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Honda's Big Ten For 2002

New Models Across the Board� Decisions, Decisions

At last count, 43% of Sound RIDER! readers own and ride Hondas. That's 11,000-plus Honda riders reading this publication.  It's the single largest line owned by our readers, so there was plenty of excitement when Honda announced at its September convention it would introduce not two, not five, but TEN new motorcycles to its lineup in 2002.

Did someone say recession? It's imminent of course, but if the motorcycle industry ever needed a shot in the arm, I'm hard pressed to say I see anything bigger than this on the horizon. The largest Japanese manufacturer truly got it together this year, creating and redesigning bikes in every major category including Touring, Sport Touring, Cruisers, Sportbikes, Standards and even Scooters.

"What's great about many of these new bikes is they come with some updated technology, for instance the number that are fuel-injected," says University Honda's Tom Wicken.

CRUISERS

The introduction of the VTX in March of this year set off a firestorm of demand, and for the first few months it was hard to find a dealer with any of these 1800cc machines. So to sweeten the deal Honda has added some of the styling and lines from its popular Shadow line to create a Retro VTX. The Retro models come in a choice of spoke or cast wheels and appear to even share some parts with the Shadow line. An 1800 will be available as early as November and the smaller 1300 will see the light of day by next summer. 

I-90 Motorsports' Dale Neimi notes, "Honda finally listened to what we've been telling them and brought to the market a number of higher horsepower cruisers. Cruising isn't just about sitting back and taking it in anymore, it's becoming very exhilarating."

SPORTBIKES

Honda will introduce three redesigned sportbikes this coming year. 

In April, a new RC51 will arrive that's quite similar in appearance to its current model. Primary differences on this much sought-after sportbike include lighter weight, swingarm length and a horsepower increase.

Goodbye 929, hello CBR954RR. A larger engine and lighter weight (it's been knocked down to 340 lbs) make up the primary changes for this popular world class sportbike.

VFR fans will rejoice in the styling Honda has come up with for this favored perennial. As with the previously mentioned, the Interceptor VFR will also host a more powerful engine as the VTEC development at Honda continues its evolution.  They've also styled up a set of touring bags, making it a sleek machine for touring or just a local overnight. In fact, with a 5.8 gallon gas tank, this puppy has range to boot.

SCOOTERS

Yeah sure, scooters are the brunt of a lot of jokes.  But for those who have a secret passion for them, a major controversy has been brewing for a few years. Suzuki, Honda, and Yamaha have all been selling high powered 400cc � 600cc scooters throughout Japan and Europe for over five years now.  When will someone finally release a big gun here in the US?

Honda answers the call by bringing its 582cc Silver Wing stateside as soon as January, 2002. Already produced for Europe and Japan this year, the bugs are out and the surf is up.  With a scooter this large and comfortable, you can take it out for groceries or a week of touring. Note the similarities in front-end styling to that of the new VFR and ST1300 models.  Come on WMRRA � it's time for a new racing category!

In the smaller scooter arena, after 14 years Honda has finally abandoned the Elite line and now comes to market with the Metropolitan and Metropolitan II. These retro-styled scooters are obviously intended to rival Yamaha's popular Vino line.  Coming in April, both models are 49cc and Honda has eliminated the 80cc category of scooters all together.

NAKED STREET/STANDARD

Honda actually categorizes its new 919 as a sportbike, but your insurance company probably won't. The Naked Street Bike category has been getting hotter and hotter over the years with Suzuki's Bandit, Kawasaki's ZR7S and Yamaha's FZ-1.  Finally Honda returns to the party after a long hiatus that began after the 1995 CB1000 disappeared from the market.  It's obviously a Honda, but it twitches of Italian in the styling.  Taking cues from the CB1000, the Taoist of the line, the 919 is a simple stripped-down performance in-line four, fuel-injected streamliner that's ready for fun. This bike also features a five gallon tank. Slap a tank bag and a tail pack on and take it overnight along the Cascade loop, the Olympic Peninsula or an excursion beyond Puget Sound's borders. Range, range, range.

"I've always been a big fan of Honda Super Four's � It's nice to see them return to the US market again," commented Jeff Reiner from his South Sound dealership in Olympia.

SPORT TOURING

The demise of the Pacific Coast in 1998 left Honda with just one sport tourer in the line, the ST1100. While it's a premium machine among sport tourers, the time has come for Honda to inject the line with some fresh blood. 

The ST1300 carries all the ingredients the market is demanding: New styling, more power and higher performance.  It would appear the same gothic designer that developed the front-end for the new VFR and Silver Wing got their easel geared up for this machine as well, scribing in some of the sleekest styling we've ever seen on a sport tourer.  The design rivals that of the new BMW's and should incite Kawasaki to finally redefine the Concours model. Two long sought after inclusions are a three-way adjustable seat and a motorized windshield which has been popular on the Goldwing and recent BMW entries.

WHAT'S MISSING?

Since its inception, Honda has committed to bring product to market in every key category and for the most part has kept it's promise.  But�

Dual Sport

Earlier this summer, Big Red released one new dirt bike, the CRF450R, another entry into the four stroke motocross class.  "We'll sell every one we get," says Brian Nelson of The Brothers in Bremerton.

But the company leaves buyers high and dry in the Dual Sport arena.  While BMW continues to sell a lot of F650GS and 1150GS models, Honda is nowhere to be found in this category and hasn't been seen here since the NX 650 Transalp disappeared in 1989. Without a major player like Honda pushing the market, BMW and smaller Euro lines have their work cut out for them to drive this category.

Smaller Performance Bikes

Another missing element are smaller cc'd versions of the large 900cc plus models. Honda used to take pride in developing world class 400 fours in the standard and sport bike categories.  For the most part, the real thrill of the 919 likely won't be experienced until you take it well over the posted speed limit.  A 400-500cc little brother to the bike is just what the doctor ordered for a day out on the state routes. Such bikes used to exist with the CB400F, Scrambler and Hawk series, but no more. 

Even a smaller 600cc sport touring bike would be quite a bit of fun.  But America's need for speed and horsepower has pretty well shut this segment of the market down. Just as the larger size SUV market grows, so does the horsepower, suspension and performance of many motorcycles. Consequently many motorcycles can seem a little so-so at posted highway speeds, are dangerous weapons on public roadways under the hands of irresponsible riders at high speed, and magnets for the State Patrol. 

Smaller machines would be welcomed by the growing market of women riders, where first-time riders have few choices and often wind up with bikes too large for their average height and too heavy for their first entrance onto public roadways following MSF courses.

Nonetheless, Honda has done a dignified job this year of responding to the needs of the current market, bringing in some great new designs and exciting many a loyalist. Without a doubt, Honda has played its role in giving the market a reason to come in and shop despite the impending hard times ahead.  

Rick Nakagaki at RMC Motorsports sums it up by noting, "This is the strongest release of new bikes from Honda in more than 15 years."

TM Fall 2001


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