have a long and glorious tradition of providing vee twins
to the UK market which have a particular attraction to couriers.
From the CX500 of the seventies through the CX650 of the early
eighties and the NTV650 of
the late eighties and early nineties, these bikes have been
sat firmly at the utility end of the market and have been
as common on our city streets as black cabs and Routemaster
buses. But with the increasing popularity of large trail bikes
coinciding with a decline in enthusiasm for the undeniably
capable but equally dull NTV650, Honda struck on the idea
of installing the perfectly good engine and transmission in
a monster trail frame. the result was the Transalp.
Now if you are in the market for a fire breathing
animal then I suggest you look elsewhere on the dealer’s
floor. With a dry weight of 191kg and just 52bhp, performance
is best described as adequate, though in fairness the Transalp
is perfectly quick enough for the roles which suit it best.
More on this later.
Bringing the Transalp back from Honda’s
offices on the trailer I was struck with a problem. Without
even riding the bike I had already taken a dislike to it.
It was heavy and, unusually for a trailie, it was very difficult
to strap down securely. Every bump saw it wallow on the soft
suspension, tie-down straps flapping alarmingly. It was also,
not to put too fine a point on it, sinfully ugly from the
angle I was seeing it, not helped, in my opinion at least,
by the unflattering silver paintwork. Fighting my way back
through the Croydon traffic my affection for the bike didn’t
increase. Having unloaded the bike and unhitched the trailer
I was then greeted by the news that an accident had mucked
up traffic in Croydon even further, which was just dandy as
I had to go and get my daughter from school.
Fortunately, the guys at Honda had fitted a top box to this
particular test bike. And equally fortunately, my daughter
is old enough to go on the back and has her own kit. So, spare
helmet and so on in the top box, off we went to school.
is extremely easy to ride. No, really. I cannot think
of an easier bike to just get on and ride. Totally unthreatening
and completely neutral, the high, wide bars give loads of
leverage for low speed work while the soft suspension makes
for an extremely forgiving ride. Filtering through traffic
was a doddle, and the excellent mirrors gave me both a clear
view behind and space above car door mirrors.
in the box and daughter on the back, it was time to head home.
Now things got interesting. Cautious filtering was surprisingly
difficult, with the Transalp showing an alarming lack of stability
at careful parent filtering speeds. Indeed, it was only when
my daughter started thumping me on the back and telling me
to get a move on that things became more manageable. And when
I reverted to type, filtering rather more aggressively (though
still leaving a bigger margin than usual) the Transalp proved
more than up to the task and in fact became a fairly pleasant
The slight duality of character required
further investigation, so I took a scenic route involving
both the best and the worst of local roads on the way to find
a location for the photo shoot. What I discovered was that,
surprisingly for a bike like this, the Transalp appreciates
being shown a firm hand. What was even more of a surprise,
for me at least, was the way that the Transalp responded to
enthusiastic riding. While remaining totally forgiving and
neutral, the Transalp could be stuffed into corners with surprising
vigour and was perfectly happy to receive large handfuls of
throttle at all sorts of inappropriate times, steadily refusing
to get even slightly out of hand. While some of that is surely
down to a lack of power, the rest is due to some pretty good
We really ought to pay some attention to
the engine. Because it’s
old. In fact, by mainstream Honda standards, it’s positively
prehistoric, being blessed with a pair of carburettors and
three valves with just one overhead cam per cylinder. The
exhaust is neat, exiting in a stacked pair of pipes on the
right and looking far more businesslike than is really warranted.
The clutch is light and positive, and the gearbox is typically
slick. Throttle action is light and the carburation is spot
on, with no glitches or hiccups at all provided that you have
remembered to set (and turn off) the choke, situated below
the tank on the left. Yes, just where the choke always used
to be. With little vibration and a friendly character, the
engine goes a long way to make up for its lack of get up and
go by simply being easy to live with. Which is no bad thing.
the Transalp continues in much the same theme. The technology
is old but tried and tested while styling is very much take
it or leave it but utterly practical at the same time. The
small rack which is fitted as standard takes a standard topbox
without problem, though the one fitted was actually intended
for a VFR800 but was installed as an emergency measure as
we were likely to be taking the Transalp to Europe. But it
did the job nicely anyway.
Talking of Europe, the Transalp is very,
very popular with our continental cousins. Monster trailies
are a big thing in Europe, and the Transalp, while by no means
the best on the market, is certainly one of the most accessible.
The Transalp is a large, heavy and rather
softly sprung motorcycle. And I am not an off-road expert.
So our offroad experience during this test consisted of a
few hundred yards across a field looking for a good photography
spot. This told me that the Transalp would do it if necessary
but that offroad work was not the natural domain of bikes
like this, no matter how many bash plates and brush guards
are fitted. However, on the way to this field I needed to
ride down several miles of unlisted road, accessed by several
more miles of B road. And the Transalp excelled, the high
riding position affording a great view of upcoming hazards,
the wide bars giving great leverage for tight corners and
the soft power delivery and forgiving handling allowing a
sprightly exit from those corners. And urban riding, once
the bull has been grasped by the horns, is straightforward
enough though the soft suspension can result in some extreme
pogoing action when filtering hard and the weedy horn may
as well not exist – a bad thing in town. Dual carriageways
and fast A roads are a chore best avoided – the Transalp
lacks the power to tackle them with authority and sounds,
and feels, strained and thrashy at faster cruising speeds.
Transalp is a very difficult bike to dislike. The styling,
while unlikely to win any awards, stopped grating after a
short time, and the effective fairing and screen were very
welcome when the weather turned a little nasty. The smooth
and amiable engine was easy to live with and the handling
was better than expected. But you know, the Transalp is also
a rather difficult bike to like as well. It certainly did
nothing wrong as such, and it is not, I hasten to add, a bad
bike. Far from it. But it is, and I know I am going to regret
saying this, rather a dull bike. However, the Transalp is
very, very easy to ride and is incredibly practical. It is
also cheap, at just over five grand on the road. Were I in
the market for a reliable workhorse for, say, a daily commute
into town with minimal mechanical attention or affection needed
then the Transalp would be very near the top of my list.