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Archive for July, 2017

REVIEW RIDE: Honda CB500XA

10 Jul

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Honda Motor Co. Ltd had revised its popular trio of CB500-series – the CB500F, CBR500R and CB500X for Year 2016. First announced during the EICMA Show 2015 held in Milan, Italy, the revised trio made their international debut approximately 6 months later and were available in Malaysia since the beginning of September 2016.

All 3 models retained the proven and reliable 471cc parallel twin engine featuring a maximum horsepower of 47 from their original versions introduced back in 2012 for Year 2013-2015. What’s revised with the new trio are better styling, improved brakes, adjustable front forks, new exhaust pipe (except for CB500X) and LED-type headlights.

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The trio are available in both ABS and non-ABS versions but for Malaysia, the CB5500X also comes with ABS, hence it is designated as CB500XA. Non-ABS type is also available. Both the CB500F and CBR500R are initially also offered without ABS in Malaysia. This is based on the preference of local riders opting for non-ABS models from the original 2013-2015 editions, according to Boon Siew Honda. However, both models are now available in ABS.

Having the same 471cc engine does not mean all 3 bikes are the same there are differences in terms of handling and performance. For starter, the CB500XA, as reviewed here, is equipped with default trail tyres that are meant for minor off-road riding and touring, as it is designed for adventure and touring, as compared to its 2 siblings which are utilized for sports enjoyment and speed.

In addition, the CB500XA has a taller seat height, and a higher volume fuel tank capacity, at 17.3-litre, which is unchanged from its predecessor to ensure a longer ride without interruption for fuel top-up along the way. Given the fact that all 3 models are fuel economy machines, the CB500XA could go all the way to Alor Setar with just a full tank in cruising mode (110km/hr to 145km/hr) starting from Jalan Duta Toll Plaza, or to Johor Baru.

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The default trail-type tyres, are longer lasting than the grippy Dunlop D222 installed on the CB500F and CBR500R. However, this affects the CB500XA somewhat in terms of extreme leaning angle and cornering as the grip level is unable to cope with such a demand. Since these tyres are aimed at touring and adventure riders, extreme cornering is not something they would want to try with the CB500XA.

For those who do, it is just a matter of swapping the default tyres to sporty type which offers superb grip at the corners. I had a moment with the CB500XA when I subjected it to extreme cornering at one of my regular corners – the rear wheel slipped mid-cornering but still managed to upright the bike without any incident. It is not the fault of the CB500XA but the limits of the default trail-based tyres have been reached.

A maximum lean angle of 45-50° will be just right for the CB500XA when cornering with these tyres. The revised 41mm Showa front forks offer adjustment, as compared to its predecessor but only for preload. There’s no provision for rebound damping nor compression. Bear in mind the CB500XA is just an entry-level motorcycle, so the features it has, are adequate for novice riders especially those who have upgraded from riding a moped and 250cc models.

While extreme cornering in the dry condition is not recommended, rest assured the default tyres allowed superior grip when riding in the wet including cornering without any tendency to slide. However, do make sure the rear tyre does not venture into white lines and white arrows on the tarmac when raining as these could cause the CB500XA to wobble or lose grip while riding.

Having said that, it is to be noted that both the front and rear suspension, in their standard settings, delivered superb comfort when riding over bumpy stretches of road surface. I had subjected the CB500XA to a bumpy segment, and unlike a few models from competitors’ which felt those bumps harshly throughout the ride, the CB500XA absorbs all of them in its stride comfortably. A biking buddy of mine who followed me on that journey on his rival brand touring model, had lamented of that segment’s bumpy surface.

As for the brakes, both front and rear used Nissin pads, with a 2-piston caliper supplying the power to stop the single 320mm for the former and a 1-piston caliper on the single rear 240mm disc. A single-sided brake for the front is a bit on the risky side for anything above 300cc, but with ABS, the CB500XA is able to thwart most tendencies to skid when last-minute emergency braking is applied as it ensures there’s no locking of both wheels.

With Malaysian drivers having a reputation for bad and reckless driving, with tendency to change lanes without warning, the inclusion of ABS in the CB500XA is definitely a welcome feature regardless of how most riders may feel about the function interfering with their braking style when riding fast.

On paper, a maximum horsepower of just 47 derived from a 471cc engine sounds like not much where performance is concerned. When the CB5500-series was first announced in November 20102, the trio’s specifications had many bikers and motorcycling media gasping in disbelief. Many of them had their doubt wiped off the moment they tried those bikes for actual riding.

Any doubt about the CB500-series’ performance has been casted away once the rider started the engine, engaged the clutch and rides off. Yes, 47hp is nothing spectacular, to say the least but Honda has tuned the parallel twin engine to maximize the performance out of it. It is super smooth all the way from the moment one accelerates the CB500XA from 0km to its top speed of 185km/hr.

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Granted, most bikers cruised at between 120km and 155km/hr on the highways, and relishing the challenge of tackling twisty old roads at speeds between 80km and 125km/hr so the CB500XA and its siblings have been tuned to offer superb acceleration for these kind of rides. It maxes out at 185km/hr – that’s where the 47hp makes the difference, or the limit. Bigger capacity bikes, such as the Honda CB650-series, have twice the power (new for 2017 editions have been revised with 90hp) or the company’s newly-announced 2017-edition of CBR1000RR standard and SP/SP2 models, which feature 189hp!

The higher horsepower of the bigger capacity Hondas allowed them to go beyond 240km/hr for top speeds, in addition to superb acceleration from 0-100km/hr and better feel when cruising at between 110km and 155km/hr on highways and twisty roads!

For riders who have no interest in cruising beyond 200km/hr when riding, the Honda CB500XA is more than enough to meet their needs for a motorcycle during a weekend leisure ride or even as a daily commuting bike.

UPDATED: For experienced riders, the CB500XA delivers the kind of performance and handling similar to bigger capacity models on twisty roads particularly riding at between 125 and 155km/hr. Coupled with the default suspension settings, I found the CB500XA absorbs majority of the bumps with ease, allowing me to ride much faster than bikes with stiffer settings. While ensuring that I do not overdo it at the corners with the CB500XA, the bike is able to handle cornering duties with ease, clearing multiple S-curves with just 4th gear, with the downshifting to 2nd or 3rd when encountering steeper parts or slow bends.

In fact, riding the CB500XA up the Ulu Yam-Goh Tong Jaya road needed 4th gear for ¾ of the ride, with 3rd being the only gear in negotiating the steeper S-curve segment just before the police beat base. The same applies when riding the bike up Fraser’s Hill, only 3rd and 4th gears were utilized to reach the top from Gap point below, with 11 minutes taken for the ride up, and 15 minutes for the way down thereafter.

However, the twisty road towards Sang Lee New Village after riding down from Fraser’s Hill is very bumpy nowadays, with numerous patches and potholes but the CB500XA’s suspension is able to absorb most of them with ease, allowing for a decent speed throughout the ride until reaching the area’s iconic sculpture of a hand holding a durian (photo below).

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As noted earlier, the CB500XA is one of the fuel saving motorcycles to ride. I did 2 separate long distance rides with it over 2 consecutive days, the first being a 293km and the other a 375.5km journey. Both rides, the CB500XA was fully filled to its 17.3-litre capacity. The 293km ride only consumed approximately 10.9 litres while the 375.5km trip used up 14.5 litres. I have never been able to clock more than 330km on other brands of motorcycles with engine capacity above 500cc with just a tankful of fuel like the CB500XA is capable of.

The figures mentioned are based on the bike’s electronic sensors – which gave the usual data like average consumption per 100km, average usage on actual riding moment and the amount of fuel remaining – the last part is a more detailed data than the fuel gauge on the LCD speedometer, as it countdowns to the amount of main fuel capacity before switching over to the reserve amount of 2-litre right after 15.3-litre has been utilized. From there, the Cb500XA would calculate the amount of the final 2-litre remaining as I racked up the mileage while looking for nearest station of my preferred brand of petrol – either Caltex or Petron.

The fuel remaining data is very accurate – if it has indicated that I had used up 1.3-litre of the reserve amount, that’s exactly what’s left inside the tank as the next top-up literally filled up with only 16.3-litre. This gave me an assurance I have nothing to worry about when looking for a station as I could push the CB500XA until the 1.8-litre warning mark.

The fuel consumption nature of the CB500XA is a noteworthy feature because it is a 6-speed, liquid-cooled 4-stroke, 471cc parallel twin engine with 47hp. When you compared it to a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, a Z250 and the Versys X-250 variants, all of which featured a 17-litre tank, similar 249cc parallel twin engine with 34hp but good for 395km mileage overall, the CB500XA is the better choice among them, with faster acceleration and top speed (185km/hr vs. 170km/hr for the 250cc trio).

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REVIEW RIDE: Honda MSX 125 aka The Grom and Honda Wave 125i

10 Jul

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The MSX 125 aka The Grom (as it is known in North American market) looks corny and cute when it was first announced by Honda way back in 2012. But it quickly became popular in the North American market (USA and Canada) where the popularity also spread to other continents as well, especially in South East Asia region, where it is manufactured in Thailand by AP Honda.

For Malaysia, as usual, takes quite some time for anything new or exciting, to enter its market. First obstacle for the MSX 125’s entry to the Malaysian market is the selling price, which at RM11,128 w/GST, thanks to the various import and excise duties imposed, would make The Grom costing more than a standard 125cc moped from Honda itself – something in the range of twice the price, as in the case between the company’s Wave 125i and The Grom.

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Both are fuel injected, 124cc small motorcycles, with 4-speed transmission each. While the Wave 125i, being a moped or Cub, has a clutchless 4-speed transmission, The Grom features a clutch-operated version, with an operation similar to bigger bikes – 1 down, 3 ups vs. the all-forward style used by the Wave 125i.

Additionally, the Wave 125i has a faster top speed than The Grom at 120km/hr vs. 110km/hr – according to their respective speedometers after riding for quite a while at full throttle operation or riding downwards from high-level areas. Actual top speeds for both are 110km/hr and 100km/hr respectively as measured by radar speed guns – riders on either bike are unlikely to be penalized for breaking Malaysia’s speed limits for highways.

In terms of actual riding, one could easily reach 90-100km/hr with the Wave 125i and 80-90km/hr on The Grom, as according to their speedometers, under normal conditions.

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For the price it commands, The Grom offers more than just speed. It has better supporting parts over the Wave 125i – full length telescopic front forks vs. half-length type, more rigid rear absorber, and comfortable riding with its plush seat, an advantage over longer distances than the Wave 125i, and wider, smaller front/rear tyres that enable the rider to perform extreme cornering without fear of The Grom skidding or sliding the rear wheel. These features alone made The Grom justifies its higher selling price over its Wave 125i cousin.

For fuel consumption, both the Wave 125i and The Grom are almost equal in performance although the latter can be slightly more guzzling overall especially the comfortable feel of riding it gives the rider the tendency to be more throttle-happy as compared with riding the Wave 125i. The Wave 125i sips fuel at 40km/litre, and with its 5.4 litre capacity, literally takes the rider to a distance of approximately 220km before needing any refill. On the other hand, The Grom has a tank capacity of 5.7-litre and consumes the equivalent of approximately 35km/litre for a distance of nearly 200km. On a round trip review ride for a distance of 315km, The Grom only used up 8-litre of fuel.

I must admit there’s some reservation initially on my part of how well I could ride The Grom as compared to the Wave 125i especially my overall height is nearly 180cm. Any Honda Cub model is not an issue to ride for people with varying levels of heights so there’s no reservation in riding the Wave 125i to anywhere.

Since The Grom has a lower seat height than any Honda Cub, and with my tall legs – the first image I could visualize of myself riding it would look more on the awkward side. Then again, enjoying the ride is what makes motorcycling fun and it doesn’t really matter to me what others think when tall person like me riding a super cute little motorcycle like The Grom around town or going for a long haul ride.

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The above photo shows me riding The Grom.

City and town riding aside, the older twisty roads are where The Grom shines as it is able to tackle multiple S-curve with ease, thanks to its superb suspension and small but very stable tyres. It is even better than most Cubs and bigger capacity bikes in this situation. However, slick as it is on those old twisty, the moment the tarmac segment of the next S-curve is connected with a longer straight of 300-500m in length, the bigger bikes would easily out-accelerate past The Grom in reaching the next bend first.

The Wave 125i could do the same but the default tyres may not give the feeling needed to inspire the rider’s confidence to go faster at sharper corners. The Wave 125i’s default tyres are decent and grippy for such a task but their thinner profile may prevent newbie riders from having the confidence to undertake the corners with the utmost confidence.

Upshifting and downshifting the gears between The Grom and Wave 125i are totally different. The Grom behaves like any sports or naked sports featuring a manual clutch lever while with the Wave 125i, a rider just need to step forward for upshifting thanks to its automatic clutchless transmission system. But it is not the same as having a quickshifter or Honda’s own DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) like Honda’s NC750X and Africa Twin 1000 as the jerking moment upon each downshift still occurs, as the Wave 125i is basically a Cub/Moped or as Malaysians would called it – a kapchai.

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Using a manual clutch, the downshifting on The Grom is jerk-free thus enabling an experienced rider a much smoother transmission when riding fast approaching a corner particularly on twisty roads. The downside of having a manual clutch is one needs to downshift 3-step to engage Neutral when the bike is idle at traffic lights junction but the Wave 125i only need to step forward once (from 4th) to enter Neutral mode after stopping. This Honda patent was first introduced with the Fame 90 Cub of 1985, and has been featured in every kapchai model Honda has introduced to the local market ever since.

The Wave 125i has many Cub-based rivals in the competitive Malaysian kapchai segment but The Grom only has 1 – from Kawasaki’s Z125 Pro, which was developed to tap into the success enjoyed by the Honda MSX 125 globally. In terms of performance, features and handling, The Grom has a slight edge over the Z125 Pro – LED headlight, better suspension feeling (it’s Showa vs. KYB) and smooth, superbike-like engine/exhaust pipe grunt.

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The Z125 Pro sounds very much like a kapchai despite having better features than any of the Moped particularly when it maxes out at full throttle unlike the smoother Grom.

The Wave 125i has one feature that comes in handy over The Grom – a storage compartment underneath the seat, which is a surprise to me as I have not anticipated that as this is a feature only a modern scooter would have, such as the Honda Air Blade or the Honda PCX 150. In fact, I had to double-checked that the Wave 125i is indeed a Cub and not a scooter due to this “discovery”. Since scooters also feature an automatic transmission, the Wave 125i is obviously a kapchai as it does not have a hand-operated rear brake lever on the left handlebar, and upshifting/downshifting of the gears are required despite the absence of a manual clutch lever.

Any limitation to both The Grom and the Wave 125i during my review rides of both?

A few but nothing much to gripe about, really. For The Grom, it is the top speed which come up a bit short than expected. Yes, 100km/hr is a lot to some people but I am expecting it to be able to achieve at a true 110km/hr, given the fact it has much better components than any kapchai, not to mention the selling price, which is more than double in some cases over a 110 or 125cc Cub bike.

For the Wave 125i, it’s the thinner profile for its front/rear default tyres where fast cornering can be a bit daunting. It probably won’t cause the Wave 125i to flip up or skidded while negotiating a bend at faster speeds but the rider could feel the rear’s tendency to slide a bit when doing that, which is due to the rear suspension being a little too soft for that kind of feat.

Last but not least, which bike would I choose between the Wave 1255i and The Grom? If it is for city riding and daily commuting, the former fits the description well. However, if one prefers to do both as well longer trips to another state or as far North to Penang or down south to Johor Baru or across the Causeway to Singapore, The Grom is the better choice as you are unlikely to experience rider fatigue or “fried butt” in the long ride process with it.

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The photo above of The Grom was snapped using the Canon EOS 80D at Tanjung Sepat near morib in the state of Selangor Darul Ehsan.

 
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REVIEW RIDE: Honda RS150R Sports Cub

10 Jul

Four stroke technology in smaller engine capacity motorcycles continues to improve by leaps and bounds. This improvement is thanks in part to participation by the Japanese manufacturers like Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha in the annual MotoGP Championship series where 1,000cc prototypes are entered for competition.

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What has MotoGP got to do with the R&D on the performance of such kapchai bikes?

Plenty. Chief among the improvements is the ability to make 4-stroke technology to be as agile and faster than the discarded 2-stroke version over the years after 4-stroke MotoGP prototype bikes were introduced in 2002 to take over the mantle from those 2-stroke-based, 500cc machines in the Championship.

Of course, those MotoGP prototype bikes are 1,000cc beasts, which are doubled the capacity of the 2-stroke 500cc. But that’s needed in order for a 4-stroke version to outperform a 2-stroke bike. However, conventional 4-stroke kapchais are mostly in the 100cc to 125cc range, almost the same for their 2-stroke counterparts.

So how does this translate into better and faster performance over their 2-stroke cousins?

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The answer is both Yes and No.

Yes, in the sense the modern 4-stroke version is much faster and agile than those 2-stroke bikes produced during the 90s, and throughout first decade of the 21st Century as not much new development has gone into the latter as the world has more or less embraced the cleaner engine combustion, thanks in part to the compulsory emission control via Euro4 now enforced in Europe, as well as the United States where all kinds of 2-stroke bikes are simply non-legal on public roads.

No, in terms of – if R&D on 2-stroke technology is still ongoing strongly between the Japanese manufacturers, then the modern 4-stroke bikes would have a harder time in beating those speedy and lighter 2-strokers.

For the nearest comparison, it is safe to say all the latest 4-stroke kapchai would be able to outperform any outdated 2-stroke bikes that are still roadworthy in the present day.

Case-in-point would be my ageing Honda NSR150RR – a 2-stroke sportsbike against the latest Honda Cub/kapchai in the market – the Honda RS150R, a 150cc 4-stroke with a 6-speed transmission and bigger tyre profiles for front/rear than a conventional Cub. Oh, that 6-speed transmission is not automatic as a manual clutch lever is needed to operate the RS150R.

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Where standard acceleration is concerned, the Honda RS150R is as fast as my NSR150RR. In fact, I came across a rider on the RS150R prior to doing this review, challenging me while I was on the NSR150RR. Of course, tried as much as he could, there was no way he could overtake my NSR150RR on the highway leading to Purtrajaya from Bandar Salak Tinggi located in southeastern area of Selangor. Nevertheless, that RS150R rider was very close behind. The higher top speed of my NSR150RR also prevented him from overtaking me as the RS150R’s top speed maxes out at 145km/hr (on speedometer) while my bike could hit 165km/hr (measured). Yes, it was the NSR’s top speed that prevented the RS150R from being ahead.

Had I came across that rider while negotiating S-curves on twisty old roads, there’s no doubt the RS150R would have outperformed the NSR150RR easily as old 2-strokers are somewhat slower in getting up to speed in such a condition as opposed to riding on wide-open highways.

Honda normally designated its 4-stroke street bikes with the R-code to denotes its racing heritage, such in the case used for its 1988 VFR750R aka the RC30, the RVF750R aka RC45, both of which are WorldSBK-championship winners during their era. The latest R-series street bike with racing heritage is the RC213V-S, a limited edition 1,000cc racer-replica of HRC’s Championship-winning RC213V MotoGP prototype which took Spaniard rider Marc Marquez to the titles in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

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So with the 150cc kapchai being given an R-designation in the form of the Honda RS150R, you can rest assured of its intended racing heritage when the standard parts are replaced with race kits. Yes, the RS150R is designed to win the annual Cub Prix Championship in the 150cc category so where performance is concerned, it is definitely not a slouch.

What exactly the RS acronym stands for, I have absolutely no idea but my hunch is it could be for “Racing Standard 150 Racer” or “Racing Series 150 Racer”.

Also, HRC used to have the RS-designation on its line-up of production racer bikes of 125cc, 250cc and 500cc during the 90s era of the 2-stroke championship, each designated as RS125, RS250 and RS500 respectively.

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The list of features is extensive, to say the least. Starting with the LCD panel aka as the Advanced Digital RPM meter displays info such as RPM, speed, gear engaged, fuel gauge, odometer and tripmeter in a clear and precise manner that is clearly visible for the rider. Its headlight is LED-based, which gives a brighter illumination at night as compared to tungsten bulbs used by many kapchais in the market. Even the taillight is LED and designed to be stylish while still providing a bright backlight that gives better visibility to other motorists during daytime and night.

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Engine-wise, the RS150R is equipped with a 6-speed DOHC 150cc single cylinder engine equipped with a liquid cooled system. The exhaust pipe is made from the same material that is used for the company’s recently-introduced CBR250RR sportsbike built in Indonesia but is yet to be marketed elsewhere other than domestic Japan.

I managed to achieve a top speed above 140km/hr based on the LCD panel readout with the RS150R. And unlike its siblings of kapchai in Honda’s line-up, the RS150R comes with tubeless, high performance tyres, with the rear featuring a 120/70 of 17-inch size, which is the same specification as the front type used in most bikes with engine capacity of 600cc and above.

Despite loaded with mouth-watering features, the RS150R has one limitation. Given the actual engine capacity of 149.16cc, the bike only has a fuel tank load of 4.5-litre, which is less than the MSX 125cc that holds up to 5.7-litre, and enough to last a mileage of more than 200km as opposed to the RS150R, which gets you to nearly 180km mileage per full tank, given its higher capacity and power.

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The 20km+ difference will be felt more when you realize the nearest petrol station is 15km away but your bike only has enough to last another 10km or less. This doesn’t make the RS50R a petrol-guzzling beast, it is just the tank capacity is a little on the smaller size given it’s a vast list of features and performance to complement them. To be fair, as long as you are riding the RS150R within the city or from a small town to the next, it shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you are planning a long haul trip, you will face more stops for refueling at those towns along the routes particularly when riding at speeds above 120km/hr.

Overall impression of the RS150R is – it’s the best motorcycle available right now especially if you are looking for a compact, lightweight and easy-to-ride model below 200cc, with power and acceleration factors that are more agile and better than the dozens of kapchais out there.

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