Honda's 599 worthy middleweight rocket
Better low-end torque, light steering combine to make it a stellar
Friday, July 28, 2006 - canada.com/vancouversun
Sometimes this supposedly objective task of road testing has as much to do with the fickle hand of fate as with the performance of the actual vehicle. The week you're booked to test Dodge's road-scorching Viper, you have a mess of meetings downtown and you spend the whole time riding the 8.3-litre V10's clutch, always keeping a wary eye on the engine temp gauge. The next week, you're off to Algonquin Park for a week's driving holiday, only you're booked into a Camry, Toyota's cure for insomnia.
Sometimes this juxtaposition is seemingly planned. A few years back, when Ford launched its tiny Aspire city runabout, the public relations staff somehow decided that driving endless miles of highway would be the best way for us to test the little econocar's 64-horsepower, 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine. BMW's Motorrad division thought that the best way for us to savour its then-new R1200C custom, another vehicle engineered for the city, was to ride through the Arizona desert in mid-July. Road tests from that evaluation were deliberately vague, as none of the motojournalists could separate true impressions from the delirium that accompanied our collective heat stroke.
All of this is simply an explanation -- an excuse, really -- for admitting that I've only ridden Honda's 599, a versatile all-round motorcycle with an urban edge, on a race track. So, though I have turned many a high-speed mile aboard the "naked" 599, I have never actually tested it in the environs for which it's best suited. This is unfortunate because, although it's somewhat out of its element grinding footpegs, this bike is made to romp around the city.
A seating position as comfortable as a La-Z-Boy recliner, decent footpeg-to-seat dimensions and a broad flat seat mean it's comfortable for a day's errands -- or couriering -- downtown.
Ditto the engine. Based on the CBR600F4's across-the-beam in-line four, the 599-cc motor has been "retuned for more torque," often a euphemism for simply being "detuned." In this case, however, Honda's decision to sacrifice some of the 599's top-end horsepower has paid dividends. Unlike more sporting 600s, most notably Yamaha's latest R6, the 599 has decent pulling power down low. Throttle response is adequate even as low as 4,000 rpm, where the aforementioned Yamaha doesn't even begin to open its eyes before 8,000 rpm. The 599's top end suffers, but, for a motorcycle designed to Dodge streetcars rather than strafe apexes, it matters not a whit.
The other trait aiding around-town performance is the 599's incredibly light steering. Middleweight 600s are well known for their quick steering, but the 599, with its upright and wide handlebars -- allowing even greater leverage -- offers an even lighter touch. Simply thinking about dodging a pothole is enough to send the 599 searching for smoother pavement. Tossing the Honda into highway on-ramps is, needless to say, a doddle. For taming the urban jungle, you'll not find many better partners than the 599.
Those attributes do come with some penalties, almost all of them extracted when trying to extend the 599's repertoire to include high-speed highway cruising.
For one thing, the effortless steering so praised in town is a little light for relaxed highway work.
The engine, smooth up until 6,000 rpm, starts buzzing thereafter, making speed in excess of 130 kilometres an hour a tingly affair. And, like other naked bikes, the 599's lack of fairing means that the rider is a prisoner of the elements. If the wind is with you it's comfy. But, try riding into the wind at 140 klicks and you'll be doing a fair impression of the mainsail on the Bluenose.
But touring on a 599 is akin to negotiating rush-hour traffic in a Viper. The task at hand can be accomplished, but neither party is going to be a happy participant. In its chosen environment, the middleweight Honda is a stellar performer.
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