Top 10 Honda Concept Motorcycles
Jul 01, 2023
Looking to the future, one concept at a time
Honda has demonstrated time and again that it is content to plow its own furrow when it comes to motorcycle development and not do something simply because its rivals have done it. If that has resulted in a distinct flavor of production motorcycle, with perhaps more practicality and less flair, then that isn’t to say that Honda doesn’t have its fair share of visionaries in the design departments. Any motorcycle manufacturer has to push the boundaries in order to develop new technologies and new styling directions and Honda certainly has not been lacking in the imagination department, as these concepts illustrate.
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Start ‘em young, as the saying goes, and you’ll have a customer for life. But we’re not sure if any manufacturer has ever gone quite this far. Yes, this is a real Honda concept and the idea was to introduce kids to motorcycles with a series of kits, comprising interchangeable, bolt together parts, à la Meccano, so the kid could create his or her own unique motorcycle. The best bit, however, was the fact that that is a real, 31cc, four stroke petrol lawnmower engine lurking where the engine should go, in that big blue box. Today, it would be an electric motor, but we just love the idea that an actual petrol engine was included with this kit. What could possibly go wrong?
Four years later and it seems Honda got the message about the sense of including a petrol engine in a kids toy bike. The e-NSR basically ditched all of the Dokitto’s ideas - build-it-yourself in particular - in favor of nominal Honda sports bike styling in a simple, lightweight package, including the electric motor. The bike could be dismantled enough to enable it to fit into the trunk of a car and taken out to entertain Junior or, more likely, Dad, when at the next boring family gathering. The concept is as far as Honda got with this one.
The Japanese manufacturers soon realized that, to fully compete in America, cruiser models were needed and, if the models that emerged in no way pushed the boundaries of what a cruiser could be, then the concepts certainly did. The VTX Techno Cruiser concept was the follow-up to the Rune which was itself a concept come to production life. Sadly, there was no such fate for the VTX, with its huge 1,800cc V-Twin engine and interesting trailing link forks, whose components were machined from solid billet aluminum. The styling was all sharp edges and futuristic, and you’d never know it was a Honda, but it was destined to be quietly shoved to the back of the toy box.
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The concept that would eventually give rise to the Rune and that was as distinctively styled as the production model. The trailing link front forks are there again but this time in a style that is straight out of a sci-fi movie. If anything, the Rune that followed is a retro move in terms of the styling, as out-there as it was. The other big difference between the Zodia and the Rune is the large V-Twin engine, where the Rune got the flat-six from the Gold Wing. A rare case of a production model being even madder than the concept, although you can’t help wondering if acceptance of the Zodia would have been stronger than for the Rune.
In the mid- to late-1990s, Honda concept styling was following a definite curvy pattern which looks both of its time and also strangely futuristic, even today. Despite its obvious size and bulk, the FN-1 was intended to be a sporty bike, as opposed to a cruiser. The engineering is fascinating: longitudinally-mounted V4 engine with huge headers and high-mounted mufflers, single blade front fork with central pillar suspension, rim-mounted front brake disc with two calipers acting on it, single-sided swing arm and shaft drive and who knows what else lurking under the skin.
What is interesting when looking at concept bikes from a single manufacturer is how some ideas are carried over from one to the next, which indicates plenty of development time has been spent which, in turn, means that it was seriously considered for production. The Xaxis has similar single-blade front suspension to the FN-1, despite being four years younger. Developed by Honda America, it is strange how the Xaxis didn’t make it to production - with changes to the suspension, naturally - as naked sports bikes have always been popular. Unlike many concepts, the engine was lifted directly from a production model - in this case, the VTR1000 - and many other components were off-the-shelf, meaning it wouldn’t have taken too much work to turn it into a production model.
The best thing about concept bikes is the seeming suspension of reality on the part of those doing the thinking. Often, this has been influenced by a rival manufacturer and that was the case with the EVO6, as Honda got wind of the Yamaha V-Max and realized it needed to make a big-engined splash of its own. Normally, putting the Gold Wing’s flat six engine in a sports bike would be just about the worst idea possible: it would be far too heavy and change direction as quickly as an oil tanker in a heavy sea. But, just look at this thing: it looks as if it could be brilliant to ride and that is the whole point about concept bikes. Even it patently wouldn’t be good to ride, you can’t help wishing Honda had built it.
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Throughout its history, Honda has demonstrated that it is perfectly capable of achieving anything it sets its mind to, from the six-cylinder, 250cc GP bike to the oval-piston engined NR and all points in between. As the name suggests, the X-Wing was Honda’s vision of what Gold Wing-type touring bikes would look like in the new millennium. Powered by a 1,500cc, DOHC V6 engine, it was also packed with futuristic tech, such as traction control, variable valve timing, hub-center steering, built-in sat nav and internet connectivity which, in the late 1990s, amounted to science fiction. Sadly didn’t make it out alive after the New Year's Eve party bringing in the 2000s.
If the whole electric motorcycle thing is failing utterly to spark any interest whatsoever in you, then maybe it would be different if a model that looked this good was launched? Using the electric motor from Honda’s Insight electric automobile, the RC-E offered 600cc performance in a 250cc-size package. Refreshingly, it managed to avoid all the typical electric bike - and wacky concept bike - styling tropes and opted instead for a beautiful Honda racing heritage-inspired appearance which always works well. That Honda was seriously thinking about producing this is shown by the fact that there are mirrors and a license plate holder. If only...
Some concept bikes you look at and just know that they will be totally impractical to either build or ride, so you might as well move on and look for something else to buy. Others you look at and go, ‘OK, so where can I buy one?’ The CB1100R was one of those latter concepts and you have to wonder why Honda shied away from producing it: it would have been a sure fire winner and sold a lot better than the dull-as-ditchwater sister model, the CB1100F. Motorcycle styling perfection isn’t achieved every day, but this is as close as Honda has ever got and, as for it being a concept, well, it looks more production-ready than some models that actually made it into production! As of 2023, its 16 years old but it looks as if it was designed yesterday.
Harry has been writing and talking about motorcycles for 15 years, although he's been riding them for 45 years! After a long career in music, he turned his hand to writing and television work, concentrating on his passion for all things petrol-powered. Harry has written for all major publications in South Africa, both print and digital and produced and presented his own TV show called, imaginatively, The Bike Show, for seven years. He held the position of editor of South Africa's largest circulation motorcycling magazine before devoting his time to freelance writing on motoring and motorcycling. Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.