The new DS3, customise every feature to suit your style
It's a very European concept, the light tourer, and Honda's NT700V Deauville has a lot of European heritage. It shares its engine with the TransAlp - which is made in Spain - and takes its name from a seaside resort in France.
Yet it also has a lot of signature Honda technology, such as combined brakes, and its styling has echoes of the TransAlp and Varadero. It also has a couple of unusual - and quite effective - design solutions.
The bike you see here was brought to South Africa as a potential police bike and, when I rode it, it was the only one in the country. It was never intended for sale to the public but everybody who rode it raved about it and not a few offered to buy this test bike.
So, without fanfare or even a media release, the Deauville quietly appeared on Honda's latest price list at R94 999, still one of biking's best-kept secrets.
Its engine is, of course, a 680cc, 52-degree V-twin, as per the current TransAlp, but tuned for 48.3kW at 8000rpm rather than the TransAlp's 44.1 at 7750. It's a refined, mature design - the TransAlp has been around for two decades - and has been developed into a smooth-running (by V-twin standards), slightly remote power source with a very elastic power band.
Acceleration is brisk rather than exciting; the hefty (a quarter of a ton dry) Deauville gets up to 140km/h in a hurry but after that it's a matter of hanging on the cables while the speed builds up.
It used half our six km test straight to reach its true top speed of 188km/h, steady as a rock and showing 195 on the speedo (an error of only 3.7 percent) and 8000rpm on the rev counter - exactly on the quoted power peak and demonstrating again Honda's talent for getting its bikes' gearing spot on.
Then I did one more run in each direction sitting bolt upright rather than draped over the fuel tank as before - and averaged 189 on the Garmin!
The difference is well within the limits of statistical error but underlines the effectiveness of the narrow fairing.
The screen is hand-adjustable for height through an arc of about 100mm - just grab it and pull - but, as always, the raised position caused a vortex that buffeted the back of my helmet and gave me a fierce headache after less than an hour's cruising.
Every tourer I've ridden has done the same and I've come to believe it's me, not the bike; I have an unusually long spine. Nevertheless, I reached out, firmly pushed the screen down as far as it would go, and the problem went away for good.
So that's where it stayed, except when I got caught in heavy rain - then I was glad of the extra protection even if it meant reducing speed to keep my head still.
The engine drives through a very positive five-speed gearbox ("emphatic" was the term my partner used to describe the shift action after she rode the Deauville) and one of the most vocal shaft final drives I can remember.
It hums under power, whines on overrun and clonks loud enough to scare pedestrians on take-up but once you're up to cruising speed you don't hear it any more and it runs as smoothly as a shaft-drive should.
The Deauville's fuel consumption is as conservative as the rest of its engineering - it returned 4.8 litres/100km over a week of commuting and was only a little thirstier (5.1 litres/100km) during performance testing, good enough for more than 380km of cruising on a 19.7-litre tank.
ANYTHING BUT BORING
The bike's suspension is adjustable only for rear pre-load (but you can do that remotely, on the move) and very firm indeed by touring standards, to keep the unsprung heft of the final drive under control and guarantee good road manners. The bike never becomes uncomfortable, thanks to a spacious, deeply padded seat, but you're always aware of exactly what's going on under the wheels.
The result is quick, but not nervous, steering, steady cornering without a hint of wallow and enough clearance that you don't have to slow down for the twisties unless you want to. The Deauville isn't fast enough to give anybody a heart attack but its capability through the canyons makes it anything but boring.
The brakes, in classic Honda fashion, are very complicated, although not as bad as those on the first-generation VFR800 V-Tec. The Deauville has dual 296mm discs in front, each with three-piston sliding calliper, and a conventional dual-piston sliding calliper on a 276mm disc at the rear.
Hoofing the rear brake pedal applies pressure to both pistons on the rear brake and the centre piston on the left front calliper, while pulling the front brake lever summons up all three pistons on the right front and the outer two on the left front calliper.
Add to that the slotted rings and infra-red sensors of the (standard) first-generation antilock braking set-up and it's hard to see the rims for the cables and hoses but the system works so smoothly it's almost imperceptible.
The bike remained dead steady under hard front braking and even when I stomped on the rear brake in a deliberate attempt to activate the ABS all I got was a gentle pulsing under my foot as the bike held its line perfectly.
TIGHT TURNING CIRCLE
The seating position is also balanced and neutral, with the rider leaning slightly forward and his or her weight evenly distributed. The bars are low and wide, giving plenty of leverage for high-speed cut-and-thrust together with precision control for rush-hour commuting.
The Deauville moves through the traffic like a bike half its size, thanks to an amazingly tight turning circle for a fully-faired bike with a 1476mm wheelbase. It's the only street bike bigger than 500cc I've ridden in years that will turn round in my 4.8m-wide driveway.
The instrument panel, as is often the case with bikes intended for grown-up riders, owes more to car than motorcycle practice, with four plain analogue dials for (from left to right) fuel, speed revs and coolant temperatures. In the centre there's a LCD trip data computer that displays a clock, odometer, two trip meters, average fuel consumption and range to empty.
The grab-handles neatly built into the tailpiece are perfectly positioned and far enough apart for long-haul comfort and lead to a neat mounting platform for an aftermarket top box - which isn't necessary unless you're planning on leaving home for good, thanks to the capacious panniers (27.4 litres on the left, 26.9 on the right).
Unusually, the panniers are built in rather than bolted on, so the bike is considerably narrower than other light tourers with similar-sized luggage, and there's a cavity under the pillion that connects the two and makes it possible to pack way your bundle of tent poles or rolled-up camping mattress rather than strapping them precariously outboard with bungees.
It also provides a space for neatly integrated, clear and very legible tail light and indicators - an important safety factor in heavy traffic.
The NT700V Deauville comes with a two-year, unlimited distance warranty and needs servicing every 6000km. It's neatly finished, small enough for everyday commuting and comfortable enough to take you to the other end of the country, just a little conservative in concept but with a lot of 21st-century design ingenuity.
Price: R94 999.
Bore x stroke: 81 x 66mm.
Compression ratio: 10.8:1.
Valvegear: SOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 48.3kW at 8000rpm.
Torque: 66.2Nm at 6500rpm.
Induction:PGM-FI electronic fuel-injection with two 36mm throttle bodies.
Ignition: Digital transistorised with electronic advance.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Five-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by shaft.
Front: 41mm conventional cartridge forks.
Rear: Monoshock with remote preload adjustment.
Front: Combined anti-lock brakes with dual 296mm discs and Nissin combined three-piston floating callipers.
Rear: 276mm disc with Nissin twin-piston floating calliper.
Front: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear: 170/70 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 805mm.
Dry weight: 259kg.
19.7 litres, five litres/100km.
Two years unlimited distance warranty.
BMW F800 ST - R99 750.
Kawasaki KLE650 Versys - R74 900.
Suzuki DL650 V-Strom - R79 995.
Bike from: Mekor Cape Town.