Beneath the sharp edged
lines of Honda's futuristic new CH125 Elite is a time proved concept of
urban vehicle technology that blends elements of 1946 with those of 1984.
The ultra-civilized Elite proves that a good idea need not go out of style,
though it may have to wait its chance to become acceptable again.
What Lambretta and Vespa did for post-war Italy and eventually the world,
Honda now proposes to do again. The Elite, in its own quiet way, is one
of the most technically interesting machines of 1984. It takes the lead
set by Yamaha with its 80 cc Beluga and adds a host of Honda-style refinements.
The $1749 price reflects the Elite's degree of sophistication, placing
it only $80 less than a small motorcycle such as Honda's own CM250. While
the Elite can't hope to match the performance of even a small motorcycle,
its stellar virtues as an urban runabout are undeniable. It is extremely
light, steers instantly and requires almost no concentration except to
keep it going in the right direction.. Quiet operation, almost zero maintenance,
modest luggage capacity, miserly fuel consumption and reasonable weather
protection are also important aspects of its appeal.
The stylish plastic coachwork is extremely light and, of course, will
never rust. However, it's vulnerable to impact and will crack rather than
dent like metal , so extra care is called for. Our test machine had fallen
on its side before we received it, and the handlebar cowling was split.
A replacement costs $64, which is pricey but not outrageous. The Elite,
as the top of Hondas scooter line, is the only one with a four stroke
engine. The 124 cc single cylinder power plant is arranged horizontally
below the seat (?) and is designed for minimum upkeep. Liquid cooling
keeps the temperature gauge pegged on the low side of the scale, and clearance
adjustment for the single overhead cam valve train is external on the
cylinder head. Ignition is electronic.
The ignition key unlocks the steering and operates the retractable headlight
a la corvette and RX7. The Elite has no choke (?) but starting is almost
instantaneous in mild weather and warm-up symptoms are non-existent. To
go you simply rotate the throttle. The clutch is centrifugal and a fan
cooled variable-ratio belt drive provides an automatic transmission. Compared
with any standard motorcycle the Elite is sluggish starting off, but once
underway acceleration is adequate. It has no trouble keeping up with city
traffic, and carrying a passenger doesn't impede its progress much. Engine
revs don't seem to vary a great deal; rather, RPM stays fairly constant
and the belt drive does the work. The exhaust note is a muted drone that
increases in volume with load, but has the same pitch. The rubber mounted
engine shakes at low revs, but smooths out once the machine is moving.
If you decide to venture on to a highway the Elite will reach 100 km/h
under duress, but neither the machine nor its rider will feel comfortable.
Steering is quick around town, but downright twitchy at highway speeds.
The Elite is plainly intended for a more sedate pace. The Elite's leading-link
fork is the only truly effective anti-dive arrangement we've ever encountered.
No matter how hard you squeeze the drum brake, front end dive is eliminated.
It also gives a surprisingly compliant ride considering the short suspension
travel, just as the Italians discovered nearly 40 years ago.
The quality of finish on the Elite is superb. Most of the bodywork is
an elegant metallic burgundy. Panels fit neatly together, and the machine
looks as fashionable and well crafted as you'd expect for $1749. (Bill's
note: this is $Canada, then about $US2100; or about $4300 in 2006 US dollars!)
Cheaper scooters exist, from Honda as well as Vespa and Yamaha, but the
Elite is in a class of its own. Motorcycle enthusiasts find it interesting
and useful, but well heeled and fashion conscious urbanites looking for
practical transportation find it close to irresistible. Small wonder.
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