In a sector where the design of bikes is becoming increasingly uniform, deciding to head in a completely different direction is a bold move. But that’s exactly what Honda have done with the Montesa 4Ride, building a bike that is neither enduro, trail or trial but has the potential to cope with all three disciplines without missing a beat. But can this really be achieved with one motorcycle – can the Honda actually be a jack-of-all-trades or will it end up a master of none? Ride Expeditions had to find out.
On Honda’s website, the subtitle to the ‘Feature’ section claims that with the 4Ride that they are ‘Reinventing off-road’. It’s a brave claim that doesn’t stand up to much dissection if you start to look round the existing offerings from other manufacturers and indeed older models. On the face of it the 4Ride is little different to KTMs Freeride, the Ossa Explorer, Scorpa Longride or the Beta Alp. All essentially have a gentle trials-oriented engine in a lightweight low-slung frame but with a slightly bigger petrol tank than a trials bike to give it a bigger range and a seat to offer a bit of comfort.
So does the Honda offer anything different for the not inconsiderable £6249 that it will cost to put one in your garage. Can the 260cc engine and compact dimensions really compete with the omnipresent EXCs and come out on top – it’s a tall order for sure …
So as we’ve said, this bike has a capacity of 258.9 cc, which fits with the trials world’s love of odd sized bikes but causes problems if you are trying to compete in a 250cc class! It’s a four-valve fuel injected, four-stroke with the usual water-cooling through a beautifully compact centrally mounted radiator with cooling fan as standard. There’s no electric start, just a kick, but more about this later. The engine runs a modest 10.5:1 compression ratio so you can see we are not talking big power.
Honda have finally got with the programme with a hydraulic clutch unit which has a fantastically compact master cylinder on the left bar, and operates a multi-plate clutch and thus a five speed gearbox. The gear lever is positioned well forward as with all trials bikes that means unless you have size 16 feet, you need to take your foot off the pegs to change gear.
The transmission is conventional chain. But the sprockets, particularly the front are miniscule – we are talking 8-tooth, which is about the same size as an Oreo biscuit. The rear is similarly small, but twinned with the Oreo at the front the bike is all about slow control rather than top end speed – this is not a bike to take on the motorway!
For the round bits, the Cota has the industry standard for off-road, using an 18 inch rear and a 21 inch front. The hubs are really rather beautifully made and finished in the same bright red as the fender and radiator cowls. The front is conventionally spoked with nipples on the satin black rims, but the rear has a rather trick rim that allows spokes to be changed without removing the wheel and has funky mid-spoke nipples – nice.
For the brakes, the front looks like something stolen from a mountain bike and is mounted in front of the fork rather than the usual position behind the leg. Although the brakes look tiny, the front has a full four-piston unit that bites onto a 185mmm wavy disc, while a slightly smaller 183mm disc is used at the rear with a twin pot caliper. Given the light weight of the bike, these brakes are plenty up for the task.
The lights back and front are suitably minimal and streamlined and although the switchgear is a tad ugly on this model this has been improved on subsequent incarnations. The clocks are neat and functional.
In terms of the suspension, the 4Ride seems to take a bit of a step back in time with it’s ‘right-way up’ telescopic forks that give a creditable and usable 190 mm of travel – around 100 mm less than an enduro machine – and have adjustment for compression and rebound damping. The rear returns to more conventional tech with Honda’s Pro-Link system operating a centrally mounted shock that has 170mm of travel and have the same adjustment possible for rebound and compression damping.
For the bit between the suspension units, there’s an aluminium beam frame that runs just outside the top of the engine, with subframe that is integral with the underseat storage and fender mounting.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
OK so lets look at how all this technology adds up. The 4 Ride tips the scales at an incredibly waif-like 81kg, and a seat height of just 885 mm, which should please those with short legs. The wheelbase is short too with just 1333mm between the contact points with the ground. But the specifications that really make the difference to the way the bike handles is the 23-degree caster angle and a 28mm rake – and if you don’t know, this is much steeper than any trail bike.
The last of the figures now, and it’s maybe one that owners will find out pretty swiftly – the bike has a fuel tank that will take a piffling little 4.4 litres. OK it may sip the fuel like a maiden aunt with an Amontillado, but that kind of amount is not going to take you much more than 50 miles between fill ups, and there’s no reserve being fuel injected – more on this later.
One major fly in the KY for those wishing to compete on this machine in Long Distance Trials is that for British ACU LDT championship a bike needs to have a 5 litre tank and a wheelbase of over 1350 mm, so the Mont is ten pence short on both. Bad planning Honda-san …
Montesa was formed way back in 1944 by Spaniards Pedro Permanyer and Francisco Bulto. Quickly developing their own engines, the pair started producing lightweight two-strokes which were soon being used in off-road events that were in their infancy in Spain at that time.
Seven years later Bulto rode one of his own bikes in the 1951 ISDE, and the machines were also being used to good effect in road racing and in 1958 the marque took third and fourth in their class at the Isle of Man TT. Bulto left the firm in 1958 and went on to form rival Brand Bultaco.
But despite their road models, it’s trials bikes that most will associate with Montesa. The first machine came out in 1967, a bike that would later be termed the Cota and go on to be an iconic bike within the sport. Success in trials was mirrored with results on the motocross track and for a while the brand enjoyed worldwide sales.
But good times didn’t last and by 1981 the firm had to rely on a government bail out and selling a major shareholding to Honda to stay afloat. Four years later, Honda ploughed more money into the company that by that time was only making two models, and a further twelve months on the Japanese giant increased their shareholding to 85% by buying out the Permanyer family’s shares.
Fast forward to today, and Honda’s stewardship of the brand has produced some truly fantastic trials machine and allowed them continued success in the trials world. The Montesa factory remains in Barcelona as a subsidiary to the main brand, with the majority of it’s sales within Europe
SMALL BUT PERFECTLY FORMED
So for this test, we borrowed the Montesa from a fellow TRF member, who also runs a KTM EXC250. The owner, John, has only recently returned to the trails after a particularly spectacular off from this very machine, but we’ll get to that later.
First off, the bike looks killer. From the intricately cast hubs, the tiny master cylinders on the wide flat bars, the beautifully formed aluminium fuel tank and that peachy little engine. Honda have always been know for their quality, and combining this with the Spanish flair and experience in trial results in a bike that any motorcyclist would instantly want. It drips quality and purpose.
Drooling aside it was time to get riding and straight away there’s a new skill to learn with Honda’s brave new machine. While two-strokes and four strokes undoubtedly require slightly different kick starting techniques, the principle for both remain the same – kick it like you mean it and the bike will start.
Well forget this mantra with the Mont because any purpose in your kick on the annoyingly high kick-start will simply not fire up the machine – period. What you have to do is the most gentle little rolling kick that coaxes the engine into life, seemingly against the odds. It’s not a natural movement and did begin to irritate pretty quickly.
Putting the bike into gear means taking your foot off the peg to knock it down or up and into gear. The gearing it quite so low that second gear pull-aways are entirely possible, and doing this cuts out the need for a swift change up once rolling. The clutch is silky smooth, and matched with the feather-light weight, quiet engine and easy pick up, then the bike instantly feels competent and confident. The first lane we tried it on was the cleverly titled ‘Stony Lane’ and sure enough the sea of rocks and stones can be a challenge on larger enduro machines. But on the Honda, the climb was incredibly easy, as was picking a line through the rocks thanks to the upright position right over, if not just in front of, the bars.
The torque on the engine is truly incredible and it will pull from standstill in the first three gears without complaint, meaning that you can just get on with disposing of any obstacle without worrying about gear selection – a good job when the lever is four inches away from your toes!
A DIFFICULT BALANCE
The other thing that is instantly noticeable is just how light yet effective the brakes are. The rear has the smallest and almost adorable little pedal and a fantastically progressive feel, whereas the front is devastatingly effective to the extent that you have to ensure you don’t grab a handful when you are not ready. The standing position puts you in such a forward position, that the risk in emergency stop is very real. Before Christmas, the owner of the bike had been competing in a Long distance trial – popular in the UK – looked down to check the directions and when he looked up his mate had stopped in front of him. Hitting the brakes worked with such efficiency that he was flipped over the bars and the bike cartwhheled over seconds after. Note to self – look where you are going and don’t brake really hard when stood up!
Luckily we didn’t repeat any of this, but it was easy to see that the geometry of the bike can easily catch you out. Away from the stony lane, the going opened up and allowed a bit of pace, and in normal conditions this would be stood up and leaning forward to allow the bike to skip about. On the 4Ride, there’s no question of leaning forward being required, and if anything you feel the need to move back on the bike and as the pace increases, maybe even sit to reduce the front heavy bias. It’s not a deal breaker, but when the rest of the guys are nailing the loud button, the boy on the Honda will have his work cut out to keep up.
So if the faster stuff revealed the bike’s shortcomings, once we arrived at the rocky climbs, the Montesa Honda had the chance to be the boss. The hill in question is a complete bitch on an enduro bike with enduro tyres, and isn’t much easier when you have a trials hybrid tyre on the back end. With multiple steps, no clear line and plenty of chances to lose it and cause damage, it’s a real test of bike and rider. On this occasion, the added joy was the fact that the stones were both freezing cold and soaked – so no grip at all really.
But with the 4Ride snicked into second at the base of the climb, the bike trickled up the slope with absolutely no drama or effort – it was totally unreal and not something we’d ever encountered before. It was as if there was no gradient at all as the bike just despatched whichever line you picked with consummate ease. It was like cheating – rock steps should not be this easy!
Coming down was slightly more difficult as the position over the front of the bike did make you feel a little unbalanced, but the Montesa still tracked just as easily, the little motor burbling away like a happy hen.
Faced with such an enjoyable riding experience, we were up and down the rocks like Flynn, attacking them at speed or stupidly slow, both of which were equally successful. You could literally come to a standstill on the steepest section, keep your feet up and set off again without any wheel spin or loss of traction. For Long Distance Trials this bike would slice through the observed sections with clean scores every time. This is seriously impressive.
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
In the same way that the 4Ride excelled on the rocks, the bike copes similarly well when you are riding in water and up rivers or streams. OK so being lower it maybe doesn’t cope with anything stupidly deep, but in terms or grip, the trials tyres and soft gearing allow you to ride wherever you want at whatever speed you want and never lack grip.
The other noticeable factor with the Montesa is the manoeuvrability and small turning circle that the short wheelbase and steep steering angle provide. Changes in direction are really easy, and the smoothness of the clutch and effectiveness of the brakes and the wonderfully neutral balance mean that you can master really slow speed moves with ease and even a hint of professionalism – for a moment you are Tony Bou!
But within a second of feeling like a trials god, we are bought back to reality as the bike splutters and dies, leaving us on the side of the trail while the others continue on before noticing we’ve stopped. With such a small range compared with conventional trail and enduro machines, we’ve had to put a litre container of fuel in the large under seat storage area, so it’s time to top up the tank and start looking for a petrol station. The annoying thing is that if there is room for a fuel container, why the hell didn’t Honda just make the tank bigger and the storage space smaller? In more remote areas, you’d need to take another fuel container in your backpack too and personally, we don’t like travelling as a mobile bomb …
Although the detailing and build quality of the cockpit is top notch and the seat is surprisingly comfortable, this bike was never designed to be an armchair
Despite the Montesa badges it’s essentially a Honda, and hence you get great build quality, good residual values and beautiful engineering.
At over £6000 for a bike with a relatively narrow band of use, the 4Ride does not come in cheap.
An easy 5 here. The little Montesa looks great in the garage and on the trail
MONTESA COTA 4RIDE – SUMMING UP
So what did we think about the 4Ride? Does it really re-invent off-road as Honda have so boldly claimed?
Well no, not really. It is undoubtedly an exquisitely made machine that combines Honda’s faultless engineering and reliability with Montesa’s style and poise, but when it comes to owning one, those things are not the whole picture. If you are an average trail rider, the times this bike will come into it’s own on an average ride are few and far between. OK so if you head for the rockier routes then you are going to be in seventh heaven compared to the boys on the enduro bikes, but still you are going to have a lot of road and faster sections where the bike is less practical or usable – especially when it tops out around 45 mph.
However, for those who live or ride in remote and rocky terrain, then maybe the Montesa is exactly what you are looking for. It’s noticeable that rather like the promotional images and video for the KTM Freeride, the pictures to promote the Montesa Honda feature rugged Mediterranean types in alpine landscapes, stopping to admire epic views before scuttling up a rock face with nothing more than a Gallic shrug. And if you are that guy, or indeed a trials rider that wants that bit more range to explore then you’ll love the 4Ride – it literally is the best bike in the world for you. For the rest of us – not so much …
Would we have one in the garage? If we had unlimited budget then yes – for the odd Long Distance Trial this bike it superb and could not be beaten. But for the rest of the year, it’s hard to see you’d pick the Honda over the enduro machine sitting in front of it.
RIDE EXPEDITIONS REVIEW RATING : MONTESA COTA 4RIDE
The Montesa 4Ride is a beautifully made machine and as an addition to a fleet of bikes would make you smile every time you went into the garage. But balancing up the times that would excel rather than frustrate, it’s a hard bike to justify owning, especially if your budget it tight.
The combination of the compact geometry and low gearing means it will not excel on the faster trails and the small tank range will have you looking for fuel stops way before everybody else. Yes it’s totally superb on the steep and rocky stuff, but unless you ride this all the time, the 4Ride isn’t going to re-invent off road any time soon …
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