First Ride: Honda NM4 Scootercycle

First Ride: Honda NM4 Scootercycle
The 2015 Honda NM4 is a futuristic-looking, automatic transmission motorcycle. It's powered by a 670 cc twin-cylinder engine, has ABS-equipped brakes and is priced at $10,999. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Honda's 2015 NM4 doesn't look like any other motorcycle or scooter on the road.

That's the point.


Honda is trying to attract people who aren't already riding Hondas and might not otherwise think of riding at all.

And, in fact, the Batmobike design does seem to have that effect. In two weeks of riding it around town, I got looks of total disdain from other motorcyclists and from motorcycle friends.

But the NM4 drew tremendous interest from non-motorcycle people, who gathered around me at gas stations or leaned out of their cars at stop lights to say, "Cool!" or "What is that thing?"

It's a motorcycle, first off, not a scooter -- a 700cc motorcycle fitted with all the modern motorcycle accouterments.

But it has been made approachable and easy to ride with the inclusion of an automatic six-speed transmission, extremely low seat height and a well-managed, low-torque motor. Almost any amateur, first-time rider could get on this machine and probably have a good time.

The bike has some pretty cool features.

It offers a fold-down, fold-up seat backrest that makes freeway riding comfortable but also makes two-up riding possible.

It has ABS brakes.

The windscreen keeps freeway noise and breeze to a minimum.

An upfront glove compartment has a plug-in to recharge a phone or iPod.

And the NM4 offers more color schemes on the dash than perhaps any motorcycle ever invented -- 25 different color combinations of lettering, alerts and background hue. As you switch between the options and the riding modes -- one for cruising, one for sport riding -- it's like the deep space light show at the Griffith Park Planetarium.

But it has some slightly baffling aspects too.

The side bags look like they'd accomodate a helmet. Open them, though, and you find they'd only hold a hoodie and a water bottle.

The combination of the liquid-cooled, parallel twin motor and DCT automatic transmission -- more or less the same combo Honda introduced on the NC700 -- results in a ride that seems jerky when you push it and underpowered when you don't.


And the bike's general design, which is reminiscent of the B-1 stealth bomber, looks extremely sleek and modern. But is stealth what you want in a motorcycle?

Honda last upended industry speculation with its Grom -- the little motorcycle that could, and did, sell in the thousands. That bike was a strange, unexpected design too -- low to the ground and easy to ride -- and seemed to attract more non-riders than serious enthusiasts.

But that was a $3,100 motorbike. The MSRP on the NM4 is $10,999 -- almost twice what Honda is already getting for its very appealing line of CBR500s or it successful Forza scooters. It's almost $3,000 more than the CTX700. The top-of-the-line Vespa hardly costs that much.

I'll be eager to see who buys this bike, and what they do with it -- if I can see them, under all that stealthy armor, as they ride by...

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