First impressions count and the bike looked physically small and anonymous when I picked it up. It makes a pleasant jet engine noise on start up and apart from clipping the gear lever when kicking up the side stand, all the controls felt pretty standard and with that nice, chunky Honda feel. There were a few horn toots when I meant to hit the indicators but I soon got used to that.
Ride and feel
I pulled out over a fairly greasy garage forecourt and the bike felt nicely planted. It took a little while to dial into the handling but bearing in mind the massive weight difference between my Mutley Strudel and the Crosser (already called the Cross Dresser in our offices) the bike carries its weight surprisingly well – until low speed manoeuvring two up, when it really feels top heavy and bulky – and when on the move it does feel smooth and light at any speed – 3mph crawling alongside buses to substantial A road speeds.
My overall impression is one of a competent, unfussy bike. It is much better in the urban jungle than the lumpy L twin delivery of the Multistrada. It pushes through traffic without the huge plastic ally look panniers (which looked horribly flimsy but with a decent attachment system – why use aluminium look plastic when you can use aluminium look aluminium?) and felt much more at home sliding along the outside of traffic or filtering through gaps than the Ducati which always feels like it is straining.
The Ducati is much more highly strung. It actually feels like it is straining to get away. The Honda is massively more docile. As an urban bike the Honda has the Ducati by a good distance. I then get out on the open road and both bikes deliver quick, urgent power but in very different ways. The Ducati feels like it has been let off the leash, charging forward with aggression and a healthy and enjoyable kick in the arse. The head snaps back, the bike launches and you know just a tad more throttle will have the front end pawing in the air.
The Honda is a wholly different experience. I cracked the throttle in 5th, and thought the top end pick up was rubbish. Then I looked down at the digital speedo (which exaggerates as shamelessly as the Ducati but the indicated speed was not the sort of speed I would want to explain to a copper!) It picks up speed just fine but does it in a discreet and understated way. Make no mistake, this bike is a potential license eater, and because it speeds along so much more subtly than the Mutley I think it is more dangerous.
Wind protection on the standard bikes is about the same – adequate. The big CalSci screen on the Multistrada does make a big difference. Honda does a bigger screen. There must be some reason why it is not standard, but it escapes me.
Fuel consumption for a mix of one up and two up, with some pretty exuberant riding was 38 mpg, two up and solo, and felt about the same at the pumps as the Ducati. Two up is not a problem for either bike except the Honda really does feel cumbersome two up at low speed.
Right. Will I buy one? I have to admit I am tempted. When I got back on the Ducati it felt raw and aggressive, and I do love the Ducati’s ability to kick me hard in the backside. But then I look at what I use the bike for. I travel to court on it, to see clients on it, I rarely, if ever, ride just for fun. I ride to go somewhere, in all weathers. Often in the centre of towns and cities. But then when I open up that barking Italian bike, she is multo bella. However when I jumped back on the Ducati, the Ducati felt raw and urgent.
The Honda felt unflustered and competent. The Ducati is an engaging ride, the Honda an unfussy, quick, competent ride. Head or heart? I’ll try the Explorer. If it wasn’t for my pathological and irrational hatred of chain adjustment and lubrication (which objectively on the Ducati is a pretty straight forward job) I would not be looking at other bikes. I hate badly maintained bikes, and I hate chains, so I resent doing my chain, even if it is only to check it, every weekend when I do the fluids and tyre pressures.