General

In search of excitement with a Deauville

Courting death, danger and drudgery, Urry dons a heart monitor to see if Honda's vapid but virtuous NT700V Deauville can raise a beat

The Honda Deauville. Not a name to instil excitement.

"What do you ride?"

"A Deauville, baby. Want to hop on and see the world?"

"Err, no thanks. I'd rather take the bus."

But what is it that gives a bike such a reputation? Why do so many perceive riding Honda's do-it-all workhorse as a mind-numbing experience? Take the name - Deauville is a French seaside town (think Blackpool with frogs' legs and 'embrassez-moi vite' hats), and the name is a little too close to 'Dullsville' for the wags not to pick up on.

Then there's the colour. Beige. A bike should never, ever, be available in beige. Okay, Honda tries to pretend it isn't really beige by calling it 'dusk beige', but beige is beige, no matter what you call it. And as for the styling... Hardly inspirational, is it?

But can riding one really be so uninspiring? These things sell well, so what do owners get out of them? There must be a way of finding excitement on a Deauville so, in an effort to either quash or confirm the Honda's reputation, I set out on a week of discovery armed with a Deauville and a heart rate monitor.

Setting a baseline

Peak heart rate: 80bpm Average heart rate: 68bpm

Heart rate monitor strapped to my manly chest and it's time to see what my resting rate is. A cold beer and a seat outside in the sun should be enough to calm me right down. Setting a gentle 68bpm it strikes me I have no idea what a good heart rate actually is. Has a regime of curry and no exercise turned the old ticker into a ticking bomb? That 68 sounds quite high to me, and with these thoughts it's increasing to 80! A call to a sporty mate reassures me I'm not on the brink of a quadruple bypass and everything is okay. Relaxing again I eye my Fosters: might have to move off the Aussie champagne to a more healthy Bud light. Or I could eat less. I'll think about it over another beer.

Pillion ride with Whitham

Pillion ride with Whitham

Peak heart rate: 168bpm Average heart rate: 145bpm

Within two corners I'm convinced we're screwed. By the third I'm rigid with fear and by the fourth I'm adopting the crash position. This was a stupid idea - I'm a nervous pillion at the best of times, but this is taking it to extremes. Extremes I don't want to be at. I want my mum.

"Just a couple of laps, nothing too fast," I said to James. But that's obvioulsy not what he heard. Before getting on the bike I pointed out its lack of ground clearance and asked if James wanted to go for a few laps on his own. He didn't.

Accelerating out of the Donington Park pit lane James is using the throttle like a switch. An on/off switch, not the nice dimmer type. As he's wrenching it open he's casually looking around, seemingly uninterested in the fact we are very rapidly - and I never thought I'd use that word in relation to a Deauville - approaching Redgate. Then he brakes. No gentle braking, instead we go from flat out to full-on braking in an instant as I attempt to rip the Honda's pillion grab rails from their mountings. Still braking hard he slings the bike from upright to scraping something solid, and continues to scrape all the way through the corner. Fear is now gripping me. Through Hollywood and into Craner Curves we're flat out, and at every corner there's the clatter of metal being ground away.

Approaching the Old Hairpin it dawns on me I've forgotten to mention to James that the Deauville has ABS. ABS doesn't like you to brake and turn at the same time, and it often lets the brakes off if you try. James is currently braking like a mad man and turning into the Old Hairpin, hard. Then something happens. It feels like the bike slides about two metres and I honestly, actually prepare to bail out. All I can see is kerb and gravel, and I'm

having visions of panniers and a topbox being thrown in all directions as a Deauville cartwheels itself into oblivion through the gravel trap. Oddly, James doesn't seem as bothered as I am. There's some more scraping and, by some miracle, we make it through the corner. At this point I glance over and spot one of the track marshals riding alongside us. He's gesticulating to Whitham to go faster. I now hate this man. James doesn't need any form of encouragement and yet here is is getting some from a marshal. He later admitted he was only following us becuase he was convinced we were going to crash. Around Coppice my right foot gets knocked off the footrest - the bike is so far over James almost has both sets of pegs down.

We're using Donington's National circuit, so Goddards is a slow speed right/left flick. Again lots of scraping, but this time something more solid goes down and forces us wide. Up on the kerb again, back on the track and we're on the start/finish straight. Only another four laps of this to endure.

James' verdict on the Old Hairpin incident? "I knew we'd make it but something wasn't quite right." My pulse is through the roof and I'm still shaking five minutes after we eventually pull in.

Solo track action

Solo track action

Peak heart rate: 145bpm Average heart rate: 122bpm

Deauvilles aren't built for track use. Even Honda describes the bike's performance as "strong yet not overwhelming". I wasn't expecting much, and I wasn't disappointed.

Lining up with the assorted sportsbikes in Donington's pit lane, I felt a little out of place. For some reason none of the other riders had thought to fit panniers and top boxes. Odd. Anyway, off we go. I give it a lap to warm the tyres, but not that I really need bother. A degree or two off vertical and the pegs go down.

One lap in and I've almost managed to see 120mph on the speedo going down the Dunlop Straight. The Deauville is

struggling to go any faster and the corner is still a way off. In a game but mildly pathetic attempt to gain extra speed I duck down behind the screen, then realise it makes absolutely no difference to the aerodynamics and I just look stupid. I notice the miles per litre on-board fuel consumption calculator is indicating '4.6', or 20.9 miles per gallon. What would the Greenies say?

Every time I come to a straight sportsbikes fly past as the 680cc twin gently accelerates along, but I have a secret weapon: Honda's Combined Braking System, and ABS. In the two hard braking areas - into Goddards and then Redgate - I simply stamp on the rear and grab the front for all my worth. It seems to work, and I manage to make up all the distance I lost on the straights.

Cornering is an interesting process. The Honda doesn't handle that badly; in fact it's quite good. And that turned out to be a bit of a problem. After a few laps this little devil appeared on my shoulder, urging me to go faster and faster. I really do wish I had some self-control when it comes to bikes. The problem is I really enjoy riding inappropriate bikes fast, especially on track. It's funny, and the Deauville fits this bill perfectly. Despite feeling that I was on the edge of a massive accident at almost every corner I just kept lapping faster and faster on the Honda, and scaring myself, and giggling, even more. Bearing in mind this was one of the hottest days of the year it wasn't surprising that after 20 minutes of a session the suspension was feeling more than a little tired and the tyres were fairly fried, but for some reason that little devil refused to let me pull in until the chequered flag. So is the Deauville a track day sleeper and sports bike giant killer? No, not really, but actually a lot of fun in an out-of-control sort of way, and with a hint of added danger.

Motorway miles

Motorway miles

Peak heart rate: 84bpm Average heart rate: 70bpm

I've been doing a steady 80mph for the last hour and my heart thinks I'm sat at home in front of the TV. I'm not sure if this is a compliment to the comfort levels of the Deauville or a sign of how dull the combination of a motorway and the Honda is. The only form of amusement I can find is looking at how the miles per litre readout changes when rolling off the throttle behind a lane hog. For those that are interested, an indicated 80mph delivers 10.4 miles per litre - that's 47mpg. I'm bored and my mind has switched to autopilot, so much so that I don't notice the fuel gauge is in the red. The slight leap in heart rate is when I spot this and panic. My hear rate soon drops again.

The Honda does an easy 160-plus miles to a full tank of fuel, but it really does need a fuel warning light as I never spotted the gauge was reading low.

Getting knocked off

Peak heart rate: 123bpm Average heart rate: 80bpm

The lights turn green and suddenly I'm shooting forward at about10mph. Great, but I haven't actually let the clutch out yet, and the crunching sound a fraction of a second before I started accelerating wasn't a good sign.

Embarrassing as it is, I got out-accelerated off a set of traffic lights by a Nissan Micra driven by an Irish lady. Or possibly she's more practiced at racing starts than me. Getting beaten away from the lights isn't usaully a problem, unfortunately in this case she drove straight into the back of me.

I'm guessing the peak heart rate of 123bpm was caused by the adrenalin, which I'm certain also helped me lift 260kg of Deauville upright, unassisted, before I had really worked out what had happened. Top marks to the Honda though. The pannier picked up a slight scrape, as did the exhaust, but the crash bar, hidden neatly behind a plastic cover, did a great job of protecting the rest of the bike.

Commuting entertainment

Commuting

Peak heart rate: 91bpm Average heart rate: 79bpm

Commuting is a stressful pursuit at the best of times. A whole host of factors combine to try your patience. On the Deauville the sticky-out mirrors soon get me frustrated as I can't zip through a gap I could on my GSX-R600 without battering the hell out of cars' mirrors. But that's the pay off you get for having mirrors that actually show what's going on behind. Well, until speed gets above 70mph and the vibrations render them useless, that is.

Usually I can entertain myself with an occasional wheelie; not a chance of this on the Honda. Strangely enough I can't help but notice the number of Deauvilles on the road. They're bloody everywhere, and all look the same. I catch one older-model rider eyeing mine up, obviously impressed by the extra 33cc the 2006 bike gets. I bet his heart rate raced at seeing the new model. Meanwhile, mine hasn't.

Gentleman's entertainment

Peak heart rate: 127 bpm Average heart rate: 111bpm

I've tried, but can think of absolutely no justification for why I used the Deauville to blag a free lap dance, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time. I imagine my peak heart rate was when a set of freshly talcum-powdered bosoms were thrust into my face, and the higher than average heart rate was due to the beat of the thumping, up-tempo background music. Honest. As for the Honda, it provided the perfect motorcycling equivalent of a cold shower on the way home. I would like to take this chance to point out that I did this purely for journalistic research and didn't enjoy myself at all. Not one bit of it.

Jet Ski

Jet Ski

Peak heart rate: 130bpm Average heart rate: 117bpm

Seventy miles an hour doesn't seem that fast. In fact, on the Deauville it was hardly enough to raise my heart rate above sitting on the sofa, but when you're doing 70 across a lake it suddenly takes on a new meaning. Kawasaki's monstrous big-bored, ZX-12R engined (yes, 150bhp on water) Jet Ski proved it doesn't really matter how fast you're going, it's where you do it that counts. On the Deauville, 70mph on a straight motorway failed to top 95bpm on my ticker, yet the Jet Ski had it peaking at 130bpm as I headed in a fairly uncontrolled fashion towards a wedge (technical term that, ask Bill Oddie) of startled swans. What would putting a Deauville engine in a Jet Ski do? Well, if a 1498cc ZX-12R motor making 150bhp can only just top 70mph, the Honda's 680cc and 65bhp is unlikely to out-run a lame duck.

Conclusion

Conclusion

So does Honda's Deauville deserve its reputation? Well, after spending a week with the Deauville and covering over 1000 miles I have to confess it's very capable. And that's the problem. It's not designed to excite or thrill, it's designed to be a steady, capable friend and workhorse that will see you through the job ahead, and for many buyers that will be all they're looking for.

But, and here is the big 'but', it lacks a spark. I can happily commute, tour and even do my weekly shopping on a GSX-R600, and it will still provide me some excitement during the ride that the Deauville simply can't. I ride bikes because they are a fun, exciting form of transport that also happens to be really good at avoiding queues. Take that fun factor out and there is a big hole to fill. As transport the Deauville does everything well, so we can't knock it, but as for the reputation? There's no smoke without fire.

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