FIRST RIDE: 2024 Honda XL750R Transalp
BY: OLIVIER DE VAULX
September 1986, South of France. 17-year-old me is lying down behind the fairing of the original Transalp XLV600, twisting the throttle to maintain the top speed of 100mph on the highway, holding his motocross helmet with the left hand. This was an exhilarating moment for the reckless teenager I was at the time, but also for the motorcycle community. The Transalp and the Africa Twin started a new era, giving life to the concept of adventure bikes as we know them today, with their fairings, long-range tanks, and off-road capabilities.
37 years later, Honda unveiled the Transalp once again. The nostalgia-driven name might give it an edge for the marketing campaigns, but the XL750R arrives late to the party. Revived by the Yamaha Tenere in 2019, the mid-size adventure segment is now booming. In these conditions, what can Honda possibly bring to the table to make a difference?
Priced just underneath the psychological barrier of ten thousand dollars, the 2024 Transalp is true to its roots of being an affordable machine. Honda didn’t keep the original V-twin design but came with a 755cc water-cooled parallel twin. This engine benefits from many other Honda patented technologies such as the CRF-like Unicam, Ni-Sic coating of the cylinders like on the CBRs, and the Vortex flow ducts to optimize the induction. It’s a very modern powertrain, shared with the naked roadster CB750 Hornet, that delivers 92hp at 9500 rpm and 53 lb-ft of torque at 7250 rpm. To help these ponies go to the ground safely, the new Transalp is loaded with all the electronic nannies you can dream of: Ride-by-wire throttle, customizable engine power output, engine braking, modulable traction control, deactivable ABS, customizable up and down quick-shifter, and slip assist clutch.
The exhaust, situated a bit low, might be exposed in case of a crash but is attached to the steel diamond frame via a bolted bracket, a welcome solution compared to some other bikes in this segment of the market. The 43mm inverted Showa front suspension offers a 15-stage preload adjustment, while the Showa shock is 7-stage preload adjustable. The rebound or compression screws are nowhere to be seen, the only visible sign of cost-cutting on the bike, if you accept the USB-C port, oddly hidden underneath the seat instead of being on the dash like it was more of an afterthought than anything else. Fortunately, the wheels respect the adv-standard combo of 18” at the rear and 21” at the front, with spoked rims fitted with tubes and disk brakes at both ends. The dashboard is modern with a 5” screen controlled via buttons on the left side of the handlebar.
Before hitting the backcountry roads for the first time, the new user of the Transalp will most likely spend a few minutes looking at the various options offered by this new dash. The different modes, Standard, Rain, Gravel, and Sport grant you different pre-registered settings, while the 5th option called User mode lets you tune or deactivate everything to your liking. Toggling between the five modes can be done by pressing just one button, even while riding. The screen can be configured with 4 different layouts and 4 backgrounds, and the info displayed at the bottom can also be customized. It might sound like a lot at first, but the controls and the menus are intuitive and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.
Lastly, accessory packages aimed at different usages of the bike are available, from the urban-oriented version with suitcases and top case to the adventure model fitted with crash bars and a skid plate. These are more suggestions than mandatory bundles and it’s possible to pick and choose accessories from any pack.
Cruising on pavement
A quick press on the red button and the XL750R starts immediately, with no mechanical noise nor vibrations, but instead the purring of a happy feline. From first to sixth gear, the quick-shifter works flawlessly even at very low rpm, a good surprise. At or slightly above the speed limit, the fairing proves its efficiency. The wind pressure is non-existent on the shoulders and the buffeting minimal, at least for riders up to 6’1”. The seat is comfortable, the optional heated grips easy to modulate using the Fn button and the joystick, and the miles stack up quickly as we cruised across the gorgeous Pennsylvanian backcountry.
On winding roads covered by leaves, the fork doesn’t dive when braking before the corners, the brakes are powerful and easy to modulate, and the bike keeps the chosen line like it’s on rails. It’s a very intuitive and neutral chassis on pavement, one that lets you explore your own limits way before reaching those of the bike. The parallel twin is torquey and you never really need to shift over 4,000 rpm to go fast, especially since you get already close to the peak torque value at this regime. But riding solely at mid-range is sometimes not satisfying enough. Wanting to experience the full blast of the 92hp announced by Honda, it’s tempting to rev the beast up to the red line. Alas, don’t get your expectations too high here. Reving the unicam engine, like a CRF, never really brings the expected kick in the butt, due to extremely linear power delivery and the compression ratio of 11:1 prioritizing reliability over pure performance. There’s still a strong and constant push, but it feels a bit underwhelming and not as fun as many would like.
On the other hand, what this engine lacks in brutality is gained in terms of safety. Exiting a corner, this predictable power curve helps keep the rider’s focus on the perfect line instead of wasting his attention on throttle management. Adding the traction control and the slipper clutch to the equation, the result is a machine that will devour endless miles of pavement in the safest way possible, while sipping gas and making good pace. Does it sound exactly like a sporty Honda Accord? That might not be a coincidence, especially since the Transalp is targeted toward the 40/50-year-old crowd and marketed as a bridge between touring and off-road. Besides, after two days of riding a mix of paved and dirt backcountry roads, it is worth noting that I averaged 54mpg, which would give a maximum range of 250 miles with the 4.5-gallon tank.
Finding traction off-road
Quitting the asphalt for an incursion in the trails of the Pennsylvania BDR-X route, the gravel mode was selected immediately. Yet, the traction control that was mostly transparent on pavement is still active in this mode and becomes annoyingly intrusive on the dirt. Switching from Gravel to User mode is the only way to get rid of it. It’s not long and makes sense, even if the setting has to be done again every time you turn off the key.
Once on the dirt, you want to ride standing up most of the time. The standing position feels natural, and it’s easy to ride with the shoulders above the handlebar. The trails were smooth on this first day and the precision of the front end was almost the same as on the pavement. Leaning confidently in the long curves and taking speed in the straights, the pace rose quickly. Fortunately, the brakes offered both power and a solid feel, delivering consistent braking before the hairpins, even on loose surfaces and with the ABS on.
The engine was on the same page. Once again, the linear curve that can be seen as a lack of character is an assumed trait, and in the perspective of a long raid off-road, could well be more of a strength than a weakness. Moreover, the relatively slow revving nature of the 755cc twin allows the rider to stay in the same gear in between two corners, with no sudden spin of the rear tire and no accidental incursion in the red zone. Keeping a constant acceleration with no need for a gear change makes the ride easier, all while encouraging the rider to keep his flow. Of course, it is still possible to rely more on the torque and to shift early, both approaches being equally efficient on the smooth Pennsylvania gravel roads.
On our second day, some more technical sections were on the program, with rocks and boulders hidden by falling leaves, mud holes, and slippery ruts forming a relentless succession of traps. The suspension, offering 7.9 inches of travel in the front and 7.3 inches in the rear, did a fine job of navigating these treacherous conditions. In the absence of a head-to-head comparison with the competition, it is hard to make a definitive judgment, but the fork and the shock seemed to be on par with the other motorcycles in the same category. Despite the lack of external dials, the fork never felt too soft while keeping most impacts at bay, even when hitting straight into big roots. The rear was on the harsh side in the rocks but not more than other bikes of the same category.
The adventurers-turned-wannabe-racers who complain about any brand’s ADV bikes being too soft will probably end up bottoming up on the Transalp as well, but mostly because they ride these polyvalent tourers as if they were dirt bikes and therefore push them out of their usage window. At a normal exploratory pace, there’s no lack of performance in this chassis. The cherry on the cake, the 2024 Transalp is not top-heavy. Combined with the relatively low seat height of 33.7 inches, this allows the distracted rider who forgot to check its GPS to do a u-turn in the narrow trails without being scared of dropping the bike.
An important model
During these two days of testing, one of the most frequent comments among the panel of testers was to express how good the Transalp was, “especially for its price point.” Talking about this motorcycle through the lens of its MSRP is fair, and can also be seen as an attempt to stop any direct comparison with the “race-ready” machines of Austrian lineage costing 50% more. But this well-intentioned fairness is meaningless as the demographics are different.
The Japanese will seduce the adventurers who look for reliability, efficiency, and safety and are not into performance bragging rights. These riders will cross-shop the little Honda with everything that fits their budget, from the refreshed old-school models like the Kawasaki KLR to the new hot stars of the mid-size segment like the Yamaha Tenere, the Aprilia 660, etc. The 2024 Transalp might not be the one with the most fun engineered in its DNA, but it will do everything these other bikes do, with more comfort, more safety, an equivalent or better range, and Honda’s reliability. Some might even choose it against the big sister Africa Twin, thanks to the 50-pound difference and despite the lack of cruise control.
Almost 4 decades later, the revolution that Honda brings with this new Transalp is its forthright honesty. Like the original from the 80’s, the 2024 version of the iconic motorcycle doesn’t pretend to be a rally bike. It is however the tool that gets the job done without showing off, the bike that you trust if you go around the world. The philosophy behind this motorcycle is to make it almost transparent, to help the rider forget the bike but remember what matters most: the ride, with its landscapes, its challenges, and encounters with friendly strangers… In a world where spec numbers prime to win the marketing war on social media, Honda goes back to the root of motorcycle adventure with an honest and refreshing approach that should ensure the Transalp a victory in the hearts year-round riders…
Engine Type: 755cc liquid-cooled 24.5º parallel-twin four-stroke
Bore And Stroke: 87.0mm x 63.5mm
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Valve Train: Unicam SOHC; four valves per cylinder
Induction: Programmed Fuel injection (PGM-FI); 46mm throttle body
Final Drive: #520 Chain; 16T/45T
Front Suspension: 43mm Showa SFF-CA inverted telescopic fork; 7.9-inch travel
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link® single Showa shock; 7.5-inch travel
Front Brake: Dual 310mm discs; 2-channel ABS
Rear Brake: Single 256mm disc; 2-channel ABS
Front Tire: 90/90-21
Rear Tire: 150/70-18
Wheelbase: 61.5 inches
Seat Height: 33.7 inches (optional 32.6-inch accessory seat available)
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gallons
Curb Weight: 459 pounds
Warranty: One Year Included, Transferable, unlimited-mileage limited warranty
To the Honda people who took special care of us in colorful Pennsylvania: Colin Miller, Ryan Dudek, Corey Pond, Rob Doyle, George Nachajski, and of course Chris Jonnum. You guys rock! Big thank you as well to Tim James, board president of Ride BDR, who provided the tracks for the event, as well as Klim, who provided the comfy gear and protections for the ride.