The good, the bad and the ugly of Honda’s NM4

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Photos by Didier Constant

Some things just weren’t meant to be. The Honda NM4 is one of those things. But, someone at Honda, probably a blood relative executive of the NM4’s 20-something designer, thought it should go into production, so here it is.

I recently spent a day with the bike, and have been in hiding ever since.

THE GOOD

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Is the NM4 in danger of becoming the DN-02?

Beneath the NM4’s bizarre bodywork there’s actually a proven, competent drive train. It uses the same 745 cc, liquid-cooled parallel twin you’ll find in the NC750 models. The engine claims 54 horsepower and a peak torque of 50 lb.-ft. at just 4,750 rpm, and has proven to be very fuel efficient (the European model claims 3.5L/100 km). This should give it a theoretical range of about 330 km from its diminutive 11.6-litre fuel tank.

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Dual clutch transmission if not found on the NM4’s NC brethren.

The engine uses a 270-degree crankshaft, which improves low-end torque and gives it a V-twin-like sound. It’s lively and pulls in a very linear manner, a characteristic that transfers from its NC brethren.

Where it differs from the NC models, at least here in North America, is in the choice of transmissions. It uses a six-speed, dual-clutch gearbox with two automatic modes (Drive and Sport), and a semi-automatic mode that allows you to shift gears via a pair of switches on the left handlebar. The dual-clutch transmission lends to a much smoother, scooter-like power delivery when in Drive mode.

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A lot of other journalists have drawn the comparison to something that Batman would ride or something out of Japanese Anime. It’s certainly different.

The engine is wrapped in a diamond-shaped frame with cruiser-ish steering geometry: Rake is 33 degree, trail is 110 mm, and wheelbase is 1,645 mm, which is about 100 mm longer than the NC750 X or S. Wet weight is 245 kg (540 lb), but it feels much lighter because of the laid-down design of the engine (the NC cylinders are canted forward 62 degrees).

Suspension components are pretty straightforward: there’s a 43 mm telescopic fork up front and a single shock in the rear. Compliance is middle-of-the-road, providing good bump absorption … for a single rider at a modest pace.

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Those frontal wings do actually have storage capacity, but not much.

Although its angular plastic draws stares, at least it’s not completely wasted on appearance alone. Up front in the fairing batwings there are two lockable storage compartments, the left one containing one litre of storage and a 12-volt outlet, the right one containing three litres. Behind the rider are two integrated saddlebags.

Although the floorboards are mounted quite far forward, the flat, drag-style handlebar has ample pullback, and the riding position is surprisingly comfortable, mostly attributable to the adjustable rider backrest. The backrest pad is angle-adjustable in three positions and can be moved forward or rearward by 25 mm in four increments. It can also be folded flat, doubling as a passenger pillion.

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The wings also hold the mirrors but despite all that plastic, the NM4 does not offer much protection from the chest up.

The dashboard is all LCD and easy to read, and the backlighting changes hues depending on which drive mode is chosen (D, S, or M). A rider can personalise the dash, selecting from 25 different colours.

The bike handles well; it’s stable and super-smooth, and the dual-clutch transmission shifts almost seamlessly in Drive mode. It holds gears longer in Sport mode, providing a better kick when you punch the throttle to make a pass. If you prefer to change gears on your own terms, just select Manual mode and use the buttons on the left-hand switch assembly; the forward-mounted button gears up, the rear-mounted button gears down.

ABS is standard, and braking is non-linked, so nothing special to report here other than a slightly wooden feel at the lever.

THE BAD

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Passenger seat comes up to support the rider – a big help against the push of the wind and the feet forward position.

While the rider backrest is mostly comfy, unfortunately it can only be adjusted using the ignition key, meaning you can’t pull it up or readjust it if it’s set too high while riding. It also slaps you in the back when hitting larger bumps, so it might be more desirable to lower it in town, especially if the roads are poorly maintained.

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Handling is a bit pendulous.

The funky fairing has a brash, broad-shouldered frontal profile, and it does offer some wind protection for your hands and torso, but from your chest up you’re exposed to the full force of the windblast. It’s buffet-free, which is a good thing, and if you wish to further reduce your exposure to the elements, Honda offers a tall accessory windscreen for $245.

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Rear integrated bag look big until you open them.

And those handy saddlebags? They actually look much larger than they are, being just large enough to hold a box of condoms, though ironically it’s unlikely you’ll be using them after being seen on the NM4. 

Although the suspension works well enough at a modest pace and without a load, if you do need to make an adjustment you’ll have to buy another bike, as there’s no adjustment to speak of.

Despite this, the NM4 handles well, its hand and foot-forward riding position makes it feel like you’re sitting on the pivot point of a pendulum every time you take a curve, giving the impression the bike is swinging away from you every time it leans. It’s not disconcerting, just odd and takes a bit of getting used to. There’s a modest amount of cornering clearance, and riding at a comfortable, slightly elevated pace produced no sparks from the footboard feelers.

THE UGLY

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Is there beauty there?

Well, just look at it.

Okay, the NM4 is definitely a curiosity. I did get a thumbs-up from a scooter rider who probably had no more clue as to what it is than I do. People will stare, snap pictures with their cell phones, and sometimes point – get used to it.

CONCLUSION

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The NM4 is an interesting styling exercise, but have Honda fallen in the DN-01 trap again? It’s a more practical motorcycle and at a lower price, but it’s still ‘out there’ and more expensive than the competition.

Many people have already made comparisons to the ill-fated DN-01, but despite its outlandish styling, the NM4 is a much more practical motorcycle. Although minimal, there is some storage space available on the NM4, and at $12,499 it’s much more affordable than the DN-01 was. However, it costs $3,500 more than Honda’s own NC750S, and even costs $1,050 more than BMW’s C650GT maxi scooter, which is more practical if auto-shifting is a priority.

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The crowds swarm Costa to see the NM4.

It’s an oddball of a motorcycle though there’s some retribution from the rider’s perch; most of the bike is unseen from this vantage point, so it’s easy to forget what it looks like. And who knows, maybe its stealthy appearance will cheat police radar.

Honda currently makes what I believe to be the most appealing and attractive Japanese motorcycle, the CB1100, and yet the same company also produces this three-dimensional reproduction of an anime character’s prop.

I don’t get it, but I sure do appreciate that Honda has the balls to offer it as a production bike, and the company does claim that the “outrageous anime appearance represents the vision of a young, skunkworks design team from deep within Honda R&D”, which I assume means that it’s meant for a new, younger audience. Whether they’re right or not remains to be seen, but time will surely tell.


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.


 

19 COMMENTS

  1. We were all so busy slagging the bike, none of us noticed that the spec sheet doesn’t match ?
    This is NOT a Suzuki S40 Boulevard…?

  2. This review tells me just one thing. Never, ever, ever should you ask a crotch rocket rider to review a cruiser bike.

  3. Some motorcycle designs come from observing the marketplace and giving people what they want. ie how are users modifying their bikes?
    Other motorcycle designs come from giving people what they don’t yet know they want.
    This is neither of those designs 😉

    • Bam. (cough cough, DN01, anyone? cough, cough).

      I gotta say, it is hideous, but I applaud the brassiness of whoever actually approved this project.

  4. I can see it now: A cute girl at work asks me what kind of bike I ride; “Uh, it’s a Vultus. Yeah, a Vultus. It’s a ‘collector bike’ (i.e., something I bought, but now can’t resell).”

  5. Makes a Victory Vision look normal. Can the person who this is for come and pick it up now, quickly please. It’s smelling the place up.

  6. Good heavens, that’s the worst looking thing I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t ride it if it was the last motorcycle on earth. Clearly I am not the marketing target..

    Now, the CB1100 on the other hand….

  7. “I recently spent a day with the bike, and have been in hiding ever since.”
    Truer words have never been spoken. You have set a CMG Bench Marks for reporting.
    Thanks for the grins !

  8. I recently had a trip to Japan, saw a million scooters and very few motorcycles. Viewed in that context I started to like the looks. Hate it all you want, but I doubt we are the target audience.

    • The only thing is, if this was actually a scooter it would actually have useful carrying capacity in those bulbous fairings. I’d sooner have an actual scooter with room under the seat for a helmet and a bag of groceries.

  9. “Skunkworks” as in something smelly you’d trap in a cage and then shoot, maybe. Cut back on the acid doses the younger designers are getting, please.

  10. You do have to hand it to Honda for thinking outside the box. They don’t seem to mind pushing the envelope waaaay out there. Good for them.

  11. I was the number one hater when I first seen this thing several months ago. Now I really like it. Its totally out there, and I hope Honda has another skunk works from the Dakar team and let them produce anything they want in regards to an “adventure” bike. I don’t think they will sell many but this could also become a collector bike. Honda seems to have many bikes throughout the years that never sold and then years later were highly sought after. When the Transalp first came out, the local dealer had one sitting on the showroom forever. I eventually took it for a ride and wondered “what the heck is this thing”. Now I would love to have one.

  12. The Caped Crusader says that 54 BHP is not enough to proactively pursue vile villains —so his trusty sidekick Robin sleuthingly suggested a Mr Turbo kit or at the very least a notorious nitrous oxide system.

  13. This thing is DOA – if they sell more than a dozen in all of Canada I will be truly astounded. Having had the opportunity (is that the right word ?) to ride the DN-01 for a weekend, I can only conclude that the Big H has once again answered a question that nobody asked…

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