2008 Honda Varadero XL1000V


(From the Archives)

You’re overworked and underpaid.  The boss makes another unreasonable demand he apparently dreamt up on Pluto.  On days like this you regret not signing up for meditation classes and steal a few seconds to stare out the window, imagining how blissful life would be seeing the world astride a motorcycle.  If you’ve ever fantasized about quitting work and riding a motorcycle ‘round the world, adventure-tourers like Honda’s XL1000V Varadero should be on your short list.  Adventure-tourers (aka ‘big trailies’) are the SUVs of motorcycling – they’re great on pavement and capable (in varying degrees) on dirt.

For years, Honda loyalists have begged Honda Canada to import the XL1000V Varadero adventure-tourer.  Launched in Europe in 1999, the Varadero has since developed a cult-like following, and in Germany, it is now one of Honda’s top-sellers.

The Varadero has finally arrived in Canada, and it is available only through Honda Powerhouse dealers.  Although new to Canada, the Varadero is a carry-over model that has changed little since undergoing a makeover in 2002 when fuel injection and a 6-speed transmission were added to improve fuel efficiency and the frame was re-designed to increase high speed stability.

The Varadero (MSRP $13,999) is priced neatly between its main competitors, Suzuki’s DL1000 V-Strom (MSRP $11,999) and BMW’s best seller, the R1200GS (MSRP $16,750.)   Honda wisely offers a long list of accessories to fulfill the XL1000V’s adventure-travel mission, with ‘must haves’ such as heated grips, top case and hard-sided luggage.

First impressions of the Varadero are that it’s big.  Even our demo unit, even in ‘slimming’ metallic black paint, looks bulbous.  Climb aboard and the saddle is tall.  Seat height is listed as 838mm (33 in.).  I’m 5’8” tall with a 30-in. inseam, and the bike had me balancing on tiptoes when stopped.  

On the road, the Varadero is hard to fault.  The fuel-injected 90-degree liquid-cooled V-twin engine, rated at 95 horsepower, is a marvel of effortless power.  The cable-operated clutch is light and the 6-speed transmission shifts slickly, with ‘neutral’ easy to find.  Precise fuel management, a light clutch and an accurate throttle make the Honda easy to control – an important consideration if you’re picking your way along a choppy trail in first gear.  But at 610 lbs. full of fuel, the XL1000V is no playbike for the dirt.  Only a delusional person would attempt riding this behemoth over seriously rough terrain.

The big Varadero excels as a long distance, comfy touring bike.  The small, adjustable windscreen (with a design apparently inspired by a garden spade) is turbulence-free, and combined with the large fairing and standard hand protectors, a surprisingly good envelope of weather protection is created for the rider.  The upright riding position and broad, flat saddle make long hours on the road a painless proposition, and the long suspension easily handles decrepit roads.

The Honda engine is refined.  Power delivery is smooth and free of any spikes across the rev range.   Cruising at 120-135 km/h is right in the V-twin’s ‘sweet spot’.  Wick the speed up to 140 km/h and a barely perceptible low frequency vibration manifests itself in the footpegs and handlebar.  At a constant 120 km/h, the 996 c.c. V-twin is fuel-efficient, using 5.1 l/100 km (55 mpg) of regular unleaded.  Long distance riders will be happy with the bike’s 25 liter fuel tank, good enough for 410 kilometers before the low fuel light pops on, indicating 4 liters of ‘reserve’ fuel remaining.

The Varadero’s instruments are easy to read.   An LCD digital cluster (showing odometer, Tripmeter A/B, fuel consumption, and water temperature) complements the analog speedometer and tachometer.  Two glaring omissions spoil the instrument package – evidence of the bike’s aging design:  the absence of a fuel gauge and ambient temperature readout.  However, Honda partially atones itself for these oversights by fitting hazard lights and a headlight-flasher switch.

Although the Varadero has arrived late to the adventure-touring party, it has a lot to offer for the price.  The $2,000 dollar premium over the Suzuki V-Strom gets you the safety of ABS brakes (not available on the V-Strom), a larger fuel tank, better build quality, more comfort, and a wider selection of factory accessories. Compare the Varadero to the R1200GS (you have to order the ABS and on-board computer accessory ‘packages’ to make the bikes comparable) and the BMW is a wallet-busting $6300 pricier than the Honda.

For my money, the Honda XL1000V Varadero is the best adventure-tourer for real world travel in North America.  Honda is currently offering a GPS unit (having a value of $800 dollars) with the purchase of any new 2008 Varadero.  That’s just icing on an already delectable cake.

Make:  Honda Drive:  Chain
Model:  2008 XL1000V Varadero Wheelbase:  1560 mm
MSRP:  $13,999 Curb Weight:  276.7 kg (with full tank)
Engine Type:  95 horsepower liquid-cooled 90-degree fuel-injected V-twin Tire Size:  110-80/19R (F); 150-70/17R (R)
Displacement:  996 c.c.s Fuel Capacity:  25 liters
Bore x Stroke:  98 x 66 mm Estimated Fuel Range:  410 km (with 4 liter reserve remaining)
Transmission:  6-speed Fuel Consumption:  5.1 l/100km
Brakes:  Linked ABS (standard) Available:  heated grips ($299); centrestand ($323); 45 liter top box ($538); 35 liter panniers  ($1,385)
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