A Brave New World
Honda's New American Sports Alters Motorcycle Reality
The U.S. motorcycle market often defies comparison. American tastes and trends can reside oceans away from the demands of riders in Asia or Europe. That's reason enough to justify the existence of Honda R&D Americas (HRA), but the creative minds toiling away within this top-secret two-wheeler think-tank do far more than merely exist: They fully intend to shape our motorcycling future.
What's more, by all appearances, this latest creation from HRA will achieve exactly that goal. Meet the New American Sports, an innovative exercise in sport bike design aimed at the very heart of what drives every mechanically minded motorcyclist across the USA: gorgeous hardware.
According to Martin Manchester, executive designer at Honda R&D Americas, "This concept bike takes a new direction in motorcycling, a path that emphasizes the beauty and aesthetics in the execution and creation of a sport bike."
Tony Schroeder, HRA senior designer, launched the NAS project in the winter of 1999, and he described how this futuristic concept took shape. "With an advanced project like the New American Sports, we aren't forced to work under a cloud of urgency; there are no production deadlines to meet, so we're free to take our time and think outside of established norms and push the limits. Unlike most advanced projects, however, the goal with the NAS was to not only create the image of a futuristic machine, but we also had the green light to take the bike to an unusually high degree of finish work. Part of our goal with the NAS was to develop and perfect new methods of model construction, and to push motorcycle engineering concepts into the 'what if' realm.
"If you look at existing machines in today's market, you see that the top-tier sport bikes were designed by engineers for racing purposes; repli-racers own the spotlight. We wanted to set a new direction for sports bikes, but back to the street rather than toward the racetrack. The market for racer-style bikes is obviously strong, but we envisioned a different group of riders searching for a new category of sport machine. The vast majority of consumers spend their entire riding lives on the street, not the track, so it's not necessary to establish racing function as the top priority for these riders. And so, we gave the New American Sports a highly personal, owner-directed allure by incorporating a superior level of execution, using visible mechanical parts that are highly stylized and finely finished."
Manchester further explained, "Performance always takes a high profile in motorcycling, but we were looking to reinforce the emotional attachment that owners have with their bikes. We achieved that goal by placing a major emphasis on the exposed hardware on this machine, dressing it up rather than concealing it behind bodywork. We've applied a great deal of forward-looking technology plus distinctive styling touches throughout, and lavished a huge amount of detail work on this bike. Because every bit of hardware on this machine has been designed for aesthetic appeal, the New American Sports purposely transcends the constraints typically dictated by production, function and cost issues."
Like the many other projects birthed at HRA, the New American Sports began as a concept, advanced though iterations of sketches, then took shape as a full-scale clay mock-up. With the NAS, the scale of the elements in the bike took on great importance. The project began with a liter-class liquid-cooled V-twin, largely because it is an attractive-looking powerplant, but also because in running form it would generate much-desired torque as well as a resonant, booming exhaust note. With such a large engine, a decision was made to center the bike's mass around the engine compartment, thereby leaving a light, open and airy appearance to the front and rear sections.
The commitment to such a basic form and theme lead to many challenges, problems that were often solved with elegant engineering solutions. Case in point: the radiator. With all the effort spent on dressing up the engine, the radiator couldn't be allowed to clutter up the front or the sides of the NAS, so it had to be hung in an innovative location-under the bodywork on the tail section! Now, how to route cooling air to the aforementioned hidden radiator? Cool air is force-fed through one of the two nostril intake ducts, routed under the tank and seat, and down through the radiator.
The front suspension treatment didn't just push the design envelope--it shredded the limits! The mono-arm suspension is constructed of carbon fiber and aluminum, with the damper and spring neatly enclosed within a massive steering head. An integrated steering damper rests atop the steering head/mono clamp (in place of a conventional triple clamp) for convenient access, and yes, once again, this component is beautiful in its execution. An eccentric cam surrounds the axle to allow for adjustments in steering trail; steering characteristics can be fine-tuned to fulfill the rider's preference. This configuration leads to the use of a large single-rotor front brake--in this case an elegant, floating rim-mounted unit with calipers that automatically re-align with changes in steering geometry.
"Sometimes advanced engineering leads to new styling concepts," Martin Manchester explained, "but in this case, the styling of this front suspension could lead to new, advanced engineering concepts. We purposely worked to push both the style and engineering envelopes with this treatment."
The front brake's large size and outboard mounting serve a functional purpose in enhancing stopping power, but it also accentuates the wheel's airy and lightweight styling. HRA designed the billet aluminum wheels, taking cues from organic, asymmetrical shapes contained within the human skeleton.
"The organic skeleton theme echoes repeatedly throughout the New American Sports," Tony Schroeder explained. "It begins with the front wheel and moves back to the frame, swingarm and rear wheel, just as bones connect segments in the human form. All of these structural elements combine thick and thin sections, just like a paired tibia/fibula in the lower leg. We intentionally blended this organic, sculptured look with the hardware and technology for a fresh appearance and aesthetic appeal."
The rider wasn't forgotten in this mix, either. The fuel tank features sculptured areas to make space for the rider's knees, and up front the tank is relieved to make way for the handlebars and sufficient throw between the steering stops. Note the handlebar and attendant controls; the component function isn't different, but the lever perches are milled from billet, and combine master cylinders and switches in a new, futuristic manner. As a special touch, the instruments light up with Indiglo-style illumination. Along with the tidy instrument package, four projector beam headlights add to the compact nose, creating a clean, sleek and aggressive look.
An innovative cartridge-style air filter nestles beneath the fuel tank for convenient access. Air is supplied via one of the twin nostril intakes. Other striking details include the dry clutch and stylish water pump housing on the right side of the engine. To keep the rear of the machine as clean as possible, Honda designers created an exhaust system beneath the engine in the shape of an aerodynamic cowling. The mini-hump on the abbreviated seat serves to hold the rider in place; it's reminiscent of a Formula 1 racecar's air intake. And what about the intriguing triple humps sculpted into the tasty carbon-fiber mudguard? They serve a function by adding rigidity, but their main purpose is to provide aesthetic pleasure.
With a superabundance of pure mechanical eye candy--carbon fiber, titanium, machined billet aluminum--all rolled into one package, it becomes difficult to list the highlights on this forward-thinking exercise. Virtually every component has been rethought, retooled, reinvented. As Martin Manchester summarizes, "We set out to re-create the sports category using the inherent beauty of well-executed motorcycle hardware. This concept should attract the more sophisticated and discriminating enthusiasts, those who appreciate leading-edge, high-quality elements in a motorcycle and would take pride in owning superior hardware."
Look at the New American Sports, and see a future fueled by imagination, where an appreciation for the mechanical aesthetic is every bit as cherished as pure performance. We can't help but wonder what else is caroming around in the minds at Honda R&D Americas.