Nov 2003 – Words pics by Simon Bradley
Bikes like this can be deceiving. They look big and heavy, but turn out not to be. They look comfortable but transpire to be medieval torture devices on wheels.
They have big, well regarded vee twin engines but are actually gutless. And they have huge fuel tanks but short range.
Some bikes like this may deceive, but the Varadero does not. It looks big and heavy, and it is positively enormous. In its defence, it isn’t as heavy as it appears, though.
It looks comfortable but it is, in fact, sublime. The 1000cc vee twin delivers a very sprightly urge and the huge fuel tank gives intercontinental range.
That may be the shortest review I have ever written, so perhaps I should elaborate. Collecting the Varadero from Honda I was surprised and just a little intimidated by its sheer size. Although I am sure that it actually compares pretty well with similar offerings from other companies, the colour and style seem to conspire to increase the impression of size.
Loading it onto a trailer to get home showed that although there is a lot of bike to handle, it is quite handleable. Which is handy, because dropping a press bike off the trailer in front of the workshop is considered bad form. It was obvious that my normal route would not be enough – slightly below 100 miles was hardly going to be an endurance test after all – so I grabbed my camera and some bits and pieces, chucked them in a bag on the back and headed for the coast.
First gold star for the Varadero. Very easy to securely strap a bag to the back using a cargo net.
The game plan was simple. Ride until my bum got sore, then find a good place to take some pictures, grab something to eat and go on from there. Easy peasy. Except for one small problem.
When I hit the coast, some 80 miles later, I was still comfortable, warm and relaxed. Best I press on, then. The first reason for stopping was hunger. Grab a sandwich and keep going.
All in all, I did just under 300 miles that day, without a single twinge, ache or grumble. That’s impressive.
What’s also quite something is the fact that I didn’t need to put any fuel in for 260 miles. And I wasn’t hanging about. In fact, I was making the most of another attribute that the Varadero is blessed with.
That engine is related reasonably closely to the SP-2 that took Colin Edwards to the 2002 WSB championship. OK, so it may be in a slightly milder state of tune here, but it’s still a peach.
Climbing aboard is easier than it might at first appear, although there is no disguising the fact that this is a very large motorbike. However, despite being no more than average height, I didn’t find it a stretch to reach the ground and the low centre of gravity made it easy to hold the bike up. Starting is as straightforward as you like, this being a Honda and all, and the light clutch and easy gearbox make pulling away and getting moving equally fuss free.
The wide bars give huge leverage for cornering, and although at low speed the front feels a little vague, no doubt as a result of the long forks and plush springing, town behaviour ir both predictable and safe. Full lock, feet up u-turns are possible although I really wouldn’t want to try and catch the beast in the event of it going wrong as once a varadero starts to fall over I suspect that there is little this side of The Incredible Hulk that will stop it.
Now of course, you take a bike this size, stick 25 litres of fuel in it, give it giant-trailie geometry and tyres and then pop a motor in producing the best part of 100bhp and you are inevitably going to get a few handling foibles. In fact, to be honest, a bike like this is unlikely to be much fun on the twisties and may, in fact, be positively scary.
Which goes no way at all towards explaining why I could happily scrape the footpegs on roundabouts, attack twisty roads as hard as I would on most bikes and utterly fail to tie the thing in knots under hard acceleration. Bizarre.
So what makes the Varadero work? There seem to be lots of features which, in isolation, would at best be pointless and at worst look daft. The motocross style handguards, for example, should seem silly on a bike that nobody in their right mind would take off road, while the rather odd looking half fairing doesn’t look big enough to make much difference. But between them I was able to wear summer gloves and a light jacket on a pretty chilly autumn day.
And they kept the last of the bugs off my visor as well. The old fashioned analogue clocks look as though they should be hard to read while the high-tech LCD panel above promises information overload. But no – the clocks are clear and easy, and the LCD tells you exactly what you want to know, no more, no less.
Unless you really don’t want to know the time, of course, in which case you will hate the fact that the clock is displayed, large and clear, all the time. Those skinny, throwback mirrors may look like something off a 1980 Superdream but they give a clear, vibe-free picture of the road behind. So the Varadero is rather more than just the sum of its parts.
I’m not saying that the Varadero is above criticism. Personally, although I found linked brakes to work well on the VFR we tested before, on something this size and weight I found them to be slightly lacking in bite. I’m sure that’s really down to my braking technique, but it was a little disconcerting nonetheless.
I also feel that the total lack of underseat storage as a result of the fashionable high level exhausts was a bit of a disappointment for an otherwise utterly practical bike.
But overall, to say I was impressed with the Varadero would be a masterpiece of understatement. As far as out of the box usability is concerned, this is one of the best bikes I have ever ridden. Don’t let the looks or the size out you off.
You can’t see it from the saddle, and as any man will tell you it’s not the size that matters.
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