Honda Deauville: One for the money

The new Deauville is a classic all-rounder. Who cares if it's ever so slightly boring?


Specifications

Engine: 680cc liquid cooled, 4-stroke V-twin
Maximum power: 64.8bhp (48.3Kw) @ 8,000rpm
Maximum torque: 66.2Nm @ 6,500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed gearbox, shaft final drive
Brakes: Combined dual front 296mm discs and rear single 276mm disc.
Tank capacity: 19.7 litres
Weight: 236kg
Colours: Blue, black, grey, beige
Price: £6,199 standard, £6,499 with ABS

It has been called the baked-beans-on-toast of motorcycling, the bike your accountant would most like to own and the only one your mother really wants you to ride. It is very comfortable, and utterly unthreatening.

It is the Honda NT650 Deauville - and ever since it was launched in 1998 it has been derided as the world's most boring motorcycle. Meanwhile, thousands of contented customers have bought Deauvilles and used them for everything from short-range commuting to global touring.

There is no contradiction in this. The original Deauville is supremely competent. It can cruise all day, two-up with luggage, at 85mph. It is slim enough to thread through traffic. Owners report tremendous reliability, and build quality is high.

The boredom accusation stems from British motorcycling's macho culture, which persuades too many riders to buy high-performance sports bikes they dare not admit they find terrifying. The old Deauville did not pretend to be a sports bike. Nor does its replacement.

What the original says about its owner is that he regards his bike as a means to pleasure rather than the pleasure itself. He probably uses it as a means of transport as well, and is prudent enough to appreciate one of the best all-purpose budget bikes on the market. The new 2006 Deauville says the same things, with greater confidence.

It is a full upgrade. The liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twin engine has been expanded from 647cc to 680cc, producing a power increase of nearly 10bhp. Three-valve cylinder heads have been replaced with four-valve versions. The shaft drive has been refined. Fuel consumption is better.

The integrated pannier system has been modernised, and an ingenious through-passage between the two panniers added. Hondas call this the "baguette hole". The front storage pockets are larger too.

A new, ultra-upright riding position makes the Deauville an incomparably relaxed machine for long-distance travel. An adjustable windscreen gives good protection, even at high speeds. The seat is wider and softer than before, for rider and passenger alike.

It's still docile. Thrash it and the Deauville goes briskly, not fast, but the performance is rarely less than adequate. Carrying a passenger on steep mountain roads, I was able to cruise past all but the fastest cars. The new engine produces 15 per cent more torque, and it's noticeable in the improved two-up acceleration.

An ABS version is available, but Honda's standard combined braking system is impressive. The foot brake delivers stopping power to front and rear wheels, while the hand lever operates the front discs only. It stays composed on sharp, twisting descents; helpful on the tricky Greek road surfaces on which it was launched. So does the suspension - until pushed to acute lean angles. Then it wallows. The lesson is clear; the Deauville is not a sports bike. Do not treat it like one.

In the crowded suburbs of Athens, I discovered that the bike handles phenomenally well at low speed. It is also safe. The mirrors have been set wider apart to permit panoramic rear views. Few bikes are easier to ride through congestion.

When Honda first devised the Deauville, it called the prototype the "Champs-Elysées cruiser". The name was changed to that of a town 300km south of Paris because this was the distance owners were expected to ride at the weekend. The name is right. This is an excellent town bike that does well on the open road. Above 90mph, engine vibration is noticeable but not intrusive.

The Deauville is omni-competent and it comes with a lot included. If you do not do many miles, care more about image than fuel economy and are happier talking about motorcycles than riding them, don't buy one. If enjoy 130bhp superbikes, you will find it agonisingly bland.

But if you regard journeys as adventures because being on two wheels is better than driving a car, often travel with a friend and appreciate a good deal, you should consider it.

It will get you where you want to go even if that's a thousand miles away and you only have a weekend to get there. You will probably arrive relaxed. Car drivers will envy you. So will any riders who made the same journey on a track-day blaster.

There are better motorcycles. But there are few that cost as little as this, look as good and offer as much. The Deauville was always a good motorcycle. It just got substantially better.

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