This section tries to cover the good and the bad aspects of different bikes. We have tried to be impartial and go with the majority to give you an idea as to which bike may suite you best for your particular purpose. This information is constantly updated so if your bike's not there, or we've missed something, tell us. The bikes appear in no particular order.


NX650 Dominator.

A well built and somewhat underrated middle range single. Not the best very long distance road bike but it will cruise up to 80 MPH without difficulty. Better than most off road. With the usual Honda build quality this bike gives long reliable service. For more serious off-road a better choice would be the XR650L, but this is lacking as a road/commute bike. Can be bought at very reasonable prices now and go far better than you'd think on the twisties, a smart bye.

XLV600 Transalp.

Probably the most underrated bike in Honda's range. It doesn't score that high on looks (later ones are an improvement), it might get a little vague at and approaching its limit (sometimes nicknamed the Translap) and it may not be the best off road twin around, (frankly it has some off road potential, but is at it's best on the black stuff). But as far as negative comments go, that about sums them up. However on the positive side the list seems endless. Build quality is typical Honda. Switch gear and accessories are acceptable. Comfort is better then most and saddle height lower than many. Economy is very good (High speed cruising from 45 to 55 mpg). It will travel happily up to 90 mph and accelerate to about 110 (indicated). It will carry two people and luggage in relative comfort. Insurance can be a pleasant surprise (600cc). The engine is bomb proof ( 50 to 70,000 with few problems). Smooth power delivery with lot's of low down grunt. Brakes ok (later ones improved further). To sum up this bike is very good value for money. It will take two people on a long distance holiday and allow you (within reason ) to venture of road when you get there. This one is highly recommended. A good first time choice that you'll probably keep, and it won't brake the bank.

XRV650 Africa Twin.

This bike scores very highly in the looks department. It looks the business and quite simply is. It's the model that HRC turned into the excellent Marathon class Africa Twin, which, 9 times out of 10, is the only A T your likely to see in any Paris-Dakar videos you might watch (although it would be nice to acquire one of these rare marathon machines, the truth is most have done the Paris-Dakar or similar Rally Raids and caution is the key word here). As for the standard bike, well it's a gem. Good build quality. Good suspension & accessories. Excellent balance & handling (on & off road). Comfort is reasonable (quite high for some people). Reasonable fuel consumption (high speed cruising, 42 to 52 mpg). It will cruise happily up to 90 mph and pull on to about 110 mph (indicated). Carrying two people and luggage is reasonable (only room for the rider on the marathon due to a short seat & extra fuel tanks). Bomb proof engine (derived from the XLV 600). Lots of torque of the bottom with a good pull straight through to the red line, and the brakes are good enough to bring you back down again. In a word if you can find one of these in good condition and within your price range, BYE it. It does everything well and nothing badly. It's worth noting all are imports to the UK and they were produced 1987 to 1989, so they're getting a little old.

XRV750 Africa Twin (1990 to 1993).

Honda then produced this model to be the mass production replacement of the 650. In their attempt to improve everything something was lost. It gained weight and bulk but it still looked the business and its style was fast becoming the benchmark by which others would be judged. This bike would need major modifications to even attempt a rally raid. But as a production big trail bike it takes some beating. Most of what applies to the 650 also applies here. Fuel consumption is not as good as the 650 (high speed cruising 35 to 48 mpg). It will cruise happily up to 95 mph and runs out of steam at about 115 (indicated). Carrying two people and luggage is reasonable. It has a strong engine with a smooth pull right up to the red line, good brakes etc, etc, etc. In truth, if you take everything into account, including price and availability. If you want a bike that's a pleasure to ride, does everything very well and will always please, this probably ought to be the one.

XRV750 Africa Twin (1993 onwards).

The latest Africa twin at a glance looks very similar to the outgoing model, but don't be fooled. Most parts of the bike have been re-engineered in some way to give an overall improvement on the earlier bike. This was no easy task as there wasn't a whole lot wrong with it, but improve it they did. It has a lower seat height (a definite advantage if you’re a shortie), a lower centre of gravity, less weight and more power (The earlier models were the best, most power, highest and lightest). It is better on fuel, more responsive and the handling is even better. Again, everything that applied to the previous twin stands for this one with a small improvement everywhere. The only slight criticism is somehow it doesn't look as business like, and ready to go anywhere as the previous models. But I guess this is a small price to pay for the overall improvement of the bike (and the increased sales for Honda brought on by reducing the seat height).

XLV1000V Varadero.

So, here it is at last. The replacement for the Africa Twin ? I think not, Honda in their wisdom have continued production (for the time being) of the AT to run along side the Varadero. So where does the big new Honda fit in the big trail bike line up. Is the new Honda a big trail bike at all? Well, let's try and answer a few of the many questions about the XL1000V-X. It's important to know the full name of the bike, as this gives you your first clue as to what you are purchasing. Not an XR or XRV but an XL. Yes, the Transalp is an XLV, and if you want to know what the Varadero is like in one word, Transalp is the word. Of course this is simplifying to a degree, and as I've said before, the Transalp is probable the most under rated bike in the Honda line up. But the truth is, when you throw your leg over the very comfy saddle, a Transalp is what it reminds you of. So that's where the similarity ends? No, read on.

There seems to be a bit of a mixed reaction over the looks of the Varadero. I have to say this is not a concern of mine. The more I see it the more I like it and I think it's the type of bike that grows on you (although we'd all like it a lot more in red, white and blue instead of ginger, silver or black). The GS1100 was a bit strange to say the least and that grew on most of us (not all). But, like the Transalp, I think it will be excepted, but never loved for its looks.

Switchgear and build are typical Honda and frankly take some beating. But the engine on starting sounds a little rattley and feels a little loose. So this is very un-typical for a Honda, could this be a bad thing? Oh bye the way I hate the handlebars.

So she's ticking over, slip into first (smooth), slide out the clutch (smooth) and gas it. WOW!!!, definitely not a Transalp. The engine is a dream, no I mean it, you've got to love it. It has something you only usually find in Italian machines. That X factor, some call it character, some call it charisma, I call it horny. It has loads of torque from as low as 2,000 rpm. It doesn't seem to matter what gear your in, it just pulls heard as you twist the throttle. So no problems here. Not quite.

If you bye an early one you should contact your dealer immediately. There is a recall on very early engines. Apparently, the cam chain plate is prone to unusual and excessive wear taking the chain out at very low mileage. It's different to the one fitted to the VTR which doesn't have this problem. The good news is Mr Honda will drop you a new motor in at no cost (nice people) and to be honest, most will have been done by now.

The handling is fine to a point. But if you ride heard and go past this point it starts to lose the plot a little (Again, early bikes only. Sorted after the first couple of years). It has such good potential as an all rounder that I'm almost angry they didn't finish the job. Let me explain. We've already established that this is no desert racer, not many big trail bikes are, and they're obviously trying to appeal to a wider market (nothing wrong with that, the more the merrier). The seat height is much lower, so shorties can touch the floor (although at 6'6" I would like a proper sports bike made to fit me please Mr Honda). The seat for both rider and pillion is tourer comfy (best I've sat on). So all in all it's good news if your under 6ft, you can now have a big trail bike that doesn't give you a sore bum on long journeys. But I think they got carried away and decided if they put softer springs on it, even more people could touch the floor, and of course this is true. The outcome of this is, in my opinion; the Varadero is seriously under sprung. If your coming from a Transalp you can probably live with it, but from a GS, AT, or an Elephant and your going to be disappointed unless you're skinny and go everywhere on you own with no clothes to wear. Two larger people with luggage, traveling at a brisk pace through the Alps are going to find out what having no suspension travel feels like. The best advice here is Try it before you bye it. This was sorted on later models.

Brakes are excellent. The linked braking system is very re-assuring when you're entering a corner too fast (and believe me you will, this bike is deceptively Quick). As for off road, I have to say I personally would have preferred ABS with an OFF switch (like on the GS).

I hope I haven't put you off. Make no mistake; this is a fantastic bike. If you're considering one, have a good long test ride, with the woman on the back and make sure it's fit for your intended purpose. It makes one of the best mile munchers you could wish for with trail bike looks. It is reasonable off road, and once you have your new motor in, I'm sure it will be as reliable as we've come to expect from the Honda people. If you've already got one and you think it's a bit sloppy, ask Mr Honda to do something about it while your having your new engine fitted. I think harder springs front and back and a little more damping would bring it all into touch (we are testing to come up with a better spring rating, if you may be interested in a set of after market springs, mail us)

If Honda had gone the whole hog, put the price up by a few hundred pounds and fitted similar suspension to the AT (i.e. adjustable). I think they would have produced a legendary bike. I personally have waited a long time for this bike and I am nearly tempted in to buying one. But the truth is I ride and love the Africa and I'll have to carry on living in hope that one day Honda will come out with a true replacement for it. Go on Honda, produce an XRV1000, or at least a re-vamped 850cc AT, to deliver a little more punch.

Second Opinion

I was lucky enough today to wheedle a ride on Mr. Honda's latest big Trailly, the Varadero. It may be named after a beach in Cuba but I think we can assume that all will be sold on the Euro side of the pond , as our American cousins seem not to have acquired the taste for big trail bikes.

First impression was of a much lower and comfier saddle than the Africa I had just climbed off, positively caressing the buttocks compared to most seats{steady there Ponsonby!}. Lifting the bike off it's side stand it seemed heavier than the Africa but this feeling disappeared as soon as you were rolling.

The engine impresses immediately, with an instant take up of seamless power hurling you to the next corner before you realise what's happening. This could be a problem until you get used to it as it is very easy to enter a corner much faster than intended. Fortunately the brakes are excellent. Much has been written about the unsuitability of linked brakes for such a bike but they work really well in bringing speed down from the silly to the copeable-with.

The one facet of the bike I felt needs attention is the suspension. With the rear spring adjuster on max, the back end still felt a little wallowy and the owner, himself no lightweight, found he could bottom the forks fairly easily especially on a fairly mild off road excursion. One fork seal is weeping after only a few thousand miles which while being replaced under warranty, leads one to suspect Honda haven't got their suspension sums quite right.

However the bike is still an awesome piece of kit which will whisk you any distance in comfort at whatever speed you choose. All it really needs is a bit of attention to the suspension to make it a true all rounder.

John Burkinshaw.

Varadero, Third Opinion
Honda pics

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