Motorcycles

Honda's 750cc NM4 Vultus: A new species of motorcycle

The Honda NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
The Honda NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
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The visual creative spark for the NM4 was catalysed by the futuristic bikes seen in the anime and manga comic book, television and film style. Known collectively as “Japanimation”, both genres have long been very grown-up entertainment in Japan, woven into the fabric of society. Now, the philosophy, attitude, fashion and feeling have spread worldwide and have become a mainstream phenomena.
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The visual creative spark for the NM4 was catalysed by the futuristic bikes seen in the anime and manga comic book, television and film style. Known collectively as “Japanimation”, both genres have long been very grown-up entertainment in Japan, woven into the fabric of society. Now, the philosophy, attitude, fashion and feeling have spread worldwide and have become a mainstream phenomena.
The Vultus' instrument panel plays the "fighter pilot" cockpit metaphor to the full - it is viewed from a much lower angle than on a normal motorcycle due to the lower seat height, is wider than normal, the digital instruments are outlined with LED lights, and the central display changes colour depending on the mode deployed.
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The Vultus' instrument panel plays the "fighter pilot" cockpit metaphor to the full - it is viewed from a much lower angle than on a normal motorcycle due to the lower seat height, is wider than normal, the digital instruments are outlined with LED lights, and the central display changes colour depending on the mode deployed.
“Honda is a big company. We make every kind of motorcycle. It’s great that sometimes we make a certain machine simply because we can and because we want to, not because we 'should'.""The NM4 Vultus exists because of a passion from deep within our company. We wanted to create something special, not just in the two-wheeled world, but truly unique in the whole world - a machine that engages a human soul like no other.""Our intention was to make something that makes every moment feel cinematic, and we want riding it to be an event – guaranteed – every single time.”Mr Keita Mikura, NM4 Vultus Project Leader, Honda Motor Company
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“Honda is a big company. We make every kind of motorcycle. It’s great that sometimes we make a certain machine simply because we can and because we want to, not because we 'should'.""The NM4 Vultus exists because of a passion from deep within our company. We wanted to create something special, not just in the two-wheeled world, but truly unique in the whole world - a machine that engages a human soul like no other.""Our intention was to make something that makes every moment feel cinematic, and we want riding it to be an event – guaranteed – every single time.”Mr Keita Mikura, NM4 Vultus Project Leader, Honda Motor Company
Another critical factor in the genesis of this new entity was a desire to create a machine capable of crossing traditional two-wheeled lines and reach out to a wider audience. The creative team of engineers who conceived, designed and put the NM4 together are in their twenties and thirties. They were given a completely free hand. In that respect, the NM4 Vultus represents a leap of faith from Honda, one intended to appeal to and attract a new kind of rider.
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Another critical factor in the genesis of this new entity was a desire to create a machine capable of crossing traditional two-wheeled lines and reach out to a wider audience. The creative team of engineers who conceived, designed and put the NM4 together are in their twenties and thirties. They were given a completely free hand. In that respect, the NM4 Vultus represents a leap of faith from Honda, one intended to appeal to and attract a new kind of rider.
The Vultus' compact 745cc liquid-cooled, SOHC 8-valve parallel twin-cylinder engine is a very usable, fuel-efficient and clean powerplant. The relatively long-stroke architecture and specially shaped combustion chambers combine with a heavier-than-normal crankshaft to produce strong torque from very low down in the rev range, and punchy low-to-mid range performance: Peak power is 40.3 kW at 6,250rpm, with a meaty peak 68Nm of torque at just 4,750rpm - right where you need it for drivability.
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The Vultus' compact 745cc liquid-cooled, SOHC 8-valve parallel twin-cylinder engine is a very usable, fuel-efficient and clean powerplant. The relatively long-stroke architecture and specially shaped combustion chambers combine with a heavier-than-normal crankshaft to produce strong torque from very low down in the rev range, and punchy low-to-mid range performance: Peak power is 40.3 kW at 6,250rpm, with a meaty peak 68Nm of torque at just 4,750rpm - right where you need it for drivability.
The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
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The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
When the Honda NM4 Vultus reaches showrooms later this year (2014), it will have the lowest seat height of any large capacity motorcycle at just 650mm. Whatsmore, note the location of the footboards and brake pedal. The NM4 Vultus is a recumbent motorcycle - a brave move from Honda.
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When the Honda NM4 Vultus reaches showrooms later this year (2014), it will have the lowest seat height of any large capacity motorcycle at just 650mm. Whatsmore, note the location of the footboards and brake pedal. The NM4 Vultus is a recumbent motorcycle - a brave move from Honda.
The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
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The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
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The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
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The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
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The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
The first and potentially largest new marketplace for the Vultus is in young style-conscious Asian countries where edgy futuristic Manga design is a desirable attribute, scooters are the most common form of personal transport, average height is considerably less, and riding motorcycles is not almost exclusively gender-specific as it is in Western society.
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The first and potentially largest new marketplace for the Vultus is in young style-conscious Asian countries where edgy futuristic Manga design is a desirable attribute, scooters are the most common form of personal transport, average height is considerably less, and riding motorcycles is not almost exclusively gender-specific as it is in Western society.
The Honda NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
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The Honda NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
The Honda NM4-2 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
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The Honda NM4-2 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
The Honda NM4-2 (left) and Vultus NM4-1 (right) on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
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The Honda NM4-2 (left) and Vultus NM4-1 (right) on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
The Honda Vultus NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
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The Honda Vultus NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
Lighting is full LED with front indicators and mirrors integrated into the bodywork while the shaped headlight is framed with a blue LED definition line. Everything is blacked-out to the max – with carefully-placed glimpses of burnished stainless steel here and there
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Lighting is full LED with front indicators and mirrors integrated into the bodywork while the shaped headlight is framed with a blue LED definition line. Everything is blacked-out to the max – with carefully-placed glimpses of burnished stainless steel here and there
The Vultus' instrument panel plays the "fighter pilot" cockpit metaphor to the full - it is viewed from a much lower angle than normal due to the lower seat height, is wider than normal, the digital instruments are outlined with LED lights, and the central display changes colour depending on the mode deployed.
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The Vultus' instrument panel plays the "fighter pilot" cockpit metaphor to the full - it is viewed from a much lower angle than normal due to the lower seat height, is wider than normal, the digital instruments are outlined with LED lights, and the central display changes colour depending on the mode deployed.
Storage spaces abound, with concealed pockets in the front bodywork
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Storage spaces abound, with concealed pockets in the front bodywork
The footboards on the Vultus
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The footboards on the Vultus
The Vultus has helmet holders which are lockable under the seat.
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The Vultus has helmet holders which are lockable under the seat.
All the lighting on the Vultus is LED - headlights, tail lights and blinkers
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All the lighting on the Vultus is LED - headlights, tail lights and blinkers
The pillion footrests of the Vultus fold away when not in use
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The pillion footrests of the Vultus fold away when not in use
The low screen of the Vultus can be replaced with an optional higher screen. Other optional accessories available for the NM4 Vultus will include heated grips, panniers and an alarm system
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The low screen of the Vultus can be replaced with an optional higher screen. Other optional accessories available for the NM4 Vultus will include heated grips, panniers and an alarm system
Stainless enable accents are just part of the quite visually-arresting presentation of the Vultus
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Stainless enable accents are just part of the quite visually-arresting presentation of the Vultus
The Honda DCT offers three modes of gear changing - automatic twist-and-go in D and S mode, plus a trigger-operated computer-game-style manual MT mode - similar to the paddle gear-changes on a Formula One car and quite different to the foot-pedal operated sequential gearbox of a traditional motorcycle. In MT mode, the gears are shifted manually using the left index finger to shift up and the thumb to shift down
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The Honda DCT offers three modes of gear changing - automatic twist-and-go in D and S mode, plus a trigger-operated computer-game-style manual MT mode - similar to the paddle gear-changes on a Formula One car and quite different to the foot-pedal operated sequential gearbox of a traditional motorcycle. In MT mode, the gears are shifted manually using the left index finger to shift up and the thumb to shift down
Honda's CTX 750 uses the same motor in a slightly higher state of tune than the NM4
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Honda's CTX 750 uses the same motor in a slightly higher state of tune than the NM4
More people live inside this circle than outside. The 21st century is sometimes referred to as the Asian century. The rise of Asia’s wealth is changing the world and has profound implications for people everywhere - including the shape of personal transport.
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More people live inside this circle than outside. The 21st century is sometimes referred to as the Asian century. The rise of Asia’s wealth is changing the world and has profound implications for people everywhere - including the shape of personal transport.
There’s a single 36 mm throttle body and PGM-FI fuel injection system supplies the optimum amount of fuel/air mixture thanks to an oxygen sensor in the exhaust. Fuel consumption of 28,4km/l (WMTC mode) is particularly impressive, enabling a 300km plus range from the 11.6 liter fuel tank.
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There’s a single 36 mm throttle body and PGM-FI fuel injection system supplies the optimum amount of fuel/air mixture thanks to an oxygen sensor in the exhaust. Fuel consumption of 28,4km/l (WMTC mode) is particularly impressive, enabling a 300km plus range from the 11.6 liter fuel tank.
The engine features twin balance shafts, the effect of which counteracts vibration from high rpm inertia. So it manages to feel refined, yet retain the characterful ‘throb’ delivered by its 270° firing order. Where possible, components are made to do more than one job: the camshaft drives the water pump, while one of the balancer shafts drives the oil pump.
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The engine features twin balance shafts, the effect of which counteracts vibration from high rpm inertia. So it manages to feel refined, yet retain the characterful ‘throb’ delivered by its 270° firing order. Where possible, components are made to do more than one job: the camshaft drives the water pump, while one of the balancer shafts drives the oil pump.
A 270 degree crankshaft ensures the Vultus has the feel of a V-twin, just like the big Aprilia SRV 850, the current king of the superscooters, but without the spacial disadvantages caused by a V-twin in a layout such as this.
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A 270 degree crankshaft ensures the Vultus has the feel of a V-twin, just like the big Aprilia SRV 850, the current king of the superscooters, but without the spacial disadvantages caused by a V-twin in a layout such as this.
The NM4 Vultus comes standard with Honda’s DCT, which delivers consistent, seamless gear changes. DCT uses two clutches: one for start-up and 1st, 3rd and 5th gear, the other for 2nd, 4th and 6th, with the mainshaft of one clutch located inside the other for compactness. Each clutch is independently controlled by its own electro-hydraulic circuit. When a gear change occurs, the system pre-selects the target gear using the clutch not in use. The first clutch is then electronically disengaged as the second clutch engages. The result is a consistent, fast and seamless gear change.
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The NM4 Vultus comes standard with Honda’s DCT, which delivers consistent, seamless gear changes. DCT uses two clutches: one for start-up and 1st, 3rd and 5th gear, the other for 2nd, 4th and 6th, with the mainshaft of one clutch located inside the other for compactness. Each clutch is independently controlled by its own electro-hydraulic circuit. When a gear change occurs, the system pre-selects the target gear using the clutch not in use. The first clutch is then electronically disengaged as the second clutch engages. The result is a consistent, fast and seamless gear change.
The NM4 Vultus comes standard with Honda’s DCT, which delivers consistent, seamless gear changes. DCT uses two clutches: one for start-up and 1st, 3rd and 5th gear, the other for 2nd, 4th and 6th, with the mainshaft of one clutch located inside the other for compactness. Each clutch is independently controlled by its own electro-hydraulic circuit. When a gear change occurs, the system pre-selects the target gear using the clutch not in use. The first clutch is then electronically disengaged as the second clutch engages. The result is a consistent, fast and seamless gear change.
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The NM4 Vultus comes standard with Honda’s DCT, which delivers consistent, seamless gear changes. DCT uses two clutches: one for start-up and 1st, 3rd and 5th gear, the other for 2nd, 4th and 6th, with the mainshaft of one clutch located inside the other for compactness. Each clutch is independently controlled by its own electro-hydraulic circuit. When a gear change occurs, the system pre-selects the target gear using the clutch not in use. The first clutch is then electronically disengaged as the second clutch engages. The result is a consistent, fast and seamless gear change.
Honda's DN-01 contained much the same DNA as the Vultus
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Honda's DN-01 contained much the same DNA as the Vultus
Like the Honda NM4, Honda's DN-01 had a very low seat height as can be seen from this image taken at the bike's launch
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Like the Honda NM4, Honda's DN-01 had a very low seat height as can be seen from this image taken at the bike's launch
Like the Honda NM4, Honda's DN-01 had a very low seat height as can be seen from this image taken at the bike's launch
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Like the Honda NM4, Honda's DN-01 had a very low seat height as can be seen from this image taken at the bike's launch
Honda's Elysium Concept from 2001
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Honda's Elysium Concept from 2001
The existing bikes which will most likely be seen as the NM4's competition: Aprilia's SRV850 at top left, then clockwise, BMW's C 650 GT, Yamaha's T-Max 530 and Suzuki's Burgman 650
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The existing bikes which will most likely be seen as the NM4's competition: Aprilia's SRV850 at top left, then clockwise, BMW's C 650 GT, Yamaha's T-Max 530 and Suzuki's Burgman 650
From top left clockwise: Yamaha's Gen-Ryu Hybrid Concept (2005), Yamaha's Luxair Hybrid Concept (2007), Suzuki's G-Strider Concept (2003) and Yamaha's Maxam 3000 Concept (2005) all explored feet-first riding positions
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From top left clockwise: Yamaha's Gen-Ryu Hybrid Concept (2005), Yamaha's Luxair Hybrid Concept (2007), Suzuki's G-Strider Concept (2003) and Yamaha's Maxam 3000 Concept (2005) all explored feet-first riding positions
Top images: Honda's new 750cc Vultus NM4. Bottom row: Honda's 750cc Elysium, 750cc Griffon and 900cc E4-01 concepts. The Vultus is designed for the next generation motorcyclist, with a very low seat, recumbent riding position, and ease-of-use foremost. As can be seen from its concept bikes (more inside), Honda has been gauging opinion as to when to embody these ideas into a production motorcycle for decades. Do not discount the possibility the Vultus will be offered with an optional Elysium-style roof within one or two model updates
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Top images: Honda's new 750cc Vultus NM4. Bottom row: Honda's 750cc Elysium, 750cc Griffon and 900cc E4-01 concepts. The Vultus is designed for the next generation motorcyclist, with a very low seat, recumbent riding position, and ease-of-use foremost. As can be seen from its concept bikes (more inside), Honda has been gauging opinion as to when to embody these ideas into a production motorcycle for decades. Do not discount the possibility the Vultus will be offered with an optional Elysium-style roof within one or two model updates
Many more miniature, narrow-track cars with electric power trains are coming to market over the next few years. From top left clockwise, Toyota's COMS, Nissan's Mobility Concept, Honda's MC-β and Renault's new Twizy Cargo
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Many more miniature, narrow-track cars with electric power trains are coming to market over the next few years. From top left clockwise, Toyota's COMS, Nissan's Mobility Concept, Honda's MC-β and Renault's new Twizy Cargo
Narrow track four-wheelers will begin to encroach on motorcycle sales over the next decade as vehicles such as Toyota's i-Road, Yamaha's Gordon Murray-designed Motiv, Volkswagen's L1 and Renault's Twizy offer smaller road footprints and frugal economy, with weather and driver protection
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Narrow track four-wheelers will begin to encroach on motorcycle sales over the next decade as vehicles such as Toyota's i-Road, Yamaha's Gordon Murray-designed Motiv, Volkswagen's L1 and Renault's Twizy offer smaller road footprints and frugal economy, with weather and driver protection
The biggest single threat to motorcycling's urban mobility advantage is Toyota's i-Road. It's electric, it tilts and is hence loads of fun to drive, and it's so easy to drive that any car driver can drive it straight away
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The biggest single threat to motorcycling's urban mobility advantage is Toyota's i-Road. It's electric, it tilts and is hence loads of fun to drive, and it's so easy to drive that any car driver can drive it straight away
The Honda NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
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The Honda NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
When Honda announced the parallel twin motor of Vultus, then in 700cc form, it produced this graphic which emphasises the development goals of the engine
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When Honda announced the parallel twin motor of Vultus, then in 700cc form, it produced this graphic which emphasises the development goals of the engine
A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions.
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A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions.
A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions
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A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions
A poster for the 1988 Japanese theatrical release "Akira" which has been heavily influential in Japanese culture
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A poster for the 1988 Japanese theatrical release "Akira" which has been heavily influential in Japanese culture
Honda's CB750 of 1969 is regarded as the first superbike. Comparing its vital statistics to those of the Vultus NM4 is highly illustrative
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Honda's CB750 of 1969 is regarded as the first superbike. Comparing its vital statistics to those of the Vultus NM4 is highly illustrative
Since Nicholas Negroponte first came up with his landmark teething ring visualization of the coming together of communication, computing and content, the term convergence has become the uber buzzword. Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate.
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Since Nicholas Negroponte first came up with his landmark teething ring visualization of the coming together of communication, computing and content, the term convergence has become the uber buzzword. Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate.
Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate. This is Nissan's LandGlider - a prime example of the convergence of the car and the motorcycle
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Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate. This is Nissan's LandGlider - a prime example of the convergence of the car and the motorcycle
The NM4's seat also has a built-in back-rest for the rider, completing the seating position in a non-conventional way – its angle can be adjusted through three positions and it slides backwards or forwards 25mm through four settings, so "cockpit comfort" can be fine-tuned
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The NM4's seat also has a built-in back-rest for the rider, completing the seating position in a non-conventional way – its angle can be adjusted through three positions and it slides backwards or forwards 25mm through four settings, so "cockpit comfort" can be fine-tuned
Dan Gurney and the winningest Grand Prix rider of all-time, Giacomo Agostini discuss the Alligator. Gurney is one of only a handful of drivers to have driven a car of their own design to win a Formula One Grand Prix
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Dan Gurney and the winningest Grand Prix rider of all-time, Giacomo Agostini discuss the Alligator. Gurney is one of only a handful of drivers to have driven a car of their own design to win a Formula One Grand Prix
Dan Gurney's sit-in, feet-forward Alligator broke new ground but only sold in limited numbers, despite Gurney's history of ground-breaking engineering. Dan is one of only three drivers to win a Formula One Grand Prix in a car of his own design (American Eagle - 1967 Belgian GP), he's responsible for the innovative "Gurney-flap" aerodynamic tweak, and he's also the fellow who began the now obligatory spraying of champagne from the victory podium when he won the 1967 Le Mans 24 Hour.
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Dan Gurney's sit-in, feet-forward Alligator broke new ground but only sold in limited numbers, despite Gurney's history of ground-breaking engineering. Dan is one of only three drivers to win a Formula One Grand Prix in a car of his own design (American Eagle - 1967 Belgian GP), he's responsible for the innovative "Gurney-flap" aerodynamic tweak, and he's also the fellow who began the now obligatory spraying of champagne from the victory podium when he won the 1967 Le Mans 24 Hour.
Dan Gurney's sit-in, feet-forward Alligator broke new ground but only sold in limited numbers
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Dan Gurney's sit-in, feet-forward Alligator broke new ground but only sold in limited numbers
Dan Gurney's sit-in, feet-forward Alligator broke new ground but only sold in limited numbers
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Dan Gurney's sit-in, feet-forward Alligator broke new ground but only sold in limited numbers
The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exceptional energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
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The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exceptional energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exception energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
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The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exception energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exception energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
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The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exception energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exceptional energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
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The Swiss Zerotracer is one of the most interesting enclosed, feet-forward motorcycle designs yet seen. The small frontal area of a motorcycle is one of the key reasons motorcycles are so fuel efficient (the other being a small motor), but when the generally poor aerodynamic drag coefficient of the motorcycle becomes a streamliner, it really can produce exceptional energy efficiency, as was proven when the Zerotracer won the around-the-world electric race in 2011.
Malcolm Newell's Quasar had plenty going for it but never quite sold in quantities commensurate with the hype. Image : Bikeweb
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Malcolm Newell's Quasar had plenty going for it but never quite sold in quantities commensurate with the hype. Image : Bikeweb

Honda has announced a new motorcycle – the 750cc NM4, which will be known as the Vultus in European markets – and it's a new species of motorcycle that represents such a bold departure from tradition that it could become a landmark in the evolution of motorized two-wheeled transport.

The NM4 (NM stands for "New Motorcycle") is styled along “Japanimation” lines, and though the cult anime/manga bodywork is no doubt challenging to the eye of existing motorcycle enthusiasts, it’s not the styling that sets the NM4 apart – it's the combination of the very low seat height, semi-recumbent, feet-first rider posture, adjustable backrest and large futuristic dashboard to create what Honda describes as the seating position and cockpit of a “fighter pilot.”

At just 650 mm (25.5"), the seat height of the NM4 is much lower than anything we've ever seen before in a 750 cc class, mass production motorcycle an indication that Honda is intending to produce large capacity motorcycles for people less than 170 cm (5' 7") tall.

When the Honda NM4 Vultus reaches showrooms later this year (2014), it will have the lowest seat height of any large capacity motorcycle at just 650mm. Whatsmore, note the location of the footboards and brake pedal. The NM4 Vultus is a recumbent motorcycle - a brave move from Honda.
When the Honda NM4 Vultus reaches showrooms later this year (2014), it will have the lowest seat height of any large capacity motorcycle at just 650mm. Whatsmore, note the location of the footboards and brake pedal. The NM4 Vultus is a recumbent motorcycle - a brave move from Honda.

What's more, the NM4 has been designed for ease-of-use. It comes standard with Honda's proprietary Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) and Combined Brake System that includes a dual-channel Anti Lock Brake system (ABS).

Between the two systems, the two most-difficult aspects of riding a motorcycle (braking and changing gear) have been reduced to scooter-like simplicity. At the same time, by removing the necessity to have the rider's feet at the foot controls of a traditional motorcycle, it is offering a great deal more choice about riding position (while the foot brake still exists, its use is optional because the brake lever on the right handlebar operates both front and rear brakes through the linked braking system).

1 - Tapping new markets

The design of the NM4 facilitates several potentially rich new sources of customers for Honda.

The first and potentially largest new marketplace for the Vultus is in young style-conscious Asian countries where edgy futuristic Manga design is a desirable attribute, scooters are the most common form of personal transport, average height is considerably less, and riding motorcycles is not almost exclusively gender-specific as it is in Western society.
The first and potentially largest new marketplace for the Vultus is in young style-conscious Asian countries where edgy futuristic Manga design is a desirable attribute, scooters are the most common form of personal transport, average height is considerably less, and riding motorcycles is not almost exclusively gender-specific as it is in Western society.

1-1 Eastern Markets

The first and potentially largest new marketplace for the Vultus is in young style-conscious Asian countries where edgy futuristic Manga design is a highly desirable attribute, scooters are the most common form of personal transport, average height is considerably less than in Europe and North America, and riding motorcycles is not almost exclusively gender-specific as it is in Western society.

Seat height is already a key decision-making criteria in the purchase of motorcycles for the small percentage of women in Western countries who buy them. In Asian countries nearly all existing large capacity motorcycles currently preclude women from the mix by virtue of their seat height, not to mention a significant proportion of males. Two-thirds of the world's population lives in Asia and has been raised in an environment where scooters ARE the family car.

More people live inside this circle than outside. The 21st century is sometimes referred to as the Asian century. The rise of Asia’s wealth is changing the world and has profound implications for people everywhere - including the shape of personal transport.
More people live inside this circle than outside. The 21st century is sometimes referred to as the Asian century. The rise of Asia’s wealth is changing the world and has profound implications for people everywhere - including the shape of personal transport.

1-2 Western Markets

The NM4 can also be expected to cultivate new customers in Western markets, as it will undoubtedly be the first large capacity motorcycle to appeal to non-enthusiasts with its futuristic Japanese cult styling and ease-of-use.

A poster for the 1988 Japanese theatrical release "Akira" which has been heavily influential in Japanese culture
A poster for the 1988 Japanese theatrical release "Akira" which has been heavily influential in Japanese culture

Drawing heavily from the futuristic bikes seen in the anime/manga illustrated books, television series and films, it has many similarities to Shotaro Kaneda's bike from Akira, and the work of Katsuhiro Otomo.

Known collectively as “Japanimation," both genres are established adult entertainment in Japan, woven into the fabric of society. Now, the philosophy, attitude, fashion and feeling of this originally Japanese entertainment form have spread worldwide and become a mainstream phenomena.

Finally, Honda is keen to attract car drivers onto motorcycles and it recognizes that the current state of the world's increasingly congested roads is driving change in the global personal transportation marketplace.

In advanced economies, a wind of change is sweeping through motorcycle land. After decades of refinement, enthusiast motorcycles are now astoundingly good and the enthusiast is already well catered for. The NM4 caters for the non-enthusiast who is not mired in traditional, often spartan motorcycle form factors.

A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions
A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions

1-3 Urban Markets

The imperatives of ever-increasing fuel pricing and road congestion are about to generate a new reason for the world's commuters to consider motorcycles as a form of transport, a reason which won't go away and will gradually increase to the point where it cannot be ignored. The time is coming where enthusiasts will no longer dominate the motorcycle market – commuters will rule.

The Honda Vultus NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
The Honda Vultus NM4-1 on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)

2 - Vultus NM4: A very "New Motorcycle"

Just as technology freed the first generation of motorcycle riders from an array of hand throttles, advance-retard mechanisms and chokes a century ago, technology will now remove another layer of anachronistic control mechanisms left over from a prior generation.

My take is that the NM4 is designed by Honda to emancipate motorcycling one further step, to make riding a motorcycle as easy to ride as a scooter, and the Japanimation styling is just a sugar coating.

The introduction of a bike as radically non-traditional as the NM4 is brave new territory, even for a company with the resources of Honda. When announcing the bike at the Osaka Motorcycle Show, the synopsis in the first paragraph of the press kit read thus:

New model: A ground-breaking machine inspired by the desire to establish a unique riding experience and an identity not bound by standard motorcycle design, with strong echoes of futuristic bikes seen in Japanese movies. Created by a young design team who remained true to their original concept at every stage through to production, the NM4 Vultus brings radical style to the streets, with function from the future for a new breed of rider.

“Honda is a big company. We make every kind of motorcycle. It’s great that sometimes we make a certain machine simply because we can and because we want to, not because we 'should'.""The NM4 Vultus exists because of a passion from deep within our company. We wanted to create something special, not just in the two-wheeled world, but truly unique in the whole world - a machine that engages a human soul like no other.""Our intention was to make something that makes every moment feel cinematic, and we want riding it to be an event – guaranteed – every single time.”Mr Keita Mikura, NM4 Vultus Project Leader, Honda Motor Company
“Honda is a big company. We make every kind of motorcycle. It’s great that sometimes we make a certain machine simply because we can and because we want to, not because we 'should'.""The NM4 Vultus exists because of a passion from deep within our company. We wanted to create something special, not just in the two-wheeled world, but truly unique in the whole world - a machine that engages a human soul like no other.""Our intention was to make something that makes every moment feel cinematic, and we want riding it to be an event – guaranteed – every single time.”Mr Keita Mikura, NM4 Vultus Project Leader, Honda Motor Company

Then followed the carefully chosen words of Mr Keita Mikura, the Project Leader for the NM4 Vultus, which are worth considering in context. Kimura's brief statement is reproduced under the image above.

Given the lukewarm reception Honda experienced with the DN-01, it has every reason to be nervous about how the NM4/ Vultus will be received by its public. Mikura's above words suggest the company has decided to forge ahead in this direction regardless, and we can expect the NM4 to be on the market a lot longer than its direct predecessor – the DN-01 was announced in 2005 at the Tokyo Motor Show, came to market in 2008 and was withdrawn in 2010. I was attendant at the 2005 launch of the DN-01, and I have no doubt that Honda thought the moment was a very significant one in its history.

Honda's DN-01 contained much the same DNA as the Vultus
Honda's DN-01 contained much the same DNA as the Vultus

The DN-01 (read Loz Blain's road test of the bike here) remains one of the very few large capacity motorcycles ever to have used an automatic transmission, in this case an ingenious CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which worked well and offered many benefits to learners and experienced riders alike but was largely misunderstood and lambasted by the traditional motorcycle media.

Much of the DNA of the Vultus can be found in the DN-01, with its semi-recumbent seating position, electronically-controlled "Human Friendly Transmission" and equally human-friendly, big V-twin motor. The DN-01's motor was built for mid-range and usability, not outright horsepower and performance, and was roundly criticized by the same motorcycle media for its lack of outright horsepower.

Given the reception of the DN-01 at the cash register, and the response of a motorcycle media staunchly resistant to any motorcycle without sporting aspirations, Honda's move in releasing the NM4 is to be roundly lauded. It has regrouped following the disappointment of the DN-01 and is backing its own judgement on the future evolution of the motorcycle regardless of the opinion of the current change-resistant enthusiasts and a myopic motorcycle press. It is hoping to use its corporate momentum to take motorcycle design in a more practical direction.

3 - Honda deliberately but gently breaks the traditional mold

Honda has thrown every bit of trickery and technology it can muster at the Vultus NM4 which combines both synthetic feel-good technologies and a full hand of electronic rider assistance technologies to make riding a motorcycle much easier. Honda's long term investment in R&D to develop expertise which gives it a competitive edge is being brought to bear to create the best possible user experience.

Honda's CB750 of 1969 is regarded as the first superbike. Comparing its vital statistics to those of the Vultus NM4 is highly illustrative
Honda's CB750 of 1969 is regarded as the first superbike. Comparing its vital statistics to those of the Vultus NM4 is highly illustrative

When Honda launched the CB750 nearly half a century ago, it created what enthusiasts commonly refer to as the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) – a four cylinder bike with smooth power delivery, but lacking the character which motorcycle enthusiasts held dear. It might seem like a no-brainer now to create a compact multi-cylinder motorcycle, but the first few thousand bikes shipped from Japan to America had sand-cast casings for good reason – Honda wasn't sure the bike would sell and did not wish to invest in the tooling required for serious mass production until it had proof that the motorcycle was viable at the cash register. The rest is history.

There’s a single 36 mm throttle body and PGM-FI fuel injection system supplies the optimum amount of fuel/air mixture thanks to an oxygen sensor in the exhaust. Fuel consumption of 28,4km/l (WMTC mode) is particularly impressive, enabling a 300km plus range from the 11.6 liter fuel tank.
There’s a single 36 mm throttle body and PGM-FI fuel injection system supplies the optimum amount of fuel/air mixture thanks to an oxygen sensor in the exhaust. Fuel consumption of 28,4km/l (WMTC mode) is particularly impressive, enabling a 300km plus range from the 11.6 liter fuel tank.

3-1 Honda's 750 parallel "faux" V-twin

Five decades on, and the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer is no longer smoothing the vibrations but purposefully infusing its machinery with characterful rumblings. It may have balancing shafts to remove annoying high frequency vibrations, but the primal rhythms of the Vultus are a critically important part of the primary design.

On the surface, the NM4 is powered by a SOHC 8-valve 750 cc parallel twin, similar in power output and capacity to the 650 cc Triumph Bonneville (35.8 kW @ 7200 rpm), 750 cc Norton Commando (43.8 kW @ 6800 rpm) and 650 cc BSA Lightning (35.8 kW @ 7000 rpm), which were kings of the road almost 50 years ago. By comparison, the 750cc Vultus stacks up well with 40.3 kW at 6,250 rpm with a far stronger low- and mid-range than the bikes which lost Britain's motorcycle empire.

In reality, Honda's parallel-twin engine has a 270 degree crank throw, which gives it the feel and sound of a V-twin. In building the NM4, Honda has combined all of the advantages of a V-twin, while conveniently canting its parallel twin forward to fit it neatly into the form factor it desired. The DN-01 had a big V-twin, the NM4 has a faux V-twin.

It's no co-incidence that most of the truly iconic motorcycles and those with massive cult followings have used the V-twin engine configuration.

From the iconic motorcycles of yore such as Indian, Brough Superior, the legendary Vincent Black Shadow, through to the most recent cult machinery such as Ducati, Buell/EBR, Victory and Confederate, and the Harley-Davidson marque which has endured a century based on a proprietary 45 degree design, all have used the uneven firing order of the V-twin to seduce their audience. V-twins offer a sweet, torquey mid-range, but it's the vibrational characteristics and intoxicating sound of a V-twin which are as much key factors in their allure as the engine's usability.

As hall-of-fame motorcycle designer Erik Buell recently told Gizmag.com, "motorcycles are a very emotional product and big v-twins sound cool ... sound is a key part of the experience for the rider."

The numbers speak for themselves: 17 of the 20 most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction are V-twins, one is a flat twin BMW, and two are V4 Ducati MotoGP bikes. 100 percent are four-strokes, 95 percent have V-configuration engines and 85 percent are V-twins.

A 270 degree crankshaft ensures the Vultus has the feel of a V-twin, just like the big Aprilia SRV 850, the current king of the superscooters, but without the spacial disadvantages caused by a V-twin in a layout such as this.
A 270 degree crankshaft ensures the Vultus has the feel of a V-twin, just like the big Aprilia SRV 850, the current king of the superscooters, but without the spacial disadvantages caused by a V-twin in a layout such as this.

The 745 cc engine of the Vultus is largely identical to the 700 (actually 670 cc) engine already in use in Honda’s CTX700 and NC700, with the bore increased by 4 mm to 77 mm and the same 80 mm stroke for a swept volume of 745 cc.

We've been through the clever design of the canted compact Honda twin previously.

It's not a sports engine but one designed and specifically tuned for real world speeds and conditions. The additional benefits of the NM4's 10 percent engine capacity increase over the 670 cc motor used in the NX700 and CTX700 have resulted not in greater peak horsepower (as is customary with engine capacity increases), but in a punchier lower range, with peak torque of 68 Nm produced at just 4,750 rpm.

One final thought on the Vultus engine. While traditional motorcyclists might scoff at its less than sporting performance in comparison to the extreme sports motorcycles in the same capacity class, it is interesting to compare the NM4's engine performance with Honda's most famous motorcycle, the CB750, a motorcycle generally regarded as the first "superbike."

In terms of horsepower, the CB750 produced 50 kW @ 8,000 rpm, which is 24 percent more peak horsepower than NM4's 40.3 kW at a slightly more modest 6,250rpm.

The visual creative spark for the NM4 was catalysed by the futuristic bikes seen in the anime and manga comic book, television and film style. Known collectively as “Japanimation”, both genres have long been very grown-up entertainment in Japan, woven into the fabric of society. Now, the philosophy, attitude, fashion and feeling have spread worldwide and have become a mainstream phenomena.
The visual creative spark for the NM4 was catalysed by the futuristic bikes seen in the anime and manga comic book, television and film style. Known collectively as “Japanimation”, both genres have long been very grown-up entertainment in Japan, woven into the fabric of society. Now, the philosophy, attitude, fashion and feeling have spread worldwide and have become a mainstream phenomena.

In terms of torque, the NM4's 68 Nm @ 4,750 rpm is 13 percent more than the CB750's 60 Nm @ 7,000 rpm, and it produces that grunt much lower in the rev range.

In the real world, most CB750s averaged around 35-40 mpg and that is where the biggest single performance difference can be seen between the two – the NM4 delivers better than 80 mpg. That's miserly scooter-like gas-pump-performance from a motorcycle capable of outperforming any car this side of $100,000, and it'll easily leave a supercar behind without ever raising its revs beyond that torque-laden mid-range.

The NM4 is a rare motorcycle designed with a surfeit of common sense – a motorcycle for the real world. It might not cut superbike lap times, but in its natural habitat, it will be a far nicer traveling companion.

The NM4 Vultus comes standard with Honda’s DCT, which delivers consistent, seamless gear changes. DCT uses two clutches: one for start-up and 1st, 3rd and 5th gear, the other for 2nd, 4th and 6th, with the mainshaft of one clutch located inside the other for compactness. Each clutch is independently controlled by its own electro-hydraulic circuit. When a gear change occurs, the system pre-selects the target gear using the clutch not in use. The first clutch is then electronically disengaged as the second clutch engages. The result is a consistent, fast and seamless gear change.
The NM4 Vultus comes standard with Honda’s DCT, which delivers consistent, seamless gear changes. DCT uses two clutches: one for start-up and 1st, 3rd and 5th gear, the other for 2nd, 4th and 6th, with the mainshaft of one clutch located inside the other for compactness. Each clutch is independently controlled by its own electro-hydraulic circuit. When a gear change occurs, the system pre-selects the target gear using the clutch not in use. The first clutch is then electronically disengaged as the second clutch engages. The result is a consistent, fast and seamless gear change.

3-2 Honda's Dual Clutch Transmission

Honda has been seeking to make motorcycling simpler for a long time. It produced automatic versions of its 400 cc twin and 750 cc four cylinder road machines for a brief period in the late 1970s and I spent a week on the CB750A at that time and loved it. With an powerband restacked for low-range torque and two-speed Hondamatic gear-changing, it was simplicity personified – twist-and-go and enjoy the ride.

Even then, the trends Honda was watching in the United States car market suggested that motorcycles would one day be automatic, as automatic transmissions were taking over from stick-shifts in cars. Humans want simplicity it seems and by 1976 when Honda launched its automatic motorcycles, two thirds of new car sales were fitted with an automatic transmission.

The current percentage of new car sales in America with automatic transmissions is 92.5 percent. The staunchly traditional motorcycle marketplace did not however, feel the same way about the idea of an automatic motorcycle in the 1970s and the Honda CB750A only garnered a few thousand sales. It was shelved and it was another three decades before the Honda DN-01 emerged with another automatic. The DN-01's "Human Friendly Transmission" was a CVT, but regardless of what mechanisms it used to do its job, it was an automatic.

The Dual Clutch Transmission is different though. It uses two clutches: one for first, third and fifth gears, the other for second, fourth and sixth, with the mainshaft for both clutches concentric, and each independently controlled by its own electro-hydraulic circuit. When a gear change occurs, the system pre-selects the target gear using the clutch not currently in use. The first clutch is then electronically disengaged as, simultaneously, the second clutch engages.

Honda spent a lot of money and time developing its own DCT. It's the only motorcycle currently in production that uses a DCT, though quite a few manufacturers use dual clutch transmissions in their performance cars. Numerous models from Ferrari, Audi and Porsche, plus supercars such as the Bugatti Veyron, Lamborghini Huracan, McLaren MP4-12C, Mercedes SLS AMG, BMW M3, Nissan GT-R, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X use dual clutch transmissions and Lotus has just applied for a patent for a simplified DCT. With a list of DCT devotees of such quality, Honda's efforts in developing the only motorcycle DCT in existence seem more than justified. A DCT does it faster and more efficiently and smoother. Q.E.D.

Remarkably, the DCT fitted to the Vultus is already Honda's second generation motorcycle DCT, the first being fitted to the 2009 VFR1200F.

The Honda DCT offers three modes of gear changing - automatic twist-and-go in D and S mode, plus a trigger-operated computer-game-style manual MT mode - similar to the paddle gear-changes on a Formula One car and quite different to the foot-pedal operated sequential gearbox of a traditional motorcycle. In MT mode, the gears are shifted manually using the left index finger to shift up and the thumb to shift down
The Honda DCT offers three modes of gear changing - automatic twist-and-go in D and S mode, plus a trigger-operated computer-game-style manual MT mode - similar to the paddle gear-changes on a Formula One car and quite different to the foot-pedal operated sequential gearbox of a traditional motorcycle. In MT mode, the gears are shifted manually using the left index finger to shift up and the thumb to shift down

Traditional motorcycle enthusiasts love to pedal a manual gearbox, loading up the gear shift lever and flicking the throttle off momentarily for a fast gear change under acceleration. The irony is that novices will be able to change gears faster and smoother on the NM4 because the co-ordination of swapping cogs efficiently is done with technology, not with human clumsiness. Put two riders of equal weight, reflexes and co-ordination on two otherwise identical bikes, one with a manual gearbox and one with DCT, and the rider of the DCT bike will be faster over a quarter mile. Similarly, when hurtling into a corner and downshifting under brakes, enthusiasts love the challenge of getting it right by blipping the throttle and matching the revs to avoid the rear wheel chirping, as there's nothing quite like mastering a big motorcycle to make you feel king of the universe. Beginners will be able to achieve the same feeling and results without the same degree of riding expertise on the NM4 – another reason enthusiasts will hate it.

The DCT delivers a quick, smooth, consistent, seamless gear change conducted by a computer that is better than any human can orchestrate with a clutch, throttle and shift-pedal ... every time, no brainpower required. As the transmission transfers drive from one gear to the next with infinitesimal interruption of the power to the rear wheel, there is no gear change shock, and pitching of the machine is minimized, making the change feel direct as well as smooth.

The NM4 does not have a clutch lever or shift pedal. The Honda DCT offers three modes of gear changing – automatic twist-and-go in D and S mode, plus a trigger-operated computer-game-style manual MT mode – similar to the paddle gear-changes on a Formula One car and quite different to the foot-pedal operated sequential gearbox of a traditional motorcycle.

In MT mode, the gears are shifted manually using the left index finger to shift up and the thumb to shift down. This can even be employed to use engine braking to stabilize the bike on the entry into a corner. As it has two clutches, the NM4's power is delivered to the rear wheel without a break, and downshifts are seamless.

The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.
The digital dash of the NM4 changes colour depending on the drive mode selected, with subtle colour changes from Neutral (white) through D (blue) to S (pink), ultimately to MT (red). The rider can choose one colour from five other tonal ranges of each colour - 25 individual colours altogether.

Automatic D mode is ideal for city riding, and offers the best fuel economy. Automatic S mode is sportier and the ECU lets the engine rev higher before shifting up and shifts down sooner when decelerating for extra engine braking. In either D or S mode, the DCT offers manual intervention – the rider simply selects the required gear using the up and down shift triggers on the left handlebar. It's not immediate, but soon after you've told it you want to go up or down a gear, it will shift seamlessly into that gear. Thanks to engine mapping and a well-programmed ECU, the DCT is designed to seamlessly revert back to automatic mode when it decides the excitement is over, using a number of parameters (throttle opening, vehicle speed and gear position) to make that decision. If you're a purist or a control freak, the Vultus will piss you off big time.

Furthermore, in D mode, the DCT system detects variations in rider input typical to certain environments, from busy urban streets to mountain switchbacks, and adapts its gear change schedule accordingly to create an extra level of riding compatibility. Motorcycling newbies raised on game systems will love these adaptive features, traditionalists will not.

The Vultus' compact 745cc liquid-cooled, SOHC 8-valve parallel twin-cylinder engine is a very usable, fuel-efficient and clean powerplant. The relatively long-stroke architecture and specially shaped combustion chambers combine with a heavier-than-normal crankshaft to produce strong torque from very low down in the rev range, and punchy low-to-mid range performance: Peak power is 40.3 kW at 6,250rpm, with a meaty peak 68Nm of torque at just 4,750rpm - right where you need it for drivability.
The Vultus' compact 745cc liquid-cooled, SOHC 8-valve parallel twin-cylinder engine is a very usable, fuel-efficient and clean powerplant. The relatively long-stroke architecture and specially shaped combustion chambers combine with a heavier-than-normal crankshaft to produce strong torque from very low down in the rev range, and punchy low-to-mid range performance: Peak power is 40.3 kW at 6,250rpm, with a meaty peak 68Nm of torque at just 4,750rpm - right where you need it for drivability.

3-3 Honda's combined brake system and dual-channel anti-lock brakes

Stopping a motorcycle is a difficult business for the uninitiated. Unlike with automobiles where you simply press one pedal to operate all four brakes, motorcycles usually have independent braking – one brake for the front wheel, controlled with the right handlebar lever, and one for the rear wheel, controlled with the right foot. Curiously, the brake on the right handlebar lever must be operated with the same hand as the throttle twist-grip, which is also on the right handlebar – one of those "we've always done it that way" design throwbacks which would not pass muster in usability testing these days. The majority of braking on a motorcycle, around 70-80 percent, is done with the front wheel, though the rear is important in stabilizing the bike and reducing the forward pitching under heavy braking.

This forward pitching under braking changes the geometry, and can catch an inexperienced rider out, and though an experienced rider can vary the braking power applied to each wheel for the best results in different conditions, it's a minefield for newbies. With long travel suspension and powerful brakes, controlling a motorcycle in a crash stop situation on slippery road surfaces has brought many a newbie to their knees (and hands and face).

Honda's Combined Brake System aims to automatically generate an ideal balance of braking power to each wheel, achieving expert level braking with one hand. Once more, it does so with no brainpower required.

Yes, Vale, Jorge and Marc are better with two independent brakes, but there are only two problems: most riders are nowhere near as good as the aforementioned, and all riders like to think they are. Automating the difficult and critical bits of riding a motorcycle makes sense, and stopping a motorcycle is a critical business because the human body is both frail and vulnerable, particularly at speed on a motorcycle. This is indeed a matter of life and death.

Honda's combined braking systems only employ one front disk for some reason (presumably a logical one) despite the seemingly obvious engineering benefits of two front discs generating symmetrical forces through the fork legs. I'm prepared to back that Honda's single front 320 mm disc, two-piston brake caliper set-up and single rear 240 mm disc and single-piston caliper with the aforementioned technological cunning applied, are more than up to the task.

The Honda NM4-2 (left) and Vultus NM4-1 (right) on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)
The Honda NM4-2 (left) and Vultus NM4-1 (right) on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show(Photo: Stephen Clemenger)

3-4 The recumbent feet-forward riding position

Like almost every idea under the sun, there is "prior art" regarding recumbent feet-first seating positions but not from a manufacturer with gravitas. Most feet-forward motorcycle manufacturers (Quasar, Alligator, Ner-a-car, Acerbion, Swiss Zerotracer, ad infinitum) have sold dozens of motorcycles. Honda sells 22 million motorcycles a year.

Not one recumbent (feet-forward) motorcycle has ever never seen mass production. Until now! The Vultus is the closest motorcycle yet to the "feet forward" definition. Honda has indicated the Vultus will be available to buy this year (2014), and Honda doesn't do small production runs, so the new Vultus might well influence the form-factor of the motorcycle in a big way if its distinctive aesthetics catch on.

The existing bikes which will most likely be seen as the NM4's competition: Aprilia's SRV850 at top left, then clockwise, BMW's C 650 GT, Yamaha's T-Max 530 and Suzuki's Burgman 650
The existing bikes which will most likely be seen as the NM4's competition: Aprilia's SRV850 at top left, then clockwise, BMW's C 650 GT, Yamaha's T-Max 530 and Suzuki's Burgman 650

The Vultus has the most pronounced feet-forward riding position yet seen on a mass production motorcycle and a very low seat height of just 650 mm. By comparison, the Suzuki Burgman’s seat height is 755 mm, the Aprilia RSV 850’s seat is 780mm high, the Yamaha T-Max 530’s seat height is 800 mm and the BMW 650 GT runs to 805 mm, and they are all bikes that have paid a lot of attention to getting a very low seat height in the first place. Motorcycles are another level of seat height above the scooters.

The NM4's seat also has a built-in back-rest for the rider, completing the seating position in a non-conventional way – its angle can be adjusted through three positions and it slides backwards or forwards 25mm through four settings, so "cockpit comfort" can be fine-tuned
The NM4's seat also has a built-in back-rest for the rider, completing the seating position in a non-conventional way – its angle can be adjusted through three positions and it slides backwards or forwards 25mm through four settings, so "cockpit comfort" can be fine-tuned

The NM4's seat also has a built-in back-rest for the rider, completing the seating position in a non-conventional way – its angle can be adjusted through three positions and it slides backwards or forwards 25mm through four settings, so "cockpit comfort" can be fine-tuned.

Non-traditional technologies and shapes haven't sold all that well in the past, but there are now growing imperatives for motorcycle manufacturers to begin melding car-like feature sets with their motorcycles for non-enthusiast riders, and we're likely to see more non-traditional motorcycles like the Vultus appearing in the not-too-distant future. Yamaha and Suzuki have shown many concept bikes in a similar mold, but none apart from the Yamaha Maxam Morphous ever saw production – the Morphous lasted just two years on the showroom floor before it was shelved.

Top images: Honda's new 750cc Vultus NM4. Bottom row: Honda's 750cc Elysium, 750cc Griffon and 900cc E4-01 concepts. The Vultus is designed for the next generation motorcyclist, with a very low seat, recumbent riding position, and ease-of-use foremost. As can be seen from its concept bikes (more inside), Honda has been gauging opinion as to when to embody these ideas into a production motorcycle for decades. Do not discount the possibility the Vultus will be offered with an optional Elysium-style roof within one or two model updates
Top images: Honda's new 750cc Vultus NM4. Bottom row: Honda's 750cc Elysium, 750cc Griffon and 900cc E4-01 concepts. The Vultus is designed for the next generation motorcyclist, with a very low seat, recumbent riding position, and ease-of-use foremost. As can be seen from its concept bikes (more inside), Honda has been gauging opinion as to when to embody these ideas into a production motorcycle for decades. Do not discount the possibility the Vultus will be offered with an optional Elysium-style roof within one or two model updates

On this point, the low seat height and the angle of the Vultus windscreen suggest to me that a folding roof is the next logical step for the Vultus if it gains acceptance and begins selling. The seat is low enough to accommodate a rider under a roof line which continued onwards from the screen (as with the Elysium concept it showed at Tokyo Motor Show in 2001), and it would be the final factor that would complete a two-wheeler capable of delivering car-like weather protection. Honda has indicated that a taller screen will be available as an option for the Vultus/NM4 though it has not been shown at this stage. A taller screen could facilitate an even better roof line.

This article will no doubt generate a bit of controversy about whether the Vultus actually constitutes a feet-forward motorcycle, so we've used the term recumbent motorcycle as much as possible to try to focus on the issues.

The Vultus' instrument panel plays the "fighter pilot" cockpit metaphor to the full - it is viewed from a much lower angle than normal due to the lower seat height, is wider than normal, the digital instruments are outlined with LED lights, and the central display changes colour depending on the mode deployed.
The Vultus' instrument panel plays the "fighter pilot" cockpit metaphor to the full - it is viewed from a much lower angle than normal due to the lower seat height, is wider than normal, the digital instruments are outlined with LED lights, and the central display changes colour depending on the mode deployed.

The Vultus sits somewhere between a normal maxi-scooter and a full feet-forward motorcycle. Malcolm Newell, inventor of the Qasar and feet-forward design evangelist, after being continually asked if choppers were feet-forward motorcycles, proposed a definition that feet-forward motorcycles should have "a seat base less than 20 inches (500 mm) from the ground."

By Newell's definition, the Vultus' 650 mm seat height means the Vultus is not a feet-forward motorcycle, even allowing 50-100 mm of padding on top of its v-shaped seat base. It is however, significantly closer to Newell's definition than anything before it from a major manufacturer, and Newell's definition is largely arbitrary anyway, perhaps motivated by a wish to ensure his futuristic designs didn't fall into the same category as customized choppers.

Hence the Vultus seat height will be greatly appealing to the large population of existing scooter riders in Asia who are getting wealthier faster than the rest of the world. By comparison with existing traditional motorcycles, the Vultus will be a lot easier to control at the traffic lights for smaller riders, and with the pillion seat which flips up into an adjustable backrest, Honda’s claims of a “fighter pilot” seating position seem well founded.

A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions.
A detailed study by Belgian consultancy Transport & Mobility Leuven has found that a slight shift in traffic composition from cars to motorcycles significantly reduces traffic congestion and emissions.

4 - The imperatives of convergence

Aware that the world of personal transportation is changing globally due to ever-increasing fuel prices and traffic congestion, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki have all been exploring the right formula for new models that will attract more customers from the potentially much larger non-enthusiast segment with concept models offering more comfort, ease-of-use, economy, safety and weather-protection.

From top left clockwise: Yamaha's Gen-Ryu Hybrid Concept (2005), Yamaha's Luxair Hybrid Concept (2007), Suzuki's G-Strider Concept (2003) and Yamaha's Maxam 3000 Concept (2005) all explored feet-first riding positions
From top left clockwise: Yamaha's Gen-Ryu Hybrid Concept (2005), Yamaha's Luxair Hybrid Concept (2007), Suzuki's G-Strider Concept (2003) and Yamaha's Maxam 3000 Concept (2005) all explored feet-first riding positions

The imperative to begin pushing the boundaries of luxury motorcycle design has been increased in recent times with automotive companies beginning to develop new types of three- and four-wheeled vehicles with smaller footprints and vastly improved fuel economy, so the race is now on to provide viable transportation options in the middle ground between the car and the motorcycle.

Since Nicholas Negroponte first came up with his landmark teething ring visualization of the coming together of communication, computing and content, the term convergence has become the uber buzzword. Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate.
Since Nicholas Negroponte first came up with his landmark teething ring visualization of the coming together of communication, computing and content, the term convergence has become the uber buzzword. Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate.

Since Nicholas Negroponte first came up with his landmark teething ring visualization of the coming together of communication, computing and content, the term convergence has become the uber buzzword.

Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate. This is Nissan's LandGlider - a prime example of the convergence of the car and the motorcycle
Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate. This is Nissan's LandGlider - a prime example of the convergence of the car and the motorcycle

Now the convergence of the personal transport industry we discussed in detail in Narrow Track Vehicles is beginning to accelerate.

Narrow track four-wheelers will begin to encroach on motorcycle sales over the next decade as vehicles such as Toyota's i-Road, Yamaha's Gordon Murray-designed Motiv, Volkswagen's L1 and Renault's Twizy offer smaller road footprints and frugal economy, with weather and driver protection
Narrow track four-wheelers will begin to encroach on motorcycle sales over the next decade as vehicles such as Toyota's i-Road, Yamaha's Gordon Murray-designed Motiv, Volkswagen's L1 and Renault's Twizy offer smaller road footprints and frugal economy, with weather and driver protection

Many more miniature, narrow-track cars with electric power trains are coming to market over the next few years. From top left clockwise, Toyota's COMS, Nissan's Mobility Concept, Honda's MC-β and Renault's new Twizy Cargo
Many more miniature, narrow-track cars with electric power trains are coming to market over the next few years. From top left clockwise, Toyota's COMS, Nissan's Mobility Concept, Honda's MC-β and Renault's new Twizy Cargo

The biggest single threat to motorcycling's urban mobility advantage is Toyota's i-Road. It's electric, it tilts and is hence loads of fun to drive, and it's so easy to drive that any car driver can drive it straight away
The biggest single threat to motorcycling's urban mobility advantage is Toyota's i-Road. It's electric, it tilts and is hence loads of fun to drive, and it's so easy to drive that any car driver can drive it straight away

Car makers are attempting to downsize their vehicles to make them better suited to the world’s increasingly crowded roads, and motorcycle makers are trying to combine the crucial missing elements from the motorcycle to make them suitable for sophisticated consumers in technologically-advanced countries.

Once you have experienced the creature comforts crammed into the automobile, moving to the current crop of two-wheelers is going to be difficult, particularly for those who do not wish to be exposed to the weather and physical danger of riding a two-wheeler in predominantly car-centric environments.

In summary

The NM4 appears to finally consummate the long-standing efforts of the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer toward designing motorcycles with greater ease-of-use so it can attract to a new generation of rider considering two-wheels for its low cost-of-ownership (primarily fuel consumption) and the ability of a narrow-track vehicle with a small footprint to ride through the ever-increasing traffic congestion on our roads.

Clarification re the name of the Vultus NM4

Announced at the Osaka Motorcycle Show, the press materials from different arms of the Honda empire appear to be conflicting about what to expect. Honda Europe has announced the Vultus as being produced only in black, while Honda’s Japanese headquarters is referring to the bikes as different models, dubbed NM4-1 and NM4-2 respectively, with one presented in pearlescent white and coming standard with integrated panniers in the rear.

Gizmag's Stephen Clemenger attended the Tokyo Motorcycle Show last weekend and reported that the name Vultus was not used by Honda in any context – all references to the bike were the black NM4-1 and white NM4-2.

Though Honda Japan is touting the bikes as different versions, the integration of carrying capacity appears to be the major, indeed, the only difference, and panniers will be optional on the all-black Vultus anyway. The images of the white prototype may hence be of a machine which doesn’t carry the name Vultus when it appears.

45 comments
P17
More horrible Japanese design...It looks great for urban transport, but essentially without a proper gear shift all it is a big scooter. Only the gravitationally challenged and disabled amongst us bikers would be seen on one. It looks so cheap, like all Japanese products, with cheap plastic and components built to a cost accountant's whims, not an engineer's. ugh, awful!!!
Windsor Wilder
It's a maxi- scooter with the engine moved off the swing arm. About time. Still a lousy riding position but try telling that to a Harley rider.
cptn
'... there's nothing quite like mastering a big motorcycle to make you feel king of the universe. Beginners will be able to achieve the same feeling and results without the same degree of riding expertise on the NM4 ...' Nope, no they won't. I don't doubt that beginners could go quicker with this system, but it would not be fun. The key is in 'mastering' -- if it was easy to get it right, there is no real reward. Nobody would gamble if they won every time. Sure, there are people who have no interest in mastering the machine, but they are by definition not enthusiasts, and are unlikely to shell out for something like this. I really struggle to see who this is aimed at. (And for the record, changing gears competently on a motorcycle isn't *that* hard, for God's sake...)
Nairda
If they want to penetrate the Asian market they need to make a two seat version.
Mel Tisdale
Thanks for a very informative article. I imagine that at some future date these machines will appear with two front wheels. As for its appeal to the average person, perhaps the demographic artwork showing Asia as having more people than the rest of the world combined says it all; that, and the deliberate design considerations around 5ft 7in rider height, of course. Oh, and we must not forget that in that part of the world motorcycles are already ubiquitous. Whilst traditionalists might be upset about this design, as some of the above comments clearly show, it is not meant for them. This is for the next generation, a generation that is already turning away from car use. This machine is only the first in a line of development that will take personal transport and make it fit the average 21st century person's requirements. These machines are going to have to communicate and respond to transport infrastructure, along with all other road users. Traditional machines will find their 'home' in museums and country fairs, along with horse-drawn farm machinery and steam driven road rollers. It looks like world leadership in personal transport is, along with commerce generally, moving eastwards. Oh well, "to everything a season, turn, turn turn ..."
Jason Catterall
Why is a motorcycle any less a motorcycle just because it's automatic?? Myopic was a great choice of word early on in this article: Lacking foresight or intellectual insight. My top 4 car driving experiences to date are my old Alfa Romeo 156 Selespeed, The BMW M3 SMG, the Audi TT DSG and my wife's Golf, also a DSG. These are all manual gearboxes, with automated clutches, either single or dual, exactly the same as this Honda. Being able to race through the gears, blip the throttle whilst down-changing flawlessly, holding gears on corners and not having a slushbox torque converter ruin the experience for me is one of the greatest advances in recent motoring history. Not having to depress the clutch pedal, whilst still maintaining full control is simply better. Which is why the top car and supercar manufacturers are providing them. Best of both worlds, with none of the downsides associated with mediocre driving skills. The future is coming and I for one can't wait. Bring it on.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
I love the technology in this machine: the DCT, the low-CG parallel twin, the fuel efficiency for the performance. The riding position, for all of Mike's verbal gymnastics to try to make it sound novel, is not that different from your average Shadow (the Phantom's seat height is listed at 25.8" - a mere 0.3" taller than this beast, and its certainly feet-forward - as Windsor Wilder mentions, "lousy", but yet, comfortable.) I go back to the huge blob of a fairing, the "maxi-scooter" look, and wonder at what is driving this ugly, seemingly wasteful, mass of plastic design. The anime-loving crowd here in the States doesn't seem like the sort to be able to shell out the big $ for this kind of non-essential toy - they come across to me as being too busy attending comic conventions and designing cosplay outfits. Video game playing convenience store clerks who can barely keep their rickety 50cc scooters alive, much less being "affluent" enough to toss a leg over this monstrosity. Would they even want to if they could? Given the funds, I'm betting a WRX or similar "drifter" hot rod sedan emblazoned with shiny LEDs would be more in their cross-hairs. So, for the US market, Honda, how about taking the tech in this drive-train and drop it into a classic cruiser chassis with hi-tech accents, much like you've done with the Fury, but at a cost-conscious level. Suzuki tried this with their Gladius and failed due to a style disconnect, I believe. If you can combine whatever current "cool" trend with twist-n-go ease of use, low cost and efficiency, you'll win. This is a commendable effort in that direction, but not likely to get much further than the very similar DN-01 here in the US.
VirtualGathis
This is aimed at folks who are not ossified "enthusiasts". It is aimed at people who are willing to embrace new concepts and don’t immediately throw up a little when words like “new” or “different” are included in a sentence. As such the American market will probably not be big for this machine. As they mentioned the Asian market is already accustomed to scooters so twist-n-go is normal as is the feet forward position so it’s not a huge stretch for them to like it. It is also not aimed at the enthusiast crowd who use them for pleasure rather than as a primary transportation. Manual gear shifting is not too challenging if the bike is operated on back roads and uncongested highways, stop and go traffic makes toe shifting a tremendous pain in the boot. As for the comment: "(And for the record, changing gears competently on a motorcycle isn't *that* hard, for God's sake...)" Try it in stop and go traffic jams sometime. I’ve been riding for close to 10 years with 5 of those commuter years. If there was one thing I would rip off the darn bike when I’m in a traffic jam it would be that fiddly gear shifter.
Jon A.
Pro tip: the term "Japanimation" has been disused since the early 90's because it can be parsed as "Jap Animation" which the Japanese would see as a racial slur.
SVdeC
Honda's NM4/Vultus is pretty ambitious, and very interesting. It reminds me most of Dan Gurney's "Gator". I'd give it a try, for sure. I bought a Honda Silverwing scooter seven or eight years ago. I sold it last year. I bought it because of the CVT. I SOLD it because of the CVT. I kept my old Suzuki because of the manual shift. My current car (smart for two) has an "automated" manual, with paddles for "manual" operation. It is a great, and reliable, system. It can work in a motorcycle, too, regardless of seat height. I really enjoy Gizmag! Thanks! Stephen Van de Castle