Away from the glamour of the press launches and the competition of group tests, our man Scottie takes a spin on a new bike each week to see how it performs in the real world. This week he's out for a date with Honda’s rare and quirky NM4 Vultus.
We’ve all had that relationship. You know, the one where everyone around you gives you their advice on your other half, even when their input isn’t asked for or required. It’s mostly negative and does nothing to alter how you feel, yet that’s exactly how I had to approach my date with the Honda Vultus.
I had first clapped eyes on her when taking another bike back to Honda. There she was tucked away among the trendy bikes of the Honda range. I didn’t even know Honda made the Vultus, yet I was smitten, a classic case of lust at first sight. I made enquiries about testing the quirky twin, with its 750cc automatic motor from the NC750, and, to my delight, my wish was granted. I was allowed to take her home.
I get to ride a variety of bikes for Bike Social but this was the first time for a while that I’d counted down the sleeps to my first date with the Honda NM4 Vultus. The NM refers to ‘New Motorcycle’ and Vultus is Latin for appearance or face. It’s the face of the Vultus that gets debate going. Not since the Brexit vote had I witnessed something with the power to divide people. Some people like it, others loathe it.
Had I jumped in feet first? Those with whom I’d shared my thumbnail pictures with still mocked my choice in test bike. The politest way to refer to some remarks is playful banter. I had a range of remarks from the obvious "is that Batman’s bike?" through to "did someone crash land a Stealth Bomber on to a scooter?" The stealth reference reminded me of some blurb that I’d read up on before collecting the Vultus. Honda had suggested it was jet fighter styling merged with Manga design. These were two descriptions I'd never heard from the countless people who felt the urge to comment on my voluptuous Vultus, and voluptuous she is. Weighing in at a hefty 245 kilos she doesn’t care for hiding her curves, instead she flaunts them in your face. The styling dominates this bike, it’s what drew me in in the first place. It looks like a concept bike, the sort that never get further than the drawing board. Whatever your preconceptions are, I think we should give Honda a slap on the back for being bold enough to make this bike a reality.
I knew this bike would divide opinion and it didn’t take long for me to find this out. Within the first day of riding it I had sussed out a majority of motorcyclists hated it. Balancing this up though was the remarks from car drivers, teenagers and anyone else who wandered over to see what the heck I was riding. Car drivers all had very warm words, and genuinely loved the Akira styling.
This is all well and good but who’d actually buy a Vultus? I have never seen one on the road or in a Honda dealership. Then I discovered the asking price for this bike is £9,995, and I’m second guessing that depreciation will be sharper than the angles on its fairing.
Or will it? Honda have trodden this path before. Their DN-01 wasn’t the hottest cake in their display, but a few years on there’s a cult following for the bike and prices are steady. Even my local Honda dealer said used DN-01s never hang about when they come to market.
I’m now even more confused than when I started. Looks are a major factor in any bike purchase, and any relationship, but living with something is when you really discover if you are compatible. With this in my mind I set about getting some miles up on the funky digital display. I had planned to go for a long one off ride, but my first ride was such a reality check I changed this format. I created a route that was a mix of single lane A roads, dual carriageways and pretty country lanes. I wanted to see what the Vultus liked, and what it didn’t. Away from the launch road tests I’d read up on, I wanted the real life concept to show me it could live in the real world.
My first adjustment in my thought process was learning to use the automatic engine properly. At 245 kilos the Vultus isn’t a scooter and the wheelbase of 1645 mm is only 47 mm shorter than a Honda GL1800 Goldwing. That’s 230 mm longer than a 2016 CBR1000R. In other words it’s seriously long. The 18 inch front wheel adds to the effort required to change direction. The lazy rake of the headstock and limited steering lock, also chip in to make this a bike that laps up straight roads, and isn’t too chuffed to be shown the twisties.
Pushing all of this mass along is a 745 cc twin from the that chucks out around 50 bhp and feels like it’s got its work cut out. Being an automatic means all there is to do once striking up the NC750 engine, is select drive and go. There’s also a sport mode and the Honda DCT allows you to use the paddle type shift via two buttons on the left hand switch cluster. I deliberately wanted to experience what the pure auto mode was like, but sadly I was underwhelmed.
The automatic cogs mean that there’s not much in the way of engine braking. Shutting the throttle actually allows the Vultus to freewheel, a bit like on a two stroke. This isn’t a massive issue, and with daily riding I’m sure most people could adapt their riding style to accommodate this, but there’s a more sinister twist to this surprise. On bends the gyroscopic effect of the freewheeling pushes the Vultus out wide, add in that lengthy wheelbase, quarter of a ton weight and you can see why it focused my brain.
I spent a day riding the Vultus around. I did my route and was impressed by its stability on the A1, and anywhere else that involved arrow like progress. I had resisted fiddling with the DCT and using the + and – buttons on the switch. I hadn’t been too impressed with drive mode so decided to explore the sport mode. All this appeared to do was allow the motor to rev a bit more, and it wasn’t until I started flicking the up and down buttons that the Vultus got me smiling again. It woke up, taking charge of gear shifts brought the bike to life, it also created some much needed engine braking, not like a conventional geared engine, but much better than nothing.
“I really like how the Vultus looks, and anything that gets Scott counting down sleeps must be something special. I could tell all wasn’t well though. I found the pillion seat very small, like it was an afterthought. When Scott showed me how it doubled up to be back rest for the rider this added to my initial thoughts.
"The seat is way up high, I felt quite exposed, maybe if Honda gave the pillion an option of a back rest I might have felt differently?
"I could feel the bike being corrected on roundabouts, it made me tense up at the glimpse of a roundabout ahead road sign. I do love the style of the bike, it looks like a menace, but it’s not a bike I’d like to go too far on,” Nicky.
I was desperate to find things that the Vultus excelled at. One to make the concept more than just a styling exercise, but also so I could tell people how great she is, and how they don’t know her like I do. I could fib, could lie and say the Vultus wowed me, but sadly I can’t.
On my second running of my route it was raining. The screen is way too low and offers no adjustment, the mirrors are useless, they sit too low and all you can see are your elbows and the floor. The fat 200 section rear tyre might be the same size as the current crop of hyper sports bikes but it hinders the handling rather than help things out. Roundabouts are best avoided, that wheelbase again not helping things.
The rain really amplified the short comings of the chassis. I took the Vultus to the lanes between Corby and Oundle and immediately wished that I hadn’t. The constant curves and bends of the road unsettled the Vultus and the heavy rain added to my focus.
Still I wanted to not just like the Vultus, but love it. The flashing fuel gauge interrupted my thoughts, all this after only 120 miles from having a full tank of 11 litres of unleaded. Stopping for fuel I watched other peoples’ reactions to the stealthy Honda, a few people came over to chat, all wanting to know what it was. There’s no shouty badges, and only close up can you see the Vultus name embossed to the bodywork behind the seat that sits at only 650mm from terra firma.
As a bike it’s got a fair few issues which, along with the price, is probably why it’s not a common sight on our roads. I still really like its attitude. It’s typical Honda, in that it answers a question that nobody had asked - and I mean that in a positive way.
OK, so I have to admit that my friends were right. My lust for the Vultus was misplaced and we won’t be seeing each other again anytime soon, but if I do see a Vultus in the future I’ll look, smile and remember our date with some affection.