Test Ride: Honda Silverwing

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Words: Rob Harris    Photos: Honda Canada

Another day, another launch. ‘Arris, Cantin and Bondo cruise the streets of Key West in search of a good photo-shoot location.

It’s taken a while for these two big scoots to make it to Canada, the Silverwing has been available for the last couple of years in just about every market except for Canada; the Big Ruckus was introduced to the Japanese market just last year.

Thankfully Honda Canada has put both these scooters into the Canadian market for 2005. The similarities stop there: the Silverwing is rubbing shoulders with Canada’s other big-scoot – Suzuki’s 650 Burgman, while the Big Ruckus jumps into the 250 world

While on the recent launch in Miami, Honda hauled some samples of their new scooters down to said launch, allowing the gathered journos to cruise up and down the Florida Keys for a day or two. Although not ideal motorcycle testing conditions, a scooter and a gentle cruise is probably best suited for the roads there. Well, more so than a CBR600RR that’s for sure.

What follows are our initial impressions of what you can expect from the Honda scooters for 2005 (although you’ll have to click on the link at the end to get to the Big Ruckus bit).


SILVERWING 600

Honda are worried that if people perceive the Silverwing as just a big-scooter, they’re liable to get a severe does of sticker-shock. As such they’re trying to put the Silverwing more in the mid-sized sport-tourer than scooter camp – going so far as to peg it as an entry level sports-tourer in the Goldwing/ST1300 category.

I’m not sure whether that’s really the case, or indeed whether that’s really a concern. In Canada, that job has already been effectively pioneered in the last two years by Suzuki – with their Burgman 650 – and with the Silverwing coming in under the B’s MSRP, they should be on relatively safe ground.

Besides, they’re marketing the big-scoots/mid-sized sport-tourers (hey, I’m trying here) to aging boomers, entry and women riders – all expanding markets. To me, the main question that needs addressing is what’s it like to ride and how does it stack up against the 650 Burgman?

THE NUTS & BOLTS

Honda’s Silverwing is powered by a 582cc DOHC parallel-twin, liquid-cooled motor, putting out a claimed 50hp (@7,500 rpm) and 37 ftlbs of torque (@6,000 rpm), Vibes from the 360-degree crank are kept at bay with twin balance shafts, fuel is injected, emissions are reduced by an exhaust air-injector and catalytic converter, and final drive is by CVT.

The motor/transmission assembly is housed in a steel tube type frame, within which it pivots in a see-saw action as the bike’s swing arm. But that’s a lot of weight and in order to keep unsprung mass to a minimum, Honda has located the pivot point inline with the engine’s crankshaft. As a result, the heaviest part of the assembly is now located at the axis, keeping the bulk of the mass centralized and so the shock has to cope with less unsprung weight. Clever.

Fuel capacity is 16 litres, which Honda reckons should get you about 400Km, with the fuel-filler located in the tunnel between the rider’s feet. The instrument panel (which is quite stylish), comes with an analog tach on the left, speedometer in the centre and all the other information bits slotted into the ellipse on the far right. There’s also a belt-wear indicator which illuminates if excessive slip is detected in the CVT’s V-belt.

A couple of smaller storage compartments right in front of the rider’s knees allow for storage of documents, with the parking brake located by the upper right compartment. For bigger storage, there’s a 55-litre cavern under the seat, large enough for two full-face lids.

Braking is by single disc front and rear, which are linked and fitted with ABS, the non-ABS version is not being brought in to Canada. An interesting side note is Honda’s latest philosophy – By the year 2010, they want to make ABS an option on all their bikes over 250 cc (excluding off-road machines). The Silverwing represents the first of this wave.

THE WINGED RIDE

Apparently this is as far south as you can go in the States.

My initial reaction (as with most every scooter – big or small) is that my 6′ 4″ frame wasn’t meant to try and fit into this chassis. Well, that was until I found the adjustable backrest, which – after removing and refitting the two Allen screws underneath – slid back a good two inches (one of five possible positions), giving me just enough room for the handlebars to clear my knees.

Still, a tad cramped, but probably one of the more spacious big-scoots that I’ve ridden to date.

The S-Wing comes with a relatively narrow middle section – which allows the rider to easily get their feet back to the ground – but once moving, also limits the amount of space to move your feet around in. Not a big deal, but it does reinforce that the marketing of the big scoots is to those generally of a smaller inseam.

“That bitch never waived”. Trouble brewing in the Keys

 

The 600 motor has a goodly amount of kick – accelerating well up to about 65 km/h, after which it progresses rather more serenely up to 130 Km/h, and then sedately there on. Interestingly the revs ride up in relation to speed up to that 65 Km/h mark and then hold at 5,000 rpm for a while, as it accelerates onward. That CVT is a weird sensation.

I’m not sure what top speed was because the road didn’t really allow for it (mucho traffic and cops), but I’ve read estimates in the 170 km/h range.

Mr. Swing was happy to make it to Key West unscathed.

I did have one rather interesting moment when I set off up a gravel bank and onto the road at full wick. What started as a rather pleasing power-slide, deteriorated rapidly into a bar-slapper as the S-Wing’s small wheels bounced off two large pot-holes. Thankfully, it all came back into civility once the front wheel touched onto the asphalt, but for a moment there I was wondering just how to explain a scuffed up S-Wing to the Honda Canada people back at Key West.

Okay, so that’s not really what the bike was meant to do, and in more acceptable usage it performed very well. But the road down the Keys failed to provide much roughness and so I opted to perform some speed runs down a sandy track near the hotel, just to see how it handled some bumps and, err, loose sand.

The bumps were taken remarkably well thanks to a total of 119mm of suspension travel front and rear, without the front forks or twin rear shocks showing any indication of bottoming out. How did it handle the sand … well, shall we just say it was a bit frisky?

“Barp”

 

Yes, I think we shall.

Wind protection is pretty good, although the screen is maybe a bit on the narrow side, and threw off a goodly amount of noise at cruising speed (use those ear-plugs folks).

The ABS/linked braking works well too. A hard squeeze on both levers (left is back and right is front) results in a prompt stop, sans skidding, with some minor pulsing in both levers to signify that you’re a twat and the ABS had to come in to save your sorry arse. I’m not sure whether the Honda gamble to go ABS-only will pay off, but it’s probably something that will suit the big-scooter buying type.

THE BURGMAN BATTLE

The Silverwing is Honda’s answer to Suzuki’s high profile 650 Burgman, which thanks to a mix of Transport Canada restrictions and production difficulties, managed to get a two-year head start. As a result, Honda is now busy playing catch-up. Question is; is the S-Wing going to be able to take sales away from Suzuki’s already-established 650 Burgman?

I think the cc difference (56cc down on the Burgman) will be a factor in the Burgman’s favour. And, the S-Wing also comes with one-inch smaller diameter wheels, one (instead of two) discs up front and a smaller windscreen. That’s countered somewhat with the S-Wing’s extra fuel capacity (larger by 1 litre), a lower and narrower seat and 17Kg less weight.

The S-Wing lacks the Burgman’s “power” button option, though Honda has fitted an automatic power/economy operation for more or less power as needed – dictated by the bike’s electronic brain, rather than the rider.

The Burgman also comes with a “manual” option so that you can feel as though you’re actually changing through gears (although you’re not). However, having ridden the Burgman last summer, I’m not convinced that its manual button is particularly useful.

.. und zis is ze Silverwing

 

Besides, does the big-scooter rider actually want the additional complication of manual operation? Honda doesn’t seem to think so, and have taken a gamble that said rider will be more attracted to the idiot-proof quality of ABS, less weight and lower/narrower seat. They’ve also pegged it at a $700 price advantage, with an MSRP of $10,299.00

Although I’m not the type of buyer that this segment of the market is directed to (okay, I’m not a buyer of anything), it remains to be seen whether this market is more concerned about power or safety features.

Maybe it’s going to be big enough for both? Or maybe not …

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