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Review: HONDA 919

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Best in show for the Agility class!

Nicholas Frankl Contributing Editor

Agility is important with motorcycles which one has to ride on more than the open road, or closed race track. Over the years, as tire and suspensions have become more sophisticated, bikes have developed fantastic high-speed stability and low-speed about-town riding nimbleness. But as sports bikes morphed into street-legal racers, and riding positions became more and more angled towards the front tire, and sometimes beyond it!, the regular town rider has needed to morph into a fully ambidextrous, yoga-devoted, flexible putty mold. So, no wonder the sit-up-and-beg, naked street tourer has become the fastest growing sector in Europe and the US. In fact the European 600cc Honda Hornet was the best selling bike in the range last year. Now, spurred on by the likes of the Ducati Monster, Suzuki Bandit and Triumph speed triple (remember Tom Cruise in MI2?), Honda has decided to finally offer something decent over here. Of course, in the UK we have the almighty Black Bird X11- a naked and restyled XX, but let’s not start on a sour note.

Instead, let’s get one thing clear. The 919 is a great town bike. But, more surprisingly, it has also proved to be a great partner up in the hills of Malibu and beyond, and out on the faster, twisty, over-a-ton sections too, during the course of the last few weeks. The first feeling I had when I picked the bike up was of my old BMX bike days. Because the 919 basically feels like a bicycle with a big engine stuffed under the handlebars and a cool and rather sexy (I’m told by my girlfriend) matt black gas tank. Just riding back from Torrance on the 405 freeway, it was clear that this bike had some serious get up and go. Redlined at only 9500, instead of the usual 13,000 or so for the 954, the power curve has clearly been redesigned and the management system re-mapped to deliver smoother horses from lower down in the range. It works! The bike doesn’t need to be revved hard, like a F6, to pull away from traffic lights or make the required lane change up an incline. Better yet, the 919, naked as it may be, doesn’t overtly force wind buffeting onto the long suffering 70mph+ rider. This said, I don’t see why Honda cannot offer a standard detachable screen as seen on so many of this ilk, which would mean you could really have a big cake and enjoy it! Do the bugs in the teeth thing in town and slip on the screen for a bit of protection for sprinting down to Palm Springs or out to Angels Crest. At 100mph the revs sit nicely at 6,000 and the bike can be (and was) really hustled along the highway, in and out of traffic as quick as you please, with lots of forward vision afforded by the high and comfy position and no wrist ache – something I am particularly prone to. The motor even produces a quaint little induction roar from 2-3,000 revs, which sounds rather ominous and quite rude actually.

As for the styling...What styling? I don’t think this bike ever saw a wind tunnel, although that’s a very British thing to assume and not what the Japanese magicians would like to hear. SO, actually it most likely did spend time in the wind tunnel just to make sure it was windy as the air rushed over the instrument binnacle and into your face and chest. Talking of instruments. They are rather a let down. I know the bike is a relative bargain at $7,500 or so, but cool instruments can make it for a bike like this and what’s wrong with some LCD displays that everyone could admire at the traffic lights? I suppose admirers will just have to make do with the twin pipes wrapped under the seat, which look damn good and are now all the rage after MV Augusta introduced them on the $20,000 F4. Although I read that a tuning company managed to run the exhaust manifold through just the right side pipe, increasing the horsepower and torque in the meantime and allowing them to fit a phony left silencer with some much needed additional (additional to what you might enquire) storage space.

What we need now is a detachable small screen (an option I’m sure), some sexy instruments (AKA Interceptor) and the real deal 954 engine, thank you very much. And then you’ll have a buyer on your hands, Mr Honda.


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HONDA 919 Specifications Model: CB900F Engine Type: 919cc liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder Bore and Stroke: 71mm x 58mm Compression Ratio: 10.8:1 Valve Train: DOHC; four valves per cylinder Carburetion: PGM-FI with manual enricher circuit Ignition: Computer-controlled digital with three-dimensional mapping Transmission: Six-speed Final Drive: #530 O-ring-sealed chain Suspension Front: 43mm cartridge fork; 4.7 inches travel Suspension Rear: Single shock with seven-position spring preload adjustability; 5.0 inches travel Brakes Front: Dual full-floating 296mm discs with four-piston calipers Brakes Rear: Single 240mm disc with single-piston caliper Tires Front: 120/70ZR-17 radial Tires Rear: 180/55ZR-17 radial Wheelbase: 57.5 inches Rake (Caster Angle): 25.0° Trail: 98mm (3.9 inches) Seat Height: 31.5 inches Dry Weight: 427 pounds Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gallons Color: Asphalt(tm) California version meets CARB 2004 emissions standards.