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Honda XL 1000V Varadero ABS
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Up until recently that's been a fitting maxim for big bore adventure tourers in Australia, a category that - despite our country's vast space - has remained overshadowed by our preoccupation with sportsbikes and dirtbikes. However, over the last few years that's been changing, and since the McGregor-Boorman Long Way Round/Down-inspired revolution - and perhaps the ageing demographic of Aussie bikers - more and more riders have been switching on to big dual purpose machines.
Honda's Varadero isn't, however, a new machine. It first debuted back in 1999, but it quietly disappeared just two years later, its lacklustre sales sealing its fate Downunder. The model did, however, continue selling in a variety of overseas markets, and in 2003 it actually copped something of a makeover. The addition of electronic fuel injection, new styling and instrumentation, a six-speed gearbox, a tweaked chassis and suspension and a new adjustable screen represented the bulk of the updates, along with the introduction of myriad factory options (see listing below).
The 2009-spec Varadero we have before us now is largely unchanged from that 2003 revision, but Honda Australia will be hoping that this time around the market's taste has broadened, and there will be enough buyers out there willing to throw their dollars the 'Dero's way. Time will tell.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
Honda Australia doesn't quote any power or torque statistics for the Varadero, but Honda UK quotes 94hp at 7500rpm and 98Nm at 6000rpm. Rest assured that even with a wet weight of around 270kg, the big Varadero still has plenty of spring in its step.
The suspension is relatively basic, comprising a non-adjustable 43mm conventional fork up the front and a rear monoshock down the back, the latter adjustable for preload (via an easy-to-get-to wheel) and rebound (via a screwdriver).
The screen can be set in either a high or low position. Simply pop off the two rubber covers, and get to work with a screwdriver. The whole job takes just a few minutes.
Instrumentation comprises an analogue speedo and tacho, complemented by an LCD screen with a clock, two trip meters, an odometer and engine temperature function. An onboard computer can also calculate average fuel economy, and when you hit reserve on the sizeable 25lt tank, the trip meter flicks over to a 'kilometres-to-empty' display.
A lockable 'glovebox' compartment on the upper right portion of the fairing is a handy addition, and can house an optional 12v power socket - handy for an electric vest or a GPS. The sidestand features a decent base plate, but a centrestand is only available as an option.
The braking system comprises three three-piston Nissin calipers, with Honda's Dual Combined Braking System, and optional ABS. The DCBS sees partial application of the front brakes with the rear pedal, and vice versa.
The Varadero is priced at $17,990 plus ORC, or $18,990 plus ORC for the ABS version, and it's available in Pearl Concourse Black or Eclipse Orange Metallic, with a 24-month/unlimited kilometre warranty.
ON THE ROAD
With a lofty 838mm seat height it'll be stretch for some to hop aboard, and the fact it's a board perch does nothing to help you reach the ground when you're up there. The flipside here is that if the height is no problem, you'll quickly discover the seat is fantastic - plush and supportive, and perfect for long days in the sadde. The pillion perch is brilliant too, but being even higher than the rider's seat, it's even more of a stretch to get to.
The ride position is upright, with excellent legroom for both rider and pillion. The bars are high and wide. The mirrors give an excellent, blur-free view to the rear, but you'll need to watch them when threading your way through traffic, despite the excellent steering range. The screen does a brilliant job, placing you in a turbulence-free pocket of peace even at 'go-directly-to-gaol' speeds, although at 188cm I could have done with it being an inch or two higher, just to reduce wind noise.
The Firestorm powerplant is a pearler. It's incredibly smooth and vibe-free for a V-twin, and offers a stack of useable torque from below 2000rpm all the way to its redline. The six-speed gearbox does its job without fuss, and at 100km/h in top you'll be pulling a lazy 3250rpm. I've heard it's capable of indicated speeds of approaching 200km/h, which should be ample for most in the big tourer market.
Given its size and weight, it handles beautifully. Perhaps it rolls into a corner more than it tips into one - it's a tall beast, with an accompanying centre of gravity to go with it - but once you're committed it'll slice through bend with utter conviction, and it'll take a lot to upset it. Healthy ground clearance only adds to the fun, and a long wheelbase and conservative geometry combine to offer supreme stability and sure-footedness.
Over the course of this test I found the big 'Dero returned 16.2km/lt. That's not too bad given the performance on tap here, and when you add in that generous 25lt tank you've got an effective range of over 350km - nice. Throw in the factory panniers and topbox, which are all quality items and very easy to use, and you've got yourself one top tourer.
All up, if you like mega-mile days and multi-state adventures, the Varadero will tick just about all your boxes. If you want to tackle anything more serious than a decent dirt road, well, there are better (and lighter) choices available. The only real issue I have with the Varadero concerns price. At $17,990 plus ORC it's not exactly cheap, and if you throw on panniers and a topbox you're looking at an extra $3000. Suzuki's DL1000 V-Strom - a machine with a similar focus - retails for $13,490 plus ORC. Is the Varadero worth the extra $4500? Over to you ...