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Honda’s Curious Design Choices

Honda NM4

Honda has a great heritage in motorcycling … one of the greatest.  Founder Soichiro Honda was a risk taker who frequently followed his passion without apparent concern for cost or outcome. Fortunately, he proved to have great instincts.

Of course, as Honda has matured, it has in many respects become a more conservative company. Sometimes letting other companies blaze a trail into a new niche before producing a competitive model, it might be argued that Honda has become more of a follower than a leader.

Nevertheless, as of late, Honda has produced the occasional bold, even ground-breaking design. The NM4 is an example, but it has not sold well in the United States (we have not heard whether there will be a 2017 model year NM4). The NM4 is too radical of a design, perhaps.

Another area where Honda is trying to lead the way is with automatic, dual clutch transmissions. Found in several of its models now, the latest generation DCT we tested in the Africa Twin works quite well, and potentially gives Honda a leg-up when it comes to attracting new riders intimidated by a manual transmission and clutch. Of course, some of the bikes with DCT feature unusual styling, as well, such as the CTX700.

What Honda lacks is a cohesive design language that ties all of its models together, but given the diversity of its motorcycle line-up this might be the inevitable result. Give us your thoughts below on where you expect Honda to go from here.

MD testing the 2014 Honda CTX700 DCT


  1. BoxerFanatic says:

    Bold and aesthetically pleasing are not necessarily the same, nor necessarily different. Maybe they need to hire a design house or specific designer… Their Hondaline fairing for the old CBX and Sabre was actually a pretty handsome bullet-style fairing at that time, because it was sleek and fairly simply rendered, and nicely proportioned. VF-series bikes have had some very nice, clean looks at various points, as well, even the VFR1200 has design merit. but all bikes in general have been getting overly busy and complex, aesthetically, rather than graceful or sleek.

    I like the concept of the NM4, with the mass-forward look, and some innovative features… but there is still some awkwardness, as well as the reports that the fixed saddlebags are not big enough to be useful, and can’t be changed for something else that is, or removed altogether.

    The other thing that I REALLY liked was the Honda Neo-Wing concept leaning reverse trike… except for the angry-decepticon aesthetics on the front end. I would LOVE a tilting reverse trike, which is the point that Can-Am Spyder F3 misses by not being able to tilt. I’ve low-sided before… and would like the idea of not repeating that experience.

    Frankly, if they cleaned up the design language a bit, and combined the best of the NM4, and the NeoWing concept, and got the details right, or at least modular… I’d be back on a Honda for the first time since my old NT650 Hawk GT.

  2. Joe Bogie says:

    The NM4 reminds me of what an entry level Victory Vison would be……

  3. Steve K says:

    My best friend works as the assembler at the largest powersports dealer in southeastern Montana. They carry all four Japanese brands and Polaris. He puts together everything they sell, and he says in the last year they have sold over 100 four-wheelers, they have a huge fenced lot full of them, and about three motorcycles, all small dirt bikes. They have only a handful of bikes in the showroom, which has lots of four-wheelers, jet-skis, lawn mowers, etc. etc. He said they are about to drop Suzuki, they haven’t sold one in years, and add Can-am, which they think will sell better. I thought about this and thought, how many are they really selling nationwide? I went to the Honda website and saw a huge model lineup and thought, where are they selling all of these bikes? Then I noticed that only a few of them were listed as current models, all of the rest of the lineup are leftovers from previous years. Now, I’m a reasonable man, I’m willing to believe there are Japanese dealers out there somewhere that are selling bikes, but I’m also guessing that our local store is far from the only one with such a dismal record. How many bikes is Honda really selling here?

  4. joe b says:

    Many here don’t seem to see the Elephant in the Room. Honda makes pretty much some version of every conceivable motorcycle made. How many MX bikes does Ducati make? How many economical scooters does Harley make? Where is Kawasaki’s Moto-GP weapon? (I already used Harley/scooter so I wont mention them here) I laughed out loud when I saw the Chevy ads when the showed Honda generators, really? When was the last time you saw a Honda win the Indy 500. Oops, cant say that, sorry… so, do you see now? The point has already been made about quantities. The investments they spend on Asimo points to advantages in walking assist, possibly helping war veterans who are handicapped, walk again. Take the tube away from your eye, look around. Motorcycling is a huge playground.

    • Dirty Bob says:

      Right! The US isn’t the only place to sell bikes. Example: BMW sells a 600cc scooter but not many are sold in the US.

  5. Martin says:

    Honda is no longer a motorcycle company that also sells cars. Now they are a car company that also sells motorcycles…boats…lawn equipment…aircraft…ect. I’m sure Soichiro Honda would be loving the money that his company makes now but at the same time hating what they have done with his Motorcycles.

  6. Norm G. says:

    re: “Soichiro Honda was a risk taker who frequently followed his passion without apparent concern for cost or outcome.”

    see entry for G.O.A.T.

    re: “NM4 is too radical of a design”

    industry speak for WONKY.

    though to their defence (pun intended) the vehicle in the pic of above looks like it might be able to absorb and deflect RADAR. lol the F22 and F35 are “too radical a design” said nobody ever.

  7. Mr.Mike says:

    This year I’ve seen some good stuff coming from Honda. Maybe it is the start of a new trend.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Maybe”

      no maybe about it. as i think i’ve said previously before the new Blade even debuted, the sleeping giant is AWAKE. pay attention to their offerings across all sectors and you’ll see it. on car side and aviation side, nevermind the NSX and the now shipping HondaJet (which are both incredible) Joe Average can buy a turbocharged Civic painted in Kawasaki Lime Green.

      I see somebody nearby driving one, and it looks damn good (dare I say “drool-worthy”?) if only I were say 40 years younger, that’s the kind of car I would buy in my youth. the last time i had that kind of “emotional response” towards a Honda product was the debut of the original SP1/RC51 in 1999. that’s a loooong time, a VERY long time.

  8. Foster says:

    I expect Honda will continue to ignore the huge fan base it built from 1989 through to 2014 with the ST1100 and ST1300. These bikes, especially the 1100, were also extremely popular with Euro police forces. Now they offer nothing for the sport touring riders that loved the reliability, the comfort, the complete weather protection, the locomotive like power of those V-4 engines and the ease of maintenance for the DIY’er. The move to ADV bike styling does not “fit” the desires of myself and many others on ST forums, of what a sport tourer should be.

  9. PN says:

    There are only two Hondas I thought were beautiful: the CB400F and the XX Blackbird. The VTR wasn’t too bad and the CBF4i was pretty good. I never quite warmed up to any Interceptor no matter what the magazine reviewers said. Honda has a “smooth” design aesthetic that doesn’t quite excite. Think of the Pacific Coast or the GWings with the covered brake discs. It seems Honda’s engineering prowess outruns its designer’ sense of beauty. They should consult the Italians. I still want to ride a bike that looks good.

  10. kpinvt says:

    Honda Design Seminar 2017:

    I can’t make heads nor tails out of it.

  11. Mick says:

    I simply refuse to buy a motorcycle from a company that no longer sells two strokes. Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki are dead to me.

  12. My2cents says:

    The 1980’s may have well been Honda’s swan song era. As mentioned by a previous poster, after units like the V65 Magna/Sabre, the glorious VF1000R, and CB400F Honda now delivers very tame and publicly responsible motorcycles. I pine for Honda to lose the goody two shoes and introduce another XLV 750 .

  13. Louis says:

    I’ve owned 10 Honda motorcycles and 5 Honda cars in my life but the last Honda motorcycle I owned was about 1992. They don’t build anything i’m interested in anymore. Nothing to compete with the 650 V-Strom, 1200 or 1250 Bandit, or FJ-09. It seemed everything broke on my ’06 Civic too. (not engine or transmission, but many little parts especially the stupid SUN VISOR which I must have replaced 5 times) If they are trying to create a new category for younger riders I suppose that is OK but what I would like them to build is a 1000cc sport-touring bike with a comfortable riding position, shaft drive, and self-adjusting valves. It would be really nice if it were a V-4 or a V-twin, but not an inline four. I don’t expect it; I’m happy there are many other brands to choose from.

    • Lars Jensen says:

      ?? How about the VFR800, VFR1200 and new Africa Twin ??

      • Ryan Craig says:

        The VFR800 is basically just a heavyish sportbike. Nothing wrong with that, but not really comfortable for long-distance touring for most people. Bars too low, pegs too high.

        And the VFR1200 shares some of the same issues. Honda built it into a Euro-style autobahn burner more than something more towards the ST1300 end of the spectrum. The ST goes too far towards the touring end for my taste, but the VFR is too far from it for most, apparently.

    • Grove says:

      I agree that Honda now builds cars that kind of fall apart. The CD player failed just out of warranty and the carpet wore through like it was made a rice paper. There were rattles and grinding noises from the undercarriage well before 100,000 miles. I would not buy another Honda car. They are making them so cheap that they will be losing their customer loyalty…they’ve lost mine.

      • mickey says:

        Wow what year is that? My wife drives an 06 Accord with 244,000 miles on it, never an issue (knock on wood) and I have a 2010 Ridgeline but only 42,000 miles (I drive my bikes most of the time) but no issues with it either (again knock on wood). They are our 8th and 9th Honda cars. They never go less than 200K, sometimes over 300K before we sell them for a new one. Wife is starting to think about a new Accord.

      • MGNorge says:

        I can add that our ’03 Element (120k) and ’14 Accord (20k) are doing well. I’ve had a number of Honda cars, all have been very sturdy. Had an ’84 Civic that was still going strong at 200k.

  14. ABQ says:

    It would be nice if honda were to make some factory made trikes.
    A Goldwing Trike with DCT would be great.

  15. Tommy D says:

    I grew up on Honda’s and had a 83 v65. That was bold and so was the Interceptor I got in 85. Too bad that bold designs today are so ugly. I have a garage full of motorcycles and the only Honda is the lowly Grom. Sorry Honda but I keep waiting for you to win me back. Thankful for companies like KTM, Aprilia, BMW and Yamaha.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Bold designs were ugly back then too. You were just too young to realize it. But any old fart from that time could have told you how ugly your V65 was.