Review: 2022 Honda Navi
Witness this mighty two-wheeler! Marvel at its inverted forks! Wonder at the fuel tank, perched traditionally between seat and bars! Note how the seat will hold one human—two in a pinch—in the old horse-and-rider mold, astride!
There is no floorboard! There is a kickstand! It is a motorcycle! It is mighty! Brando and Hailwood and Hayden, oh my!
It is also a scooter.
What do you call the space between two-wheeled spaces, anyway? Scootercycle? Moto-ooter? Does it matter? Why does so much of human existence orbit labels, anyway?
What we do know: The Honda Navi is a two-wheeled device. Its single-cylinder, single-overhead-cam engine makes 7.9 hp from 109 cubic centimeters. A lockable luggage compartment sits just behind the front wheel. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is just $1807. If you are lucky enough to land one of these machines for that figure—most dealers will tack on a $200 destination charge—you will have in your hot little hands the cheapest major-brand internal-combustion transport currently sold in America. Your new pride and joy will wear a 12-month, unlimited-mile warranty, but if the history of small Hondas is any guide, that warranty will be entirely unnecessary, and your prize will run without hassle until the end of time.
Labels may be human constructs, but adjectives can be useful. Motorcycles are generally weighty objects. Scooters are less stable but more nimble, wheels the size of a small pizza, built for commuting and fuel economy. They often wear center stands instead of kickstands, simple suspensions, step-through bodywork. They excel at quick jaunts and food delivery, and people buy them for riding around Brooklyn or Hong Kong in street clothes and a half-helmet. In some cases, a person might even rent such a device because he is on Bahamas vacation from his day job in data-mining chatbot futures, and doesn’t a guy in his late twenties deserve some time at the beach bar getting his drink on every so often, and isn’t an $80-a-day rental Kymco the best way to get there, my fellow Blake Shelton in flip flops? Of course it is, pass the 151, we are ready for some football.
Stereotypes are generally evil, but they can help illustrate a point. Machines like this carry a certain image, and efforts to undo that should be seen as a blessing. Especially if that effort is a motorcycle that feels like a scooter, or a scooter that looks like a motorcycle, or whatever the Navi is.
Like many scooters, the Honda is slow. Thirty-five miles per hour arrives easily; 55 is possible with time and patience; 70 will only happen while falling off a cliff. Also like scooters: The Navi’s driveline lives in its swing arm, unsprung weight, inseparable from the rear suspension. Torque finds the rear wheel through a compact CVT—an automatic gearbox, no clutch or shift lever. Motion here is brainless: the twist grip is twisted, the engine moans, the bike leaps forward. The first full-throttle launch I did reminded me of that Heidegger quote about how we should never allow the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. The second made me remember that time in college when I got extremely stoned one Wednesday evening and walked into the drive-thru of the nearest Del Taco. Ten minutes later, after I had convinced the cashier to sell a carless individual two tacos and half a dozen churros, I walked back home and fell asleep on the couch, churro sugar painting my face.
Never underestimate the power of cheap, shameless fun.
We should take a moment to discuss the playing field. Most people who buy a small two-wheeler do not much research the market. They simply waltz into their local powersports shop or open an Amazon tab and overpay for the first bike they see. The result is likely built from melted-down ’89 Lincolns and sweatshop labor, and a few miles or months later, when that sweatshop bike breaks, the vehicle’s drop-ship parent company will prove conveniently unavailable and/or insolvent, or it will have moved on to manufacturing K-Pop boy bands or flammable phone chargers or whatever. Parts will be nonexistent. The bike will languish or get thrown away. Boo hiss.
In a case like this, you buy the Honda because it is a Honda. A known-quantity BiFL from the company that basically invented the indestructible small motorbike. Not that there aren’t other players. Names like Kawasaki, Kymco, Vespa, and Yamaha produce a variety of quality single-cylinder commuters. Those machines are nice but also at least 30 percent more expensive than a Navi and less entertaining, and they feel less like goofy little intoxicants. Many of them cost more than a good used traditional motorcycle. Boo hiss again.
A quick word on Honda’s own Grom, which the Navi is styled to resemble. That motorcycle costs $3400 and routes 9.7 hp through a five-speed manual gearbox with hand clutch; the added cost brings suspension and brakes that feel more than adequate for the power. Several years back, I rode a Grom from Seattle to San Francisco, bopping down the coast at 50 mph while dragging the pegs in corners and losing stoplight drags to minivans. The Grom is a minimoto joy buzzer. The Navi, which costs half as much, is slower and less stable at speed but also 80 percent as much a giggle.
Some of this giggle is admittedly born of inadequacy. Certain speeds on a Navi will occasionally feel as if you are going one million miles per hour, because the Navi is occasionally weak of damper and ferociously sensitive to bar inputs or weight shifts, especially under lean. Pavement heaves and lane reflectors have a tendency to kick the bike around or bounce you off the seat. Idle speed and smoothness varies with fuel quality. But these are small matters, and once you have lived through them, you will feel like a cartoon hero for doing so.
In the vast history of time, no scooter has ever made anyone feel like anything but… a person on a scooter. Point for the motorcycle camp.
There is a kickstart, which you will not use, because the electric starter works just fine. If you do decide to kick the engine to life, it will wake in an instant, thubthubthub. If you are anything like me, you will use the kickstart at least once, out of curiosity. The 236-pound Navi will rock on its kickstand as your foot follows through. The idling engine that results will be both inexplicably and inordinately satisfying, like a particularly quiet burp.
There is space here for traditional motorcycle work. You can hang off the seat, turn by trailing the front brake, drag a peg. The Nylogrip Zapper-FG MRF tires (90/90-12 in the front, 90/100-10 in the rear, excellent name everywhere) and those spindly little fork tubes provide adequate grip, and so you do the same thing anyone has ever done on any small Honda, which is rail around town as if you were in the lead on the last lap while gunning for The Great Championship and simultaneously getting passed by delivery trucks.
The fuel tank holds 0.9 gallons. If you choose to ride the 39 miles from American Honda’s headquarters (Torrance, California) to the Malibu canyons, and you choose to undertake that journey at full throttle, you will burn through 80 percent of a tank. I can say from experience that what you will not do on that journey is… stop for coffee, because the ride will cause your body to feel as if you have snorted a dozen espressos. Sleeping on the pegs is not an option.
There is no tach. The upper third of the Navi’s 60-mph speedometer is reserved for individuals of unusual determination and patience, or those who have elected to replace their bone marrow with high-pressure helium. More than 45 mph on the clock produces one of three emotional states, depending on road quality and crosswind:
C. You, yeeted into a ditch, but grinning.
Case C is the interesting one. Why might you find a ditch? Possibly the brakes. A Grom wears twin discs with stout little calipers; that bike will stop all day long. The Navi’s cable-operated drums fade into hope and fairy dust at their second or third whiff of abuse. The lever goes to the bar, forward motion continues merrily. Ride sanely, the bike will continue to stop. (The point here is not that the brakes run out; the point is that the Navi is constructed and tuned in such a way as to nudge you into riding a 7.8-hp crotchsnail like a loon for yuks. Every mile.)
Several weeks ago, I handed the Navi’s keys to the editor of this site, a serious and well-read man of focus. I pointed him down Malibu’s delightful Latigo Canyon Road, a winding mountain ribbon that climbs east from the Pacific. When he returned, he handed the keys back with obvious disgust. (“Get me off that ****ing thing.”) Later, he disappeared with the bike again. That evening, he confidently announced the following to his staff: “I rode the Navi on Latigo twice because it is fun and fast, and because I am better than all of you at everything.”
(I rode the Navi on Latigo because Sam and his friends took all the decent motorcycles. That being said, I would buy, and ride, a Navi without any hesitation — Ed.)
This is the sort of tame yet feisty machine my paternal grandfather would have dubbed “a little buckaroo.” He would have been wrong. The real word rhymes with “buckaroo” but carries a voiceless labiodental fricative in the first consonant.
Perhaps you are concerned about appearing a doofus on such a machine. Stop worrying; there is no getting around it, and that is totally the point. During our weeklong test of this motorcycle, I had reason to book an Uber across Los Angeles, to return another test bike. My Uber driver was a substantially proportioned and cheery gentleman from rough-and-tumble South Los Angeles, at least 250 pounds of human. We got to talking about motorcycles. He owned a Harley, he said, and a Yamaha R1, but also a Honda Grom. Three vastly different experiences.
I mentioned my love of the Grom. His friends, he replied, had made fun of his.
If you make fun of a Grom, I said, you have not ridden a Grom.
“It’s like ladies,” he replied. “You may like the large one or the small one, but that doesn’t mean the thing you don’t like is worse. It’s just different.”
The last time I rode our test Navi, I climbed Latigo at a whopping 30 mph, on a windy, sunny day, headed for the top of the mountains. Then I rode back down about halfway—bike wound out and straining, engine gibbering—before stopping at an overlook facing the ocean.
I paused for a moment and took a deep breath. I felt relaxed but also buzzing, lit by something intangible. The mental noise of pointless achievement. The knee-jerk consideration of how much a certain bank balance would care if I disappeared $1800. The kind of jabberwock song that tends to worm its way into your head whenever you meet a funky little minion machine of immense personality and ridiculous vibe:
Greetings, says the Honda Navi! It is I, the Honda Navi! With these looks and this price, I could be nothing else! I am the tiniest of motorbikes and I am here, in front of you now, to lay my claim upon the land! Give me a good road and a quarter-cup of gasoline, and I shall Navi on into your heart!
And so, dear reader, it did.
2022 Honda Navi
Price: $1807 / $2007 (base / as-tested)
Highs: An extremely affordable and quality piece. One-year, unlimited-mileage warranty. One hundred and ten EPA miles per gallon. Clever lockable storage compartment. Motorcycle ergonomics somehow prompt goon behavior. Fun on a bun.
Lows: Suspension and brakes leave something to be desired, but at this price, who’s complaining?
Summary: A neat little scooter in motorcycle togs, or a neat little motorcycle in scooter jorts. Either way, when you’re laughing this much, who cares?