Honda DN-01 first ride review

Is this what Judge Dredd will ride when he’s given up police work and gone utterly soft in his old age?

Click to read: Honda DN-01 owners reviews, Honda DN-01 specs and to see the Honda DN-01 image gallery.

Let’s cut to the chase. The DN-01 looks like nothing else on Earth. I like it. A lot. It will get you noticed and it is a vision of the future, with its organic, sweeping lines, pull back bars, single-sided swingarm, chunky rear hoop, and chilled-to-the-bone riding position.

Another big plus is the automatic transmission, which works brilliantly and is extremely fuss-free, giving a nod to its use with other machines in the Honda range, perhaps like the Pan European or Gold Wing.

In fact, there is so much to like and admire about the DN-01. It’s Honda’s take on a brave-new motorcycling world, and I can truly embrace that. Also, like premium quality Hondas before it, the attention to detail is truly astonishing and the quality and craftsmanship is second-to-none. Think Gold Wing, VFR and Pan when you think of the finish on this bike.

But what engine do they give this beautiful, rolling Turner Prize, with its ground-breaking looks and wallet-busting price?: The 680cc 52-degree V-twin from the Transalp and Deauville.

This is such a shame, it really is. Perhaps the motor will be more suited to moneyed ex-motorcyclists coming back into biking rather than hardened biking types, or people who want something practical and placid, instead of pert and performing? But flicking through the press gumpf of the DN-01, the term ‘Performance Cruiser’ is bandied about quite a lot. The aesthetic design of the DN-01 is futuristic, but the engine is one of the things that lets it down. Yes, the Transalp-derived motor is smooth (for a twin) well-developed and just about punchy enough for the job in-hand, but ‘Performance’ cruisers don’t just have to look good, they have to perform too: think Harley-Davidson V-Rod, or Suzuki M1800. Instead Honda gives this aesthetically amazing machine a lump, which lacks character and plain old ‘ooomph’ to be remotely considered ‘performance.’

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I know developing a completely new motor would have made the DN-01 even more expensive, but surely this gorgeous machine deserves a new and special motor under its flanks to match its looks? A V3 perhaps? A V5? Or a V6? Something that would produce a raucous sound to match the looks. Even something similar to the ‘old’ FireStorm, or SP2 detuned to 100bhp or less would give this machine the performance and punch it deserves.

If the motor is a bit of a misgiving, the transmission is not as Honda’s new HFT system works brilliantly. There’s not the sort of lag you would get on a ‘big’ scooter engine and you can also change modes to suit your riding style or mood. Drive is for normal use – and it’s great around town: just twist and go. Sport allows the auto ‘box to hang onto the revs a little longer, allowing you to zip along at a higher pace. If all this is too boring for you, then switch modes and go into ‘manual’ where you simply use the left thumb buttons to go up and down the gears at will. Even in manual mode, progress is smooth, impressive and lurch-free. During our sodden ride around Lake Como, manual mode proved to be perfect for safe overtakes – something that can be a little difficult to do on a scooter with a traditional twist-and-go transmission.

Riding the DN-01 is simple and natural. Only every now and again when you stop or go does your left hand cry out for the use of a clutch lever. Same goes for your left foot: only once did I fumble for the gear-lever, which – of course – isn’t there. When at a stand-still, you simply press a switch for neutral so you can park up, pulling the slightly awkward parking brake which is on the right-hand side of the bike.

Handling-wise the DN-01 feels very self-assured. It feels long and low, but despite the 270kg kerb weight, it handles nicely through fast sweeping bends. When you head into the urban landscape, things aren’t so good and you’re soon losing out to smaller, nippier scooters.

Brakes are excellent. Honda’s Combined Braking System works well on this sort of machine and the ABS performs superbly, too, especially considering the horrendous conditions of the launch, which were more akin to the launch of a ship than a motorcycle as you can see,

During our ride some niggles did annoy. The dash layout is futuristic and effective, showing speed, gearbox mode, fuel, clock and trip. There’s even a nice ‘revs’ bar which goes along the top of the display – right where you can’t see it if you’re anything over 5’8” tall… A higher screen would mean you could see it: bit of an oversight that.

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So it goes well enough, but why am I not convinced of Honda’s ‘Dream New’- 01? It’s simple. We in the UK simply have to pigeon-hole things. It’s in our nature. Just as we categorise entire nations and cultures so we have to do so  with cars and motorcycles. So what is the DN-01?

Attractive as it is to break the mould, the DN-01 defies pigeon-holing and it’s frustrating. With the auto ‘box, you could argue it’s like a big scooter – but then it has neither the carrying capacity or the nippyness of Honda’s own SH300i. As a ‘Performance Cruiser’ we’ve already seen that the engine lets it down somewhat and then as a comfortable tourer it simply doesn’t have the ‘legs’ as the tank only takes 15 litres.

During the launch Honda personnel were handing out questionnaires about what we thought about the bike/scooter/machine* (delete as applicable.) Is it that Honda want to know what the DN-01 is? Is this simply a rolling showcase for the excellent HFT system before its use on other bikes, or a definitive DN-02?

I guess the answer will be whether or not people out there will be willing to spend around £9,000 on something that looks as mental as this, but rides similarly to a large-capacity scooter, but without the benefits.

Optional extras include GPS, heated grips, Bluetooth connection to your phone and GPS, as well as speakers for your MP3 player. If the bike is so futuristic (and for this sort of money) then surely this should be as standard and merged into the whole design of the machine.

It’s also a shame the colours – Graphite Black and Pearl Amethyst Purple – hides the wonderful lines of the DN-01 somewhat.

In keeping with Honda’s lust for information about what the DN-01 is, my advice is this: paint it bright yellow, or maybe orange. Give the bike an electric screen. Stick an SP-2 lump in it and for the same price as the standard machine throw in the GPS and all the extras for nowt. That can be your performance cruiser. Then build a de-tuned version with a big fuel tank and contoured panniers that make the DN series a practical proposition. Then I will buy into your vision of the future.


Price: £9,000
Engine: 680cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin
Power: 60bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque: 47lb.ft @ 6000rpm
Front suspension: 41mm non adjustable
Rear suspension: monoshock, preload adjustable
Front brake: 296mm discs, three-piston calipers
Rear brake: 276mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 270kg (claimed)
Seat height:  690mm
Fuel capacity: 15.1l
Top speed: 110mph (est)
Colours: black, purple