BACK WITH THE X (ADV)

Motorcycle Sport & Leisure - - Launch -

Honda’s hy­brid-ad­ven­turer has been a sales suc­cess across Europe. We tested the 2018 model to see what makes it so pop­u­lar.

On its launch a year ago the X-ADV seemed – to many mo­tor­cy­clists, at least – like an­other en­try on a list of bizarre Honda mod­els that few peo­ple un­der­stood or would buy. A scooter with off-road styling? A feet-for­ward, small-wheeled ad­ven­ture bike?

Surely it was just an­other crazy

Honda cre­ation that made lit­tle sense and would fol­low the DN-01 and Vul­tus by sell­ing in tiny num­bers be­fore be­ing qui­etly dropped and for­got­ten about.

But that’s not what hap­pened at all. In­stead, the X-ADV’s blend of chunky looks and maxi-scooter per­for­mance and prac­ti­cal­ity struck a chord with plenty of peo­ple. This was mo­tor­cy­cling’s first Sport Util­ity Ve­hi­cle – stylish, rugged, ver­sa­tile and de­sir­able. It ended up as Europe’s sev­enth best sell­ing model last year, doubt­less to the de­light of Honda Europe’s Ital­ian-based R&D team, who had come up with the con­cept and per­suaded their Ja­panese bosses to put it into pro­duc­tion.

That suc­cess still seems slightly strange, but also makes some sort of sense as I aim this year’s mildly up­dated X-ADV along a wind­ing road in south­ern Spain. I’ve just fin­ished a short dirt-road diver­sion, where the Honda’s flex­i­ble, 745cc par­al­lel-twin en­gine and long-travel sus­pen­sion made it eas­ily con­trol­lable when stand­ing on the pegs, de­spite its weight, big-scooter-like ge­om­e­try and ever so slightly ec­cen­tric com­bi­na­tion of cy­cle parts.

Now I’m back on tar­mac and sit­ting on the seat, my bag stashed un­der the seat, my feet on the foot­boards, and the X-ADV’s fair­ing, ad­justable screen and hand-guards com­bin­ing to keep me rea­son­ably com­fort­able on a cold day. With the DCT trans­mis­sion set to Sport mode the torquey, 54bhp en­gine is mak­ing the Honda both quick and easy to ride, and it’s han­dling suf­fi­ciently good to be fun.

SMALL AD­JUST­MENTS

Given the X-ADV’s im­pact, it’s no sur­prise that Honda has done very lit­tle to up­date it just a year on from its launch. The mods are re­ally just elec­tri­cal tweaks: the rev limit is raised by 900rpm, to 7500rpm. That doesn’t af­fect the char­ac­ter of the SOHC pow­er­plant, shared with the NC750 mod­els and In­te­gra (which got the same rev in­crease this year).

The long-stroke unit is de­signed mainly for econ­omy and low-rev per­for­mance, pro­duc­ing max­i­mum power at 6250rpm and its torque peak of 51lb-ft at just 4750rpm.

The X-ADV comes only with Honda’s Dual Clutch Trans­mis­sion, un­like the Africa Twin and NC mod­els with their con­ven­tional six-speed op­tion. Like the Africa Twin, for off-road use it now gains a ‘G’ but­ton on its dash­board, which when pressed gives a more di­rect drive to the rear wheel, to al­low bet­ter con­trol. The X-ADV also gains a trac­tion con­trol sys­tem that can be ad­justed through two po­si­tions, or turned off, with the press of a but­ton.

There’s no change to its chas­sis, with its lengthy tubu­lar steel frame, sim­i­lar to that of the In­te­gra scooter, and unique com­bi­na­tion of chas­sis parts. While the sus­pen­sion matches the NC750X ad­ven­ture bike with its travel – 153.5mm from the up­side­down forks, and 150mm at the rear – and the wheels have wire spokes and fairly chunky Bridge­stone Trail Wing tyres, their di­am­e­ters are 17in front, 15in rear. And while the In­te­gra’s front brake com­prises a sin­gle front disc and twin-pis­ton caliper, the X-ADV gets twin discs and four-pot ra­di­als.

It also gets a pretty high spec­i­fi­ca­tion, with key­less ig­ni­tion, LED light­ing, hand-guards (bor­rowed from the Africa Twin), cen­tre-stand and a screen that is man­u­ally ad­justable through five po­si­tions and 136mm. The seat hinges to re­veal a courtesy light, USB socket and room for a full-face hel­met.

TALL AND RAPID

At 820mm the seat is 30mm higher than the In­te­gra’s, and its height and width com­bine with the long foot­boards to make the X-ADV slightly tricky to climb aboard, and to bal­ance un­less you’ve got long legs. But once you’re un­der way it’s simplicity it­self, with the ul­tra­torquey par­al­lel twin mo­tor and DCT gear­box com­bin­ing to give scoot­er­style con­ve­nience with re­spectably mo­tor­bike-like per­for­mance.

De­spite weigh­ing a hefty 238kg with fuel (same as the In­te­gra) the X-ADV ac­cel­er­ates re­spectably briskly, es­pe­cially if you’re in au­to­matic mode and us­ing the sporti­est of the three Sport set­tings, rather than one of the other two or even the softer still Drive mode, which changes up even ear­lier. In its lat­est in­car­na­tion the DCT sys­tem works well, and also gives the op­tion of man­ual change us­ing the thum­band fore­fin­ger-op­er­ated pad­dles on the left bar.

The X-ADV cer­tainly feels as quick as the In­te­gra, NC750 or most other maxi-scoot­ers, and it cruises along very smoothly and ef­fi­ciently, de­liv­er­ing 60mpg-plus econ­omy while giv­ing the op­tion of ac­cel­er­at­ing to­wards a top speed of just over 100mph. There’s use­ful pro­tec­tion for chest, hands and legs, and com­fort is rea­son­able although the feet-for­wards rid­ing po­si­tion puts all your weight through the seat, which wouldn’t be ideal on a long trip.

The Honda’s odd­ball chas­sis works pretty well, too. The fairly con­ser­va­tive ge­om­e­try and long wheel­base help keep things sta­ble, the 17in front wheel al­lows rea­son­ably neu­tral steer­ing de­spite the long wheel­base, and the sus­pen­sion is of suf­fi­cient qual­ity to give a well-con­trolled ride de­spite the gen­er­ous travel. That twin ra­di­al­caliper front stop­per is pow­er­ful, and gets some eas­ily used help from a rear disc that is op­er­ated by the left han­dle­bar lever in scooter style.

GET­TING DIRTY

Our launch route also in­cluded a short diver­sion down a dirt track, where the X-ADV con­firmed that it could cope with some gen­tle ad­ven­ture rid­ing. Or at least, it could while I was stand­ing up on the ser­rated footrests, which are ac­ces­sories made by Ital­ian spe­cial­ist Ri­zoma (and sold through Honda deal­ers, for £225). These put your weight much lower and fur­ther back than the stan­dard foot­boards, which felt much too high and far for­ward for stand­ing up on.

The sus­pen­sion had enough travel to soak up some bumps, though I’d have been glad of the alu­minium

bash-plate on any­thing rougher, and wary of dam­ag­ing Honda’s shapely and ex­pen­sive plas­tic. As so of­ten, the lim­it­ing fac­tor on a muddy track was not the bike but its road-bi­ased Trail Wing tyres, though I’m not sure how keen I’d have been to fit knob­blier rub­ber and search out some more de­mand­ing trails.

In­stead of that, we headed back via road to the up­mar­ket launch base ho­tel, where the X-ADV had the op­por­tu­nity to play per­haps its most valu­able card, at least as far as many po­ten­tial own­ers are con­cerned – by look­ing suf­fi­ciently cute-yet-tough to fit in per­fectly along­side the four­wheeled SUVs in the car park.

BANG ON

Given that most X-ADV own­ers, like most ad­ven­ture bike rid­ers, won’t ever ride the Honda off-road, its suc­cess must to some ex­tent be a tri­umph of style over sub­stance.

Af­ter all, the In­te­gra of­fers iden­ti­cal per­for­mance, econ­omy and weight, sim­i­lar han­dling and com­fort (al­beit with less sus­pen­sion travel and brak­ing abil­ity), an ex­tra litre of fuel ca­pac­ity (though less stor­age) and a sub­stan­tially lower price. The NC750s are much cheaper still.

But while the In­te­gra looks like just an­other big scooter, the X-ADV is a funky, fun-look­ing, unique and ad­ven­tur­ous ma­chine. At £9959 it’s ex­pen­sive, and it has some very ob­vi­ous draw­backs. But it cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion be­fore you climb on board, makes you smile while you’re rid­ing it, and con­firms that this time Honda’s prod­uct plan­ners got a new con­cept ab­so­lutely right.

ABOVE: The X-ADV is rugged enough to han­dle dirt roads with rel­a­tive ease.

WORDS: Roland Brown PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: Zep Gori, Ciro Meg­gi­o­laro, Francesc Mon­tero & Felix Romero

SEAT The 820mm seat may give small rid­ers a few prob­lems but it’s wide, and be­low there’s a light, USB socket and room for a full-face hel­met. EN­GINE Honda’s softly-tuned, 745cc SOHC par­al­lel twin en­gine is bor­rowed from the NC750 mod­els and In­te­gra,...

BASH PLATE Although it’s not suit­able for se­ri­ous off-road work, the Honda has a small alu­minium bash-plate to give the low-slung en­gine some pro­tec­tion.

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