Honda NX650 Dominator – Cycle Torque Magazine

14 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Honda NX650 Dominator – Cycle Torque Magazine
Honda NX 650 Dominator

Mr Do it All

THE beauty of a bike like Honda’s NX650 Dominator is its ability to go almost anywhere, in comfort and ease. Sure, it’s not as fast as a Varadero on the tar or as quick through the bush as an XR400, but the is almost as comfortable as its big V-twin cousin, and won’t get left to far behind its up-start little brother in the bush… unless the going gets really tough.

The Dominator works best on tight bitumen, gravel roads and fire trails. The low front guard, big ABS plastic fairing and top-heavy feel of the bike make it a handful in tight going, which is okay if you’re an experienced trail rider, but makes for hard work if you’re less experienced. On freeways the Dommie is good for a trail bike, but you still feel a little like a windsock.

On tighter roads, where you are using the gears, flipping through the bends and generally keeping busy, the NX is fun – and unlike road bikes, it doesn’t matter how rough the road gets.

Most dirt bike riders look down on bikes like the Dominator, but for long-distance work it is a much better bike than an XR600. It is much more comfortable, smoother and roomier. The fairing, while it’s nothing super protective, is a damn sight better than nothing – which is exactly what you get with most trail bikes. There’s also a bigger fuel tank, comprehensive instrumentation, electric start, frame-mounted pillion pegs, reasonable lighting and a carry rack standard.

The downside of the relative luxury is weight and bulk – the Dominator feels a lot bigger and heavier in tighter going than a trail bike, especially when the going gets tough. Keep it closer to its design brief, formed dirt roads, 4WD tracks and such and the Dommie will keep going all day, logging up the miles without a fuss.

The engine is tried and proven. Honda has build thousands and thousands of big singles – the basic design of the air-cooled four-valve motor has been around for donkey’s years, but they keep on building them and we keep buying them because they work. I’m still waiting for noise and emission laws to kill engines like this; it will happen one day, but in the meantime the simplicity and ease of maintenance of these powerplants can be enjoyed.

The Dominator does feel a little restricted though, especially at the top end of its rev range. I’m told a freer-breathing exhaust can add horsepower and lose weight, but to be fair the standard Honda twin-pipe system looks great and works pretty well. In fact, there are any number of tricks to make the Dominator perform better – talk to your Honda dealer about your options, but make sure you are aware of what warranties are being offered in relation to the modifications – your 24-month Honda warranty could go down the drain if you start making non-Honda sanctioned mods.

In standard trim, the NX650’s powerplant pulls like a train down low, at least in the first couple of gears. This makes hills pretty easy – the tyres are usually the limiting factor. Like most big singles it gets a bit snatchy down low in the higher gears, which means you have to be on the ball with gear changing when cruising at freeway speeds. The electric leg started the bike first time, every time, hot or cold.

With electric starters getting lighter and lighter and more and more reliable, it won’t be long before they are standard on all regristrable bikes – and one day, when you’re stuck in a nasty rut on a steep hill with a stalled bike, you will be doubly glad for the electric starter. In fact, when all motocross bikes are four-strokes (it will happen, but hopefully not in my lifetime), electric start will be on those bikes too – for faster get aways after crashing.

Fuel consumption varied on test from a low of 13.5km/L during some tough trail riding to as high as 19.5km/l on the bitumen in cruise mode. The average on test was 16km/l, which means you could confidently go 250km between fuel stops unless it is really tough conditions. That’s far enough (just) for the bike to pass my first rule of thumb for a tourable bike – any less and you really have to stop too often.

The Dominator’s handling is confidence inspiring.

The single Pro-Link shock and non-adjustable conventional forks are unremarkable in both specification and adjustability, but are well sorted for the design brief of the bike. the suspension is soft and supple at both ends, and if you try to get serious in the dirt it will become a limiting factor. Both ends will bottom out on the standard settings, and the non-adjustable front forks you need to disassemble them set the machine up firm.

Of course, if this starts to happen you are on the wrong bike – you should have bought an XR. On most easier trails the suspension is fine, and of course the supple suspension is one of the things which makes the NX so good for touring, by aiding the comfort of the bike. The rear suspension is adjustable for spring preload, which helps if you want to carry a pillion.

Honda NX 650 Dominator

Overall, passenger comfort isn’t bad. If you really want to do serious miles with a friend I’d recommend you look at the larger dual purpose machines like the Honda XL1000V Varadero (tested in the May issue), Triumph’s new Tiger or the BMW R1100GS. ‘Softer’ singles, like the BMW F650 or Aprilia Pegaso, are probably also better bets for pillions. Getting dirty on the Dominator is fun.

I’m told the Dommie is one of the most popular bikes around these days for the big around Australia tour, and I can see why. This is a bike I would happily ride around the country, because it would be a rare occasion when you couldn’t get into somewhere because of the condition of the road

The riding position is typical dirt bike, as it should be. The ’bars are wide and comfortable, the pegs positioned for easy standing and the tank shaped so your knees can grip it with a minimum of fuss. The seat extends up the tank somewhat, allowing you to get your weight forward when necessary in the dirt, but the riding position does make you somewhat resemble a windsock on the road.

I can’t see any way around this problem – any other riding position would be hopeless in the dirt. The limitations of the bike in the dirt are like I mentioned before, the weight and bulk, but also the low front guard can cause a few problems. On one trail ride I took the Dominator on I managed to fill the front guard with mud, stopping me in my tracks until I’d pulled the guard off and cleaned it out.

Luckily, the NX650 is supplied with a comprehensive, if average quality, toolkit. The same trail ride saw me take the tyres well beyond their design brief. However, despite their turning into slick brown doughnuts, they performed surprising well.

On the road the standard tyres are fine. Disc brakes are fitted to both ends of the Dominator. Twin-piston calipers grip ventilated discs, and they both do a good job.

The front doesn’t feel especially powerful by modern standards, but was still good enough to use with just two fingers, while the rear brake was a bit wooden but okay. Standard items which you don’t always see on a bike of this type included hand guards, a handlebar-mounted choke lever and a great U-bolt holder incorporated into the carry rack

The Dominator is more comfortable than true dirt bikes and more off-road capable than either the Pegaso or F650. As such it is a great bike for those who like a non-serious play in the dirt, but are really buying the bike for other reasons – like its touring, commuting and road manners. The NX650 has been available for a heap of years now, with hardly any changes during that time – because it was a good bike then, and nothing else has come along to steal its thunder.

Honda NX 650 Dominator

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