5 labours of Honda Navi: Review

04 July 2016, 03:09 PM Vikrant Singh

Introduction

We all know of Hercules. The son of Zeus (and some mere mortal); one with unfathomable strength; and one who after completing 12 labours became the greatest hero Greece had ever seen. The labours were also seen as a virtuous struggle that led Hercules to fame and immortality. Greeks called it pathos, though it has a less celebratory meaning in Oxford.

Now, to the Honda Navi, and for all means and purposes, it is quite the opposite of Hercules. It isn’t big or strong; it doesn’t have a god for a father; and it certainly didn’t kill its wife and kids. But, like Hercules, a quest, the Navi must undertake.

The Honda Navi is a new concept. It is here to marry motorcycle basics with scooter convenience. It is here to give the young a set of wheels they can both afford and enjoy. It is here to be their one-stop shop for all motorcycling quests. The latter was beautifully conveyed by Navi iterations showcased at the expo. You had the stock bikes, of course, but surrounding them were an adventure, a touring and a sport, café racer version as well. Clearly, Honda thinks it is on to something here.

But, is it? To find out we decided to take a stock Honda Navi and put it through five labours; labours that will reveal – be it touring, stunting, off-roading or just overloading – whether the Navi can do it all.

Let the labours begin…

Labour 1: Can it Tour?

The Navi in touring form at the Auto Expo rightfully had a wind deflector and a tail box. But, it was in an awful camouflage hue. Our bike, however, is devoid of all the accessories but is a cute orange, thankfully. So, for our touring experience, which was mainly out on NH8 leading from Mumbai to Gujarat, we had to bring in a tail bag of our own. A big bag it might have been, but it fit comfortably

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Now, the Honda Navi only has a 109cc, 7.8bhp engine. And, it is coupled to a variomatic gearbox. No surprise then, it isn’t the quickest thing around. On highways, one can cruise at 70kmph but the Navi is nearly out of breath at this point. If we were to look at some popular 350cc tourers, the Honda isn’t really off the mark. But, after the initial euphoria wears off – which is about 15 seconds – it is a struggle to stay awake aboard the Navi, especially if you end up choosing the sort of route we did.

Then when it comes to overtaking or dealing with an incline, the Navi is completely at sea. It also doesn’t have a seat conducive for long distance riding. And all that cuteness about its puny dimensions ruins the Navi’s seating ergonomics. Moreover, both cross winds and a small fuel tank get the better of it. It is all over the place when the former strikes and with a small 3.8-litre fuel tank, you will need to fill up even before you finish battling the winds!

So, yes the Honda Navi can tour, only in the same way I can run a 100m dash. I am not designed for it. I am slow and I don’t enjoy it one bit. But, if  it has to be done to save face during my son’s sports day celebration, I better.

Labour 2: Can it Stunt?

Okay. So, there was no stunt version on display at the Expo. But, if you are getting into motorcycling, stunting is a beautiful – and challenging – way to express talent. A talent, I have never possessed. Therefore, to figure how easy (or not) the Honda Navi is to go stunting with, I had to call upon our in-house stunt expert Ninad Ambre to do the honours. Ambre has been stunting for a while and has done so on both motorcycles and scooters. The Navi then should be a piece of cake.

And it was, after Ambre had figured how to pick it up. The thing is, motorcycles have a clutch that you can pop to pull a wheelie. Scooters on the other hand, have their weight concentrated at the rear. So, lifting up the front with some gas and manual effort isn’t all that difficult. The Navi though doesn’t have the torque, or a clutch to pop and with the fuel tank upfront, the weight equation doesn’t work in its favour either. But, stand up on the rear pegs, and you can get it up nice and high. And with enough tries, you can keep that wheelie going as well.

Stoppies were a lot more challenging, mainly on account of wet conditions. Also, if the Navi had a front disc brake, if would have been as easy as a motorcycle to endo with, especially since one can sit on the tank and have all that weight upfront. Finally, Ambre decided to entertain us with something called a ‘chainsaw’. Get off the bike; pull donuts as you walk alongside it. It doesn’t look too dramatic in pictures, but in real life, it was quite a sight.

So, yes the Honda Navi can stunt. And it is as easy as one, two, three.

Labour 3: Can it Off-road?

Back to the Auto Expo and I am sure you remember the red Navi; the one with a raised front mud-guard, front fork protectors, branch busters, motocross like seat, and of course, a proper set of knobby tyres. Well, it was the best-looking Navi on display in our opinion. And, honestly, that concept, will work beautifully in the real world, or should we say the dirt world. Here’s why…

We are still riding the stock Honda Navi. And we have arrived at our favourite off-road trail. It has been raining incessantly, which has made things quite challenging. There are water crossings and landslides have destroyed slippery slopes; rocks and loose mud; and the only two corners I am comfortable with on this trail.

But, here’s the thing, I still had a blast on the Navi off-road. And, if you are one of those who are only just getting into the muddier stuff, the Honda will make things a lot more manageable. For one, it is light and it has a low seat height. So, every time you begin losing that front end, you can just kick the Navi upright without fearing broken bones.

The CVT comes in handy off-road as well. All one has to do is concentrate on the throttle – no clutching or gear shifting involved here. Plus, it has no foot controls leaving the rider’s legs free to do the balancing act when going into corners instead of working the rear brake or shifting gears.

And I never thought I’d say this, but the lack of power actually works in the Navi’s favour off-road. Because you know there isn’t enough grunt coming in via the rear wheel, you are not worried about opening the gas. And opening it early does get its rear to come around, but it does so in slow motion, giving you all the time and control in the world to correct, hold or lose it.

But, of course, it might be a good idea to accessorise the Navi before you head out off-roading. First up, get knobby tyres. Then, get grippier footpegs for when wet, these are impossible to stand and ride on. And stand and ride you must for the Navi’s lack of suspension travel and front-end stiffness can make things uncomfortable over poor surfaces.

So, yes the Honda Navi can off-road, and because when you drop it, which you will, there’s so little to break and it is so easy to pick up, I think I am going to get one just to go trail riding!

Labour 4: Can it Corner?

The Navi concept meant to appease racer boys was called N-Street. And it came complete with a NOS can (empty, of course), stickier tyres, a racy bump-stop equipped rear seat cover, café-racer like upside down mirrors, and an aggressive front end with twin head lights and a racy cowl. Given the engine was never going to deliver the thrills in a straight line (we have to be realistic here dealing with a 7.8bhp engine), so Honda engineers must surely be betting on the Navi’s dynamic prowess to deliver those race boy thrills. Unless, of course, the N-Street was just another marketing ploy…

To find out, we headed down a twisty back road. And immediately we realised a go-kart track would have been the ideal place to go have fun with this one. The Navi is light and nimble and one can chuck it from side to side with carefree abandon. But, it needs to be done at slow speeds and around tighter corners. On our route, with all sorts of bends and changes in elevation, the Navi wasn’t fun at all. Climbing up, it just couldn’t muster enough speed to make a corner interesting, not even hairpin ones. And on a downhill run, even if did get to decent speed, its weight distribution, its suspension and the front end setup, makes cornering a Navi a mute experience of sorts.

So, yes the Honda Navi can corner, but I won’t bet my weekend ride on it…unless of course, there’s a go-kart track at the end of it all.

Labour 5: Can it Carry?

This is a pointless labour, we agree. For it isn’t going to help you or anyone for that matter decide whether you should buy a Honda Navi. But, it had to be done. You see a small bike with two large men on it is a picture screaming to be taken. And you’d agree, it is a funny picture!

So, while we were at it, we figured why not try out the Navi’s ‘ant-ability’. Ant-ability – as defined by us – is the ability of a two-wheeler to haul twice its weight and still manage to hit 60kmph. And, to find out, we have brought in two BikeWale heavyweights. Pratheek weighs in at exactly 100kg and Venkat is a bit heavier at 107kg. The Honda Navi, meanwhile, weighs in at 101kg. So, you can see, we have our measures bang on for the ‘ant-ability’ test.

Now, before we begin, just to give you an idea, the Honda Navi takes 7.9 seconds to hit 60kmph from a standstill with an average sized rider weighing 70kg. With both Pratheek and Venkat, the 60kmph from a standstill does come up, eventually, though it takes the better part of the day. Navi’s loaded 0-60kmph is a super slow 15.8 seconds. What’s more, the top speed drops dramatically too; with our average rider, the Navi’s speedo needle was almost nudging 90kmph on the clocks. With our heavyweights, they returned proudly claiming 72kmph. How they managed to read ‘72’ on what isn’t a detailed analogue speedo is anyone’s guess.

But, there’s more to ‘carry’ that just the ‘ant-ability’ test. The Navi gets stowage under the tank and in between the legs; there’s some space under the seat too (it isn’t scooter like but is better than on most bikes); and if you are willing to spend, you can order the Navi with lockable storage boxes that fit under the tank and on the tail of the bike.

So, yes the Honda Navi can carry; just make sure, you keep things light.

Conclusion

So, there you have it, the Navi did complete all the labours. Which means, if it were your only two-wheeled friend, you’d still be able to have a good time with it. It might not have proved the ideal tool for any of our five labours; in fact, it was a compromise. But, consider this: Your perfect daily runabout (or commuter) can actually still go out there and do some justice to other forms of motorcycling, all the while costing so little. Now, that, to us, is worth applauding.

So, if you are still wondering whether you should go out and buy one, well, yes, you should! Only thing is, it better be the only two-wheeler offering at your home. Because, if you have a bike, buying a scooter will be more convenient. And if you already have a scooter, a motorcycle will be a more rugged, more capable, and fun choice…

Photography by Kapil Angane

Click here to read the Honda Navi vs Rajdoot 'Bobby' GTS: Comparison Review

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