Horex was Germany’s best-selling motorcycle brand back in the 1920s, and like its then much smaller BMW rival, was originally a manufacturer of aero engines as well as motorcycles. Like many others, though, it was killed off in the late 1950s by the advent of the small car, but has now been revived after Clemens Neese acquired the Horex trademark in 2007.
Since then, he and his R&D team have been working to restore the brand to the marketplace by developing a clean-sheet narrow angle V6 engine similar to Volkswagen’s established VR6 motor – and VAG has a contractually agreed consultancy with Horex, to share its 30-year experience of the VR engine concept with the startup bike company. After taking the precaution of patenting the engine format for two-wheeled use, Neese assembled a team of technicians to create the VR6 motorcycle, which he unveiled in prototype form in Munich in June 2010, as a clean-sheet design full of original thought in giving new life to one of Germany’s most significant forgotten brands. Barely two years later, the 22 workers at Horex’s Augsburg factory have now commenced manufacture of the first batch of customer bikes. Horex is back!
The chance to become the first non-German language journalist to experience riding the Horex VR6 came via a 300km day aboard a black pre-production Roadster swooping through the hills and forests of southwest Bavaria, one-on-one with factory tester Sam Wassermann riding a silver high-mileage test hack. Sam and I used to race each other in the Supermono support series at European World Superbike rounds, back when he was a works rider for the UNO-Rotax team, so it was nice to find ourselves sharing the same stretch of road again, this time as colleagues instead of rivals..
Climb aboard the butch-looking Horex, with its meaty-looking, ultra-distinctive VR6 engine package dominating the quirky aesthetics of a bike with genuine presence and high build quality, yet whose understated styling gives no clue of what lies in store – and get ready to be introduced to one of the world’s great motorcycle engines, here making its debut on the global stage. Thumb the starter motor – and if you were expecting a six-cylinder signature tune of engineering excess, such as the subdued snarl of a BMW K1600, the silky whisper of a Honda Goldwing, or the melodic mellifluousness of a Honda CBX, you may be disappointed. But nor is this a small-capacity car engine, with attendant overtones of functionality at the expense of character – it’s no pint-sized version of a VW VR6. What you get instead from the new Horex is a glorious and ultra-distinctive double-triple howl from the 6-1-2 exhaust, overladen with the background burble that’s the trademark of a six. No motorcycle engine yet built ever sounded like this, and the overwhelming dose of personality it brings with it characterises the whole Horex riding experience. Think of it as a syncopated version of a Triumph Speed Triple – itself once arguably the best-sounding bike in the marketplace – and you’ll get the picture. It’s pure two-wheeled opera - if the MV Agusta F3 675 triple sounds like a Rossini soprano, the doubled-up Horex VR6 is a Wagnerian tenor. Hearing it run puts a smile on your face before you even ride it.
But when you do that, the smiles keep on coming. Being non-Teutonic in stature, I opted for the Roadster’s optional 20mm lower ride height, with the WP fork dropped that much through the Horex forged triple-clamps. Even so, this didn’t allow the quite low-set footrests – they’re also positioned fairly far back, to deliver a semi-sporting stance - to touch down in normal use, even with the excellent grip from the Metzeler Sportec M5 Interact rubber, that’s delivered with zero electronic rider aids. So, no traction control on the Horex, and none seemingly needed – the power delivery from the six-cylinder motor is so smooth and progressive, the tyre has time to hook up as the torque builds. Acceleration is irresistible rather than explosive, delivered in a creamy, liquid-smooth manner that’s utterly idiosyncratic – only the BMW K1600 compares, and as a tourer that’s a bit of a boat compared to the smaller, more agile-steering hotrod of a Horex. Speaking of torque, there’s heaps of it from low down, but you can feel it building as the revs rise, till it peaks at seven grand or so, and holds constant all the way to the 9,000rpm revlimiter.
That sporty riding stance is also a comfortable one, with the wide, plush seat with plenty of passenger space combining with the extremely well dialled in WP suspension to deliver excellent ride quality, even over quite rough surfaces. Here, the WP package just soaks up road shock, and you don’t have to swerve to avoid raised manhole covers and the like – the Horex shrugs them off as if they weren’t there. It’s also superbly stable round fast sweepers, even if you hit a bump cranked hard over, as well as braking from high speed, when the Horex just S.T.O.P.S. No fuss, no weaves – the Brembo/Braking radial combo anchors the Roadster up really well, even without the fierce initial bite of a Ducati’s comparable Brembo/Brembo radial setup. The Horex package seems a little more progressive in action, whether through pad choice or whatever, but it’s ultimately just as effective, plus the reduced gyroscopic effect of the Braking petal discs fitted does definitely help speed up the steering, as I’ve proved to myself in same-day comparison track tests. However, one thing to watch for in the absence of a slipper clutch on the Roadster, is that you can get the rear wheel chattering if you use a lot of engine braking. But in normal road use this isn’t really a problem, just when you’re really going for it into a tight hairpin, descending a mountain pass..
The Roadster’s relatively flat one-piece taper-section handlebar isn’t excessively wide, so while it still gives good leverage in hustling the Horex from side to side through successive sweepers, it doesn’t result in undue windblast catching your arms and shoulders at speed, and making the bike weave or display any instability. Indeed, in spite of its hefty 249kg dry weight, this isn’t a tiring bike to cover serious miles aboard, and partly that’s because of the smooth-running engine, and partly because it steers so well. The combination of the steering geometry Neese & Co. have chosen, and the way the VR6 motor’s compacted architecture concentrates the mass of the bike for easier changes of direction, makes the Horex an improbably easy-handling bike for something this big and heavy – although with a 1500mm wheelbase, it’s not exactly a tourer-style truck, just a little rangy in stature. But this does mean you don’t have to climb around the Horex and hang off it through turns to make it steer well and corner quickly. Just stay put in that comfy seat, and work the handlebar – it’ll get the job done with unlikely agility and the minimum of fuss.
However, I’d have liked to see a little flyscreen mounted atop the triple-dial analogue dash, not just because it’d look cool, but also to deflect some of the windblast you do indeed get – though not at the expense of stability - when you start to exploit that glorious VR6 motor’s significant performance. It pulls totally smoothly from the 1,500rpm idle all the way to the 9,000rpm limiter, with a linear build of power that becomes notably quicker once you pass the 5,500rpm mark on the analogue tacho, presumably having cleared the hurdles imposed by the noise and emissions mafia. The Horex’s KTS ECU is extremely well mapped, with a crisp but not snatchy pickup from a closed throttle delivering sparkling, controllable acceleration, plus there’s clean fuelling at part throttle running slowly along in a line of traffic, yet outstanding top gear roll-on anywhere between 60-160kph. You can even gas the VR6 motor wide open in sixth gear from just 2,000rpm upwards with zero transmission snatch, thus exploiting the inherent flexibility of the VR6 motor. This means you can ride it lazily like a semi-auto in town or traffic, if you want to – but to get significant forward motion from what is after all at 249kg is no lightweight mileater, you need to work the gearbox and kick it down a gear or two to get the show on the road. The VR6 engine is torquey, but it isn’t musclebound, so you do need to use the gears to keep it pulling above that 5,500rpm power threshold if you want to enjoy the vivid acceleration the Horex is capable of delivering.
When you do this, the Horex comes alive, and that incredibly musical exhaust starts to howl. To be honest, you’ll find yourself finding excuses to make it do just that – but the reward comes not just from the sound of music, but the way the instrument which plays it goes about doing so: this wonderful engine is so invigorating to ride. However, the only thing I didn’t care for on the black pre-production bike I spent most time aboard was the transmission, with a heavy clutch that cramped up my left hand in traffic in a way that’s worthy of a dry clutch Ducati, plus neutral was hard to find at rest. Swapping to Sam Wassermann’s high-mileage test bike was like changing to an oil-cooled desmo V-twin clutch – its transmission was much lighter and smoother to use, and that made it easier and less tiring to ride his silver Roadster. But on both bikes the gearchange was rather harsh and heavy, and while I didn’t actually miss any shifts, swapping ratios required a very positive action that was out of keeping with the smooth operation of the other controls on the bike.
And smooth they are, with that wonderful engine careening effortlessly up the rev scale en route to serious road speeds. That’s why I’d like that flyscreen, because in no time at all the needle on the speedo to the left of the tacho - with a fairly truthful fuel gauge surmounting the pair of them, and a digital panel below delivering the usual but slightly hard-to-read (because too small) data via a control button you operate with your left forefinger - reaches the 160kph/100mph mark in sixth gear just as you pass that 5,500rpm power threshold, and while running from there on up to 180kph/6,000rpm doesn’t ask you to hang on too tight, anything above that gets to be uncomfortable because of the windblast. But this wonderfully smooth, powerful motor just revels in being asked to deliver more revs and go faster – this would be a great sports tourer, with a screen and soft luggage, all of which and more Clemens Neese declares will be available via the extensive Horex aftermarket catalogue which he and his colleagues are now developing for next year.
Indeed, what Neese and his colleagues have ultimately done here is to create a magnificent platform for you to roll your own motorcycle – I doubt very much that many HOG members (Horex Owners Group – geddit?!) will opt to keep their bikes exactly as delivered from the Augsburg factory. What we have here is an innovative, enticing, and completely unique motorcycle experience, and it’s one that will appeal to a different kind of customer than the ‘other’ motorcycle brand VAG is now associated with – only this time they bought it! Yes, even before Ducati, the VW Audi Group was linked with Horex, albeit at this stage only as a technical partner, Clemens Neese insists. But if this fabulous motorcycle – and indeed the word to describe the Horex VR6, literally even, given its unique engineering package – is the fruit of such an alliance, the future looks good for Ducati’s future evolution under German ownership. As indeed it does for Horex – for Neese and his partners have created an ultra-distinctive, high performance, well built and high quality motorcycle that’s completely different from anything else in the marketplace. Oh, and which sounds very special, too..
“Built by motorcyclists, for motorcyclists,” was the old Horex slogan back in the ‘50s when it was Germany’s largest motorcycle brand. After riding the bike they’ve developed to allow Horex to be reborn, I reckon Clemens Neese and his team should dig it out again and stick it on their sales brochures. It’s the truth..