More than ever, Honda needs a little Wow!
There is a saying about the danger of waking sleeping giants; something along the lines of don’t poke one with a stick unless you are prepared to make a quick run for cover or you are very handy with a slingshot. I wouldn’t call Honda a sleeping giant as it is the largest player in the game and one of the most active but there is still something missing. What Honda needs in the market at this point is an undisputed knockout, something with instant hype and buzz and with the ability to stir a “need-to-have” in motorcyclists around the globe.
The brand has produced much coveted motorcycles in its past but right now could you pick one in the lineup? If someone was to ask you what is Honda’s “halo” motorcycle, could you answer the question? Could you pick one that defiantly states, “This is what we can do, can you do it better?”
Other manufacturers have such bikes, and they are typically found at the pointy end of the stick: Kawasaki H2R, Yamaha R1M (Yamaha also amazed us with the big-bang-for-the-buck FZ-09), KTM Super Adventure, BMW S1000RR and R1200GS and, arguably, Harley-Davidson with its Project LiveWire though Harley has yet to commit.
To their credit, Honda has launched more new products in more categories than any other manufacturer in the last few years and they are one of the few with the resources to risk a scattergun approach hoping for sales success on various fronts as opposed to individual model supremacy.
Honda is the only company currently inundating the market with an entire range of middle- to light-weight offerings, which are crucial to the future of motorcycles but not often the most “coveted.” That would mean a machine that no one else is building, or building quite so well.
It’s worth taking a look back at Honda’s recent past where we find the Fury, an extreme chopper beautifully rendered. There’s the Valkyrie and the F6B, unusual iterations of the most sacred platform in Honda’s lineup, the Gold Wing. The CTX bikes (from the 700 to the V-4 1300) present an entirely new rendition of the cruiser and there’s the NM4, Batman’s scooter. The VFR1200 was one of my favourite sport touring bikes (even without the optional Double Clutch Transmission), while circulating in other parts of the world are interesting models like the Crosstour and the similar VFR800X. And we cannot forget the Rune. I saw one recently and yes it is still an interesting concept.
These efforts cover the spectrum of motorcycles but for all of Honda’s off-road acumen what has been missing is a true adventure bike. The number of Baja kits fitted to the lamentably discontinued XR650R must be an indication there are many Honda fans that want a big, rugged, powerful ADV bike on the road less traveled. The Varadero was not the answer and, at any rate, it was a little long in the tooth before coming to Canada to face ADV-bikes from KTM, BMW and Yamaha.
But now Honda may have its own flagship adventure bike in the new Africa Twin, a model name that originally surfaced in the late 1980s as a tribute to the legendary big desert racers campaigned in the Paris-Dakar Rally. Though details were in short supply at the time of this writing the Africa Twin CRF1000L—originally unveiled at EICMA 2014 as the True Adventure Concept—is expected to be a 1000cc ground-up, purpose-built adventure touring bike with the option of Honda’s automatic DCT technology. No doubt it will have classic Honda characteristics such as exceptional engineering and technology, but it just might have that little extra something: Wow! factor.