UPDATE ONE: We will give credit where credit is due. Ten days after this article was originally published Honda Canada announced that the Trail 125 would be coming to Canada as a 2023 model. It is a start. But it was also the easy one. The US has had the Trail 125 for a couple of years. Once a bike is in North America the process get simpler. Let’s wait for “Update 2”. What’s next Honda?
UPDATE TWO: Honda USA has announced that the CL500, or as it is being called there – the SCL500, will be arriving State-side as a 2023 model. The price is $6799 (US$) which isn’t a bargain but then again, it isn’t a outrageous pinch. Translate the number in CDN$ and it’s up somewhere in the mid $9k range. That does make this interesting offering a stretch for many looking for a semi-entry level machine. Canadian bargains have been known to happen so a $8995 sticker doesn’t seem unlikely. But either way, with Honda adopting a clear pricing strategy on their Canadian website that includes freight and PDI, both those earlier prices would show as over, and even well over , the $10,000 mark. But that is a moot point as Honda Canada has made no announcements regarding the CL500.
A wise man once told us that every motorcycle is exciting to someone. This is true. A Honda Navi may not be a thrilling machine to an experienced rider with years in the saddle of a CBR1000R but it is exciting to someone who has always wanted to ride on two wheels. Suddenly there is this very inexpensive machine offered by a company whose name the rider recognizes. That is exciting.
On the other hand excitement can be a cumulative. A brand’s spectrum of excitement has to be considered.
Honda seems to need help putting excitement back into their street motorcycle line-up. What follows are suggestions. It feels of late, say the last five years or so, that Honda motorcycles have become somewhat of an afterthought for the parent company. Particularly perhaps in Canada. Go back 10 or 15 years in this country and there was genuine enthusiasm at Honda HQ for the motorcycle business. It was in part driven from the top down by longtime and enthusiastic riders within the top echelons of the company. Has that changed? Who knows but things have definitely gone quiet in the past five years.
Perhaps it is all the other stuff. Honda is building and selling a lot of cars but there are also outboard motors, atvs, side-by-sides, lawnmowers and generators in showrooms. Perhaps it is a difficult for the head office to bring a lot of enthusiasm for motorcycles into that mix when other segments might be fairing better. The reason for tackling Honda is because the company has options available to put excitement back where it belongs – in the showroom and on the street. It is true that all the Japanese manufacturers have kept the new offerings slim for 2023 – the genuinely new offerings can be counted on one hand – without having to bring the thumb into use. But that may be because there are not options available for most of them. For Honda there are options. Plenty of them. But they are not here.
We aren’t going to simply suggest adding models. We are also going to suggest dropping some. Clean up things, make the line-up for 2024 simpler and make room in those shipping containers to get the dealers those new models to breath life back into the brand.
Let’s start from the top when deciding what comes and goes. And to assuage fears, if a bike goes it doesn’t mean it was bad, it was just replaceable.
The Gold Wings are almost sacred ground among enthusiasts but there is room to simplify the line-up when it comes to the touring icon. There are too many offering for a single model at five variants. We are going to cut that down to two. Of the five Wings, the base Gold Wing with the manual transmission stays as does the Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag. The cheapest and the most expensive Good Wings stay, the three in the middle go. Reasoning: It is an $8000 difference between the two bikes. If you want the top case that makes the Gold Wing Tour a “Tour” model, you are going to have to ride with a DCT transmission. But remember, the topcase is removable so you could transition to a base Gold Wing when the need arises. If you have a sporty bent to your luxury touring, ride the base Wing with the manual transmission and add accessory luggage if you need more room for gear.
The Cruisers : There are only four options: the “new” Rebel 1100 Touring, the base Rebel 1100, Rebel 500 and Rebel 300. Say goodbye to the base Rebel 1100. The Rebel 1100 Touring is $1300 more but you get a tiny fairing, saddlebags and a passenger seat – well worth the money to make the bike more useful. Also gone would be the Rebel 500. That may seem severe considering the lack of options but remember, we are trying to make room and there is something else in mind to fill the spot. The Rebel 300 stays because of the desperate need for less expensive new motorcycles for new riders.
The Sport Bikes: As there are only three, what is there to cut? CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP stays because is has the longest name in motorcycling. No, that isn’t it. The $37,279 bike stays as every manufacturer needs an offering that showcases the excellence in their engineering and this is what the CBR1000R….etc does. Few will buy one but it is a halo bike and serves a purpose. Also staying is the CBR650R because there is still a market, albeit smaller, for inline four sport bikes and this bike is the mainstream remanent of that category for Honda. The CBR500R goes. There are plenty of 500cc twins from Honda so we will keep another one.
The Standards: These are the naked sport bikes and there are four of them. Staying is the CB1000R. It is the only affordable option in the litre class and because all those good things we just said about Japanese inline fours hold true for this bike. It is also looks both good and is unique in the category – always a plus. Also staying is the CB300R because it satisfies the “I am looking for a bike to start riding on that is not really expensive” requirement. CB650R? It’s gone – we’ll find another option. What about the CB500F? We’ll leave it in as a slightly larger displacement and lower price option.
The Adventure Bikes: Both versions of the Africa Twin remain as the bikes are de rigeur in today’s market. We will also leave the DCT option for the Africa Twin Adventure Sports but we will drop it for the base Africa Twin. The NC750X goes because it is long in the gear tooth. The CB500X stays – again only for the price point.
The Dual Sports : There has to be a category we don’t mess with, they all get to stay!
So there you have it. We just dropped nine motorcycles while tweaking Honda’s line-up. What about choices you ask. Let’s add a few bikes back in.
One: Transalp 750 This one seems like the most obvious no-brainer. The ADV segment is hot – whether it be due to capabilities, ergonomics or style. How far back to you need to look for a bike with similar capabilities and displacement offered from Honda in Canada. A long, long way. The XR650L might be the closest but it was short-lived and off-road only. The Transalp 750 seems like a winner right out of the box as it looks to have the credentials for both on and off-road duty.
Two: CL500 A retro styled scrambler with a 500cc class twin engine. Late to the party perhaps, but a fresh offering from a Japanese manufacturer. The key here would be the MSRP. if priced aggressively the bike fills the niche that the Rebel 500 filled but it does it with a lot more panache. And with the size of motor, the CL500 could be a long serving bike covering the riding needs of most riders either as a funky universal bike or an excellent second option for any garage.
Three: Trail 125 This bike is actually available nearby as it is sold in the US and comes in at a price lower than the Monkey in Honda’s “Minimoto” line-up.the Trail 125 is much closer in size to a regular motorcycle than the other offerings so not as “mini”. The bike was once an staple in Canada – albeit a long time ago – so it shouldn’t be that hard to slide it across the border to some eager response..
Four: CB750 Hornet This new naked bike makes the list because it is actually all-new and that, in this class, pays the entry few. The styling is conservative but it is clean and sort of fresh. We dropped a couple of bikes in this category so something needs to fill the hole and the new Hornet does that. Suzuki has the new GSX-8S in the segment and that bike is very similar in layout and displacement.
The Maybe: The NT1100 Sport touring isn’t the largest of categories and it has shrunk in recent years. The NT1100 looks fresh but is there a call for another chain-driven bike in this supposedly high-mileage segment? Again price would place a big part in its reception.
The What Happened To: Hawk 11 An interesting take on the cafe racer genre. The segment needs something freshly faced and the Hawk 11 pulls that off put is seems to be unclear as to if that bike will make it to market as a production model. We say, pity if it didn’t.
Are any of these bikes going to make it to our showrooms. Some will. There is always the arguments made that just because enthusiasts get excited about a possible new offering, it doesn’t mean it will sell when it gets here. It has happened before. There is is also the costs associated with getting a bike approve in Canada. Are potential sales going to cover that cost? Also, with the exception of the Trail 125, the question of whether the US wants the bike is going to play a role in whether we get the bike in Canada. So many things to think about but the end result is more excitement in the Honda line-up and that will be a welcome result.