2008 Honda DN-01: MD First Ride – Motorcycle…

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2008 Honda DN-01: MD First Ride – Motorcycle…
Honda DN-01

2008 Honda DN-01: MD First Ride

Since we first saw the prototype a few years ago at the 2005 Tokyo show, we had the feeling that the DN-01 was not just a futuristic design exercise. It seemed like its intent was to find a home for the new electrohydraulic HFT (Human Friendly Transmission), a transmission that was gaining success in the world of ATVs, in a decidedly unconventional motorcycle.

Last year the production version debuted, and it will be arriving in dealers (not in the U.S. for the moment) with a 680-cc water-cooled v-twin engine derived from the Deauville motorcycle. Aesthetically, the design of the final production version is nearly 100-percent faithful to the first concepts.

Honda HFT Transmission

HFT Automatic; the secret

Well, we aren’t going to go through a complete technical breakdown here, the result of which would be a particularly complex discussion of continuously variable transmission design. This Honda link will tell you about the HFT technology if you are interested. Here we intend to be more practical, and start by answering the question you’re all asking: does it work? The answer can only be a resounding yes.

Start the engine; press a button on the right marked “D”. As soon as we give the bike any throttle the “N” light goes out and the “D” illuminates. We accelerate away as we would on a scooter.

There’s no need to worry about a clutch lever or foot-operated gear selection because those things don’t exist on the DN-01.

What? We want to accelerate harder? Well, we’ll have to press a button at our right-hand fingertips. Once pushed an “S” illuminates (for Sport) instead of an “N” or “D”.

It’s quite clear that we’re in “S” mode when we open or close the throttle, because we can clearly sense the electronic brain that controls the bike reacts more quickly to our throttle inputs. In either case, there is clearly something different going on here than anything we’ve ever experienced in a megascooter: there is a distinct sense of connection between the throttle and the rear wheel missing from most scooters.

When it’s time to stop, you can press the right button to bring the “N” onto the display. And as if by magic, we can now rev the twin-cylinder engine without moving (or holding the brake). It’s in neutral as on any other bike.

It’s also a manual!

Yes, the automatic mode works as advertised, and it works very well. But since man cannot live on comfort and practicality alone, particularly a man accustomed to two-wheeled vehicles, the bike offers a playful side that appears once you press the button next to your right index finger. Do so, and a number representing the gear we’re in appears on the right side of the screen.


We’re now in the manual mode, where six preset ratios are at our command, except when we ask for a gear that isn’t rational. For example, at just 30 kilometers-per-hour (18 mph) we can select fourth or fifth gear, but not sixth as the bike’s brain has determined that doing so will severely bog the engine. Nor will the bike allow us to overrev the engine by selecting too low a gear.

Manual mode allows you to safely downshift for acceleration or deceleration. Something you probably do every day with your bike, but the DN-01 does so without use of your hand and without a clutch. It’s all very video-game-like, but in reality the bike doesn’t allow for rider mistakes or strange behavior.

As also happens to automatic scooters that have preset gear ratios (for example, the Suzuki Burgman 650), in practice one just ends up leaving the bike in the automatic mode that most suits you, and that’s it. One last peculiarity: if we maintain a steady pace, the system will eventually adopt he highest gear possible (lowering RPMs) to maintain the selected speed. This is excellent for reducing fuel consumption and emissions, in terms of both CO2 and sound.

Not just a gearbox

The DN-01, whose name is an acronym for “New Dream”, brings much more than an electrohydraulic gear shifter. The bike’s design is futuristic, but it has some features that reflect the “motorcycle of tomorrow” from a decade ago. The aesthetic weight rests on the front end.

Viewed from the front, the design is aggressive and shark-like, with two ellipsoidal and multiconvex headlamps leading the charge. The windshield is low, clearly an aesthetic decision. The truth is that it could be higher, but making it larger would ruin the style, and Honda has been very careful with styling the DN-01.

Looking at the bike from behind, the look is one of elegance and restraint, in contrast with the front. This is a bit of a curiosity.

The chassis is a conventional double-cradle made of steel tubing, but it is solid and does not flex as much as one might think given the long overall length (the wheelbase is enormous). When we sit in the wide

saddle with our feet forward (on a cruiser-like footrest), and with our hands held high and apart, we might think the bike is a boulevard motorcycle and nothing else. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All it takes is a slight hint of a turn (as if it was a car). The incredibly low center of gravity does the rest, and the DN-01 takes the corner without complaint. Only a few lightweight cruisers have these moves, but they can’t match the DN-01′s stability at speed.

We have to consider that the suspension and brakes are those of an ordinary motorcycle, and that the wheels are more like those of a sportbike than a bike adorned in chrome.

Speaking of braking, the DN-01 incorporates a powerful and unflappable system combined with the latest generation of ABS. We don’t like the bulky rear brake pedal, and the footrests rub as soon as we lean the bike over, but they do fold easily. There isn’t much to say concerning the engine, and with the exception of the transmission there’s nothing here that we haven’t previously seen.

The engine has an adequate amount of power to move the 270-kilogram (594 lbs.) bike with two persons aboard to legal speeds with smoothness, low fuel consumption and low maintenance.

What is it for and for whom?

These are questions that require some thought before we can reply. Well, Honda asked us not to immediately compare their new product to a scooter, a cruiser, or a sportbike, but to do so only after thoroughly familiarizing ourselves with what it is, how it works, and above all, its target audience. We were asked to try not to judge the new bike based on the parameters used for scooters, cruisers, or sportbikes.

Let’s break this down. A megascooter is not a direct competitor. Megascooters have always placed a priority on a much larger load capacity, and they’ve always had many more practical details (like storage boxes or power outlets).

Next to the DN-01, maintaining a scooter requires more work; the DN-01 never requires one to change belts or clutches.

If we compare the DN-01 to a cruiser, which with few exceptions are equipped with a dazzling design and are highly customizable, the DN-01 looks the way it is going to look — take it or leave it — color choice notwithstanding. But, in one sense, the DN-01′s transmission makes a mockery of any custom motorcycle, be it American, Japanese, or European.

Sportsbikes are more agile and powerful, as are the majority of motorcycles with medium or high displacements, but they are not as unique as the DN-01, nor as easy to ride. Should you seasoned riders think you’re not going to like the relaxed nature of the HFT, suspend judgment until you’ve ridden it for a few kilometers.

So what is it? It’s a new product for a new audience. It may end up being bought by the same people who first bought an iPod, or a refrigerator with a crushed ice dispenser, or a plasma screen HD 1080 for the dining room of their home, of course linked to a Blu-Ray player.

This early-adopter might not have even thought about motorcycles until they saw pictures of the DN-01 in design and technology magazines, or on the internet.

It is to this audience that we state the DN-01 works very well, and it doesn’t require a degree to operate (you can get started without the aid of your instruction manual). It doesn’t have any space for a MacBook Air (you’ll have to bring your trendy laptop case), nor will it recharge your iPhone. Perhaps a second generation (a hypothetical DN-02, or DN-01 version 2.0), might have these features, but we have no doubt that the HFT will eventually find its way into a wide range of models. and deservedly so.

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