I guess most of you have seen pictures of the Honda DN-01 and regardless of your opinion about its appearance, you have to agree that it’s different. Personally, I was instantly attracted even though its futuristic styling looks to me like something out of a comic strip, rather than a machine that the mighty Honda had gambled on producing. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered what the DN stands for it’s ‘Discovery of a New concept’ and I think the beast lives up to its moniker.
But photographs can be deceptive. I always imagined the DN-01 to be a huge ungainly thing. Thankfully, on seeing it in the flesh for the first time, I was immediately captivated by its sleekness. It looks much smaller than in the photos, and in this case small is definitely beautiful.
The DN-01 is one of those machines that can’t really be pigeonholed. It’s neither a motorcycle nor a scooter, more a modern metamorphosis of the two, combining some of the best elements of both and the sheer forward thinking brilliance of Honda in one neat package. It chewed up the design rulebook and spat it out into a pearlescent purple splodge.
But is the Honda DN-01 more than just a stunning facade? I think so. The bike is brimming with technology, designed both to enhance the ride and offer options to the rider. The gearbox for instance, isn’t exactly conventional. For starters, you’ll probably notice that there’s no clutch lever. That’s because it doesn’t need one.
The DN-01 uses what Honda term HFT, that’s Human Friendly Transmission to you and me. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the way a run of the mill maxi scooter’s auto transmission works, using a stepped pulley and belt to centrifugally alter gearing depending on the revs. Honda have taken things one step further by developing a hydro mechanical transmission system, it sounds great on paper and works very well, but to be honest it feels no different to any other maxi scooter I’ve ridden.
The DN-01 uses the same basic 680cc engine as the Deauville, that’s basic as in slightly dull by the way, but this bike was never designed to catapult its rider into the middle of next week with a twist of the wrist. The V-twin engine has been modified to house the fancy transmission system with its hydraulic clutch which works automatically to seamlessly change drive ratios without fuss or effort.
The system can be used as fully auto, (simply select drive then twist and go) or it can be swapped to manual, where the rider can change gear using a handlebar mounted toggle switch to move up or down the box. There are also two power modes – the basic ‘D’ for drive, which is adequate for day to day use, or ‘S’ for sport which opens up a few more revs for you to play with. Personally I didn’t really get on with the manual option. It’s not quite as interactive for the rider as a conventional gearbox and the auto works perfectly well, so there’s not a real need for it.
Sitting on board, the space age cockpit and aerodynamic fairing stretch way out in front of you and the mirrors, with integrated indicators, seem like they’re miles away and the view behind may have happened a few days ago. The sleek-looking DN-01 is even lower to the floor than you first imagined. Dopey, Sleepy and Grumpy will love its 690mm seat height but riders over 6ft might struggle to get themselves comfortable and will probably look fairly awkward once they’re riding, they’ll also catch the full blast from the tiny screen. I’m 5ft 10in and the bike fitted me quite well. Its low wide bars, well padded seat, and large footrests make for a comfortable, cruiser-style riding position, perfect for posing. The machine picks up well from a standing start, as expected from an auto, and will soon put three figures on the large screen up front. There’s a segmental rev counter along the top of the screen, plus the usual functions for time, fuel, trip and mileage etc.
Cornering takes a bit of getting used to because the bike carries its weight low down and the wide front tyre slows things down a bit, so when you tip the machine into a bend for the first time it feels a bit vague.
I soon got used to the handling characteristics though, and enjoyed blasting around on it, watching the reaction of onlookers as this strange purple haze came towards them. The brakes come equipped with Honda’s superb ABS system, as the kind of buyer for this type of machine would probably expect and there’s plenty of feel in them as you squeeze the front lever, or prod the rear.
With the DN-01 suffering from some kind of identity crisis I expected it to have a rear brake lever in place of the clutch, (as found on a scooter) but it retains a bike style rear brake pedal instead. I’m not sure who is more confused by this machine, me, Honda or the general public?
So who is likely to buy one? Scooter riders will probably buy a decent capacity maxi scooter, like the Gilera GP 800 or sporty Yamaha T-Max 500. Both scooters have willing engines, capable of seeing over a ton. They’ve also got the practicality of storage space beneath the seat (something the DN-01 is short of) and they cost a few grand less. Bike riders might be tempted by the benefits of no fuss auto transmissions in a bike style chassis but will they be willing to stump up £9000 for the privilege? To be honest Honda didn’t expect to set the world alight with the concept, it was never built to be a best seller but it does get people talking and elements of the bike will eventually pave the way for future groundbreaking bike designs.
Forward thinking riders with cash tucked under the mattress will pay for the unique style and exclusivity the DN-01 can bring them. My advice to any potential converts to this new style of machine would be to visit their nearest Honda dealer and arrange to take one for a spin. If you like the look of the
Words: Ian Grainger
Engine: 680cc V-twin, liquid cooled, 4- stroke, 8-valve
Power: 60bhp @ 7500rpm, torque 47ft-lb @ 6000rpm
Transmission: HFT with internal hydraulic control, shaft drive
Frame: Double cradle, steel tube
Suspension: 41mm telescopic front fork, twin rear shocks with 7-step adjustable preload
Brakes: ABS – 296mm twin front discs with combined 3-piston calipers. Rear, 276mm disc with combined dual piston caliper and ABS
Tyres: Front 130/70 ZR17, rear 190/50 ZR17
Weights and measures: Wheelbase 1605mm, seat height 690mm, weight 270kg, fuel capacity 15.1 litres