Other Scooters

shuggiemac
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Has any one actually seen one of these on the roads yet? I have to be fair but then it again it was only once and a dealer bike. I am guessing that they are wondering why on earth they wasted their cash putting one of these in the demo fleet.

Honda's point about attracting the techno freaks may work in the countries of the world where bike licences are handed out very easily, in other words America but as the article mentions, in the UK and indeed other European countries, then this is something I can not see fly.

I am puzzled how something like this can have gotten to this stage as it must cost a significant amount of cash to put a machine like this into production. I am not questioning the styling as that is just too personal but objectivly where does this machine fall? It seems to answer a question that no one has asked. Maybe an upside of the economic crisis will be that the manufacturers will have to think a bit more serioulsy about developing bikes that the market really does now want.

kevash
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Honda UK is bringing in a tiny handful of them, they know they won't sell, and privately agree with pretty much all I say about it. They made a big deal of Ruby Wax's husband buying one, but that probably sums it up anyway, a celeb's plaything with no real world purpose (sums up celebs too come to think of it). Honda is an engineering-led company so this sort of thing does happen now and then, the engineers will make something they like then the marketing people are stuck with selling it. But if they're prepared to make mistakes it also means they can come up trumps this way too - the Fireblade was engineering led, it was nearly binned because the marketing people said everyone wanted a litre superbike to take on the GSX-R1100 and EXUP but with more power, and they couldn't possibly sell a Honda competitor with less power.
So in the DN-01's case I'll slate the bike but forgive the approach...

shuggiemac
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It is desperate indeed if the best bit of hype is Ruby Wax's husband endorsement. I am sure he is a perfectly fine bloke but his opinion is no more relevant than the bloke who empties the bins at my house every Monday morning.

Perhaps they can donate a couple of the bikes to "I'm Not A Celebrity But If I Say I Am Then You May Believe Me - Let's Get The **ck Out Of Here" and the weekly loser can shoot out of the jungle on it. Surely being endorsed by Mr Sulu would help it sell in heaps.

keillz
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this is just begging for my technically advanced knowledge so here we go .................. its crap !!!!
sorry it just had to be said this bike is about as appealing as a world tour on rollerblades on that note i really would like to see someone riding around on one it would make my day

kevash
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Bet you never see one on the road! I think there should be a game, Spot the DN-01, and you'd have to have photographic proof cos no one would believe you otherwise. And press fleet bikes... the press fleet bike, I bet they only have one of those anyway... don't count, it mustn't belong to Honda.

keillz
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i do think i have the slight disadvantage here as i come from a town with more sheep than ppl and you are paid to be around bikes ha ha but i so so wanna see what type of idiot would be on one of these even better!! you think anyone would be brave enough to show up to a biker bar on one ? ;)
if i had the money i would!! just to see the reaction to it :)

Hooper
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Back in the 1970s I was sitting in the common room of a certain college of further education in south west London whiling away an idle afternoon with my friend Andy when the terrible realisation dawned that we'd run out of cigarettes. Rather naughtily we rummaged through the coats hanging on the wall and to our joy discovered an unopened packet of ten Gold Leaf in the pocket of a dark overcoat. We had one each, then another, and another, and ended up smoking them all before replacing the empty packet where we'd found it. When he returned to collect his coat and have a fag, our friend Ed was bewildered to find the packet contained not a single cigarette, so he returned it to the shop demanding a replacement. I can only imagine their response. Some years later he married Ruby Wax. And now he's bought a DN-01, has he? Yeah, that sounds about right.

kevash
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He's on the list to appear in my Celebrity News section... and I can see that background info being incorporated into the story too :-)

Scratcher
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P'raps Honda are simply getting some early practical experience in building this type of machine in preparation for when our governments finally come down hard on sports bikes(ostensibly as un-green, but really cos they hate us) and ban us from anything more powerful than one of these!

kevash
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The only reason it's green is because no one would ever want to ride it...

Goulash
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My dealer back in the UK is knocking these out for £6000, and he'll take offers. He can't get rid of them at all. Only thing i like is the purple colour, to me it looks awesome in the flesh as there was one parked next to my bike when i went to pick up my VFR.

BatuKMan
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I have seen two of those on the road so far. People do look at them but it's like when a big unidentified insect flies around, people look at it not because it beautiful but because they don't know what is it.

I think there are only two automatics that do not fall in the scooter category, the Aprilia Mana and the VFR DCT.

PeteV
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I agree that this machine is not as popular as Honda had hoped and there appears to be some confusion as to what and who it is for. However I think some credit should go to Honda for having the courage to try something different. After all the styling is unique to say the least, and the fully automatic hydraulic gearbox is a first for a two wheeler.
Without such ventures how are we to move on with technology and style.
I for one appreciate Honda's bravery and willingness to push boundaries even if it is not considered their finest hour.
For the few who have supported Honda in this venture there is always the exclusivity and the possibility that there are those that would aspire to one of these machines but are unable to at this time for various reasons such as licence requirement, cost, or age but will look out for one in future when they have the funds and licence to be able to do so.
We do not all want a crotch rocket, adventure tool, or retro cool bike. Some want other things from their machines and for that reason I say don't knock it till you've tried it. If then you don't like it fair enough but it is still only your opinion.

shuggiemac
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PeteV - I think you shall find no lack of admiration on this site for new technologies or companies that adopt them. The fact remains however that for the plaudits that could be aimed at Honda for trying new things, they missed a great opportunity with what was produced. In Kevin's article and others, it is evident that the bike struggles to do anything wonderfully well and for a quoted price of 9000 pounds, or whatever currency you wish to convert that in to, it is just ridiculous. It is one hell of a premium to ask for technology that ok works but does it do anything significantly better in the real world that, to the user, makes justifiable sense? You are absolutely correct people's comments on the DN-01 are based on their opinions but that is exactly the same for any other bike that people talk about on here, or indeed anywhere. The very fact that the big H are not selling many of them means that it is an opinion that is very, very widely shared. I would also argue that it is every bit as valid for people to knock something without trying it as it is to praise it. This is after all just an internet forum and not going to change the market and the success or failure of any model. This is just like a bunch of mates sitting in the pub talking about bikes and its really not that important. I personally would be happy to try a DN-01, especially as I have a perverse little hankering for getting a maxi scooter style bike but having seen one in the flesh, will I go out of my way to arrange a test of one? The simple answer is no, as there is only so many hours in a day and there is no way that I could ever be tempted to part with that amount of cash for a bike that does not float my boat on the emotive level. In saying that though, if someone comes on here who has one then they will made as welcome as anyone else, there is no such thing, in my opinion, as a bad bike.

Goulash
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shuggiemac
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WHY? - perhaps its the only way they can get someone to buy it. Maybe there is zero interest in it as a standard colour so cut the losses and see if a paint job will turn a head.

kevash
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PeteV wrote:
I think some credit should go to Honda for having the courage to try something different. After all the styling is unique to say the least, and the fully automatic hydraulic gearbox is a first for a two wheeler.
Without such ventures how are we to move on with technology and style.
I for one appreciate Honda's bravery and willingness to push boundaries even if it is not considered their finest hour.
For the few who have supported Honda in this venture there is always the exclusivity and the possibility that there are those that would aspire to one of these machines but are unable to

I do agree with that and I've said so myself, Honda is very much an engineering rather than marketing driven company, and it was for that reason they came up with the Fireblade - the marketing men were aghast at the thought of trying to sell a 900cc superbike against the 1000cc and 1100cc competition! Well that idea worked...

The problem with things working this way is, you also end up with technology that excites engineers because it's different and clever, but which isn't necessarily better. The DN-01's transmission is very clever but it costs 1.5 times as much as a conventional bike box and is no more efficient than a scooter's variable belt drive (a lot less efficient than a manual box). It feels no different to a scooter transmission either. Which begs the question, what's the point?

Even aside from that, any machine which appears in showrooms and confuses people as to what it's for simply hasn't been thought through properly. If I'm going to spend a large amount of money on a bike or scooter I want to be pretty sure what it's about so I know if it'll suit me or not. And you can make a judgement about that without trying it, you can see it carries no luggage, it's clearly not going to handle like a sports bike, you know it's going to be pretty slow, the styling you simply have to look at, so there's plenty to talk about without riding it. You can also chat with someone who has ridden it, as people are here.

I don't think exclusivity is an end in itself, not if it simply means there aren't many around because they're not very good.

But I'm still pleased that Honda does have the courage to try things new and is prepared to get some things wrong in order to get others right, that's where innovation comes from and sudden steps forward rather than just gentle evolution. Success though, in the end, can only be measured by sales, profits or some other value to the company, and by any of those criteria the DN-01 has not been a success.

roundincircles
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Last year a biker pulled up at a cafe on a Honda Rhune. Now I am not into big cruiser type bikes but just about everybody in the cafe had to go outside and stare with mouths wide open in amazement.

What caught the eye was endless bespoke detail just engineered for the bike - Dan Dare art deco lights in a ultra modern technology ( a contradiction but you have to see them ) an exhaust shaped like a work of art, chromed multi-linked front suspension like nothing you have seen and of course that flat six engine.

Apparently Honda let their young designers loose with no restraint, according to the rider and clearly as no component was from the Honda parts bin, other than the engine/transmission, they must have lost a fortune on each bike but inspired their staff that Honda was the place to work.

Not sure how it performed but as an engineering design exercise it was peerless at the time.

Captain_Jack
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I agree with a lot of what's been said and have nothing much to add but the other day I was surfin' the interweb, as you do, and came across this:

http://www.bikeexif.com/art-deco-custom-motorcycle

and I thought that this is what the DN-01 should have looked like!!
I'm probably on my own but I love that henderson.....

Anyway, sorry about the diversion - as you were....

Captain Scarlet
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RIC I adored the Goldwing engined Honda Rune. It was a very expensive bike and even more so as an import to the UK. If they still made them for the US market I might have been tempted. Think it looked amazing and would no doubt run forever. More no compromises techno-cruisers like those to take it to the Ducati Diavel please mista H.

http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/photogallerys/large/Honda-Rune-8.jpg

roundincircles
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El Capitain: There a lot of very low mileage Rune's for sale Stateside, trouble is it would have to be Sky Blue or Red!

shuggiemac
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Mr Ash - was there some kind of monetary, or bike gadget wager attached to that bet quoted in this thread and reproduced below? If so then I claim it. Attached photograph taken in a harbour front in Slovenia last week. I imagine that being in the dock area it had turned itself into a desperate old hooker, living off the remaining flickers of its looks.

"Bet you never see one on the road! I think there should be a game, Spot the DN-01, and you'd have to have photographic proof cos no one would believe you otherwise. And press fleet bikes... the press fleet bike, I bet they only have one of those anyway... don't count, it mustn't belong to Honda."

shuggiemac
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Aha - seems like I can't add the photo for some reason.