Honda’s Deauville 650 tourer has been around for a few years now and keeps on winning new fans on the quiet. It isn’t the most exciting bike on the planet, but it does the business.
Alastair Walker took a 2800 mile trip across Eastern Europe to see how the `Poor man’s Pan-European’ stacks up as a budget mile-eater.
Since the NT650 Deauville was introduced in 1998, it’s been one of the most overlooked bikes in Honda’s range. It didn’t help that Honda painted the early ones brown, or that the 650 motor ran out of steam at about 100mph and the original panniers were tiny.
But Honda are renowned for gradually improving their bikes, or at least trying to tweak them according to customers wishes. So in 2002, the Deauville got a serious makeover, in a bid to create the perfect pocket sized touring machine. Have they pulled it off?
Well, clocking up 2800 miles across Eastern Europe, I can tell you one thing; if you need a middleweight motorcycle to cross Hungary, or just plod through the Slough rush hour, the Deauville will easily do the job – and keep on doing it indefinitely. No fuss, no drama and incredibly easy to ride. This is a perfect first time touring motorbike, for the solo rider on a budget.
IN SEARCH OF THE TARDIS PANNIER
Why solo only? The answer is simple; those dinky panniers look nice, but still can’t carry enough for two people on holiday, unless you enjoy wearing the same clothing for 6 days at a time.
True, the Deauville now boasts an impressive range of optional extras, such as topbox, bigger pannier lids, which boost capacity by about 50%, heated grips, higher windscreen and a radio/CD autochanger. Nice, although a CD player takes up most of one pannier of course.
But the stock panniers, fitted to the bike I rode to Vienna, Budapest and Prague couldn’t hold the clothing kit, camera, bathroom stuff etc I needed for an 11 day trip. In fact a weekend’s worth of luggage is a stretch for them.
If it seems I’m being too negative about the Deauville, it’s only because it annoys me that manufacturers can’t resist selling touring bikes with a basic spec, then stinging you for the `accessories’ which you actually need to go touring. Imagine if Honda sold a Civic Estate with a rigid back seat, but offered an optional fold-down back seat? Be a right chuckle that would…
STEADY AS SHE GOES
Now here’s a big question; does size matter? Yes ladies, you’re absolutely right…and we’re not talking luggage space either. When it comes to power, the Deauville’s 647cc V-Twin motor is just a bit underpowered for a bike this heavy.
Fact is, the Deauville weighs in at 228kgs dry, which is incredible for a mere 650cc class machine. That’s heavier than a Guzzi V11, or a Kawasaki ZX12-R for God’s sake. Maybe the Deauville is made from old railway engines? Yet the good news is that it feels pretty easy to shift around when parking, or re-fuelling, even when fully loaded with luggage.
The low seat height helps matters and once the ultralight clutch is home, the Deauville is a brilliant town bike. The power delivery is typically Honda – very steady, all the way to the 7,000rpm redline. No big surprises. You soon suss that if you can squeeze the Honda’s wide mirrors through a gap in traffic, the rest of the bike will easily follow, with surprising agility. Excellent view in the mirrors by the way, all the way to 80mph when vibration blurs the image somewhat.
The more you ride the bike, the more you can understand why this is a quietly popular model in the Honda range. It simply keeps going, like an old VW Beetle, pretty close to max revs, all day long. The Deauville never overheated once in 2800 miles of European heatwave, it didn’t misfire, fail to start instantly, or return less than 45mpg, even when caned mercilessly on the motorways of Germany.
This engine may not seem like it, but it is one of the best touring units ever created – a subtle assembly of engineering efficiency.
As well as losing some weight in its 2002 makeover, the Deauville also gained Honda’s Combined Braking System – or linked brakes to you and me – and very good they are too. The neat trick that Honda have pulled off with this bike, (and the Blackbird) is that you are hardly aware of the braking force being split between both front and back wheels. It works in a very understated way.
Braking hard into corners the front forks dive a touch too far, but for a touring bike, the Deauville handles and brakes well enough for a decent rider to have fun on a twisting German forest road. Ground clearance is good enough too – at least solo.
Overall, I was most surprised by the Deauville’s predictable, capable handling. I really expected this bike to weave a little bit when loaded with luggage, or oversteer and push the front end out a touch. But it has a useful balance of weight and power, plus accurate steering, which lets you give sportbike riders a hard time, right up until a 200 metre straight appears, then they’re gone.
As it never rained once in nearly 3000 miles, I have no idea whether the fairing is much use in a serious monsoon, but I doubt it. It looks too narrow and the screen is way too low, as standard. Fairing lowers are available, but you can’t expect full weatherproofing luxury for £5500 really…
TOURING IS A MINI ADVENTURE
For that’s the bottom line with the Deauville. At this sort of money, it really is the only game in town when it comes to halfway serious touring motorcycling. It has shaft drive, some luggage, OK bodywork and an ace riding position, even for two people. Nothing in the 600-750cc class comes close quite frankly.
In the end, touring by motorcycle is always about adapting to make the best of the obvious limitations that your method of transport has; the physical effort of travelling at speed, wearing three layers of clothing, often wet, the relatively small luggage carrying capacity.
Yet motorcycling overseas is a kind of mini adventure, a little test of your initiative, character and ability to assimilate something of another culture, not just develop early skin cancer, whilst wallowing drunk in some pre-packaged resort (Although that holiday does have its plus points). The Deauville is the low cost option, but still a pretty comfortable, versatile – and occasionally fun – way to travel. All for about half the cost of a fully kitted up BMW or Pan-European.
Not a bad way to sample the addictive escapism of the open road.
Need Insurance? Make sure you check out our Honda Bike Insurance
Engine……….Liquid cooled, V-Twin, four stroke
Bore x Stroke……….79mm x 66mm
Carbs……….None, digital fuel injection
Frame……….Twin spar alloy
Forks……….41mm adjustable forks
Rear suspension……….Monoshock, adjustable pre-load
Brakes……….CBS linked system – Twin 296mm front discs, 3 piston caliper; Single rear 276mm disc, 3 piston caliper
Dry weigth ……….228kgs
Fuel capacity……….19.5 litres
Colours……….Red, silver or blue
Top speed (est)……….115mph
Buying info……….Large range of accessories
Price……….£5500 approx (August 2003)