​The Akira Motorcycle Is Real And We Rode It

Tetsuuuo! Kaneda's bike is real. It's called the 2015 Honda NM4, it's on-sale in America, and yesterday, I was one of the first journalists to ride it. Spoiler Alert: It really does feel like it belongs in Neo-Tokyo.

​The Akira Motorcycle Is Real And We Rode It

What Is It? Back in 1988, a movie about some weird kid with a really bad headache changed the movie world forever. It was the first breakout anime, with much more than a cult following here in the west. The standout character? A seriously kick-ass motorcycle.

For kids like me, who grew up with anime and video games and William Gibson novels, it was this bike that became an archetype for future dream machines, more so than even GP race bikes or whacked-out concepts.

Kaneda's motorcycle had a feet-forward riding position, but wasn't a cruiser. It had a long, low windscreen, a recliner-style seat, and pulled-back bars that met the rider's hands back near his body. It was completely clad in bodywork, giving very little idea of the mechanical configuration underneath.

Honda says it was specifically referencing and paying homage to this bike in the NM4's design. It's not an exact replica, obviously, but it actually is a functional, practical, and nice-to-ride bike as a result.

​The Akira Motorcycle Is Real And We Rode It

How's It Do It? The NM4 shares its 670cc parallel-twin and main frame with Honda's NC700X adventure bike and CTX700 cruiser. But, compared to both those motorcycles, it has a unique rear subframe and much-altered suspension geometry.

It's tempting to think of the NM4 as an up-styled CTX700, but while those bikes do share many similarities, the NM4's 25.6-inch seat height is a full 2.7 inches lower than the CTX700, its rake is 5.3 degrees steeper and its trail is a tenth of an inch shorter. Those dimensions sound sportier, but at 64.8 inches, the NM4's wheelbase is 4.6 inches longer than the CTX700's. Perhaps the most telling difference is in the wheel sizes. The NM4 uses an oddball 18-inch front and wide 200-section rear tire to the CTX's utterly conventional 17-inch wheels and relatively narrow 160-section rear. All that adds up to very different handling and a riding experience that differs totally, apart from the drivetrain.

On the NM4, that 54 hp, 50 lb-ft parallel twin is exclusively mated to Honda's excellent Dual-Clutch Transmission. The cylinders on that engine are canted forward at an extreme 62 degrees, designed to radically lower the center of gravity, which means the NM4 feels much lighter than its 562-pound curb weight would suggest.

Note that unlike most other manufacturers, Honda lists its curb weights with a full tank of fuel and a ready to ride motorcycle. Throwing a leg over the NM4 doesn't indicate a bike that weighs appreciably more than the CBR300R, a neat trick.

The NM4's all-encompassing plastic conceals two small storage containers in the front fairing, between the indicators and rearview mirrors. One is lockable and includes a power outlet. The other is slightly larger and was just big enough to hold my mirrorless Samsung NX300M camera with its 18-55mm lens fitted. Out back, the storage situation in those integrated, non-removable panniers is less impressive. Open the lids and most of what you'll see inside is blank plastic. There's room for maybe four soda cans. But, that soda will at least be locked and waterproof. All that space is eaten up by that wide rear tire, the exhaust can on the right side and the chain on the left. But yeah, it's still a serious bummer. Hey, at least the boxes are narrower than the mirrors.

The most apparent connection between Shotaro Kaneda's bike and the NM4 is the continuous line between the front turn signals and the rear view mirrors, the laid-back riding position, along with that distinctive long, low windscreen. What of the recliner-style seat? Well, stick the key in the pillion butt pad's side and you can raise it into a back support. It rotates through three degrees of recline and scoots forward and backward through four positions. It's maybe my favorite part of the bike and a clever, dual-purpose solution.

​The Akira Motorcycle Is Real And We Rode It

What's It Like To Ride? As you'd expect, the NM4 is a showstopper. While looking for photo locations in the Port of Long Beach, we were chased down by a curious trucker and Sean from RevZilla, who was along for the ride, was stopped by a cop just so the cop could tell him all about the storage compartments in the front fairing. Pigs…

Not a stoplight or crosswalk went by without a "Holy Shit!" or a thumbs up. Do not ride this bike if you are shy or retiring or haven't yet changed into your superhero outfit in a phone booth. The NM4 will give away your secret identity.

So, the first thing we should address is that this is not a movie bike. You will not be using it to powerslide like Kaneda, the ABS and lack of a clutch lever will prevent that.

It's also not a hairy performance bike in the '90s or '00s mold. It's not going to make you pee your pants in shear terror and it doesn't require professional-level skill to operate. Instead, it's practical, efficient, imminently-likeable transportation that's fast enough to keep up on the highway and a cinch to ride through challenging traffic, twisty roads or anywhere else you might actually need a bike to get you around.

The parallel-twin motor is essentially half a scaled-down Honda Fit motor and boasts both extraordinary fuel economy — expect around 64mpg — and diesel-like low-down torque. That mates very well with the DCT transmission, giving you instant acceleration when you twist the throttle at any speed. The NM4 carries an upgraded version of that transmission and is both smooth and virtually seamless in operation. You just twist the throttle to go — there's no clutch lever or shift lever — and there's equally smooth engine braking when you roll off.

The low seat, laid back riding position and forward-located feet all feel far more natural than they do on a typical cruiser, a fact aided by bike's very slim dimensions. The tank angles out from the seat base on a line parallel with where your legs want to be, with nothing interfering with the natural position — they aren't splayed out by protruding cylinders or a wide tank. The mirrors fall just above your knees, then their horizontal line cuts across the base of the windshield and top of the cockpit. Look down at the windscreen and you're looking straight at its top edge, with its plane falling parallel to your gaze. It and the rest of the fairing direct the windblast just onto the top of your shoulders, leaving your helmet in clean, unbuffeted air.

With the current fashion for ridiculously wide rear tires — think Ducati Diavel — steering many cruisers is now a matter of rolling them over a rear radius that's flatter than the front. It's a weird, awkward feeling that slows steering and handling, but it's barely detectable on the NM4. While you can feel it roll across that wide 200-section tire, it does so neutrally, without the front flopping to the side and without slowing the steering or blunting its feel. The whole package just feels intuitive, belying its length and weight.

This could totally be your first bike, if you can afford $10,999 for a beginner ride. Or, it would work equally well as a fun, easy, eye-catching commuter or light touring bike for anyone.

​The Akira Motorcycle Is Real And We Rode It

We Like:

  • The looks fulfill 99 percent of your Akira fantasies.
  • By not replicating the bike totally, Honda has actually produced something that's both good to ride and practical in the real world. It's a much more realistic ride than the crazy lines suggest.
  • Storage pockets in the front fairing are practical and convenient, particularly given the left one's lock and power outlet.
  • You can switch the dash through 25 different user-customizable colors. Or, leave it in automatic and it glows purple on startup, blue in "Drive" mode and red in "Sport."
  • The flip-up pillion pad turns into a comfortable, adjustable back rest.
  • The riding position is the most comfortable we've ever experienced on a cruiser.
  • The ease, feel and outright capability of the NM4's handling utterly belies the cruiser category.
  • Weather protection is surprisingly effective. Limited luggage space not withstanding, this will actually be a great tourer.

We Don't Like:

  • The $10,999 pricetag is ridiculous. The roughly equivalent CTX700N DCT ABS is just $7,999. That premium is partially justified by very limited numbers, but you'll never call this bike a bargain.
  • Opening the panniers reveals a ridiculously small storage space. You could maybe fit a hoodie in there, but certainly not a spare visor and absolutely no luggage.
  • The 200-section rear tire is totally unnecessary and spec'd to please America's moronic cruiser culture. This bike's styling won't be raising tents in any assless chaps, so why bother?
  • You never end up feeling it, but there's no getting around the fact that it weighs nearly 600 pounds.

​The Akira Motorcycle Is Real And We Rode It

TL;DR: The NM4 looks more futuristic than any bike yet released, while busting the cruiser mold with excellent, efficient riding dynamics. A limited edition, it'll be a rare sight and it's way too expensive, but otherwise this is the bike of the future — easy to ride, practical, smooth and emotionally evocative. If you've got a little superhero inside you, the NM4 is the bike to bring it out.