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Honda NTV 650 Revere
HE NTV650 came too late to save Norman Lamont. While the ex-chancellor was packing his bags at Number 11, the turquoise Honda was rumbling quietly around the Northamptonshire countryside, pleasingly, practically, cheaply. If old Norm had known what an economic miracle this machine is he might have been inspired enough to come up with one of his own. In fact he might still be down at the off licence with his 20 Raffles instead of down the Job Centre with his P45.
I'd better explain. When first launched back in 1988 the then NTV600 Revere was priced at £3299 in a world full of £3799 CBR600s, £3199 Suzuki GSX600Fs and £2999 Dominators. Unsurprisingly perhaps, not that many people bought Honda Reveres.
Five years and 50 extra ccs on, the NTV's back and virtually identical to its forebear - with one important difference. While the latest CBR600 costs £5395, the newly-reintroduced NTV (because Honda isn't calling it the Revere any more) now retails at just £3295. Yes, four quid less than it was back in 1988! That's what I call economic progress; that's the sort of miracle that might have kept
Norman in a job and it's that which makes the new NTV a very different proposition than it was back in 1988.
The simple reason is the XJ600S Diversion. New from the ground up last year, Yamaha's budget-priced but attractive all-rounder was one of the sales successes of '92. It might never have quite set the earth on fire but, at £3719, so undercutting any other modern Jap middleweight by almost a grand, it did enough to take up residence in the top ten sales charts all year. In short, it proved there was a big market for affordable, adequate middleweights and, with Kawasaki now reintroducing the 1998-vintage GPX600 at £4140 too, Honda hasn't been the only one to latch on.
Like Kawa's GPX, the NTV is essentially the same bike it always was. To keep costs (and thus price) to a minimum it's lost a little of its class: cast aluminium bars have been replaced with chromed, one-piece tubular steel items; the main-stand is now an optional extra, the instrumentation is a little shoddier. But the meat and potatoes are just as worthy as they ever were. The old Revere was never a bad bike, just an overly expensive, somewhat dreary one.
At the best the rambling 600cc liquid-cooled V-twin has been supplanted by the over-bored version continental markets received a couple of years back and which nudges peak power up three gently strolling ponies from the original's 53bhp at 7500rpm. But it's still not much to write home about. The NTV's Transalp-derived, flexible-friend motor was never all about peaks. Instead, with single cam, three-valve heads that will hardly disturb anyone's picnic, it delivers a curdling, hiccup-free, elastic efficiency from below 2000rpm all the way through to eight which is perfect for keeping you moving, your left foot motionless and your adrenalin glands utterly redundant.
This is an engine that's been built to purr and potter all day between three and 6000rpm — and not a lot else. Carburation is crisp, roll-on throttle response is excellent and the cable clutch a pleasure to use. It's an extremely easy, friendly bike to ride and a perfect proposition, perhaps, for someone who's just passed his or her test. But put those sort of pleasantries and charm to one side and you'll struggle to find any sort of fire or brimstone escaping from its short-cut, fruity exhaust.
Stretch the throttle cable towards the red and the NTV is quickly wheezing like a granny on a treadmill. Stomp down through the crunchy gearbox to go for that three Vauxhall Cavalier overtake when it might be more prudent to opt for just two and you'll soon end up feeling just as flustered and panicky as the bike. Three figure speeds are never, really, an option; gunned hard, the gearbox shows a worrying tendency to drop out of third and sometimes refuses point blank to interface with top, especially with a pillion, and none of it, to my mind, is quite up to par for a modern, 650 roadster.
The chassis too shows the same kind of reluctance for jolly japery. The squidgily sprung, unadjustable forks and non-rising rate, Pro-Arm single shock at the rear give a gende, soothing, comfortable ride. Most of the weight is held reassuringly low and with its upright riding position, high-ish bars, taut twin-spar frame and full 119mm of trail the whole plot's stable enough for stress-free 60mph cruising yet with ample, easy leverage to steer around dopey pedestrians in the High Street. Most of the time, that is...
Go for a quick blast away from the urban sprawl and the NTV soon starts to resemble a frightened rabbit. While the fat, grippy Bridgestones, racy three-spoke cast aluminium wheels and decent ground clearance almost encourage such behaviour, virtually everything else about the NTV seems to be shouting 'Nooooooo!' So much so that you do too. The usually adequate single front disc/twin-pot Nissin caliper set-up is prone to fade and begins to need all the help it can get from the rear, the engine braking (of which it's got lots) and all your right-hand's fingers. Then stir in a few of the more interesting features of British country roads: off camber, tightening radius turns, loose or shiny surfaces and, best of all, crests and bumps, and, should you ever like to ride with more than a little gusto you'll quickly discover the full and violently animated definition of the word 'tankslapper'.
That said, the histrionics always stopped just there. The NTV was always controllable, always savable and, just as certainly, always needed absolutely bonkers behaviour on a piece of road I know better than the back of my willy to knock it out of shape in the first place. As soon as the bike started to duck and weave and shake its head in protest, the responsiveness of the engine and leverage of the bars let me calm things down again with a clench and a squeeze and a slight roll of the throttle. But I still think it could do with a steering damper. And any sort of damping at all in the forks would be nice.
None of which, realistically, I would mind too much, especially considering the worry-free shaft drive, maintenance-friendly automatic camchain tensioners, cartridge type oil filter, screw and lock-nut tappets and long service intervals, were it not for two things. The NTV is a very attractive utilitarian package. Being a Honda it's typically well-built; all the controls, the clean switchgear, handlebar-mounted choke and easily-twiddleable fuel tap are well thought out and accessible (although the mirrors could do with being a little wider). Its motor and chassis deliver in a comfortable, easy, fuss-free way — if a litde blandly. It's an excellent pillion carrier with a large grab rail and well-positioned pegs. And, last, but by no means least, at that price, it's undoubtedly a lot of motorcycle for your money.
I can even live with that revolting turquoise colour, seeing as a plain red or, more attractively, a moody black is available as an option (as are, incidentally, a pair of 30 litre panniers at £256.22, 40 litre panniers at ,£281.14, a luggage rack at £61.92 and the aforementioned centre stand at £12.12).
No, what irrevocably and ultimately leads me away from the NTV is: one; 80 miles or so of sustained 70-80mph touring is, thanks to the mushy seat and lack of fairing, a right pain in the bum and neck, even when the tank's good for 160 miles before reserve. And two: whatever the bike's worthiness and practicality, whatever its soft, rumbly appeal and whatever its newly-found value for money, the NTV still has about as much 'edge' as a jam doughnut.
Various people have tried all sorts of things to try to make the NTV interesting. Honda tried painting it a silly colour and giving it a price to match; I, on occasion, tried riding it like an RGV and editor Moore tried strapping a blonde in leather jeans to the back (which is a different story altogether). But, at the end of the day, sadly, I don't think it's been quite enough.
The NTV is a true all-rounder. It's nice, it's pleasant, it's sensible and it's practical. In fact it's all those words parents spout on about cars when teenagers start mentioning the word 'motorcycle'. You could strap Naomi Campbell to the pillion wearing only leather shorts and 'come get me eyes' and I'd still struggle to get excited about the NTV. So if you want excitement go for a 550 Zephyr, a Diversion or, better still, the bike the NTV always should have been, the lighter, faster, better-suspended delight known in the US as the 650 Hawk, in Japan as the 650 Bros (see BIKE, March 1991) and in grey import emporiums throughout the UK from as little as £2500. Because all of those have what the NTV lacks, and that's edge. □
Source Bike 1993