This article was first published in Australian Road Rider issue #170, Feb/March 2023.
Born of the Africa Twin, Honda’s new touring bike is built for long rides…
By Nigel Paterson
I’d left the freeway behind and was riding a ridgeback road, valleys falling away either side as the twisting road swung left and right as it followed the ancient hill down from its peak. The NT1100 was in its element, fast touring on country roads — comfortable, quick and trustworthy. I could do this all day.
In 40 years of riding I’ve forced all sorts of bikes to become tourers. I’ve carried camping gear on a Moto Guzzi Le Mans III, I’ve crossed the Nullarbor on a Yamaha FZ750 and melted throw-over saddlebags into numerous exhaust systems.
If you have a motorcycle, you can go touring — but some bikes will be more suitable than others. Manufacturers noticed this decades ago and the sports-tourer was born, although its definition has blurred over time. When I was a teenager in the 1980s it was a bike that wasn’t a naked, wasn’t a sportsbike and wasn’t a tourer. They were versatile machines which could take on a winding road yet keep you comfortable getting there.
Honda built and sold squillions, powered primarily (at least in the larger capacities) by inline and V-four powerplants… engines and bike configurations that are now all gone. Sports-tourers were replaced by adventure bikes, which were still pretty handy on a winding road (while being less likely to upset the constabulary), just as comfortable and far more capable on a dirt road.
Honda was caught napping as its V-fours fell out of favour — none of the final generations sold well. It was, however, developing an adventure bike — the Africa Twin. A good machine, it sold well and spawned lots of variants, grew in capacity and gained lots of tech. Looking at the success of the Africa Twin makes it easy to see why the company decided to use the same engine in its new sports-tourer.
Producing 100hp (74kW) while weighing 238kg with a big fairing to push through the air and an upright rider means this is no high-performance bike. Other sports-tourers, like the new Suzuki GSX-S1000GT, will eat it for breakfast. The NT1100 might be a sports-tourer, but the emphasis is very much on the touring.
STYLE, ERGOS AND PROTECTION
Honda’s 1100cc parallel twin is a fairly tall motor, allowing a short wheelbase but not a low frontal area. In a bike designed to have an upright riding position, no problem… but by the time a fuel tank is positioned on top, trying to position anything like a lean-forward riding position isn’t going to work, so Honda wisely built the NT as a road bike that has a riding position similar to an adventure bike, a protective fairing, a big, adjustable screen and flat seat to provide all-day comfort. Even the footpegs are centrally mounted for comfort, and easy to stand on if need be.
A cool morning’s ride saw me put the screen in its highest position before leaving home. It is manually adjusted and has a very stiff mechanism, so I was worried I might break something when I tried to adjust it, but it’s just a case of pulling or pushing up or down, with the angle becoming steeper the higher it’s set.
At maximum height air was being pushed over my helmet and wind noise was kept at a minimum — a delightful way to soak up freeway miles. I was enjoying the spring air with no wind blast getting past my glasses and wind noise passing over the top, especially while wearing a modular helmet with the chin piece up. This had the added benefit of making the podcast I was listening to via the integrated CarPlay software and Sena 50C communication unit clear and comfortable.
Later in the day, with the spring weather feeling more like summer and the screen low, I lowered my visor and was rewarded with more wind noise and a little buffeting, but not too much.
The fairing itself is wide at handlebar level, providing some hand protection, and there are winglets to direct the breeze away from the hands — I reckon they could be removed in summer to assist with airflow in the heat.
Lower are some plastic shields that offer weather protection for the feet and again, I think they could be removed in the warm weather without compromising the style of the bike.
The adventure bike style won’t be for everyone. I was disappointed in the lack of exciting colour options — Australia only gets black or grey, not even the white one available in some markets — conservative, borderline dull.
Powering its new bike with a twin cylinder motor was an interesting choice for Honda given four cylinders is traditional for the class, especially from the Japanese. The result makes the NT quite different in character.
The 1084cc engine has the now-expected 270-degree crank, so it feels and sounds like a V-twin thanks the offset firing order. Although oversquare, its 92 x 81.5mm bore and stroke combined with a relaxed 10:1 compression ratio helps to provide a good torque figure of 104Nm at 6250, while power is low for a modern 1100 at just 100hp (my 15-year-old FZ6 produces similar horsepower, yet just 63Nm or torque from its screaming four-pot engine, which has little more than half the capacity yet revs nearly twice as hard).
This makes the NT1100 relaxed on tour, the engine spinning fairly slowly at highway speeds (~4000 revs for 110km/h) while still providing enough torque for overtaking without needing to downshift multiple times.
Shifting gears on the test bike was entirely conventional — no quickshifter and the model I was riding didn’t have Honda’s DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission).
The clutch lever isn’t adjustable and that’s the only downside of the gearbox as far as I’m concerned — beyond that the transmission was faultless. I never missed a shift, it always did what was asked and never missed a beat.
Changes closer to the 8000rpm redline were nice and slick, just what you need when riding hard. This is where the lack of horsepower will be apparent — but I suspect only if you’re familiar with how a high-performance bike actually feels when it’s wound up. If you don’t have the skills and experience of riding a fast bike, the NT1100 will feel quick, well capable of getting to license-losing speeds in seconds — but if you really want to compare it to the high-performance sports-tourers, it does lack their punch. But what it loses in performance it makes up for with its relaxed ride.
I reckon the optional Dual Clutch Transmission would go a long way to making up for th ereduced power, becasue the automatic changing and clutch-lever free operation makes it easy to ride quick.
The touring nature of the bike is reflected in its electronics — the riding modes include Rain, Urban and Tour plus two user-configurable settings. Honda claims Urban is the standard mode, so I suspect the company believes the bike will be popular with riders buying their NT1100 for the big tour and actually using them for city riding.
Switch to Rain mode and both engine power and engine braking are reduced. Tour mode restores full power and resets engine braking to standard. The standard modes work as advertised and I’m sure lots of owners will use and love them. I didn’t.
Many modern bikes, the NT1100 included, are being supplied with engine management systems that cut off almost all fuel to the engine when you roll off the throttle, resulting in engine braking even in high gear at low speeds, a characteristic I hate. On the NT1100, however, you can mitigate the problem by reducing the engine braking to a minimum, which alleviates the problem. I combined this with maximum power and the lowest setting of the Honda Selectable Torque Control, which is the traction control system, because that suits me: it is excellent. Honda offers the ability to set up a riding mode which suits the rider. You might find the standard modes work well for you, but if they don’t it doesn’t take long to configure the NT1100 the way you like it.
Setting up the bike is all handled via the 6.5-inch TFT colour screen and left-hand switchblock and its 212 buttons. OK, the switchblock doesn’t have 212 buttons, but it kinda feels like it does sometimes. It does have buttons to operate your phone, lights and modes… there are arrows, Enter, Favorites (marked with a star), return, forward and backward… plus indicators and horn. On a DCT model the paddles to change gear are here, too.
Under the TFT display is an LCD showing speed, gear and odometer — this is shown so the TFT can be taken over by audio, navigation or phone functions. I found it all a bit confusing at first, but a bit of time with the owner’s manual cleared up a lot of the mystery: the buttons allow you to move between riding modes, display screens, CarPlay or Android Auto, take or make phone calls, control your phone and more.
I thought about slipping in a joke about the system making coffee, but it’s not like Honda is alone in building complicated control systems and I really do applaud Apple CarPlay and Android Auto being incorporated into a bike at this price point.
That said, to use CarPlay you must plug in your iPhone with a genuine cable (according to Honda at least, but I reckon many cables which support data and charging would work) and have a headset connected.
There’s a weatherproof USB port built into the dash but no pocket for a phone, so I don’t really see any options to use CarPlay without mounting the phone on the handlebars — at least that’s easy thanks to the standard style ’bars (but with noticeable vibration, don’t even consider using a system that doesn’t have vibration damping).
Adding the Sena to the system required telling my phone to “forget this device” so it can connect to the bike, not the phone, but after that life was good: I could do many things via the CarPlay display filling up the TFT screen.
The combination of Sena 50C communicator, a modern iPhone and CarPlay makes for great audio in your helmet, accessible navigation if you’re happy to use apps on your phone, and the ability to stay in touch with the world while riding. Once configured, the CarPlay system would boot up after a couple of minutes of riding as the bike found my devices. Unlike some systems, I didn’t have to make sure everything was perfect before folding up the side stand.
The NT1100 also has a separate power outlet in the dash and a hollow steering stem, so I quickly mounted up my TomTom Rider 550 navigator, and the system worked perfectly. I had the TFT screen showing lots of information about the bike — its mode, speed and rev count, the TomTom showing me the route and my phone set-up to let me control my audio.
Both the TomTom and phone indicated the speed display on the NT1100 was nearly 10 per cent over; it would display 119 when we were only doing 110km/h.
SUSPENSION AND EQUIPMENT
Anyone hoping for shaft drive will be disappointed and being based on the Africa Twin, it was never going to happen here; despite the ongoing success of the BMW R 1250 GS range, shaft drive is out of fashion.
I suspect in less than a year I’ll be posting articles about variants of the NT1100 coming out with electronic suspension — you can already get it on the CRF1100 Africa Twin, but not yet on the NT. The road bike only gets basic suspension, especially the rear shock.
Up the front there is a pair of 43mm Showa Big Piston forks, adjustable for preload only. The rear has a single shock with remote preload adjuster. No damping adjustability on a bike expected to travel long distances on everything from country back roads to freeways is pretty disappointing in 2022 and points to cost-cutting by Honda.
Initially I thought the shock was OK, and in the world we had before the Big Wet, maybe it would have been. But now, with so many roads trashed and governments struggling to find the budgets to fix them, good suspension is the minimum standard.
I was finding a wallow through fast corners, which is typical of a too-soft set-up, so I stopped and tried to increase both spring preload and rebound damping… but had to settle for just pre-load. This helped a lot, but the sharp edges of the potholes and poor surfaces had the shock struggling to cope.
Although there aren’t lots of replacement shocks available for the NT1100, Wilbers is offering different models and they are priced from under $1000. It would be the first thing I’d do to the bike… well, maybe after buying the panniers for a shade under $2300.
Pulling the bike up are three ABS-equipped disc brakes, just like you’d expect. Honda seems to have given up on its connected brakes — your right hand operates the two radially mounted four-piston brake calipers squeezing 310mm floating discs and your foot the single-piston caliper and 256mm disc.
No complaints about the brakes, they do the job just fine — good feel without massive bite when doing a gentle squeeze, decent power when required. The front lever is adjustable for span, unlike the clutch lever, which isn’t.
EQUIPMENT AND CREATURE COMFORTS
The NT1100 is really well equipped, straight from the factory. Cruise control, heated grips, a comfortable seat, rack and all the electronics I’ve already mentioned.
It’s the manual gearbox version we tested here… Honda’s DCT system that provides automatic shifting or paddle-shift manual is $1049 extra. Or you can save nearly $600 and go with the optional quickshifter for $470 instead.
If you also need the top box, the extras start to add up, so you might want to consider your priorities before ticking boxes on the accessories list. At least the top box fits the standard rack, which has a rated capacity of 10kg, pretty high for a modern bike.
The panniers are excellent — they have more than 30 litres of capacity each, but are well integrated so are quite narrow, and certainly skinnier than the handlebars, so going through traffic is achievable.
One downside is typical — they must be locked to remove the key. I much prefer a pannier that can be opened and closed without a key and simply locked for security or to remove the unit from the bike.
Talking of the key, a fob-style keyless ignition isn’t even an option. So 20th century, I’m not sure how I coped… oh that’s right, I’m not much of a fan of fobs, I remember…
Lighting is all LED. The headlight is OK, although I’d get supplementary lighting if I was considering riding in the countryside at night (which, given both the state of the roads and the nocturnal nightlife, is something I’d avoid).
ON THE ROAD
All-day rides on the NT1100 are what this bike is all about. With a 20-litre tank and good fuel consumption, 400km to empty is possible… and it’s comfortable enough that back-to-back long days in the saddle will be a joy and not a chore. As it’s a twin you’ll feel some vibration through the tank and footpegs, but it’s not intrusive… more character than annoyance.
The sweet spot is the sweeping country road, where the speed limit is 100 and there are good sight lines through the long bends, where you can take a second to enjoy the view yet feel the machine leaned over through the turns. On an NT1100 you can do this all day and back up for more the next. It’s almost as comfortable on a freeway with the screen up high, the wind noise passing above, the speakers in your helmet playing the tune you want to hear.
It’s built for two, with the optional top box available with a pad for your pillion to lean against so you can comfortably take a friend — or use the rack to strap on a tent and camp chair.
I really liked the NT1100. It’s fun to ride, is fast enough and you can ride it day-in and day-out. That’s what I want in a touring bike.
[Pull Quotes] “…the success of the Africa Twin makes it easy to see why the company decided to use the same engine in its new sports-tourer.”
“What it loses in performance it makes up for with its relaxed ride.”
Type: SOHC liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve Parallel Twin with 270-degree crank.
Compression ratio: 10.1:1
Engine management: PGM-FI electronic fuel injection
Claimed maximum power: 75kW at 7,500rpm
Claimed maximum torque: 104Nm at 6,250rpm
Fuel Consumption 5L/100km (20km/L)
Type: 6-speed Manual Transmission or 6-speed Dual Clutch Transmission DCT (optional)
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet, multiplate clutch
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Chassis: Semi double cradle
Front suspension: Showa 43mm SFF-BP type inverted telescopic fork with dial-style preload adjuster, 150mm stroke.
Rear suspension: Monoblock aluminium swing arm with Pro-Link with SHOWA gas-charged damper, hydraulic dial-style preload adjuster, 150mm axle travel.
Front brakes: Radial mounted four-piston brake caliper, 310mm floating double disc
Rear brake: Single piston caliper, 256mm
Tyres, F: 120/70R17 R: 180/55R17
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed wet weight: 238kg (DCT: 248kg) wet
Seat height: 820mm
Fuel capacity: 20.4L
Electronics, rider aids & convenience features
2-Channel ABS braking. 6.5inch TFT Touch Panel Multi information display & secondary LCD meter. LED lighting with Daytime Running Lights. Apple CarPlay & Android Auto. In dash power and USB sockets. Auto cancelling indicators. Cruise control. Heated grips. 5 Riding modes.
Colours: Black, Grey
Test bike supplied by: Honda Australia MPE
Warranty: Two Years, unlimited kilometres
We considered for comparison touring bikes with similar performance and pricing.
Yamaha MT-09 Tracer – $23,999 Ride Away
Three pots, more power, fancier electronics, quickshifter, panniers and electronically adjustable suspension make the MT09 based machine tough competition.
Suzuki V-Strom 1050 – $22,990 Ride Away
With cast wheels, a V-twin powerplant and keen pricing, the 2023 V-Strom is very much in the Honda’s wheelhouse – but it’s likely to be even more comfortable on a dirt road.
BMW F 900 XR – $20,130 Ride Away
With similar power yet 20kg lighter, the BMW feels quicker and more nimble. The base price is good, but becomes more expensive than the Honda when configured with options.