If I were to ask you to choose a sensible motorcycle manufacturer you’d probably pick Honda. Over the decades, Team Red has produced reliable steed after reliable steed, often for affordable prices. As I’ve said before, a list of good motorcycles under $5,000 could be populated entirely by Hondas. Every once in a while, Honda breaks the mold and sells something a bit silly, something that makes you wonder how it even got the green light. The Honda DN-01 is one of those motorcycles. Sold for just two model years, this motorcycle is a bizarre melding of scooter, sportbike, and cruiser traits into one weird unit.
Honda has a long history of firing off strange motorcycles. The company responsible for the wonderful Super Cub has also produced the CT50 Motra, a utility scooter with equipment racks and low-range gearing. Then there’s the Honda Valkyrie Rune, a motorcycle that was more or less an art project that cost the company $225 million. Of course, Honda also made the adorable Motocompo and the car-like PC800 Pacific Coast. And who can forget the Honda NM4, which looks like something that Batman would ride?
Honestly, all of these are worth a deeper look into Honda’s history of wild motorcycles, but today I want to focus on one short-lived entry inspired by a search to buy my first brand-new motorcycle. This year, I’ve decided to treat myself to a new bike, something not old with tens of thousands of miles like my normal fare. I’m finding myself captivated by the likes of the Honda Super Cub C125, Royal Enfield Continental GT, Royal Enfield Classic 350, and of course, a dream bike: the Indian FTR.
As I’ve been searching dealer inventories for a good deal, I’ve run into one of Honda’s weird motorcycle entries and I was reminded that it even existed in the first place. The Honda DN-01 came and went practically in a blink of an eye, and it’s worth looking into perhaps why it it disappeared.
If A Crossover Were A Motorcycle
The DN-01 first started life as a concept motorcycle that Honda unveiled at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. Back then, Honda called it a “comfortable sports cruiser” and the marque’s plan for it sounded ambitious. The motorcycle was the first to come out of Honda’s “Dream New” concept, an idea from Honda to showcase what it thought future non-motorcyclists would think a motorcycle should be like. Selling non-motorcyclists on a motorcycle sounds like a bizarre business case, but that’s exactly what Honda did with machines like the original Super Cub, which currently holds the title of the best-selling motor vehicle in history with over 100 million copies sold.
The Honda DN-01 was targeted at a very specific buyer, from Cycle World:
“There’s a new group of riders,” says Ray Blank, Senior VP for Motorcycles at American Honda. “They don’t want a scooter; they want something with the size and look of a motorcycle, but they want distinctive styling, they want a low seat height and they don’t want to shift.”
The DN-01 launched globally in 2008, reaching America in 2009. Honda wanted to reel in these buyers with a motorcycle that was comfortable like a cruiser, handled well like a sportbike, and was as easy to use as a scooter. Out of the gate, Honda gave the DN-01 distinctive styling that wasn’t seen before or really after. Stare at it long enough and you won’t be able to determine just what you’re looking at. It’s definitely not a cruiser, but it’s not quite a scooter or a sportbike either. The DN-01 sort of just is whatever it is.
Honda says that this design follows a concept of “Low & Long + Modern Organic Body,” which is supposed to mean that the motorcycle is low and long with lines that are supposed to flow with each other. To enhance the looks, Honda gave the DN-01 a Pro-Arm single-sided swingarm and an exhaust design that’s supposed to bring unity with the motorcycle’s under-cowl.
Ignoring the marketing buzzwords, this design appears to achieve a pretty low center of gravity and given its low 27.2-inch seat height, just about anyone can flat-foot the Honda DN-01 at a stoplight. That said, this isn’t a beginner bike. It’s a cruiser-length 7.5 feet long and weighs 595 pounds wet. Bizarrely, it also has a low payload for a large motorcycle. The DN-01 can carry just 324 pounds. This motorcycle does have seating for a passenger, but if both of you weigh about the average weight of an American (about 181 pounds) you’ll be overloading the DN-01.
Carrying capacity may not be the DN-01’s strong suit, but the motorcycle makes up for it somewhat in how it moves.
Moving The DN-01
Under the plastics sits a 680cc, 52-degree V-twin borrowed from the European-market Deauville commuter. This engine is making 61 HP and magazines have found the motorcycle to put down 45 HP to 51 HP at the wheels. The DN-01 is not that fast for a motorcycle with its 7.4-second 0 to 60 mph time and a top speed of about 115 mph. What’s really special here is the transmission.
And that transmission is an interesting piece of engineering. Honda has a long history of putting automatic systems in motorcycles from the 1958 Super Cub C100 to the 1980 Tact, a motorcycle with a continuously variable transmission. Honda says that the DN-01’s predecessor is the 1962 Honda Juno M85 scooter, which used a hydraulic drive system and shifted gears using a twist-operated grip.
The DN-01’s transmission is what Honda calls the Human-Friendly Transmission, or HFT. This was first developed for use in Honda Foreman ATVs, from Honda:
A transmission system with a wide range of functions in a single unit, the HFT is a compact and highly efficient infinitely variable transmission system encompassing functions for starting, power transmission and shifting, all on a single shaft. The basic configuration of the system consists of an oil pump for converting engine power into hydraulic pressure, and an oil motor for converting the hydraulic pressure back into power for output. Both are made up of multiple pistons, a distributor valve and a swash plate for piston operation, while the cylinders are integrated into the output shaft, forming the characteristic structure of the HFT. The HFT also features the world’s first* lockup mechanism for an infinitely variable hydraulic mechanical transmission. When cruising, this lockup mechanism works to minimize transmission efficiency losses, contributing to improved fuel economy.
In practice, this transmission should feel similar to a CVT. In Drive or in Sport mode, the motorcycle is “twist and go” like a scooter. There’s also a manual mode, which simulates a six-speed manual transmission and you “shift” using buttons on the handlebar. However, unlike a CVT, this hydraulic transmission automatically reduces drive ratios for hills and it even has an off-throttle compression braking ability. The graphics above show its components.
On The Road
At least on paper, it seems like Honda built one weird, but still quality motorcycle. It even came with nice safety features like linked brakes and ABS. The seat looks pretty cushy and it sports a front fork with 4.2 inches of travel plus a rear single shock with 4.7 inches of travel.
Motorcycle publications found that combining three types of two-wheeler into one didn’t work the best, from Motorcycle.com’s review:
After reaching for the non-existent clutch lever and get rolling, your next dilemma is to find the footrests. Once having fruitlessly searched for them somewhere below the cushy saddle, a rider eventually finds floorboards placed in a cruiser-esque forward position. While we appreciated the self-adjustable riding position available with the floorboards, their forward-placed location forces a rider’s butt to carry most of the body’s weight, so it becomes uncomfortable during long stints despite the seat’s generous padding.
Acceleration from the mid-size V-Twin engine is decent if not impressive. Sport mode is a good choice when you don’t want to think about shifting, but the DN is most fun when toggling through the manual mode. The DN even was able to out-drag an 883 Sportster from a stoplight, even if the Sporty’s rider didn’t make a super-aggressive launch. And 80-mph cruising isn’t a problem for the DN, although the protection from the small windshield is minimal.
Cycle World was more thorough, and its tester was baffled by its low payload and lack of features:
[I]n many respects, we wish Honda had gone the two-wheeled Acura route here. As it is, the only true “feature” is the transmission. How about standard heated grips (admittedly they’re an option), a GPS navigation system (an option in Europe, but not here), a power port or two for electric vests or other electronic devices and, perhaps, any kind of storage? The best case for the latter would be a place to put a bag of groceries, but even something smaller would be welcome. Currently, there is space for a U-lock under the seat, and that is it. This bike begs for a level of storage utility that would allow parts running or grocery getting.
The gauge package, too, is a bit annoying. It’s far away, it’s small, there are no ambient or engine temperature gauges and the tiny, hard-to-find-at-night tripmeter buttons are waaaay out there in front of you—a big reach, especially if you are moving. Further, that low, sweptback windscreen is pretty close to the handlebars, so getting your geared-up arm and winter-gloved hand in there to push the buttons is a pain. Suggestion: Make the trip functions activated by a trigger on the left switch pod.
Fundamentally, what makes these complaints all the more frustrating is, again, how easy the DN-01 is to ride. This bike functions. The lowness, the steering quality, the brakes, the transmission and the power are all seamlessly integrated and allow unparalleled ease of use coupled with a good feeling on the road. Just turn it on. Ride.
Perhaps harder to swallow than even the low payload was the price. When the DN-01 hit America in 2009, its starting price was $14,599. That made it much more expensive than the $10,000 Piaggio MP3 and just $1,000 cheaper than the Can-Am Spyder SE5. The price also put it on par with Ducati and Honda’s own ST1300 sport tourer.
In the end, Honda sold them from just 2008 to 2010 with America getting them from just 2009 to 2010. The marque has never released sales figures, but there were reportedly just 108 registered in the UK in 2010. Today, there are an estimated 7 of them still on UK roads. Sadly, there’s no data for the United States, but a quick search on Facebook and elsewhere suggests that there are a lot more of them running around here. And despite their rarity and oddity, these things are pretty cheap! Even low-mile examples are well under $10,000.
Was the Honda DN-01 ahead of its time or just bad? I’m not sure, but I’m glad that Honda still occasionally tries something weird, even if it doesn’t work out.
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That’s a wild one that I’d like to try riding.
Why do I get Streethawk vibes when I look at that bike/scooter/whatever mashup when seen in black ?
I never think of Honda as the sensible motorcycle company. They made too many weird bikes and features to be sensible. The Gold Wing was actually pretty out there by 1975 standards, then there’s the CX500 Turbo which was pretty odd before the Turbo. Plus Honda made the Oval piston NSR and more automatic transmission motorcycles than anyone else (this excludes scooters). Honda has long history of swing and miss designs alongside wildly successful designs.
From the description of the DN-01, I’d sooner have the more useful PC-800 or an old CB750 Hondamatic to go clutchless.
Who remembers the Aprilia Mana? Seems like it was going for the same no-shift crowd.
Look at this crazy one!
Are those training wheels? That’s crazy.
The joke at Honda dealers at the time was the DN-01 stood for “Do Not Order One”
I remember reading about this ages ago and being interested in it. It would definitely be interesting to have as a funky bike.
Mercedes’ Edit: I think this proves that our “bots” are actually just real people. This spammer edited their own comment! What the heck!? Thanks for the click, I guess?
My god that looks absolutely awful.
But it’s probably easy to drive and get on and off for fat people.
If you want to go further in the history of weird hondas. Check out the 1981-1983 CB900/1000c. The CB with a driveshaft and a 10 speed
Great article! I was going to click the Thumbs Up Button, but it seems to be a casualty of the new commenting system?
Gotta admire early 2000’s Honda for greenlighting every idea that came across their desk. I thought the Rune was one of the most beautiful factory bikes ever built but they took a massive loss on it.
I think I like it
Ah, the ol’ ‘Do Not-Order 1’. I do really appreciate that Honda motorcycle is willing to attempt wild things, and endure flop after flop after flop. For all the hits, they’ve had a lot of really cool bikes over the years, that just didn’t resonate with the buying public.
This is peak Honda and I hope they will always keep doing these idiosyncratic products. I’m a huge fan of the NM4 Vultus which came a few years later, but feel like I’m not brave enough to ride around on one..
A construction dude who was working on an expansion for my company had an NM4 Vultus. It was cool/weird as fuck. He got so much shit every time he’d park from all the Harley guys. All the people that road at my company or the construction company were Harley guys… and me with a Triumph Street Triple. I never got much flak over my Triumph, but boy, they liked to rag on the NM4.
Honda is known for making motorcycles that aren’t the fastest, or the lightest, or have the best brakes, but they are often very competent overall. Unfortunately this bike was aimed at a group of people that didn’t actually exist. It was full of what appear to be missed opportunities that were actually deliberate design decisions. I guess I can admire the fact that a company as large as Honda was still willing to undertake these sorts of boondoggles when the rest of the industry has largely focused on just feeding us the same thing every year, with incremental improvements and Bold New Graphics.
So this kinda sounds like the Dyna-Flow drive Buick had…smooth but decidedly not efficient. Is that true here too?
Rider mag gave MPG: (high/avg/low) 45.2/41.0/33.8 which isn’t great for a 700cc cruiser , but not surprising given the weight.
The Honda Shadow Phantom 750 is also no ball of fire, but managed MPG: (high/avg/low) 57.4/51.0/49.4 in their 2010 test. So it looks like you are right about the efficiency.
Well they are really dogs just look at that acceleration! It will likely make 200,000 miles with just maintenance and consumables, based on my experience with other Honda 52 degree twins. I can’t see me wanting one of these even if it fell in my lap.