Herald Motor Company (HMC) is a growing importer and manufacturer of small capacity motorcycles based in Cambridgeshire. Up to now it’s focused on creating stylish 125cc machines – but it has just unveiled its first larger capacity bike, the Herald 400 Classic. O2W got the first opportunity to put it through its paces.
It’s not the best of ways to start a write-up on a bike that you’ve been looking forward to riding, when the weather makes you so terribly hot that going out in the correct gear (unlike some idiots in shorts and T-shirts) is almost unbearable. You know you’re going struggle.
Some will argue that the nice weather is perfect for bikers and bikes and I’d tend to agree; but it also brings out the ‘any day of the week is Sunday’ kind of drivers. We’re both as bad as each other when it comes to making the most of the good weather and it sometimes means we end up at loggerheads. Very slow car drivers enjoying the views and the bikers wanting to enjoy the road. Well, I think I may have stumbled onto a machine that kind of fits into a small overlap of a ‘Venn’ (mathematical) diagram – in this case, putting four and two wheels on the same section of road.
This is the largest cc machine in HMC’s portfolio at the moment. The company’s machine range is based around the basis of quality and cost in a mix that most of us have not seen in these from proportions before. By that I mean that the overriding feel of all the bikes I’ve ridden from Herald is one of quality despite the relatively cost of the item.
Bobber retro looks and beautiful attention to detail, spoked wheels and a big front brake disc, a brushed stainless steel tank strap and bullet indicators. Flawless paintwork and a well-judged balance of matt black and just enough shiny stuff make it stand out, without being ostentatious. You get twin clocks and a filler cap that is cleverly placed so that when the bike is on its sidestand, its perfect for filling-up – this 400 has no centre stand. The looks are of a British classic from the late 60s with a sprinkling of modern reliability thrown in.
Its engine is based on the very reliable and well-received Honda XBR; a single cylinder, four-stroke, SOHC 400cc unit that outputs 27bhp. Now from a 400 you could say that’s not very much in this day and age, but when you throw your leg over the seat and reach for the handlebars, you soon realise that it’s spot-on.
Oh, that’s nice, that’s really nice. The sound and the gentle yet distinctive vibration of that single cylinder. The two into one, into two exhausts gives a baritone note and with the single just warming up its burbling almost sounds like it’s trying to tell you something. The seat is low, making this perfect for the shorter rider; but if you’re like me, a shade under six foot, don’t be put-off, as the position of the footpegs gives more than enough room and comfort. The overall feel is one of form and function working in harmony as you set of down the road for the first time. The pull from the engine is just spirited enough for the geometry of the frame and head stoke angle.
Smooth is not a word that I would necessarily use here as this is a single cylinder, but a smoothness does happen (to a degree) as you get higher up in its rev range. For town riding you have that exhaust note and a vibration that’s just happening in the background, reassuring you that this plucky little 400 wants to please you and is happy to serve as a town commuter, but with the open road in its sights if you let it.
The open road
I gave myself a couple of days travelling the short distance from my house to the office and back, getting used to the single. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on one, so I felt it was sensible (anyone who knows me will know that sensible and me very rarely go together – and if so, not for long). Before I knew it, an entire week had gone past and I’m staring down the barrel of a scorching weekend and no plans. Oh joy. The open road was calling. My boys were sorted with other things to do, so I kitted-up and headed-out with absolutely no idea where I was going.
We headed inland from our Horncastle base, away from the throng that would be heading for the coast. Opening the taps, I decided that a blast along the B1225 would be a great test of this bike’s all-round capabilities, due to the sweeping curves and changes in elevation. Now if you know Lincolnshire, the word elevation means a molehill, as it’s a mainly flat county, but we have one area of rises and falls called the Wolds – and this was where I was heading.
The Herald started off as normal, a little bit lumpy until she properly warmed-up (a normal single cylinder characteristic – not an issue) which took no real time and in the conditions of a rapidly warming day, even less. I rode past Humberside Airport to a café just after for a cuppa and a gathering of thoughts. The bends were happily attacked and concurred; I know this road well so sweeping along was no issue.
Knowing what’s coming, meant I was able to find what made this 400 happy and also what didn’t. The happy side was the journey itself. The more you push, the better this bike gets. It’s a real blast; it keeps giving, but would have probably benefited from a properly good set of tyres – it comes fitted with a set of nylon mix that have a very limited amount of grip until they just begin to slide a bit under load. Nothing detrimental to the bike and a quick trip to your local garage or a chat with your local dealer and an alternative could be fitted.
The engine comes alive higher in the rev range and when you shift down, the engine braking is quite exquisite as it not only slows you, but gives you a beautiful burble and pop from the exhausts. The brakes are well balanced and give just enough feedback to make you feel confident. They’re not the best I’ve ridden within the bike’s price bracket but they are good enough.
The suspension is happy to be pushed and for me, the fact it had adjustable rears meant I could just tighten it up a touch (I felt the factory setting was a little too soft). The handling was not improved or altered a great deal if any when I did adjust; it was just a personal thing really. I felt it sagged a bit too much under acceleration out of tight corners.
The only major downside of the bike is that the mirrors vibrate too much when above 3500rpm to really be of any use. You know something is behind you, but you just don’t know what it is. This became more apparent on an evening ride to check the lights, which by the way are brilliant; the indicators, though small, are very bright and on long enough stalks to be more than easily seen.
The traffic behind you just becomes something of a blur and when thinking of overtaking I found I had to make a lifesaver look over my
right shoulder to double-check no-one was overtaking me already. Something on a bike of this size
and pace that I’d normally have used
the mirrors for.
We soon found ourselves (that’s me and the bike) at the café, ordering the obligatory cuppa and bacon bap. I sat watching people looking at the 400 as they walked in and out of the café. One old chap made his way slowly up to me and said ‘I used to have one like that; nice restoration!’ He was quite shocked when I said it was brand new.
We chatted; well I listened, for about half-hour about bikes and life. I love the life lessons you can get from the older generation – especially old bikers. We went our separate ways, but not until he’d had a closer look and agreed with me that the exhaust note was fantastic.
The Herald 400cc Classic is very capable of making you smile and grin from ear-to-ear with its feel and feedback when giving it a good spirited ride on a set of twisties, but it’s also just as happy to nip you into work and home again at a pedestrian pace if needed. The sound and ambiance give it a more alive feeling. It’s one of those all-rounders. It would take you on a long trip if you so desired and I’m sure it would be happy to do so. I’ve heard a whisper from HMC head office that a Café Racer 400 version is on the way and I’m looking forward to seeing and riding that in the near future.