Honda DN-01 long-term update: Part 2

After Costa had the DN-01 for a spell in Montreal, Editor ‘arris grabbed it for some touring before handing it over to the usual suspects in Ottawa. Many opinions, but mostly the same.

dn01_title2.jpg
Words: Rob Harris, Pics: Rob Harris unless otherwise specified


Honda’s DN-01 got a lot of attention when it was first shown in prototype form at the Tokyo motorcycle show, subsequently to be produced and released in Europe before eventually making it Canada-side in 2009. We figured that this oddity with its whacked out styling, automatic transmission and hefty price tag might be worth investigating, so we asked for it as a long-termer.

dn-01_ride_rsf.jpg

Costa got the DN-01 for the first leg.
photo: Bill Petro

In our initial write-up Costa gave his thoughts about the bike and some immediate suggestions for improvements, namely installing a set of aftermarket Givi bags and a taller screen.

With these fixes done, I swooped in and took the bike eastward for some touring testing before dropping it back off with some of the CMG Ottawa testing contingent to get their thoughts on it.

Here are my own impressions, followed by the thoughts of the Ottawa three …


FIRST IMPRESSIONS

My biggest problem with the DN-01 is not the automatic gearbox, or even the Jetson looks, or for that matter the $17,000 price tag (though more on that to follow), but the riding position. Simply put, with its stepped seat and stretched out appendage placement, the DN-01 is designed with a relatively narrow size of rider in mind. And that doesn’t include people over six feet tall.

 

dn01_loaded_rh.jpg

The long return leg to Montreal saw some desperate seat mods.

On any trip over 30 km I would alternate between the regular position (cramped with legs painfully splayed as they don’t fit the exaggerated tank cutaways) and the ‘sit-back-on-the-passenger-perch’ (rather stretched), both of which were just a tad either side of my comfort spectrum. Either way, my right hand would eventually go numb from hanging onto the bar, forcing a rest stop until sensation returned.

Then there’s the no windscreen thing, which would have made my 13 hour, 957 km journey from Montreal to the east coast … impossible. Thankfully our long-termer came fitted with Givi screen and bags (thanks Costa!), which made the highway bearable and the distances that come with it possible.

dn01_map_rh.jpg

Givi screen looks a tad odd but was a lifesaver up to 130 km/h. Large tank area works well for maps.

The Givi screen is very effective up to 130 km/h after which the turbulence catching the top of my head makes it jiggle around to an involuntary spasmodic beat. But I’d hate to have to do this trip with the sliver of a screen that comes as standard and the full body wind blast that that would inflict.

Costa had told me after his spell with the DN-01 that it really needed footpegs instead of the boards, and that they should be below the rider (not 20 feet ahead!). I fully agree.

That way my knees might actually fit the tank cutaways, my weight would be on my arse (not lower back) and I’d have the bonus of being able to actually lift my bum off the seat every now and then to let sensation return.

While we’re at it, there should also be an extra six inches of seat height (the original height is ridiculously low) to allow the rider to get at least somewhat comfortable.


ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE

dn01_great_road_rh.jpg

A perfect road for the DN-01.

And that is the problem. No matter how I sliced and diced the issues and potential fixes, to actually make the DN-01 into something that I’d like would mean talking about a whole new machine. But it bugs me, because contrary to what my opening rant may impress upon you, there’s a lot about the DN-01 that I actually really like.

Take the motor, for example. Despite being powered by a rather tame 680 cc V-twin, the motor’s actually quite usable. It reminds me of the 650 V-Strom’s unit – more than enough power for the everyday – only a little less lumpy. I even managed to see 180 km/h on the clocks in a full tuck behind the Givi screen, but it takes a while to get there towards the end. Two up might be a bit of an issue.

dn01_gear_change.jpg

Most of it’s time was spent in D mode, but S would bump up the smiles.
photo: Honda

As seems to be the trend these days, the DN-01 comes with optional power modes: D for Drive and S for Sport. S mode would raise the revs (and so power – very similar to dropping down a gear on a standard machine) but I found myself staying in D unless I wanted to make a pass, attack some twisties or be able to power away from assholes in urbania, in which case I popped it into S and had some fun.

However, S mode comes at a price, and we saw our worst fuel consumption figures while in S in town (6.25 L/100km or 16 km/litre). Not unexpectedly, the best came at a steady 110 km/h on the highway which saw 4.78L/100 km (21 km/l) and over a 2,500km period we averaged 5.28L/100km (or 19 km/l). With a 15 litre tank, that gives a range of 284 km, though if you’re in S mode and in town, be prepared for that to drop to 240 km.

dn01_clocks.jpg

photo: Honda 

It also seems de rigueur to include a manual shift over-ride on an automatic bike (though it’s actually more of a manual shift effect as there are no separate gears to shift between) which I tried a few times but it seemed to offer more pain and no gain so I quickly went back to auto mode.

Then there’s the HFT auto-transmission. This is what I was expecting to really dislike, but it’s actually so good that I didn’t even notice that I was riding an automatic motorcycle until I came to a stop and realized that I hadn’t pulled the clutch in and the motor was still idling.

CARRYING THE LOAD

dn-01_sidebag_open.jpg

photo: Costa Mouzouris

The Givi bags transform the DN-01 from something relatively useless to an overpriced oddity that you can do some touring with.

As with most things Givi, the quality is excellent and once fitted they look like
standard equipment (actually, we thought they made the bike look
better).

Solid and easy to open and close, and lock and release (save for the top box which proved a little fiddly), the bags could be mounted without need of a key – just slide into the two lower slots and push till they click on at the top.

It’s not like the CVT transmissions you find on scooters – they somehow always feel like an automatic. Honda has engineered a transmission that pretty much does what I would have done manually, only with far less rev swinging in between and without the need to actually change gears.

Braking was perfectly satisfactory and the ABS seamless, though I found myself wishing that Honda would just link the brakes completely and do away with the rear pedal that was never where I thought it was and so by the time I’d found it, my braking had already been done. If I hit the S button in anticipation of some twisties, then I’d also find the rear brake and cover it just in case.

Handling was okay, but not helped by the rider being so far away from the steering and the soft chassis caused a distinct and rather violent wobble at the bars between 50 and 80 km/h if you were foolish enough to take your hands off them. The suspension was fine on smooth roads but a too-soft rear and feet-forward position meant that pot holes would inevitably send a sharp jarring up the spine.

Finally, there is an overall “wow” impression from onlookers. Admittedly, most biker types weren’t so impressed, but the everyday Joe Public would stop and ask about it with high frequency.

CONCLUSION

I’d like to think that the transmission will survive the DN-01 but Honda have already superseded it with their dual clutch system that will come with the new VFR1200 and have told me that the DN-01 system is not scheduled for any future models.

This is a shame, as all signs are that the DN-01 experiment is a failure (in North America at least) and likely the whole thing will be buried and forgotten about by all concerned.

dn01_proto.jpg

The original prototype at least promised GPS, a sound system and glowing blue knob.
photo: Honda 

Despite my own annoyance at the DN-01’s inability to accommodate my 6’ 4” chassis, the real killer for the public at large has to be the $17,000 price tag. Honda obviously thought that they could get this for it but I just don’t see how the mechanics of the bike could justify anywhere near.

Okay the automatic transmission technology works great but it’s not new, having already been used on Honda’s Foreman Rubicon ATV and so no additional development costs can be claimed. Other ‘technology’ includes shaft drive, ABS and …. errr, that’s it.

Not exactly cutting edge.

What the DN-01 needs is stuff like electrically adjustable windscreen, heated grips, luggage, adjustable seat height. How about something really radical? Instead of getting the worst of the cruiser and sportbike worlds, you could have a button that converts it from cruiser to sporty bike by sliding pegs, bars and seat height around.

dn01_cobbles.jpg

“Okay, I think the coast is clear. We can leave now.”
photo: Honda 

That would be the dog’s bollocks of transformations for your friends outside the local Starbucks, and maybe even worth the $17,000 asking price.

Okay, maybe not, but had Honda launched the DN-01 at a much more realistic range of $11k – $12k, it may have found a slot to live – and maybe even thrive – within.

A new 2009 Suzuki Burgman Executive 650 comes with ABS, underseat storage, electrically adjustable screen, heated grips and an ability to carry persons other than midgets and retails for a mere $11,599. Honda may claim the Burgman to not be a competitor, but it is.

One thing’s for sure, for a bike that costs an arm and a leg, as long as you retain your right side appendages, at least you’d still be able to ride it afterwards.



THE OTTAWA THREE


1) Lee Mallette

Lee.jpg

Honda’s marketing strategy for the DN’s raison d’etre has me wondering if the boys in accounting have been licking the DN’s plastic. For starters, that $17,000 sticker price … Jaaayeeeeezzzzzzuuusssss!

Secondly, Honda didn’t design the DN-01 for the apparent leper colony I belong to.  Nope, they’re going after the car driving, techno savvy generation that exchange fads, laptops, and cell phones with more frequency than Ricky dropping F-bombs in an episode of Trailer Park Boys. At least they can use their clutch-less free left hand to text their friends!

Style wise the DN-01 has everyone, including the Harley faithful, doing double takes. Even at the local show ‘n’ shine, it got its fair share of attention and everyone thought the look and tranny were trick. But when I mentioned sticker price and the fact that bags were not included, the conversation ended.

dn01_corner_low_rh.jpg

Handling can get sporty and motor has enough spunk to keep up others.

Price aside, I’m really not trying to put a negative spin on the DN-01. Over 700 km of extended highway sojourns, twisty back roads and commuting, I enjoyed myself immensely and actually became quite fond of it.

Honda’s done a good job of blending the feel of a cruiser, ease of use of a scooter, and handling of a sporty bike (I own one of each). The auto tranny and drive mode have merit, especially when navigating through Montreal gridlock, and the linked ABS braking has made me a convert to its effectiveness. I played around with the manual tranny but think it’s a waste of time.

The scooter-esque feel of the V-twin engine is surprisingly smooth and offered plenty of grunt to propel me and my 180 lb gorilla of a son around town and at sustained 400 series highway speeds. I also had lots of fun up in the twisties of the Gatineau Hills but wouldn’t ride the same on a scooter.

The DN-01 has a lot going for it: cool looks, good handling, plenty of pick up around town and surprising highway manners for long trips, but I think the sticker price and somewhat elitist marketing approach will limit its appeal. This would be a shame because I daresay they have the makings of an attractive beginner bike rather than something that is simply a token of ‘cool’.

But as much as I like the DN-01, the only way this fool is parting with 17 large is on a BMW 1200GS.

2) Glen Marchand

I was initially impressed with the low, long and sleek futuristic looks. I figured it to be Honda’s stab at Blade Runner-esque street cred. Nice meaty tires, massive squared off exhaust paired with show shoe-sized floorboards. Then I threw a leg over and felt overwhelmed with the massive pull back of the handlebars and reach to the dash.

I half expected the bike to be a whale to move around but was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to toot about. It did take awhile to get used to the length and switchgear but I was comfortable with the posture and very impressed with the placement and styling of the rearview mirrors.

Out on the road, any pretense that this was a badass ride was wiped away by the anemic motor. The sport setting raises the “oomph” factor a bit (computer controlled); however, after a short while, I switched to manual – shift by thumb – mode. The automatic transmission is sure to be a hit with some, but in my view it should be relegated to the realm of scooters and Ski-Doos.

glen_2_front.jpgglen_2_rear.jpg

Glen and the missus. We think there’s a thumbs-up in there somewhere.
photo: someone Glen knows

On the flip side, the linked ABS brakes were flawless, and the seat is fine for shorter distances but takes away the ability to stretch. The suspension was plush and absorbed any bumps that I encountered solo and two-up. Talking of two up, my significant other gave it a thumbs up. She liked being perched up higher than me and was comfortable with the seating position and grab rails.

The after-market Givi screen was a nice surprise as it was lower than eye level and directed the wind and crud over my lid with out any buffeting – a nice touch.

The Givi boxes were able to swallow up my week’s worth of groceries and would do well on a long-distance run. My only niggle was the amount of space needed to park with them still on the bike.

Would I buy one? No, I like gears and clutches too much. My fellow Relics (a merry band of motor biking lunatics) weighed in with the same thoughts as . They and I were of the opinion that it is a big scooter – probably the biggest and baddest but a scooter nonetheless.

The biggest shock was the sticker price. Most figured it should be priced mid $8,000. At twice that price it would do well to have an onboard computer/GPS, hand warmers, seat warmer, cup holder, and anything else couch-comfy they could figure to slap on.

3) Matt McGarvey

The DN-01 has many things to like – engine, looks, handling, brakes … I even loved the auto transmission, against my expectations. But the seating position/ergos are to die for – literally.  I was aching within 30 km, in pain within 50. The problem is the footboards, which are way, way too far forward, a stupidly easy fix in the design stages. Oh, and the bars are too far back too, but that’s less of a problem.

It might work as a commuter, and a very relaxing and fun one with the auto trans. And I could even see driving across the continent on it as to me it felt a bit like riding a small version of a BMW Boxer custom; torquey, slow-ish steering.  I found it pleasant that way. Were it only more comfortable – but it ain’t, so it can’t.

When Costa told me the price, though, I thought no-effing way (even with properly placed footboards). It would be good if it were in the $9,000 range, although you’d still have to move the boards, and for just a bit more you could have a new Bandit 1250, which serves all purposes comfortably.

0 thoughts on “Honda DN-01 long-term update: Part 2”

  1. I picked up a DN-01 a few months ago, at about half the retail price, and find it to be a very good motorcycle for what I wanted.

    The low seat height, long wheelbase, heaviness, and automatic transmission all combine to make a superb highway cruiser. I’m short (5’6″) and find the bike’s ergonomics suit me fine for up to a couple of hours in the seat… and then I need to stop and get gas anyway.

    I’ve taken my DN-01 on a couple of several-hour day trips and have found it to be very pleasant for interstate, backroads, and around town. My solution to the lack of storage space is to use a Giant Loop Coyote bag (designed for dual sports); it hooks right up and holds several days’ worth of clothing, extra shoes, etc. I don’t tend to store my helmet, etc., on the bike.

    Wind blast at highway speeds can be considerable, but I’m able to lean forward to where the only objectionable part is the noise past my head. I’ve cruised at prevailing traffic speeds above 70 mph for more than an hour without problems.

    I like the bike the way it is, but a conventionally-styled bike with the same drivetrain… maybe along the lines of the VFR800, but with this drivetrain, would IMO be a hot seller.

  2. Love your very informative site. My wife just purchased the DN-01 and loves it. I also consider it the best bike for my son to be starting out on. Got the $5000 discount from the Powerhouse Dealer and a fifth year of warranty for free. I believe it as a niche to fill in the motorcycle world and fills it very well.

  3. It seems that Honda is offering a $5000 rebate on the DN-01. Probably to get rid of them. This will most likely be a one year model only.

  4. Good to see a review that’s open and honest about the ride instead of just blowing smoke up our you-know-whats for the sake of a company that let you borrow a cool toy. The honesty and fair review is appreciated. I never had much interest in the big scooter, but I’ve always been curious to see what others have to say. Given the opportunity I’d take it out for a spin, but I like my scooter in the city and my geared bike on the big roads. Keep it up guys.

  5. I agree with Editor ‘Arris on the inevitable comparison to Suzuki’s 650 Burgman Executive. While I’ll admit I haven’t yet ridden the Honda, I have put plenty of miles on the 650 Burgman. It’s hard for me to imagine the Honda being worth twice the price of the Suzuki (based on dealer’s advertised price for a new Burgman). And just wait until Suzuki introduces the 800 Burgman!
    What’s even worse, Honda insists that you can only buy the DN-01 from one of those cursed Powerhouse dealers, insead of a real motorcycle shop! Sheesh!

Join the conversation!