Honda Varadero – Test Ride

 

Editor ‘arris takes a Varadero for a 1500-km ride to the east coast and back, and has a go at some Quebec trails while he’s at it.

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Words: Rob Harris, Photos: Rob Harris unless otherwise specified

It’s been a long time coming – originally released in Europe in 1999 (a full three years before the V-Strom saw light of day), the Varadero 1000 makes its debut in Canada this year thanks to a concerted effort by the bods at Honda Canada, who took the plunge and paid for all the required North American compliance testing to get it in.

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The Varadero ponders its arrival in Canada.

That means no Varadero for the States of course, (although it’s now a cheap option for them if they want it), but it also means that Honda Canada are out on a bit of a limb – needing to sell the Varadero in larger than usual numbers before they can hope to break even.

However, it’s not a new idea, with Honda testing the waters with a ‘Canadian edition’ ATV and the highly successful CBR125R. Add to that the new CBF1000 that joins the Varadero this year and you have a significant departure from the US Honda line-up.

They’re also only going to be available at designated Honda “powerhouse” dealers  – a reward to those dealers who have adopted Honda Canada’s plans for single-line, Honda styled dealerships that sell everything Honda … except cars. However, servicing and warranty will still be available through their regular dealer network.

CMG took a Varadero out for a quick run to the east coast to see if they’d backed a winner.

VARADERO DNA

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Side mounted rads come from VTR.

Using the 1000cc v-twin motor from the VTR, the Varadero gets ‘adventure’ clothes such as long travel suspension, 19 inch front wheel, basic crash protection, high pipe, wide bars and somewhat off-road capable tires. The side mounted rads also come over from the VTR, but not the power, with the motor getting a thorough detuning down to a claimed 94 bhp (@7,500 rpm) with a maximum torque of 72 ft-lb (@ 6000 rpm).

However, a detuned motor in a bike meant to tackle trails, in my experience is not always a bad thing. Take the V-Strom 1000 which I found to be a handful due to its propensity to spin the rear wheel every time the road turned to gravel, thus needing more attention on the throttle than its much sweeter 650 sibling.

The result is a very linear power delivery with the backup of a flat torque curve. It’s a very civilized experience but also on the border of boring – two aspects of the Varadero that pretty well define the machine as a whole – which is the dominant one depends wholly on the buyer.

The fuel injection system is remarkably refined – allowing the motor to chug along happily at idle speeds, without any jerking or spluttering – and carries it along throughout the entire rev range. The motor is smooth all the way too with a light clutch and super slick gearbox without any false neutrals.

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Varadero is happy to traverse a field of daisies …even if the farmer wasn’t.

What is a significant problem is the Varadero’s claimed dry weight of 241 kg, thanks to a disregard to keep bits trim as well as the use of steel frame instead of an aluminum one. That’s 33 kg more than the Strom and apart from the lofty 838 mm seat height, it’s the first thing you notice when you board the Varadero, although thankfully it seems less noticeable with the addition of speed.

You could argue that it adds to the overall mile-munching abilities of the machine – feeling stable and sure, helped by basic but surprisingly compliant suspension that keeps the rider in comfort while absorbing most shocks that a paved road can throw at you.

Brakes are linked and come with ABS as standard. The result is a slightly soft but very usable system with the linked system suiting the pavement fine, but somewhat limiting on the gravel when non-linked and non-ABS become a bonus.

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Riders are likely to experience buffeting off the screen which can get quite severe.
Photo: Honda 

The seat is pretty good too and the position relaxed, save for a bit of hip splaying thanks to the ginormous 25 litre tank. After a 10 hour ride I firmly felt that my pap had been well and truly smeared! Oddly there’s no fuel gauge on the dash. There is a multi-bar temperature gauge that I initially mistook for the fuel gauge until it started to go up with the miles instead of down.

Sadly, the Varadero seems to have the same buffeting problem as the V-Strom, which can get quite severe at speeds above 100 km/h, feeling like a giant hand is gently slapping the sides of your head, getting almost painful when combined with the turbulence off the back of a rig.

As with the Strom, this effect may be dependent on the size of the rider, so if you’re 6’ 4” and hung like a horse, then you too may have problems.

A FEW HOURS IN THE DIRT

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This is the perfect trail for the Varadero.

As I leave the safety of the (albeit) rough payment in the Matapedia
valley in eastern Quebec and enter the well groomed trail I give the
rear brake a sharp prod.

The Varadero’s linked braking and ABS bring the bike to a quick stop
without issue or slide. Same again for the front with a slightly
quicker result. Next, a bit more speed, some loser gravel, both brakes
and the same, calm stop.

Good, I can work with that – I now know what she’ll do if/when I have to do that in a less ideal situation.

And with that, I cracked open the throttle, wiggled the rear and
started to test this machine in some of the terrain that Honda claim it
was born to do.

The trail proves to be hard packed gravel and about six feet wide. The
occasional steep drop or climb, and large pot holes make it
interesting, but it’s a relatively easy test, which I suspect is just
about what the Varadero’s designers had in mind.

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The stiffish rear suspension occasionally jars my torso as it slaps off
the edge of particularly deep pot holes, but the front is happily
compliant, allowing me to raise my speed, but with brakes covered for the
unexpected.

I wish for an unlinked and non-ABS rear on some of steeper slopes
(there’s no way to turn it off unlike BMW’s altogether more dirt
friendly R1200GS) as the Varadero’s 277 kg of (wet) weight start to
override my attempts to keep her on the best course. But it’s only a
problem if you think she can do more of this than she obviously can.

Half an hour in and I reach a crossroads. East back to the safety of
the Matapedia or west and into the backwoods of the border with Maine
but also a tantalizing short cut back to Montreal. I spend the next 20
minutes pondering, while I slurp some water and down a Kit-Kat.

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Keeping to the planned route.

The trouble is I’m traveling solo and had told my girlfriend my
off-road route … “just in case”. Deviating would make the just in
case issue counterproductive as they’d think I’d be there, when in fact
I’d be over here.

But the interesting point is that’s the factor that makes me turn east,
not any faith issues in the Varadero. Of course, the trail suited it
and then you never know how bad it could turn 50 kms in (ironically,
something I actually experienced when I tried a very similar off-road
excursion with a V-Strom 650 a few years back).

Bottom line is, if I’d had a riding buddy during my off-road excursion,
I’d probably be typing this from my home in Montreal rather than a
motel in Riviere-du-Loup …

CONCLUSIONS

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Well priced?

There’s nothing aggressive about the Varadero – the motor, the brakes and even the looks. Still, this all makes for a relatively friendly bike to ride and is a plus during mild off-road rides and road touring. It’s also very tall and heavy which will severely limit its choice of jockeys.

The most obvious comparison is to Suzuki’s 1000 V-Strom and Triumph’s Tiger. KTM’s 990 Adventure and BMW’s 1200GS have it beat with their far superior adventure/dirt capabilities and, at least with the GS, road touring pleasures too, with both bikes supplying gobs of character to boot, but then they also demand a chunk of extra cash.

As for the V-Strom, the Varadero does have the edge when it comes to overall fit and finish and I for one prefer the less peaky motor, but it’s over 30 kg heavier and demands a $2000 premium to boot, though the Strom does come sans ABS. Compare it to Triumph’s Tiger and you have the same price, both come with ABS, but the Tiger comes with 46 kg less weight, a more powerful triple motor, but sadly no off-road pretensions, thanks to a recent move to a 17” front wheel.

As far as the Varadero’s ability to cope off-road, it’s very capable as long as we’re talking about the kind of road I took in the Matepedia region of Quebec – hard packed and relatively smooth. Deep sand or gravel or even rocks would be problematic mainly due to the Varadero’s excessive and lofty weight (with a lot of that being on the front wheel). Of course, road-biased tires don’t help, but at least these can be fixed relatively easily.

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Rear rack is good but there’s a lack of bungee points to hold it all on.

Lawrence Hacking (Canadian rallyist extraordinaire) is taking a Varadero through a very challenging off-road ride, by entering it in the grueling Paris-Dacre (Ontario) rally this weekend.

The morning’s expanse of gravel road and civilized trails would suit the bike just fine, but it boggles the mind at how anyone could navigate it through the challenging trails and water crossings in the afternoon leg …

Then again, if anyone can, Hacking can, but I have $20 saying otherwise.

Overall, the Varadero is a capable machine both on the highway and on light off-road duties; it just could and should be better. There’s at least 30 kg that needs to be shed and about a grand off the asking price wouldn’t go amiss either.

While I admire Honda Canada’s decision to go out on a limb and bring some bikes into Canada that the U.S. is too blind to see, I’m not sure that the Varadero has quite what it takes to be the best seller it needs to be.


FUEL ECONOMY

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Here seen with bags and non-optional colouring.
Photo: Honda

Overall fuel economy on my 1500 km ride came out at 6.35 litres per 100 km (that’s 15.7 km/litre or 37.4 miles/U.S. gallon). Interestingly there wasn’t a significant difference between sustained 130 km/h highway blasting and 90 km/h back-road swooping.

Average range was 393 km to the tank with the reserve light likely to come on around the 330 km mark with about 60 km left to get you to a gas station.

ACCESSORIES

Hard bags (2 x 35 litre capacity) – $1,385.00
Topbox – $500.00 + (depends on colour)
Heated Grips – $300.00
Centre Stand – $323.00

SPECIFICATIONS 


MSRP

$13,999.00

Displacement
996 cc

Engine
type
Four-stroke dohc V-twin,
liquid-cooled

Horsepower
(crank – claimed)
94 hp (@ 7,500 rpm)

Torque
(claimed)
72 ft-lb (@ 6000 rpm)
Tank
capacity
25
litres

Carburetion
Digital fuel injection

Final drive
Six speed, chain drive

Tires,
front
110/80R–19

Tires,
rear
150/70R–17

Brakes,
front
Dual 296 mm discs with triple-piston calipers and CBS with ABS

Brakes,
rear
Single 256 mm disc with triple-piston caliper and CBS with ABS

Seat
height
838 mm (33 inches)

Wheelbase
1,560 mm (61.4 inches)

Dry
weight
(claimed)
241 kg (531 lb)

Colours
Concours Black Pearl, Storm Silver Metallic

11 thoughts on “Honda Varadero – Test Ride”

  1. Well got my varadero two weeks ago and love it I crashed my vtr 1000 firestorm a bike i loved it was wreaked so bought the varadero on my love of the engine .it is detuned so slower but is still a grand bike I’m 5′ 8″ and yes weight n height an issue especially since I’m still recovering from road crash but I still last ke this bike a lot .although I may buy a transalp for some lighter back b road fun

  2. I purchaced this bike about 6 months ago.It is a very capable bike and is great to ride but it demands your compleate attention allways and will take control if you dont.The weight is a bit of an issue but me being 6 feet tall at 250 lbs I can controle it well,anyone smaller would have trouble for sure.

  3. Apparently Lawrence and the bike did very well in the off-road; eventually he had an oilpan leak that stopped him, but from what I recall the bike handled the challenges much better than the BMW 650GS. Lawrence indicated he was favourably impressed with its off-roading. Still, the other downs– price, weight, limited availability– make this a less attractive bike in my opinion.

  4. I’m not sure what Honda Canada has ben smoking, but their new bikes leave me cold. Even the MSF training organization doesn’t use Canadian Hondas – they import their Hondas from Brazil. Perhaps they’ve tried the Honda Powerhouse dealer. After driving an hour to the nearest Honda dealer, I asked what they had in a 250 sport bike. Nothing! It was 125cc or 600cc. The salesman said if I wasn’t intending to buy something the same day, he wasn’t going to answer any questions. What a bunch of losers!

  5. I was looking for an adventure bike at the december show in Toronto. I have 28 years of riding experience on road & off road, and am 6′ tall. I spent a few minutes looking at the honda but it was physically too big and WAAAAY to heavy for my intended purpose.
    In the end I bought a used 2006 KTM 950 that came with saddle bags for 10,000.00 and couldn’t be happier. Had they brought in the smaller 750 model availabe in europe I may have been swayed.

  6. Thanks to Honda’s asinine policy of keeping Varadero’s to Powerhouse Dealers I can’t even look at one without driving a few hundred kilometers (despite living in a metropolitan area with a population of over 1 million people). I’ve been running a VFR for the last 7 years, but I think I’m done with Honda – there are plenty of other options out there that don’t restrict me to a subset of the national dealer network.

  7. You’re kidding, right? $2000.00 more than the 1000 V-Strom? 70 lb. heavier? $1900.00 for a full set of bags? And then you’ve got the (even better) 650 V-Strom! What was Honda thinking?

  8. Too late to the party..
    I’d think they would have done better bringing the Transalp back. Good luck to them with that list price.

  9. Good review and a good start for Honda Canada with the Varadero.I hope they have good success with the Varadero and follow up with the new 700 Transalp. Perhaps the resurgence in popularity of off road bikes will feed some youth into the Adventure style bike market and maybe a few of the boomers will appreciate the comfortable ergonomics and a few more inches of suspension travel our rural roads in Canada can certainly utilize.It will be fun to watch for Honda’s replacement of the Varadero in the coming years. Will it be towards the KTM 990 or the GS. Honda is capable of covering them both.

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