The automotive giant was touting a new e-bike at the Japan Mobility Show, and it's got us all nostalgic about the crazy RN01 G-Cross downhill bike.
Not to be outdone by Yamaha and it’s power-steering equipped Y-00Z e-mtb concept, rival Honda has also revealed a glimpse into what it sees competing with the best electric mountain bikes at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show. But while the Honda E-MTB Concept has some interesting features, in our eyes it still doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic 2004 Honda RN01 G-Cross downhill race bike. And Honda has missed a trick by not referencing this MTB fan-favourite with its latest assisted concept. It could have utilised the Pinion E-Drive Motor Gearbox Unit combined gearbox and motor announced earlier this year, or integrate a motor into a high-pivot, idler-driven design; both would be bang up-to-date while also giving a nod to the original bike. Instead we get a design concept that could very well have been penned in 2004 under the brief ‘design a mountain bike of the future’.
Just as it was for the original RN01, details on the new Honda E-MTB Concept are scarce. Just like the RN01, Honda claims the chassis is made from thin-wall aluminium casting. This is not a common production process when it comes to mountain bikes, although controlled-filling die-casting is used on certain motorcycle frames. From the images it looks like the organically-shaped chassis is formed of two cast shells that are bolted (and possibly welded) down the middle. The motor (possibly a Brose S-Mag looking at the image) is then bolted on to the bottom of the down tube/seat tube, and a single-pivot cast alloy swingarm drives the Fox Float X shock. Whether Honda aims to enter the bicycle electric motor market, like rival Yamaha, remains to be seen.
While Honda has gone for a futuristic look for the E-MTB Concept, in our view it ends up looking quite dated, and reveals some quite obvious flaws in its design. There are obvious compromises in terms of standover height, seat tube insertion depth, frame/wheel clearance at full travel, and basic kinematics, with the shock being driven directly off the swingarm, leaving very little control over leverage rates, or anti-squat and anti-rise characteristics. In that respect it seems to be very much a concept bike, rather than a rideable prototype.
In contrast, the 2004 Honda RN01 was commonly believed to be well ahead of the competition at the time, with expensive, bespoke Showa forks and shock, and a hidden gearbox that centralised the mass, reduced drivetrain issues from dropped chains, and allowed for shifting without pedalling. While the contents of the gearbox were secret for many years, when the team was disbanded and the bikes withdrawn from competition, it was revealed that Honda had developed a mini-drivetrain in a box, with seven gears and a small ‘derailleur’ to shift the chain across the cassette. Sadly Honda never went into production with the RN01. So come on Honda; let’s see you back in mountain biking in 2024, but we know you can produce something more relevant and more exciting than this E-MTB Concept.