(Or, Mad Max goes to Finishing School)

By Larry Tate

(photos by Larry Tate)

We got some interest from readers recently in the Soapbox section about Honda's X4 motorcycle. Although it has only been made available to the Japanese home market to date, CMG contributor, Larry Tate, got a chance to ride the beast - a one off specially imported model. The following has been kindly submitted to CMG courtesy of the author and Inside Motorcycles magazine, where it was originally published last year.

X4 Ad poster.

"I probably won't need you tonight, dear," said the gentleman to his wife as he stared lasciviously at Honda's remarkable X4, throttle hand twitching. Yes, he was smitten, and no, she didn't think he was being particularly funny. Odd thing is, I don't think he was trying to be.

What is the X4? If there has to be a class title, maybe "power cruiser" would be the name at the head of the attendance column. Members of the class are relatively few: Yamaha's V-Max - the class bully - is the oldest and toughest of the group, Honda's own Magna VF750C is a charter member, there's Suzuki's V-twin Marauder, and um, maybe Triumph's Speed Triple. That's about it; a select schoolyard gang indeed.

The only catch is, you can actually take all the other members of the class home to play with you, but this new kid in school hasn't exactly transferred in yet. You could say his family is thinking about moving in, but hasn't quite decided.

The X4 is a Japanese-market brute that Honda Canada brought into the country as part of the firm's 50th anniversary celebrations last year. There were quite a number of non-Canadian bikes that Honda displayed at various shows and rallies last year - "hey, look what we could sell you if we wanted to" kinda thing.

The X4's drag bike-inspired styling knocked the eyeballs out of most onlookers when a "styling mockup" appeared at the Tokyo Motor Show a few years ago. Honda has fairly quietly snuck it into production back home, but there's still no official word on it coming here or to the States, despite the clear North American influences in its looks.

Actually, after Honda product guy Warren Milner generously loaned me the X4 for a day, a completely unscientific but still interesting survey found four construction workers, two policemen, and one high school teacher all swearing they'd buy an X4 if it was available. The teacher said he had another 300 people in his XS1100 web group who were dying for a new bike who'd also cue up.

Hmm. So what's the attraction?

Looks and power, what else. What the X4 is, is a 1,300 cc monster inline four that traces its lineage back to the CBR1000 lump introduced nine years ago. The up rated mill is tightly wrapped in a low, long, street-fighter-ish looking package. That original engine produced something like 135 hp, so with the extra 30% displacement and eight years of technology, you might expect the new one to be easily pumping out 160 hp or more.

You'd be wrong, although that much could be easily available. Tuned for the Japanese voluntary 100 hp limit, what the bike does have is rivers, lakes, veritable oceans of torque - it feels a lot like a Valkyrie. Or a good V-Max. Which is to say, it'll yank your arms out of your sockets. There's a reason for the deep dish in the seat.

The numbers in the manual say 88.9 lb-ft of torque (!), and after my brief ride I have absolutely no reason to doubt them. The big 190/60ZR17-sized rear Dunlop has no chance against this engine, which will happily shred rubber at any moderately enthusiastic twist of your right wrist.

This in spite of the 270 kg (594 lb) claimed dry weight, and humongous 1,650 mm wheelbase. Yes, it's big, and when in motion imparts the sensation that it was hewn from a block of granite. Yet oddly enough it doesn't feel heavy or clumsy when you're riding.

The deeply cut-out seat is only 745 mm (about 29 inches) off the ground, making it easy to get both feet down. The stubby drag bar - a beautifully tapered piece of work that narrows east and west of its massive riser mounts - provides excellent leverage, and the footpegs are directly beneath the seat, exactly where they should be. Somehow the front end actually feels almost light, echoing the appearance of the machine from the side.

About the only thing that detracts from the smallish feeling is the width of the covers at the junction of the carbs and airbox, which bump your legs most of the time as a reminder that this thing really is a big, wide puppy.

The paint is a very tough-guy battleship grey - a strange pearlescent, almost flat finish, very cool - draws attention to the shapes of the bike itself. The airy appearance of the delicate cast front wheel and raked-out front end quickly metamorphisizes into the densely-packed mechanical look of the engine and swingarm, and the looks come to a solid visual conclusion at the spun-aluminum cast rear wheel. This thing is a work of art in itself, with no fewer than three completely different surface treatments ranging from the pebbly flat black of the middle to the almost chrome-like polished rim.

In the past, Japanese sport-bike designers have spoken of creating machine profiles inspired by the shapes of hunting animals crouched for action. This one actually looks the part, as though it's hunkered down on its rear end, ready to spring.

The X4 at one of Toronto's finest establishments ....

That's how it looks, and that's how it acts. It looks so much like that, in fact, that one cop I spoke to (no, no, I'd stopped him; pleasant change, that) actually offered to take me to a secluded part of his beat so we could do some burnouts. This at mid-day in the middle of downtown Toronto!

However, the engine had about 15 km on it at that point, and I'd promised Honda to be good, so of course I was. It hurt, but I was.

I didn't have a photographer handy, anyway.

Having said that, however, I can tell you that the engine is glassy-smooth and the gigantic exhausts Honda-quiet. And when you yank the throttles open, it pulls hard enough to lift the front end, smoke the back, and stretch the tendons in your shoulders.

The controls are tactile wonders; they feel like they're off an Acura. And there are some extremely trick instrument touches - for example, the retro-looking tach features normal-looking warning lights for neutral, oil pressure, and high beam, but they're holographic projections. Turn off the ignition and the bottom half of the tach face is blank aluminum. Unbelievable.

Three available Japanese colours - Black, Silver and Grey (3 second delay animation - click for static's)

The massive rear shocks have four preload adjustments; otherwise the suspension stays as delivered, but does a pretty good job. Controlling so much mass while delivering a compliant ride is one hell of an assignment, and we'd guess the guys who did such a good job on the Valkyrie had something to say about spring and damping rates on this sucker.

So how does it stand up against the existing class bully, Yamaha's ageless V-Max? Well, there's clearly a resemblance - twins separated at birth, maybe? If the V-Max was raised in the rough industrial side of town and went to trade school, the X4 grew up in the executive `burbs and went to a private college - but spent all his time in the gym.

If Mad Max went to finishing school, we think he'd come out looking pretty much like the X4.


Honda X4


Not Imported into Canada


1284 cc

Engine type

Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline four


4 x Carburettors

Final drive

Chain drive

Tires, front


Tires, rear


Brakes, front


Brakes, rear


Seat height

745 mm


1,650 mm

Dry weight

274 Kg

Canadian colours


© 1999 Canadian Motorcycle Guide Online