Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Life with Honda's 2013 Airblade

It's been just a few months now since I switched my allegiance from Honda's excellent PCX motor scooter to the brand new Airblade and, given the growing numbers of enquiries I get about both bikes, motor cycling in Penang in general, and indeed other bikes I thought I'd put down a few thoughts about the biking here and the excellent Airblade in particular.

My previous article (here) about the introduction of the Airblade to Malaysia by Boon Siew Honda gives the primary reasons as to why I chose the Airblade over the PCX and as such I won't repeat those reasons here.  Suffice it to say both are great bikes with the PCX form me coming out on top if you do regular longer distance highway driving  and the Airblade if you drive a lot in town, especially in the heavier traffic or Georgetown or of course in KL.  For me the Airblade also wins if you are tall (e.g. over 6' 00").

I'll try to cover as many of the issues as I can that I've been asked about biking here but the article is mostly about the Airblade, not about biking in general.  One issue though I feel does need addressing, whether to ride a motorbike / scooter here in Penang.

It's a well know fact that biking is a higher risk form or transport than a car, a bike accident involving other vehicles will generally result in the rider and / or passenger coming off worse, but I have to say I have seen some out and out total drivel written by people about biking in Malaysia and indeed in Thailand and it's quite apparent that a lot of it comes from people who have absolutely no idea about biking at all, merely their own biased viewpoint which seems to perpetuate the scare-mongering.  A lot of it really is garbage.  Yes there are a lot motor cycle fatalities in SE Asia but you have to balance that against two very important factors.  Firstly, the sheer number of small bikes in these parts outnumbers those seen in Europe and USA by hundreds if not thousands of percentage points.  As such the level of motor cycle accidents is bound to be higher, a lot higher.  Secondly there is a very large percentage of young, inexperienced and poorly trained (if trained at all) riders who ride with a total disregard for the law, rules of the road and their own safety, almost as if they think they are protected by an 'invulnerability bubble'.  The issue widely reported around drivers of other vehicles being automatically at fault if they hit, or get hit by, a bike doesn't help with lots of riders pulling all sorts of strokes, expecting drivers of other vehicles to get out of the way (that said, the driving standards of those in many 4 wheeled (plus) vehicles leave a lot to be desired at times too).  Keep riding like that and it will inevitably end only one way.

But, and it's a big BUT, while you need to keep your wits about you, as long term big bike rider I see riding bikes here as no more inherently dangerous than anywhere else, it's mostly about how YOU ride the bike.  Riding a bike you need your wits about you everywhere!  Your skills, your concentration, your attitude and style of riding are what count most IMO.  Also, there's biking and biking and for me there is a WORLD of difference between burning up autobahns on large capacity big bikes with the right gear and with driver attitudes that are (generally) safety orientated and law abiding and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, pottering round Penang and other parts of SE Asia at sensible speeds on a small modern automatic scooter.  Keep that in mind when riding these 'scoots' as getting around here starts to become more of a pleasure rather than a chore as you gently weave your way between rush hour jams, ditch the bike just about anywhere outside you favourite eateries, go the gym, a mall or even pottering about getting stuff done.  A bike makes it SO SO easy, so much so that there is no way I could be without a bike here or in Thailand.  Now, onto the Airblade.....

The Airblade has always been poplar in SE Asia especially in Thailand and Vietnam where previous and current models are snapped up fast.  Introduced here in Malaysia in 2013 the Airblade has many features which are appealing including:
  • 125cc engine
  • Honda's famed PGM-FI (fuel injection)
  • Integrated ACG system (smooth, friction reduced starting - more fuel efficient)
  • Engine 'Idle Stop' (the excellent fuel saving innovation previously seen only on the top-range PCX)
  • Combination braking (pulling just one brake level applies both front and back brakes in correct proportion)
  • Remote key bike location (pressing this will sound the horn and flash the lights allowing you to quickly locate YOUR bike amongst what can often be hundreds of parked bikes)
  • Side stand engine cut-off (engine only starts if side stand is up)
  • Twin projector headlights
  • Tubeless tyres
  • Twin rear shock absorbers
  • Front disc brake
  • Kick-starter
  • Water cooled
The bike really is superb and it looks the part too!  I purchased mine from the excellent Sun Sum Motor located on Irving Road, Pulau Tikus.  I like Sun Sum as it's a big outlet with a very wide range of bikes and biking gear and all at good prices.  They will nearly always do offers with their bikes and also have good servicing facilities on site.  My chum 'Ah Boy' there looked after me very well indeed and they also handle all the registration, insurance and road taxing of the bike before you pick it up.  They often have a good stock of poplar machines and once you have paid a deposit you can generally pick up your new bike in a day or two.  The Airblade can be had for RM 7,708 on the road with an extra cost of RM 350 for fully comprehensive insurance.  So what's life like with the Airblade?

Overall I find the bike to be superb.  The electric starter is superb and has fired without fail every time after a short press.  If you let the bike stand for so long that the battery discharges there is also a kick-starter fitted which will allow you to get the machine started easily.  As a safety feature the bike will not start if the side stand is not in the raised position and the bike will cut out if you put the stand down with the engine running.  The bike is 125 cc 4 stroke with fully automatic centrifugal clutch (dry type).  Further spec details can be found here.

The instrument panel is very well laid out with PGM-FI 'problem' indicator light, main/dipped beam, indicator on flashers and of course an easily readable speedo.  There is a digital clock which also features trip and odometer.  Another excellent feature of the Airblade is the 'Engine Idle Stop' which cuts the engine once you have become stationary at traffic lights etc, an indicator light also lets you know if this is active.  

A 'talk back' system also lets you find the bike easily by flashing the indicators and sounding an audible warning when you press a button on the ignition key (the sound pattern and volume of the 'talk-back' can be programmed or even disabled).  Once you have pressed the talk-back button two lights also come on, one lighting up the ignition and the other the under seat central storage.  Nice, professional finishing touches.  

There is quite a lot of storage under the seat, ample for a raincoat and personal effects and even some shopping.  There are also two helmet hooks to lock up to two helmets on the bike by their 'D' rings should you wish.

One thing you may find is that depending on your helmet sizes the D ring may be too close to the helmet to reach the helmet hooks on the bike (an issue with all bikes with these helmet lock hooks).  I got round this simply by finding a stainless steel carabinier style clip in a hardware store for just a few $ which I leave in the bike and put on the smaller helmet D ring when I need to lock it on.  The seat cover closes down over the swing arm of the carabinier making it impossible to open and remove the helmet.  That said, leaving valuable helmets attached to the bike for protracted periods in some areas and at some times of the day would be unadvisable.

The lights on the bike are very good with the front twin projector headlights lighting up the road at night with a good pattern whether on full or main beam and of course increasing your visibility during the day.  By default in SE Asia, dipped beam headlight will be on whenever the engine is started, as will the tail lights.

The tail and stop lights are very bright but of the low power consumption LED variety and it's nice to see that the indicators are integral to the front and rear panels, rather than being stuck out on stalks that are always prone to getting damaged.  Indicators are operated by a slider switch near the left handlebar and cancelled by pushing the switch again once your manoeuvre is completed.  The horn button is also located in the same area along with the full/dipped beam switch.

On the road the bike handles very well indeed and is very quiet.  Thankfully, at last, a fuel tank that can be topped up without lifting the seat, the filler cap lies in the underbone between the seat and the front fairing.  The only minor gripe is the size of the fuel tank, just 4.1 litres making fuel stops more frequent than I'd like.  It's hard to judge economy at the moment as 90% of the riding has been 'two-up' so fuel consumption will drop somewhat, that said I still manage to get around 140 km out of a tank before I fill up at a cost of around RM 8.  That's around 35 km per litre or around 97 MPG!  I intend to do a more in depth study of fuel economy one the bike is run in and the engine bedded down properly but I expect to get close to 45-50 km per litre riding solo after running in.  On that front, the manual says that for the first 500 km full throttle starts and harsh acceleration should be avoided which, back to the 'there's biking and biking' comments above, I do any way, running in or not, there's just no need to ride so harshly.

The manual (which is actually quite good - in both Bahasa Malay and English) also includes service intervals (basically every 4K km after the first 1,000) and while it suggests the first service at 1,000 I plan to do a full oil change at 500 km, just to be on the safe side.  I also plan to switch over to semi-synthetic 'Hi-Rev' 4T Scooter 15W-40 oil at the first change.  Luckily all the essential fluids on the bike can be easily checked (and should be - weekly at least), including coolant, brake fluid and oil.  The oil is topped up via the dipstick channel and this is ever so slightly difficult to get to without using a funnel.  That said, my preference is to use one of the RM 3 plastic sauce bottles that the kopitiams use for chilli sauce etc, readily available from places like Tesco.  Much less mess and faffing around than with funnels or oil jugs, no drips and no waste and the oil goes exactly where you want it to go with more precise flow control.

Braking is very efficient.  Honda uses a combi-braking system on many of their new bikes where pulling on the left lever automatically applies a portion of front brake as well as the back.  I still tend to come to a stop using both, big bike habits dying hard in this regard.  Under general conditions the brakes will stop the bike with consummate ease and stability and if pushed harder that front disc sure comes into its own, again with no loss of stability.

Acceleration I find to be very nifty indeed, even two up, though as I've said, I've not really put the bike through the motions yet as, with the style of riding I tend to use these bikes for, there's just no need.  But suffice it to say, especially when riding solo, there is ample torque with power to spare when you do need it.  For those interested I plan to update the article with 0-50 kph and 0-75 kph acceleration times once the bike has been fully run in.  I know there are folks who don't bother with any 'running in' on bikes these days and say that with engineering developments there's no need.  Fine, your bike, you do what you want, I run in per the manual :)

In traffic I find the bike to be very manoeuvrable with a great riding position, the more forward and upright position compared to the PCX allowing you to flip the bike with ease, counter steering also dials in superbly in higher speed cornering with just a touch needed to get the bike over.  The lower weight of the bike compared to the PCX 150 I suspect would mean that the machine is just as fast and, as mentioned before, there is plenty of torque right up to 50 kph allowing almost instant changes in speed.  Engine braking is also very very effective.  Slow speed handling I also find a real breeze on this bike with the tendency to topple coming in at a much lower speed that I have gotten used to on similar bikes.  The tyres I suspect help in the handling, tubeless and set on 14" wheels being of a wider profile than is found on many similar size / style bikes.  Specifically they are:

Front: 80/90 - 14M/C 40 P
Cheng Shin

Rear: 90/90 - 14M/C 46P
Cheng Shin

So for now, that's about it.  I'll update this article later, rather than post another one, once more performance information is available so check after a month or two if that interests you.   As a couple of further asides there are two other issues that I've been asked about often:

Givi M11.0 D Visor JET Helmet
1) What brand / style of helmet do you use?  I've seen a few folks buy helmets outside of Malaysia and bring them in.  I would advise strongly against this.  Why?  Because they need to be SIRIM and / or JPJ approved which will be denoted by a sticker on the helmet.  If you are stopped riding a non approved helmet you could be summonsed by the police or JPJ.  I also find there are enough good quality helmets here.  Personally I use Givi (again from Sun Sum Motor), a three quarter face helmet with a good visor and built in retractable sun-visor.  There's always a trade off between safety and comfort and you need to make your own choice.  Full face or even modular are of course safer and I'd wear nothing else on long distance and highway runs but in town, you will get hot quick with frequent stops wearing them (do try to stop in the shade if you can at lights, it really helps) and it comes back to the biking vs biking comments.  A good helmet like this will set you back only around RM 250.  I also use the very good Givi Rain Suit and of course Givi makes a good range of top-boxes and other biking accessories.

2) What do you use for cleaning helmet visors? In the West there is a great product called Plexus available.  It's not cheap but it's superb for cleaning plexiglass that helmet visors are made of.  Here, I use the old-school tried and trusted favourite, Lemon Pledge (yes the furniture polish!).  Used with a lint free micro-fibre style cloth its superb for maintaining visor clarity and good water run-off.  You will also see Orange Pledge but I find this to be more smear prone. Obviously it's better to wash the visor off first with a VERY mild soap and water if it's very dirty before polishing with Pledge once it's dry.  Lemon Pledge is also great as a polish on bike panels after you've washed your pride and joy :)

*Airblade promotional pictures courtesy of Boon Siew Honda, Malaysia


  1. Was browsing around for small bike reviews as I was thinking of getting a scooter or moped when I stumbled upon your blog. Nice review btw.

    Where did you get your Airblade from (which shop)?
    How do the tubeless perform in the rain?

    In your opinion, what's another option for a small bike?
    I kinda miss having the basket in front of a bike... very useful thing to have.

    1. Hi

      Sorry for late reply. Been travelling. And thanks for comments about review. It really is a great bike.

      I got the bike from the shop mentioned in the article, Sun Sum Motor. Tubeless tyres, fine in the wet.

      Other options, hmmmm. Depends on what you want. Fully auto or semi. Personally I can't be bothered with anything other than full auto in towns. Constantly going up and down the box is a real hassle in stop / start traffic. If full auto wasn't a concern you could look at the Honda EX5 or the Wave. Very popular and often basket mounted. If I had to choose one it would be the Wave for the power.

      Autos I'd only really consider the PCX (see original article) or the Yamaha Nouvo LC 135. Thing is the naturally carburetted 135 has been superseded in Thailand by the Nouvo SX 125 which has FI. That bike though has not yet made it to Malaysia and Yamaha tell me that at this time there are no plans to introduce it. The 135 LC is very popular here still though and about RM 2,000 cheaper than an Airblade last time I looked. But for me, the tech refinements on the 'Blade made it worth the extra.

      Lots of other bikes here too but I prefer to stick to Honda, Yamaha or maybe Suzuki. Might be worth a look at the Sky Drive.

      Hope this helps.

  2. how to change gear oil in airbalade


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