A few photos and thoughts about a marvelous little machine

The photos are of a 1986 Honda TLR200 Reflex trials bike. No relation to the "Reflex" scooter, which is model number NSS250 . In fact, not even a resemblance!

Modifications include the grocery basket, heated handgrips (very worthwhile!), a 36 tooth rear sprocket (stock is 44), a modern headlight and Avon AM24 Gripster tires, which are street-only tires sized for dirtbike rims.

The headlight mod is probably the most important: The stock headlight was an abomination. A Sylvania halogen sealed beam was a decided improvement. A Cibie E-code light gave the best illumination, but there isn't enough power to run standard 60/55 watt H4 bulbs. The best I've found are 45 watt bulbs from a Suzuki sv650s. The engine has to be ticking over a bit briskly, but the extra light is worthwhile. An attempt to use a Baja Designs HID kit failed, not enough watts.

The Avon Gripsters come in a close second. They stick well, give no surprises and don't seem to mind dirty pavement. Probably not great in real dirt riding, but alas, there's none to be had in my neighborhood. On anything resembling pavement they work perfectly.

The tlr200 frame is small enough for a diminutive rider yet it somehow accomdates my 5'7" size adequately, if not comfortably, for an hour or two at a time. Mine's been used exclusively as a learner bike on the street and a short-haul urban commuter. In that role it has been excellent. Top speed is about 55 mph, 60 at best. Though freeway legal it's really not happy unless there's a traffic jam.


That's not to say the bike can't travel. It's been across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge to the top of Mount Tam and back to Berkeley around the north side of the mountain, around Mount Diablo via Morgan Territory Road and all over the East Bay hills. The Bay Bridge in a good traffic jam would be fun, but I haven't been of quite such a sporting mind yet.

A trip up Mount Diablo on Sunday, 8/24/03, gives a nice illustration of the bike's strengths and weaknesses in road service. The ride's epitome is better described at the Pashnit.com website. Please take a look there and then consider my commentary on the tlr200 in the context of the magnificent photos. Do bear in mind that my route was opposite (south to north) the Pashnit travelogue. Either way, it's a worthwhile ride.

The ride south from Berkeley on Grizzly Peak, Skyline, Pinehurst and Redwood was pure (and routine) pleasure. At Castro Valley Boulevard the little bike couldn't trigger the left turn sensor. I had to wait for following traffic, which eventually arrived.

East on Castro Valley was easy and quick, left signal on Crow Canyon was triggered by (abundant) traffic. No problems keeping up. The western part of Crow Canyon Road is fairly slow, but east of Cull Canyon the pace picks up. Posted for 50, I managed to slip through at 45 without holding anyone up. But it was a Sunday afternoon, no commuters.

Once into San Ramon and Blackhawk the speedlimits become a friend, and progress was a bit more relaxed. The south gate entrance to Mount Diablo is marked by a very small sign onto a 25 mph rough residential road which quickly turns into a set of wonderful smooth hairpins as the road climbs the mountain. It's a bit intimidating, trying to stay outside on the left-hand turns with a _long_ drop to the right 8-) The park speed limits vary from 15 to 25 mph. On most of the road they're justified on basis of sightlines. One simply can't see what's ahead.

Here's where a 200 really shines. Gas in the turns, engine braking (or gravity, most of the time) in the transitions. There are no straights. The stop at Summit Road is a tight righthander from a standing start, up what looks like a 20 percent grade. No problem on this little mule.

At the top one real limitation emerges: Hot starting. After maybe ten minutes the bike won't fire. Right after a gas stop it'll go, and after a prolonged shutdown (grocery shopping) it fires right up. But I've hit the bad spot; it won't light in about five kicks and there's 3849 feet of elevation to bump start it. It lights in about 50 and glides down the hill.

The North Gate road is smoother, wider and much faster than the South. Still the light weight and easy manners of the tlr200 make the twists and turns a pleasure. There's surely no need for more power, the brakes are adequate for the few occasions when their use is warranted. Mostly it's engine braking down the hill, with a little gas to ease the drag through the turns.

By this time my posterior is complaining vigrorously about the seat.

In Walnut Creek's residential roads the 200 is more than enough. At Ygnacio Valley Boulevard a little more oomph would help, but there's plenty of room to let folks by. Downtown Walnut Creek is easy, turning west on Olympic Avenue. There's a little sign pointing to something on Saint Mary's road, a left. And the way home. Small signs point to Reliz Station Road and then Glenside Drive, eventually a sign for Saint Mary's Road.

On Saint Mary's Road the tide turns again. Maybe it should be called Hail Mary's Road!. Tight, two lane, 35 mph speedlimit with a Landcruiser on my tail that wants to go 50 (and probably can). Maybe it would work if I knew the road...... Yes, it would, but I don't want to practice 8-( Ok, maybe I do.....;-)

Saint Mary's Road turns into Moraga Road, then to Canyon Road and Pinehurst and familiar territory; Skyline, Gizzly Peak, the Wall and home. At the Wall there's a crowd, but I'm too tired and sore to think of anything but going home. The bike, however, is just fine.

An aircooled 200cc machine works adequately in 45 mph traffic, is a bit strained at 50 and can't reliably hold 60. No harm seems to result from full throttle operation, but it takes considerable planning to ride with no acceleration reserve. The key skill is cornering speed: The bike can't _gain_ speed quickly so it has to be preserved 'round the bends. That takes skill, nerve and knowledge of the road. At 50 mph a good gust of wind thwarts efforts at speed control.

When it's easy to let faster traffic pass there's little problem. On something like Crow Canyon Road (Castro Valley to San Ramon) things get slightly tense. Traffic is faster than the bike and there's no passing lane. Some care is required to pick good places to wave faster traffic by.

Speed limitations aside, the pleasure this little machine affords in hairpin twisties is memorable. It's easier to ride briskly than either my vfr800 or sv650s when the goings get truly tight. The junkets over Mount Tam, Morgan Territory and Mount Diablo were far more fun on the tlr200 than the bigger bikes. The bad pavement common on the obscure roads that make the best motorcycle practice routes really favors a little dualsport.

The most important attribute of a small bike is the freedom to experiment. On a 200 riders are motivated to try things they would not (and shouldn't) attempt on a heavier machine. Steep grades, dirty pavement, potholes and hairpin turns are entertaining rather than intimidating. Having worked through such obstacles successfully on a 200, it's possible to approach them with some real understanding on motorcycles a bit less nimble.

Most folks say "This is getting easy, I need a bigger bike." A more challenging road is the better teacher, though it's a difficult fact to face.

Early on I was told "Get a 350cc dualsport." Good counsel. I didn't follow it simply because the 200 fell into my hands. I now have a drz400s. It's surely a better machine....for somebody who's spent time on a 200.