The 919

Ok since every other e-mail I get is about various aspects of the 919 let me see if I can build a page to accurately convey my thoughts. This will be another one of my attempts to take what started out as a post on a forum & convert it into a one size fits all article about the 919's potential & purpose as I see it. In other words it's my opinion. I base this on the fact that I've been riding sportbikes for over two decades now and as a professional Test Rider I can and do push them much closer to their limits than the common joe. No, I'm not trying to brag that I am a riding deity as there is always someone faster, but generally whether riding the track or the country backroads that someone faster is usually me at the front of the pack. I know the difference between a good handling bike & a poor handling one. I have ridden all manner of streetbikes/racebikes in various states of tune & suspension work from bone stock to re-worked forks & even in a few cases all the way up to pure works unobtanium superbike parts. I am very astute in my riding as I have a tendency to notice very small details & nuances that most riders don't even recognize let alone have a chance to dismiss. Whether that means you should listen to me or not remains to be seen, but most of the experienced riders do tend to agree with my statements when it comes to such topics.

The 919 is a budget based sportbike built by Honda to get a piece of the naked bike market that is quickly becoming popular here in the States. The popularity of this bike comes from many different angles. The basic premise is it is a cheap bike to buy & a cheap bike to insure, however others see it as an updated reminder of days gone by & still others like myself find it a fun alternative to the more narrowly focused current sportbikes wrapped in plastic that are most commonly seen in bright flashy colors with riders weaving in & out of traffic at usually high rates of speed... The 919 is quite subdued compared to those bikes & generally attracts a more mature rider with less desire to be the king of the canyon or local racetrack in that same scope comes the fact that the 919 has just enough suspension underneath of it to keep it on the road & no real amenities to speak of.

Honda took a bulletproof 900RR motor, detuned it & in the process gave it a 100% user friendly spread of managable power delivery, added an aesthetically pleasing "hidden" frame just barely capable of handling the motors output & threw on a barebones suspension just adequate to get the power to the ground. They saved a bundle on costs & are undoubtedly making an excellent profit margin on a bike they didn't think would sell well in the US market. Pretty much a win-win situation for Honda whereas they could have gone all out & created a naked monster power machine that costs more to manufacture & ultimately would appeal to a smaller group of potential buyers. Just from reading the various 919 message boards it's clear that most 919 owners have exactly what they are looking for in that the 919 is a fun bike & perfect for most riders just looking for a sporty ride/weekend tourer/grocery getter etc... Very few actually want to up the horsepower of the 919 & those that do look at it as a novelty type gimmick simply due to how it limits the focus of the bike & tend to drop the idea when it's pointed out that after spending the cash it takes to get the power up, then sorting the suspension/frame that they will still have a bike that would get its ass handed to it by any of the current bone stock 600 sportbikes. I do support anyone's right to do whatever mods to their bike that they want. However more power from the motor from internal mods is a point of diminishing returns as the frame & suspension are already overtaxed. The normal every day rider doesn't use the performance that the bike offers now & those that can ride the bike to its potential & beyond know that the motor is not the limiting factor but rather the chassis.

The end result in Honda's design of the 919 is a bike that is lightweight, easy to ride, fun & a jack of all trades, but master of none sportbike. More power from the motor would mean a beefier frame which means more weight & then better suspension to control the added weight etc...

Now don't misconstrue, better suspension in the form of reworked stock forks & a quality aftermarket shock will definitely increase the 919's potential, but only marginally in terms of outright handling prowess as you still have to contend with the swingarm & chassis flex among other things like the lack of a progressive type linkage.  BTW take what you read from most sportbike owners (especially 919 owners) with a grain of salt.  I mean no offense to anyone, but purely as an example, many summers ago I rode with a couple of guys that had swapped their front forks to F4i forks & just raved on & on about how good they were & how much better the handling/feedback was. I rode with them a bit & even though my 919 was loaded down with saddle bags & a cooler & I have completely stock suspension they couldn't even keep me in sight past a couple of corners. I had to wait about 2 minutes at the end of each road for them to catch up...  These guys were professing how much better the new forks were when they couldn't ride worth a damn to begin with & simply lacked the experience to add any validity to their claims. 

At any rate, back to the topic put those same quality suspension parts on a full-on sportbike & the return on investment will be much greater. I am a huge advocate of doing suspension work before anything else on my bikes, but I was never able to bring myself to spend the money needed in light of the bikes inherent weaknesses. I've ridden plenty of very nicely modded 919's and always appreciated every single one of them, but found no real improvement with several thousand dollars invested in new triple trees and expensive Ohlins forks installed over re-valved OEM forks. On my personal 919 I rode circles around more sport oriented bikes all the time by simply floggin' it, holding on and hoping it sticks. The ass end is all over the place & the front end feedback is vague at best, but it does stay planted!!! Still I just ride the bike as it is & smile the entire time as it is extremely flickable & fun. I will also admit that another hesitation about installing an Ohlins shock on the bike was the whoa factor I would get from other riders. When you just walk all over some guys on a group ride or a trackday and they come over to look at your bike and it is laden with expensive Brembo & Ohlins bits etc they tend to think the reason for your ability lies within the components you have installed. When they come look at my bone stock naked bike and leave scratching their heads I know I left an impression good or bad... If you have the money & just want to throw an Ohlins shock on it or get the forks re-worked I say go for it as you will no doubt be pleased with how much more compliant the 919 will become in all road conditions or if you are looking to simply smooth out your daily commute then the Ohlins shock does that instantly. It can be a great confidence builder to be able to feel the bike on the road so much better. Just be realistic in your expectations and understand that the 919 is not an RR type sportbike and never will be no matter how much money you throw at any part of it.

The 919 can still be be made to do some fairly impressive things with or without suspension mods, but you have to be a smooth rider to be quick on it.

This part is new: Forks

Similar to adding a quality aftermarket shock to the rear of the bike re-working the front forks with correct damping rates and fork springs for your weight will also greatly increase the compliance from the front end and improve your ride quality in every aspect. What needs to be pointed out though is just throwing heavier fork springs in the 919 forks is not a fix-all solution. Most riders complain about excessive front end dive on the 919, but what they fail to realize is that when the front end dives under braking that it is altering the geometry of the bike which aids the way the bike both tips into the turn and steers through it. If you stiffen the front end too much then the geometry change does not happen and the front end not only fights you, but will also have a tendency to push you wide coming out of the turn as you have reduced the trail numbers from the way the engineers designed it. Most riders will find that a smoother approach to braking maneuvers resulting in less front end dive will reward far more than stiffening up the front end.

The last thing I want to touch on is just how easy this bike is to ride. I don't think I have ever owned a bike that was this inviting to ride quickly. At anything up to an aggressive pace on the backroads the 919 just lets you throw it around at will & it stays for the most part composed. The suspension that feels rough & tight in the city limits starts to really come in & work for you at elevated speeds. Now when you get up to something close to 7/10 then the bike starts to protest & the rear end starts getting very loose & the shock damping gets worse as the lean angles increase. I have learned to just ride through the corners when the rear end starts bobbing up & down or hunting for grip as letting off the gas or braking simply aggravates the condition. You HAVE to trust the bike & again smooth is the key to making this bike work as it is & any ham fisted throttle jockey or brake happy rider will find himself either getting passed or in the ditch. You don't have the horsepower to make up time on corner exit so you have to keep up your corner speed or the other guys will just motor away from you. The one thing the 919 has in its favor that the more race oriented sportbikes don't is front end stability. This usually means it is hard to steer, but the 919 has a very neutral feel to it even on tight fast left/right transitions. Some of this I am sure is in part to the wide handlebars increasing leverage on steering inputs, but overall the lazy geometry numbers of the 919 make it a very stable bike that rarely induces headshake & invites you to push harder through the twisties. The rake/trail & wheelbase numbers of the bike pretty much preclude the need for a steering damper as the front end recovers instantly from just about anything you can throw at it from cresting hills while the front wheel goes light to crossed up wheelies landed just a little too early Naturally if a steering damper makes you feel better & gives you more confidence then by all means do what you need to do, but as you become more & more intimate with the bike you will discover that it is by all accounts one of the best mannered front ends on the road today even if the feedback is lacking & you really have to do something stupid to get it to shake its head at you.