Honda's Three Showcased Bikes - Tech Matters

Do Not-Order 1?

Honda has always enjoyed flexing their technical muscles. And very often, they don't seem to care whether it results in big time sales, and I think that may be the case with the DN-01 as well.

Witness bikes as diverse in nature as the CBX, the "black bomber" CB450 and the CB350/four. As far as sales go, none were particularly successful (although it can be argued that the later 5-speed equipped CB 450's were fairly popular), but all three were technological masterpieces. They might have been a bit slow off the showroom floor, but to consider them solely from a sales perspective misses my point.

Those three bikes showcased Honda's technical superiority in an in-your-face way that none of the other manufacturers could hope to match. What's that? You've got a push rod twin five hundred? Well, we've got a double overhead cam 450, with torsion bar valve springs, CV carburetors, and electric start. You say you've got a hot rod 350cc two-stroke twin, how about we trump that with our 350cc inline four. That's a nice looking, sophisticated DOHC four you guys are building, but have you seen our new six? Talk about getting the technological sand kicked in your face. Honda hasn't always been the biggest bully on the engineering beach, but they're usually only a steroid shot away from it.

Then there was the Rune. According to the pundits, Honda's headlong plunge into the swirling and apparently very chilly high-end custom waters didn't go exactly as planned, did it? Here at Motorcycle Cruiser we liked it, and weren't bashful about saying so, but the fact of the matter is that it didn't exactly set the world on fire. Initial sales weren't what Honda (or to be truthful, I) expected, with plenty of them languishing unsold on showroom floors long past their sell-by date, but again, a look at the order book doesn't really mean much.

Honda built the Rune not to sell a million of them, but to show people what they could do whenever they put their minds to. "Nice custom you built there using readily available parts, you say it's a production bike do you?" "Well here's what we doodled up in our design studio the other day, and oh yeah, it'll be on the showroom floors in June." Of course, you could also argue that in the intervening years, the Rune has attained cult status and when examples do come up for sale it's normally at a respectable, if not particularly high, price.

Enter the DN-01. Frankly, neither I nor anyone else apparently knows exactly what to make of it, at least not yet, so I'm going to spare you the inevitable scooter vs. sport vs. cruiser argument that crops up anytime the bike is mentioned. Suffice to say it's different, it's technically advanced and it's a Honda, as if anyone else would even consider building it.

Now whether it'll play in Peoria remains to be seen, and quite honestly, the jury is still out on whether or not Honda's shot itself in the foot with this one. In fact, I've heard through the grapevine that dealers are reluctant to stock the bikes on spec, hence the snide moniker Do Not Order One, and will only order a bike if the customer plunks down a hefty and presumably non-refundable deposit.

Given the current state of the economy and the DN-01's relatively high price, and it's all the more so when you consider some of the amenities that have been left off the bike, like built in storage compartments and the like, that's understandable. If I were a Honda dealer I have to think long and hard about investing floorplan money in a bike that might languish on the showroom floor ala the PC 800, until the economy turns around, and let's be honest, even then it's no sure bet that the thing will sell.

I think that's a crying shame, not because I have any particular desire to see DN's running hither and yon, whirring across the landscape as it were, but because I think the bike deserves a better shot than it's getting on the street. On the other hand, I have to wonder if Honda really thinks there's a market for the DN, outside of the few diehard techno geeks that are going to be buying the things in essence because they're the motorcycling equivalent of the Segway.

I'd love to have known exactly what was going through the corporate minds at HMC when they decided to bring the DN to market. My best guess is that it was a three-fold strategy. On some level I think it was purely a bit of the technical posturing that Honda does best, a sort of "see what we can build." On another, it gave them a perfect platform to test some new technology, in particular its hydro-mechanical automatic transmission, with a clean sheet design. Mark my words, no pun intended, you'll see that clever bit of cog swapping show up somewhere else in the line up soon enough. Bold experiments in motorcycle design aren't always successful. Consider if you will bikes like the Yamaha TX750, Suzuki Rotary or Honda PC800. All the same, I can't help wonder if Honda is really onto something here, especially if they stick with it and iron out a few details. Maybe instead of Do Not Order, it should be Do Not Overlook.