A motorcycle, a scooter or both?

Spy shots and patent drawings are slowly revealing a new series of bikes from Honda that bridge the traditional scooter/motorcycle divide, with the same basic engine and frame possibly being used to underpin both. If true, that cross-category platform sharing will mark a first, saving Honda development costs but creating an interesting marketing conundrum. How do you sell a motorcycle that’s really just a scooter?

All this started with the Honda New Mid Concept, which was unveiled at EICMA last year. Appearing to be a simple maxi scooter, it mimicked the Yamaha TMAX in moving its engine off the swingarm and into the frame. Hence the “Mid” name. But that didn’t appear to be all. Details on the concept were sparse, but it looked like something interesting was going on with the engine and transmission, who’s cases peaked through the all-encompassing plastics.

Snapped at the same time as the Honda Crosstourer spy shots in what was likely a staged photo opportunity for Brenda Priddy’s “spies” — the car photographer regularly works with OEMs to build early buzz around new products — the production New Mid appears to adopt radically different ergonomics from other scooters and appears to share its steel tube frame and single or parallel-twin engine with a new naked bike also photographed at the same time.

There’s licensing issues, so we can’t run them here, but if you compare photos of the scooter to photos of the naked, you’ll see very similar components. Same forks, same brakes, same wheels, same swingarm. Then compare that naked bike’s frame to the one in the above patent drawing. Information — likely given to Priddy by Honda, then passed along to the outlets that purchased her photos if standard practices were followed — indicates that both machines are equipped with the dual-clutch transmission that first debuted on Shamu.

That DCT is actually really neat and would be perfect on an affordable commuter or a big scooter. Unlike a manual clutch, it’s incredibly easy to operate in traffic and unlike a CVT, you get more of a motorcycle experience with the punctuation individual gears provide. Likely saps less power and is lighter too.

Of further interest is the riding position and luggage on the New Mid. The rider straddles the bike rather than placing his feet in a step-through frame and it’s wearing both panniers and side boxes. Motorcycle practicality, scooter performance?

So why is Honda building a scooter that’s similar to a motorcycle and a motorcycle that’s similar to a scooter? Well believe it or not, there are places in the world outside North America where bikes serve as day-to-day transportation. In those magical mystery lands, both maxi scooters and naked middleweight commuters are enormously popular. Often, a professional will own both a fast, fun bike for weekend and something like a TMAX to get him to and from work. Sharing platforms will allow Honda to bring these bikes in at a relatively low price point while still offering innovative, useful, differentiating technology in the form of DCT.

Both inexperienced riders and commuters will benefit from DCT on the naked bike, while riders used to real motorcycle performance will appreciate it on the maxi scooter, while still enjoying a more practical mode of transportation than their weekend 1198. It may be too early to tell as both machines are lightly disguised, but aside from slightly boring styling, Honda could be onto winners here. At least in Europe.

Visordown, Motorcycle-USA and Motoblog.it

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