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Bike Review - Posted 23rd January 2013
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Honda Integra

There are times when even the most die-hard classic motorcyclist needs a two wheeled vehicle that is more... convenient. Honda's Integra maxi-scooter is exactly that, argues Paul Miles...

A while back, IKBA message board regular Anarchy nearly test rode one of the new generation super-economical and semi-automatic Honda twins. For a variety of reasons it never quite happened, but there was a lot of discussion on the IKBA board so I thought I'd try one myself, courtesy of the 2011 Honda Dealer of the Year, Dobles, in Coulsden, Surrey

What might these new Hondas be like and do they have any relevance to the RealClassic motorcyclist? Well, many of us have a modern bike as well as our classics and are looking for something that might provide a traditional ride, with all the thrills, but has better performance, starting, comfort and fuel economy. Furthermore, as we get older its sometimes nice to own a bike that's just easy to get along with.

The new Honda twins are designed to be just that. The 670cc SOHC parallel twin engine is effectively half of a Honda Jazz car unit and has been designed not for maximum outright power, but for torque and driveability at smaller throttle openings. Coupled to an electronically controlled six speed gearbox, it can be ridden as a manual, the ratios controlled by flicking a switch on the handlebars, or in semi-automatic mode. The latter option has an option of either economy or sport and the rider simply twists and goes.

The off-road styled one... Honda NC700X

There are three bikes in the range, all sharing the same frame, engine, transmission and suspension. The two traditionally styled machines, one a 'soft' roader, retail for 5850 and standard specification includes ABS. The third, which more closely resembles a maxi-scooter at first glance, costs considerably more, 7500 and this Integra was the version I chose to ride. Why the scooter? Well, I use a bike every day and a machine such as this would be used to rack up the miles on my urban commute, as well as longer motorway journeys. The Integra seemed to offer identical performance to the pure motorcycle option, but with superior comfort and weather protection.

The on-road styled one... Honda NC700S

The immaculately prepared pearlescent white Integra certainly looks different, it's clearly not a traditional motorbike, but neither is it a maxi-scooter; the 17" wheels, sports tyres and mono shock rear end betray the heritage. Starting is typically Honda i.e. instantaneous, and the whole bike has a superb, quality feel about it (although the cheaper versions look a little, well, cheaper). A button selects Drive or Sport, the digital dashes tells you that first gear has been selected and you simply twist to go. There's even a rev counter and clock. The left lever, usually the clutch, operates one of, or possibly both, the brakes. They are superb, powerful but not grabby and familiar in action to any scooter rider.

The scooter styled one... Honda Integra - The same under the skin as the NC700S and NC700X

The electronic brain controls gear changes, just like an automatic car, but I felt a definite clunk as well as an audible click as they engage. At first it was obtrusive, but I realised that it was the unexpected timing of the changes, not the action itself. Trying it in manual mode later, changing gear when you command it to, it was smoothness itself. I quickly adapted to the feel of the automatic gearbox, it took about ten minutes. The Integra handles like the motorbike it is, not a scooter and the upright riding position is very comfortable. The screen and front fairing keep the wind and weather from reaching the rider and my feet sat comfortably tucked away on the footboards, just like a maxi-scooter.

There's enough transmitted engine sensation to remind you that you're on a big twin and the 62NM of torque (more than a Ducati 900) provide instant twist-and-thrust at any throttle opening. Without feeling amazingly quick (although Honda claim it as being as quick as a 1000cc sports bike off the line) it is reassuringly 'beefy' and quite able to maintain a high average speed without troubling the gearbox overmuch. On reaching Box Hill, I asked several traditionally-mounted bikers what they thought and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, which surprised me a little, I have to say.

The scooter styled one, at large and in its winter habitat...

Downsides? It's still too heavy. No middleweight twin needs to weigh 238KG, surely. The much-trumpeted fuel economy has also come in for criticism from sceptics, including posters on the IKBA message board. I've no doubt that a modern Enfield, ridden in a miserly fashion, can match or even exceed the claimed consumption figures, as indeed might other, more sporting middleweights. But not, I'm sure, if ridden in such a manner as the new Honda. It's not necessary to thrash it in order to 'make progress' and I averaged over 80mpg during my, admittedly only 60 odd mile, test ride, which included country roads as well as some town work. This would equate to around 260 miles between fill ups. My old Yamaha T-Max 500cc would average around 45mpg by comparison.

I would also struggle to justify the price hike of the Integra over the other two bikes in the range, although it does seem to enjoy a higher build quality, but over 1700 difference is a lot of money. Paul Styles, the sales manager at Doble, was also unable to offer a plausible reason for the price difference, other than the traditional motorcycle market is crowded in that sector necessitating very competitive pricing, whereas the big scooter competition are mostly priced at 8-10K plus, so perhaps there is more opportunity to maximise the profit margin there.

I love the practicality and comfort of maxi-scooters, but have always been left feeling slightly frustrated by the remoteness of the continuous transmission and the lack of involvement in the handling. Small wheels and a heavy rear bias ensure that the larger scooter feels just like a scooter, only larger. In no way is it like riding a 'proper' bike.

The Integra rides and feels like a motorcycle, but with the comfort and practicalities of a scooter. Performance is brisk, far quicker than any automatic I've ever ridden and it would seem able to match the real world speeds of a traditional motorcycle, but without some of the effort required.

Classic Scooters on

I found myself simply enjoying the ride, without any of the compromises of a scooter; having as much fun as I would have had on a traditional motorcycle. Unlike the motorcycle, however, had it rained I would have stayed warm and dry. Add to that a claimed 75+MPG overall, I'm struggling to think of a reason why you wouldn't want one.

We often hear the plaintive wail that "if only they made an economical middleweight with good economy and capable of motorway performance or two up, as well as weather protection, I'd buy one. But all they seem to want to build are ridiculous sports bikes which need refilling every 80 miles." Honda have produced what we've asked for. Will you try one?

Photos: Honda, Paul Miles

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A little snow isn't going to stop Super Scooter...

Postscript: Paul put his money where his mouth is and bought the Integra, pictured above in mid-winter Richmond Park. On posting these pictures he said, "When you have access to a motorcycle on which you neither get cold nor wet and it has ABS and selectable power delivery for slippery roads, a ride becomes impossible to resist." Is there a better argument for Super-Scooters than that?

Continue the argument discussion on the IKBA message board

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