Mike drags himself away from the sun-kissed beaches and glamour of Biarritz to head into the mountains on a couple of Hondas… not at the same time, mind
WORDS | MICHAEL COWTON
IMAGES | HONDA

IF A CERTAIN location was able to talk, it would undoubtedly wax lyrical about the lighthouse that marks the boundary between the sandy Landes coast and the rocky coastline of the Basque country.

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Lighthouse, Biarritz by moibtz | Pixabay

Built in 1834, the imposing building stands 73 metres above sea level overlooking Cape Hainsart (so-called because of the oak trees which surrounded it in the past, since replaced by tamarisks). Close by is an attractive pedestrianised area with eatery, a pleasing promenade, a rock wall, and glistening sand lapped by the gentle waters of the Bay of Biscay, here at the bottom of the Pyrenees.

In order to achieve a panoramic view of the flourishing seaside town of Biarritz and the Basque hinterland, one would need to climb the 248 steps to reach the top balcony. Little wonder, then, that the French government chose the brand Biarritz-Basque Country, a jewel of international tourism, to underline the advantages of tourism in the country, alongside 19 other destinations.

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It is clear that nature has been kind to Biarritz, offering up a magnificent all-year-round climate; invigorating air; and beaches to match pretty much anywhere else in Europe. It is a marriage of beauty and wellness, where gorgeous people gather to revitalise body and spirit in the cooling waters and spas and eat gloriously in restaurants spilling street-side upon balconies bedecked with flowers.

I had travelled to this most emblematic destination on the Basque coast, courtesy of Honda, to ride the CMX500 Rebel and CMX1100 Rebel DCT past exquisite scenery high in the mountains, travelling a balcony road that would captivate my soul. It all felt one step removed from the rest of France, a country I know very well.

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No, I know that’s not a Honda, but it looks colourful in the square

As a promotional exercise it could not have gone better, showcasing the bikes’ true potential in both urban and rural landscapes on a roughly 150km ride. To be honest, Biarritz traffic can be a nightmare, especially so at rush-hour, which seemed to last for most of the day. At times chaotic, at best frenzied, there had to be a certain level of discipline or no one would have survived, yet I noted very quickly how courteous drivers were to motorcyclists as we performed spirited overtakes and filtered past lines of traffic with not a horn blast to be heard. Perhaps the climate infects such insouciance.

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Having travelled through the outskirts of the town, eventually we made it on to uncluttered roads at which time we had the chance to put the bikes through their paces. I say ‘we’, because I was riding with six other bike journalists, two from the UK and four from Italy. We were accompanied by two seriously slick riders from Honda. During photo stops we took the opportunity to swap bikes. I had started out on the 1100, keeping it in automatic rather than resorting to the easily accessible paddle shifts on the left-side grip. Having been overtaken by a couple from our group in town, I settled into the ride by trailing Honda’s Matt McCabe Brown. Hard to believe, but this was the first opportunity I had had to ride in Europe… on the right side of the road… in and out of a bustling town… and the Honda behaved impeccably. Little wonder that someone came up with the saying, ‘Mama Honda’ – because the bikes really look after the rider.

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As we popped across the border into Spain, high in the Pyrenees, I quickly became conscious of the proud, fiery and independent people of the Basque country when we stopped for lunch at a pleasing restaurant in a small hamlet, if you could call it that. We were communicating in English; the Italians in, well, Italian; the Honda guys were employing their best French interspersed with Spanish; and the waiter/boss was speaking what I can only presume was Euskera, which is not related to any other Latin language, such as Spanish or French, and is completely unique. Anyway, somehow, we managed to get the lunch orders in.

Three of us had opted for omelette and fries. Expecting three separate plates to be served, a large oval-shaped platter was delivered complete with a large portion of omelette underlaid with fries and topped with hot ham. It was delicious, but there was no time to hover as we were only halfway through the ride and we had individual face-to-camera videos to be filmed back at the lighthouse which, in my case for the BikersNod YouTube channel, was an opportunity to try to  somehow humanise my content and create a compelling personal connection between myself and the viewer.

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Honda’s CMX1100 Rebel hit the 2021 sales season running as the big, bold sibling to the CMX500 Rebel. Designed for leisurely, laidback cruising, it hid its alter ego well as an exciting bike to ride through the sweeping curves and switchbacks. The chassis handling potential, with its stiff tubular steel frame, quality naked bike-spec suspension and high-powered braking, made progress a pleasure. A rock wall on one side, a steep descent to the valley floor on the other… this characterful 21st century ‘bobber’ did not miss a beat, although I imagine my systolic/diastolic readings increased, the higher we climbed.

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The bike sits on fat rubber (130/70 up front, 180/65 at the rear), oozing confidence on the switchbacks, and the preload-adjustable 43mm cartridge-style suspension at the front, complemented by a rear suspension boasting preload-adjustable twin piggyback rear, proved their worth. The low seat height (700mm) was a bonus, too, as it was so easy to flatfoot. Brakes were well sorted with a front radial mounted monoblock four-piston calliper, 330mm floating single disc, and at the back, a single piston calliper, 256mm single disc. They were certainly put to good use as each bend approached and I had the comfort of following Matt’s line as he was privy to the roads hereabouts.

The heartbeat of the bike is the superb 1084cc parallel twin-cylinder lump as used for the CRF1100L Africa Twin. Well, there is an add-on to that, as the Rebel received a retune in order to develop a super-strong bottom and mid-range punch and character, enhanced by an evocative, enhanced exhaust note. Cruise control does come as standard, but I didn’t employ it due to the nature of the sweeping road.

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Well, what can I say now about the baby of the duo, the CMX500 Rebel? It won’t thank me for writing that, because it stands proud with its own individual identity. Yes, it has a classic, timeless look about it, but that quickly morphs into contemporary styling that will attract both new and experienced riders looking for something different to have in their collection. This is a case of custom cool meets timeless quality, and little wonder, then, that it was the best-selling European model in the ‘custom’ category last year. It’s also popular with female riders, who account for 33 per cent of owners. Without doubt, that trend will continue.

If you are asking me to be honest, and of course you wouldn’t expect anything less from me, on the mountain roads we travelled, I enjoyed my time more on the CMX500. I probably did the 1100 a disservice by not switching to manual and engaging the paddles to up and downshift, but with so many turns to complete up, around and down the mountain’s balcony route, I just felt more at home using the traditional gear shift on the ‘wee one’. Sorry again.

Having said that, as many of you know, currently I have as my long-termer the CMX1100 Rebel, manual version, and am really enjoying it. It is due for some long rides, which is why Honda provided it with a touring screen and soft saddlebags. I also opted for the solo seat with rear rack so I could attach other luggage if required.

 

Should you fancy popping along to your dealer to test ride the Rebel, I urge you to trial both. There is around £3000 difference, with the 2022 CMX500 tagged at £6,299; a Special Edition being £400 dearer; the CMX1100 Rebel is £9,499; and the DCT will stand you £10,499. I’m not telling you what to do, but if you don’t try them, and with deference to David Bowie… Rebel Rebel, how could they know? Hot tramp, I love you so!

EVOLUTION OF HONDA’S DCT TECHNOLOGY

HONDA’S UNIQUE Dual Clutch Transmission technology has evolved continuously since its introduction to the market in 2010, with regular improvements to gear shift timing patterns and different technology and character, according to model.

The story began with the VFR1200F, gaining an update a year later with the NC700S, NC700X and Integra, with a lighter, more compact version for the 700cc engine, with an automatic return to auto mode after manual override. In 2012 the VFR1200X Crosstourer received the treatment, with throttle ’blipping’ on downshift being refined for a smoother ride. A further update occurred in 2013 with the NC700X, NC750S, Integra, Crosstourer, and the CTX700/CTX700N, whereby the ‘Adaptive Clutch Capability Control’ used DCT control to slip the clutch when changing from open or closed throttle, again for smoother riding.

The evolution continued through 2015 on the CRF1000L Africa Twin when a ‘G’ Switch gave more direct feel for rear wheel traction, allowing controlled slides off-road. At the same time, three levels of ‘S’ Mode and incline detection to improve shift patterns were introduced on the Africa Twin, NC750X, NC750S and Integra. A further DCT update occurred in 2017 with the introduction to the Gold Wing of a first DCT for seven-speed gearbox, and the first DCT to link with reverse gear, Hill Start Assist, Walking Mode and Idling Stop. It was also the first DCT with shift pattern linked with riding modes. In 2019 the Africa Twin was treated further to DCT, linked with an IMU for the first time to further improve the gearshift timing through corners.

Yet a further update occurred in 2020 on the CMX1100 Rebel, Forza 750, NC750X and X-ADV, when, as part of the User Mode functionality, the rider was able to select a preferred DCT shift pattern in the same way as power, engine braking and HSTC level. Finally, last year the NT1100 received the treatment with revised DCT settings, with first and second gear changes smoother than ever. The clutch engaged in relation to the throttle behaviour – more gradually with gentle throttle opening, and more quickly with faster throttle opening.

WHEELS & WAVES FESTIVAL

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