Is the new Transalp the complete package for the backroad tourer or is it still the city slicker in a friendly dogs clothing.Photos by Trail Zone Magazine and Lance Turnley
Some where along the line Clubby got this idea in his head that I like riding lots of km's at a time so when Honda offered Trail Zone the first test ride of the 2008 Transalp Clubby put up my hand straight away. Why my hand? Well to get the scoop I would have to fly to Melbourne to Hondas headquarters and ride the Transalp back to Sydney.
Before I had a chance to think about it, I was standing in the queue at Qantas check in at 6.30am dressed ready to throw my leg over a bike from my motocross boots my new Rivet Monaro jacket I'd test on the trip. With people staring at me like I was the Stig I soon found out that you can't take your helmet on the plane and you've got buckley's getting through security's metal detector without attracting attention. I'm sure Clubby was curled up in bed chuckling to himself while hitting the snooze button.
What Do You Get For The Money?
It seems that American tastes have a lot to do with what the rest of us get in other markets around the world and at first glance you'd think that the Honda designer worked at Harley Davidson at some time and still yearns for the sound of water pumps with two wheels. This can't be true as a clue to it's European focus is on the graphics. On the tank are GPS co-ordinates for the Merchantour National Park in the French Alps. At 2,802M it must be quite a climb and is the sort of mountain roads you see in the Tour de France mountain stages. Regardless of its styling, Honda's precise Japanese engineering lies underneath, the core of which is a very smooth, new, 680cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve SOHC 52° V twin engine and combined with improved ergonomics is a comfortable bike to ride over the long haul.
Before I get bogged down in specifications Honda Australia had taken the liberty to configure our test bike as a tourer using many of the standard Honda accessories made specifically for the Transalp. These included, taller windscreen, centre stand, 45L top box and panniers and an accessory plug for GPS power or charging other devices such as mobile phones. Plus my favourites heated grips and a low seat. At first glance I through I'd look like a Ulysses Club member on a wanna be Goldwing but being from Cronulla I need to be more accepting.
So if you want to by a soft adventure bike off the showroom floor Honda has pretty much got you covered. As mentioned the motor is smooth and lacks the hand numbing vibration of its single cylinder counterparts. It pulls nicely from low revs and has a nice note from an updated exhaust system even through it sometimes had a whistle like a diesel locomotive when you opened it up from low revs. It lacks any punch anywhere through the rev range but it cruises effortlessly on the open road and will do it all day. The engine is complimented with a five speed gear box however it could do with a sixth gear. I found myself repeatly looking for another cog.
In a move that will upset off-road riders Honda has gone to a 19 inch front wheel from a 21 inch steering it more to roadier set up. Both the 19" front and 17" rear rims are fitted with Metzler Tourance rubber which does an OK job on the gravel and kills it on the road. I was pleased to see that Honda have stayed with spoke rims and not solid units like BMW are pushing with there R1200 GS. Up front are your garden variety 41 mm leading-axle telescopic forks with 177 mm of travel. As for the rear it's a Pro-Link setup with 173 mm travel and adjustable compression damping which is accessible through a small hole in the left side cover below the seat. The dry weight of the bike is 218kg and as a result the Transalp is fitted with dual 256 x 4 mm hydraulic disc with dual-piston, with three-piston calipers and 240 x 6 mm hydraulic disc with single-piston calipers and resin mould pads. Finally the fuel capacity has been reduced from 19 to 17.5 litres. I mean, even though the rationale is that with improved fuel economy it still has the same range but a little extra range makes sense to me. The tank has a 3 litre reserve and when you reach it the digital fuel gauge flashes up and down like the skies about to fall. Very distracting but it gets your attention and within the cluster is the digital speedo which I liked along with the clock (don't forget school zones) and trip metres. Fuel economy on my ride averaged around 5L/100kms giving the Transalp approximately a 350km range including 60 kms of reserve. The seat height is 841mm but the low seat option takes another 20mm off that. The seat is also designed to share the love and is much wider for the pillion passenger. The Top Box also has a backrest and arm rests are optional.
What's It Cost?
The new Transalp comes in at $12,990 plus on road costs. That compare that with the BMW F 650 GS at $13,650, Suzuki DL650 V-Strom at $9,990 and the Kawasaki KLR650 ($7,990)
Who's Buying It?
Like the V Strom it's perfect for road riders dipping their toe into the adventure bike pond. The good thing about the Transalp is that in general ride impression it falls between the KLR650 and the V-Strom. In other words the ergos smack bang between a dirt bike feel of a KLR and the road bike riding position of a V Strom.
Where Did We Ride It?
We rode the Transalp straight out of the crate from Melbourne to Sydney starting with only 15 kms on the clock over a variety of roads (mostly road unfortunately). I did the trip in one hit so it was a good chance to see how comfortable the Transalp is on the long haul and it passed with flying colours. Gotta love the heated grips.
What's To Like?
Did I mention the heated grips? Honda fitted our Transalp with some touring essentials. Taller windscreen, accessory plug (hidden under the seat), top box and panniers plus the low seat for those like me with shorter legs and Hondas own brand of heated grips, (did I mention them?). Without those the Transalp is still an adequate package. Starting at the front a small fairing still deflects a bit of wind but what I particularly liked on my 11 hour highway adventure riding into the dark was the impressive front headlight. Unfortunately the Cyclops styling is a big target for a rock when riding off-road with others.
The engine is smooth as Popguns latex one piece and the gearbox shifts nicely. The exhaust has a nice note but looks like it's fat that can be lost and replaced with an alloy unit. Handling presented no surprises but I like to do a bit more off-road riding before I pass final judgement. The bike comes with a substantial carryrack which you could bolt an expresso machine to. (Had to get that one in before Popgun did). Overall, a great tourer.
What's Not To Like?
The Transalp is definitely at the softer end of the adventure bike market and there are many Africa Twin devotees sobbing quietly into their beers with each new model. There's way too much plastic moulding for a start plus all the mud and dirt hoarding, bolt on, polished metal styling covers like the ones on the exhaust system. Buckets of dirt could reside under there for years. The most useless piece of plastic is what you would think is supposed to be the engine bash plate. Putting style before common sense the bottom of the engine is completely exposed to rocks thrown up from the front wheel. The cockpit is not as cramped as the 2007 model but in the standing position, even for me, the bars felt a tad low. The side stand foot is way too small and the rubber pegs have to go.
The Final Word?
Perhaps I've been little harsh but the Transalp is basically a great bike with solid engineering that will go the distance. Despite the fact that it looks like it's been designed by the work experience kid who's got a fetish for plastic moulding, I believe there's some great potential. That's why we are taking on the Transalp as our next Off Road Explorer/Trail Zone Project Bike and if there's an Africa Twin under there, we'll find it.