Added on Friday 20th June 2008 at 12:39
Nowadays, big capacity scooters are becoming more popular, with Suzuki’s Burgman 400, Yamaha’s T-Max 500 and Honda’s 600 Silverwing all on the market.
But back in the late 1980s Honda´s American car division came up with the PC800, still the biggest scooter on wheels, according to some.
With a V-twin, 800cc, water cooled engine, vast luggage capacity in its boot (yes, boot) plus the attractive styling lines of a Homebase bathroom suite, the PC800 is real oddball motorcycle, yet strangely sensible to ride all day long.
Let´s get the jokes over with first. Is it a scooter on steroids, asked one jovial magazine editor? Or perhaps a sports-model soap dish, or a rolling Tupperware party? Is it perchance a motorbike from Mars, or merely a slightly noisy fridge? One Yank mag likened it to a coffee machine and wanted it placed in a showroom of everyday utensils. Another pictured it, rather generously, alongside a trendy Alessi kettle.
Me? I thought the Pacific Coast looked like something out of the bathroom and would have preferred Pampas or Avocado for colour, preferably with a neat little chain to flush-start it. But Honda won´t be the slightest bit worried by the smart comments of us motorcyclists. The bike isn´t aimed at the likes of us, so there.
Until recently the PC800 has been a bike we Brits couldn´t even buy. Honda UK chose not to bring it in to this country, and our impressions of the bike were gained from US-magazine photos of the sun setting on it alongside the rolling breakers of the Pacific coastline that inspired its name. But south London dealers Mocheck have stepped in to import a dozen or so machines from France, one European country where it is sold, and now the sum of £7299 could have you parking your own PC beside a stretch of gently-lapping North Sea coastal sewage.
And for all its strange looks this is one interesting and important motorcycle, because it marks the start of a new Honda marketing strategy that could have a huge effect on the sort of bikes we´ll all be seeing a great deal of in the near future. Honda probably don´t care if you think the PC looks like a soap dish, a fridge or a piss-pot - just as long as you don´t think it looks too much like a motorbike.
For with bike sales slumping even more seriously in America than elsewhere, the Pacific Coast has been unashamedly designed to drag in new customers from a fresh target group: the Great American Public. That rather large collection of people whose shared interest is that they don´t own a motorbike and haven´t ridden one of those aggressive, noisy, confusing things since they were at high school, thanks very much. If the theory and Honda´s advertising work, you can bet there´ll be many more models where this one came from.
So here it is: clean, quiet, inoffensive and styled by Honda´s car division: the non-motorcycling motorcycle. There´s no engine on show, not even the slightest hint of technology to be seen. Just a rounded, all-enclosing body shell, and a dashboard neatly trimmed in that familiar fake-leather plastic just like the stuff in your mum´s Civic. There´s a minimum of adjustability and there are absolutely no racy acronyms to be seen – not even a mention of engine capacity on those smooth creamy flanks.
Instead there are pieces of plastic everywhere, even covering the front brakes and most of the forks, and a big broad seat, the rear section of which pivots forward - when operated by a lever next to the filler cap - to reveal a car-type boot, sorry trunk. Having made this much effort, it´s perhaps surprising that Honda´s marketing mob didn´t invent a new name for the product: ‘single-track transportational vehicle´ or something similarly euphemistic.
What they don´t want to talk about is the engine that lurks somewhere deep inside all that plastic - after all, plenty of car-owners don´t even know that their four-wheeled blandmobile has an engine, let alone how many cylinders and valves it has. If the legions of affluent 30-somethings are going to buy a motorbike, the theory goes, then they want one that is no more intimidating than a bottle-opener, no more threatening than a portable fax machine.
PC owners won´t care that the bike´s powerplant is an 800cc watercooled, 45-degree V-twin almost identical to that used in the now-discontinued (and never seen here) VT800C Shadow custom bike. They won´t care that the motor has twin-plug heads and three valves per pot; or even that those valve clearances are hydraulically set, that the motor is rubber-mounted and that final drive is by shaft. All they´ll want to know is that there are virtually no engine bits to adjust, lubricate, tension or generally worry about: apart from the odd oil and plug change, what is out of sight can also be left out of mind.
Great efforts have been made to ensure that the engine doesn´t trouble any other senses, either. The original Shadow engine was pretty smooth, but reduced compression ratio, a heavier flywheel and the rubber mountings all help to make this version even more silky to the touch. Not only is it quietened by watercooling and all that bodywork, but the cylinder heads are covered by special plastic-and-rubber silencers, and the cams and primary drive are modified to reduce noise further. Lift the choke button mounted above the steering head, press the starter button and you´d hardly know whether the PC had fired up or not.
Tread the five-speed box into gear, then let out the hydraulic clutch and you´ll soon know you´re moving, though. The engine´s other attribute is a strong, meaty power delivery, with enough midrange grunt to get the Coast accelerating at a pretty respectable rate whatever the revs. The little low-speed lumpiness disappears at around two grand and from there on the thing just gets smoother and smoother as the speed increases at a totally linear rate towards the 50-odd bhp max at around 7000rpm, at which point there are 600 revs left to the redline.
It´s the sort of engine that you don´t have to think about much; it just looks after itself and propels you forward glitchlessly whenever requested. I headed into the south London rush-hour from Mocheck´s - sitting bolt upright behind the vertical screen, arms reaching forward to the tiller-like bars, feet comfortably plonked on the broad pegs - and barely gave the motor a thought until I was cruising at an indicated top-gear 80mph on the A3 ten miles later.
It was then that I thought the PC felt pretty gutless, because when I opened the throttle wide from that speed nothing seemed to happen. Another glance at the instruments revealed why, to my embarrassment: the poor bike was redlining in third gear, not fifth, with only the rev limiter saving it from being destroyed by its own smoothness and my doziness. Perhaps you do have to think about it, after all.
When I finally found top the Honda barrelled up to an indicated 120mph on the kph-only French speedo, which isn´t a bad top whack for a bike whose aerodynamics owe more to Scania than Sierra. Even at that speed there´s an almost car-like quiet to be had by crouching down behind the screen. But sitting up, anyone of average height or above gets their head caught in loud turbulence from wind swirling over the too-low screen.
Other ergonomics are much better. Hands get some shelter from big K100RS-style mirrors, which pop off if thumped and give a great view behind until then. Other instruments are typically efficient, lacking only the gadgets you might expect of such a bike (a radio is an option in the States). The fairing body shields legs, if not feet, from the breeze; the seat is enormous, with big grab-handles for the pillion; and the dummy tank ducts engine heat away to keep your legs cool. Shame the real gas tank, beneath the seat, holds only a feeble 3 gallons, and meant the fuel gauge went from full to empty and made me stop for a refill before I´d ridden even 100 miles.
The trunk, at least, is pretty big, swallowing a full-face lid in each of two compartments separated by a bulge for the rear wheel. Its lid swings up on a gas strut just like the one that PC User will be familiar with from the trunk of his Pontiac, and perhaps in years to come such convenience will be as commonplace on bikes as it is on cars. (You´d think Honda might have put a courtesy light in it, though, and a luggage rack on the top would be handy for big loads.)
If the external bodywork is radical, then what lies behind it is anything but. Somewhere deep beneath the acres of cream is a boring old twin-spar steel frame, with a pair of vertically mounted shocks unusual only in that the units are not identical. The right one is a dual-rate spring, and is non- adjustable; the left spring is single-rate and can have its preload altered if you can put up with the un-car-like skinning of knuckles needed to attack it with a C-spanner.
The front end is conventional, with non-adjustable 41mm forks and TRAC anti-dive-equipped twin discs (competent enough, in combination with the rear drum) hiding behind that bit of old dishwasher round the 17-inch wheel. More interesting are the two pairs of crashbars, one behind the pair of grey wings in front of the rider´s shins and the second behind the smaller bulges to the rear of the fold-up pillion pegs. Under the sacrificial covers are cheapo bits of steel tube which bolt onto the frame, and which save the whole fairing being wrecked in a low-speed spill. They could mean a repair bill of a few quid, for replacement covers, instead of hundreds, which sounds like a great idea to me.
What´s even better news is that the bike actually handles pretty well, far better than its bulk, 578lb of dry weight and apparently crude suspension would suggest. Wheelbase is a mammoth 1555mm, and steering geometry is on the lazy side too, but much of the weight is low down and the PC feels surprisingly light and responsive whether you´re flicking it round city traffic or tonking through a series of bends. Stability is good, though strong winds might prove interesting, and the suspension at both ends manages to give a comfy ride without being uncontrollably spongy.
It´s only when you start getting carried away that the limitations show. Try to put too much leverage on the wide bars and they feel a bit vague, as though there´s a rubber washer somewhere in the steering head - possibly because the unbraced forks are flexing a fraction. Tip the Coast too hard into a bend and the folding footrests ground long before the Dunlop’s approach their limits, followed on the right side by the solid brake lever, which is much more worrying. But in normal use ground clearance isn´t a big problem, and few Pacific Coast owners will be foolish enough to trash their undercarriage with repeated laps of the same roundabout, however much harmless fun it provides...
Mocheck´s sales guy Guy has sold several of the bikes already, and with a price tag of over seven grand - a fair bit more than Honda UK would have charged had they imported the Coast in greater numbers - it´s no surprise that most have gone to sensible, 30-something types who have fancied a change from the Bee-Em. The PC is certainly different, especially in Britain: its unique shape made it more of a crowd-puller than any RC30, and drew as many ‘Cor, what´s that then?´ and ‘I had a motorbike years ago´ type comments from the Great British Public as anything I´ve known.
For something that looks so strange and has had so much motorcycling character purposely designed out of it, the Pacific Coast is actually a surprisingly good, enjoyable bike. But it is on whether the American masses take to it that the PC800 will be judged, and first signs are that they´re unsure, despite slick lifestyle ads in general magazines and on TV. ‘Sales are promising; it´s going steadily,´ said Jim Bates, the test fleet chief at American Honda. ‘It´s not been a quick starter but we are looking on this very much as a long-term product.´ Which could be a diplomatic way of saying those creamy acres are gathering dust on showroom floors.
At least Bates could report that many of those who have bought the PC are the older types, returning to biking after years away, that Honda are after in their attempt to expand the motorcycle market. Success depends on getting these Buds and Elmers to buy a Pacific Coast instead of spending their bucks on golf or some other leisure pursuit, and Honda must have a chance. The Pacific Coast might look a bit weird but it´s a whole lot more fun to ride than a golf buggy.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda pc800.
Engine..........Watercooled sohc 6-valve 45-degree V-twin, cc 800
Brakes..........front 2 x 276mm (10.9in) discs
Rear..........sls drum Suspension,
Front..........41mm telescopic Rear Twin shocks; left has 5-way preload adjust
Rake..........28 degreesTyres Dunlop
Front..........120/80 x 17in
Rear..........140/80 x 15in
Dry weight..........262kg (578lb)
Fuel capacity..........16 litres (3.5gal)
Current price..........£7299 (est)