DOMINATOR MINOR HAS QUITE a reputation to live up to. Big bro is still
sitting pretty at the top of the big single chart, and identity sharing is a
risky business. How many times do you hear the sharp intake of breath followed
by, "oooh, you should have got the big one"?
Sportsters, Zephyrs and ZZ-Rs all benefit from extra cubes; it's only in the
trailie world that the reverse holds true. But can a bike giving away 400cc to
the supremely successful Dominator cut it in the metropolis?
The engine isn't lifted from the highly-rated, but strictly off-road, XR250;
it's a watercooled, electric-started jobbie which is alto-getheranore suited to
the big smoke. Kickstarting little singles isn't hard, but it's certainly boring
if you just want to get home. And tootling through traffic isn't the best
environment for small air-cooled engines. The radiator is very tidily hidden
under the Alienesque snout (and is such a good fit it makes me wonder whether
water-cooling's on the cards for the biggy).
The NX leaps away from the lights with cheerful abandon thanks to reasonable,
if slightly stuttery, low-down tug which turns into a most unsingular zip. The
ratios are more carefully thought out than the streetwise trailie norm and keep
the motor spinning at about the right speed for further progress (ie 4500rpm and
above). The redline is set at 8000 but doesn't need chasing too hard; tangible
power sits between five and seven thou and'll keep you ahead of the taxis.
Work up an enthusiasm with gas and gearbox and 70mph turns up before you'd
imagine. There isn't too much more on offer without a goodly run up, but since
bigger trailies spend forever getting beyond 80 this is no criticism.
So up to this point everything's going fine. We like the engine. There are
good things to come about the rest of the bike. However, in between the engine
and the rest of the bike is the paragraph marked "gearbox". I honestly can't
remember a bloody thing about the gearbox. Six speed? My dictaphone says so. It
also says, in a very cross voice, that the gearbox is "shit". I have no idea
why. Maybe it didn't work. I'm sorry, I really can't remember. You'll just have
to take it from my dictaphone that the NX250 gearbox is, for reason or reasons
Otherwise the bike works perfectly well, with the suspension earning an
honourable mention for being so fiendishly good at absorbing London. The MX-like
lightweight disc is grabbed smartly by the twin-pot caliper; used with the drum
rear brake (wot dat?) the anorexic NX pulls up suspiciously quickly.
Suspiciously? Trail tyres aren't supposed to let you brake like that, but the
Dunlop Trailmaxes must be special on this bike because they're in 19 and 16in
sizes. So Dunlop know darned well they're never going off road and can pour some
more glue into the mould.
That little front wheel, coupled with steep (25.5°) rake and 87mm of trail,
lets the NX jink like a startled rabbit if it needs to. Low speed stability is
helped by chopping off the lower frame rails and using the engine as a stressed
member, thus keeping the centre of gravity as low as it'll go. Combine all that
with a dry weight of 2661b, and turning around on full lock whilst hopping up a
kerb holding an ice cream becomes a way of life for the dedicated NX commuter.
That's the thing about this bike. Everything is easy. Even getting on it,
which isn't a forte usually associated with ten inches of Ground Clearance, is
ridiculously simple because somehow Honda sneaked the design past the off-road
division without them writing "37in" in the seat height box. Unfortunately a
slighted member of the dirt squad made it past the urbanites and wrote "make it
extremely uncomfortable" by the seat spec, which the dutiful Japs achieved with
Peeping closely at the NX250 rewards with cleverness and oddness in equal
measure. For every nice touch like the half-a-Domi-system silencer, there's a
nerdy plastic bash plate. To counter cunning design like the 24,000 mile valve
check interval there's a nine litre petrol tank to make sure you stop every 70
of those miles. The plastic-coated rack, easy-access fuse box and trick
lightweight battery sit at odds with the cheapo fasteners, flimsy gear-shifter
and gawky mirrors.
But then, the NX250 is primarily aimed at the Italian market, and they aren't
happy unless a couple of bits fall off. It's clear why the lovable Mediterranean
buys this bike; it's utterly suited to chuffing around their hideously congested
cities without overheating or shattering the rider's bone structure.
Over here in dismal Britain the nearest thing to it is the far more lunatic
TDR250. The NX doesn't deliver anything like the fun factor, but it's a lot more
practical. Since Yamaha aren't making TDRs anymore, you'd think there was a gap
in the market but Honda say no.
Which is where R. A.P steps in. As with an increasing number of importers,
R.A.P has service manuals and commonly used parts for all imported bikes, and
claims a four day delivery time for bigger items.
Maybe Honda are right not to bring in the NX250. Commuters are famously
staid, which is why we have such aesthetic delights as the GN250 and CB Two
Fifty. It would probably be another great non-seller alongside the Transalps of
our time. Shame that, because with its effortlessness and style it has to be one
of the best city bikes around. Against the Dominator? In town, no contest. The
lightweight takes it. □