Bikes we love

What I want: Honda NM4 Vultus

Honda NM4 Vultus
EDIT: This bike is set to arrive sooner than any of us would have thought. My local Honda dealer is already taking orders.

“Sometimes we make a certain machine simply because we can and because we want to.” — Keita Mikura, project leader for the Honda NM4 Vultus.

First of all, take a moment to think about just how bad ass that statement is. Sometimes Honda makes a certain motorcycle simply because it can. Because it is bigger and better than everyone else in the game. Who’s this bike for? Who cares? Honda will build it just because it can. Has Harley-Davidson ever done that? Would it? Could it? Nope. Nope. Nope.
Honda can. Honda does. That is rock n’ roll. That is Bob Dylan saying “Play it fucking loud” in response to the folk purists who called him Judas for plugging in his guitar. That is when arguments of the Great Harley-Honda Dilemma fall apart. Because maybe those of us who think Honda isn’t cool are just so stupid and so stuck in a singular mindset we just can’t see it.
And perhaps that’s something to keep in mind if this blog post is the first time you’ve heard of the Vultus. I’ll admit that my first reaction was something of a groan. I saw a little picture of the bike on the CycleWorld website when reading a ride review of the Harley-Davidson Street 750 (really a shame to hear the brakes are so crap), and I thought to myself: “What is that? I don’t even.”
But the next day, I looked at it again and I decided the Vultus is, in the craziest sort of way, a really cool motorcycle. Really cool. Take a moment to stare at it. Here’s a large image of it: take a moment to really examine the bike. Look at every feature; it grows on you, doesn’t it? After the initial visual shock something creeps into you and thinks: “Ooh, I want to ride that thing.”
Shotaro Kaneda and his bike
Upon reading of the philosophy behind it — that some dudes at Honda were sitting around watching Akira and thinking: “Dude, Shotaro Kaneda’s bike is awesome. We should build that bike. No, dude, we should totally build that bike! Simply because we can and because we want to.” — I found myself liking it even more.
For instance, I like the idea of a lit-up dashboard. Perhaps it’s a cheesy gimmick, but the Vultus has LED highlight trim on the dash that can be adjusted in 25 different shades to suit the rider’s mood. That strikes me as pretty cool. I realised I like this sort of thing recently, when riding at night with my sat-nav on (“GPS” for those of you playing along in the United States). The eerie glow from the screen added to the feeling of being ethereal as I glided along the M4 toward home. I can just imagine sitting “in” the Vultus and speeding through the night with an LED glow just at the bottom of my field of vision.
Well, you know, speeding as fast as 54 bhp will carry you. The Vultus engine is the same one used in the popular NC series of bike (e.g, the NC750X): a 745cc parallel twin that’s fuel-efficient and placed in such a way to create a low centre of gravity.
Like the NC series, the Vultus also comes with a fair bit of integrated storage. That huge front end is not just for show; there are compartments on either side of the fairing, one of which offers a 12v DC adaptor with which to charge phones or the like. There are also some pretty slick, seamlessly fitting panniers that can come with the bike, furthering the futuristic, covered-up look. It’s hard to tell from photos whether it will also have the instead-of-a-tank compartment that exists on the NC750X and NC750S (a). If it does, this thing will be a beast for storage. And if all the bike’s storage were not enough, imagine how cool it would look with a Kriega bag or two strapped to the back.
To fit the bike’s futuristic look are a number of modern bells and whistles. Study the bike’s dashboard and you’ll see there are lights indicating it comes with anti-lock brakes and electronic traction control; heated grips are available as an extra. Honda’s press release says the Vultus will get 66 mpg.

Coming in at 540 lbs., the Vultus weighs about 60 lbs. more than the NC750X, but with all that storage space I guess it’s to be expected. And having kicked the tires of the latter machine, I’m pretty sure the Vultus’ low centre of gravity will mean additional weight is hardly noticeable.

Honda NM4-02 — the Vultus with panniers

All of this makes me think the Vultus would be the perfect tool for a road trip: fuel-efficiency and storage galore, combined with a massive front end to block the wind. Seating is feet-forward, so you very much sit “in” the bike in a cruiser-like, sitting-on-the-sofa position. If you’ve read my review of the Triumph America, you’ll know I have my doubts about sitting in such a position because there’s no support for your back. Honda has remedied this by having a passenger seat that flips up to serve as a backrest. Additionally, the backrest can be adjusted a bit to suit people of different heights.

Honestly, the more I look at this bike, the more I like it — the more excited I am about the idea of it. I want it to exist now, so I can test ride one. Though, as I say, it took me a while to come around to that way of thinking. And perhaps therein is one of the most appealing aspects of the Vultus: for some people it is simply beyond their capacity for comprehension. It is future beat poetry and they will never get it. You can see this in the comments sections of websites that have done stories about the bike. Some people respond to it with such intense vitriol you’d think the Vultus had bullied them as a child.

It would be kind of cool to own a machine with that sort of punk spirit. Perhaps I’d add a different exhaust to give it a little more growl than Honda would likely allow such a machine to have. I could give it the Shataro treatment and put a load of stickers across that wide front. Rolling around on that thing, I would be pretty damned unique.

That all said, however, there are some possible drawbacks to this bike:

1) It has a chain. Look at this machine, yo. Does the chain look at all easy to access? Honda says in its media release that it is targeting young, tech-savvy types with the Vultus; is that really a demographic you think will want to get its hands dirty? By covering everything up, Honda clearly expects people to adapt a “take it to a mechanic” attitude toward maintenance and service. But does it actually expect people to go to a mechanic every 600 miles? This thing should be belt drive or shaft drive.

2) It has Dual-Clutch Transmission. I’ve written about automatic transmission motorcycles before and as I said then, I’m not inherently against them. In fact, living in a country where we are so tightly packed in that one is constantly shifting gears, I can really see the benefit of life without a clutch. Especially considering that Honda’s dual-clutch transmission is not CVT; there are real gears and real revs and the real feel of a “real” motorcycle. In his review of the Honda CTX1300, Adam Waheed even laments the absence of DCT in that particular model, saying the feature offers “thrilling acceleration.”
I’ve read positive reactions to Honda’s DCT system in other reviews, as well. Plus there’s the fact that if you really feel so inclined, you can shift the gears with buttons on the grip. In which case, really all you’re doing is transferring control of the gears from your left foot to your left hand. But, still, there’s some nagging part of me that persists in thinking: “Gee, I don’t know…”
Maybe that’s just me being an old man, lambasting the new or the different solely because it’s new or different. That kind of mindset is how you end up with 90s nostalgia (b). Or maybe I’m not secure enough in my manhood and subconsciously believe that my ability to flick a piece of metal with my foot is a statement of virility. Whatever my hang up, I’d need a decent test ride to really make up my mind on DCT.

The dash of the Honda NM4 Vultus

My concern about the DCT on the Vultus, though, is simply in placement of the buttons. Take a look at the picture on the left; you may want to click on it to enlarge the photo to be able to study it. When you do, focus on the left grip. There, you see buttons for shifting up in gear (the button on the back of the housing which would be pulled with your index finger), high and normal beams, hazard lights, horn, signals, and down shifting. That’s a lot of crap in one space.
If you’ve ever ridden a Honda, you’ll know that the signal and horn buttons are pretty close together, and that signals are cancelled by pushing the button in. This means that if you are wearing winter gloves, or are just being a bit lazy, you will occasionally find yourself honking the horn to alert everyone that you’ve completed your turn, i.e., you accidentally push both buttons at once. So, what happens when the down shift button is there?

3) She’s a big girl. According to the Honda media release, the Vultus is 3 feet wide from mirror tip to mirror tip. That’s quite a lot of space, yo. Great for wind protection, but not so much for filtering. I suppose it won’t matter in places like the United States, where the practice is no-go in 49 of 50 states, and will help add to visibility. But here in the Soggy Nations, one of my favourite aspects of motorcycling comes in being able to squeeze through traffic.

4) Only 54 bhp, though. I don’t want to be a horsepower snob. The fact is, I’m not the sort of person who goes all that fast in the first place. I still have not pushed to the 100 mph mark. My CBF600 is fully capable of hitting t least 150 mph, but its rider is a little shy of such things. But, still. Only 54 bhp. With all its luggage and such, I’d expect to use the bike for road trips; would it have enough horsepower to manage long stretches of motorway/freeway? I’d like to see at least 10 bhp more, if not 20.

5) They should have kept the original name. Apparently, Honda originally planned to call this bike the Blackcrow, which is a pretty bad-ass name.


(a) EDIT: I’ve found a photo that suggests it does not have tank storage but, in fact, just a gas tank.

(b) My Facebook is littered, nay befouled, by people I went to high school with incessantly posting links to witless Buzzfeed-esque lists positing the idea that the early 1990s were somehow the golden era of anything. When the fact is, it was a terrible, lulling decade for everything. No, genuinely, everything. Take music for example: things were so bad that we thought the discordant feckless caterwauling of Nirvana was cutting edge.