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Test: Herald Brute 500

Sideburn art ed, Andy Garside, tests the Herald Brute 500.

As a full-time van-lifer… gah, I don't like that tag. Let me start again. We don’t live in a house, we live in a self-converted-camper van, and now spend our time travelling between the UK and Europe in Brexit-allocated 3 month blocks. It was during our late-autumn/early-winter visit back in Wales that the opportunity to have a bike on test arose. As a relatively new rider my experience of ‘road’ bikes is quite slim. Stints on a tall supermoto-styled Mutt Razorback, an adventure-ish Royal Enfield Himalayan and a Krazy Horse Indian Scout Street Hooligan being the only bikes ridden on tarmac since passing my test just 12 months ago. Having still not sorted myself out with my own bike I’ll jump at any chance to grab a free ride… even during a winter in Wales.

Enter the Herald Brute 500. This is Herald’s first bike they’ve designed, engineered and built in the UK (except the engine). Leaning heavily towards a street-tracker style, it’s an exercise in restraint, a minimalist’s dream. No ABS, no rider modes, no pillion pegs, no centre stand. Despite its no nonsense styling, it’s full of lovely details. Little things like matching CNC’d designed foot controls and swingarm linkage, the seat upholstery and carbon tailpiece, digi dash mounting, machined fork yokes… all make for a well thought out build. In fact, take the mirrors off and add a stubby tail-tidy and you’ve got a custom looking machine.

The engine’s a single cylinder, 449cc liquid-cooled block from China, the same used in Fantic’s Caballero 500, that gives out a claimed 43bhp through a six-speed box… and with a dry weight of just 145kg you have a pretty decent power to weight ratio. I’m not one for spec-sheet numbers, I find it all a bit Numberwang, I just want to know what it rides like. What I can tell you is that the above figures translate into a nippy bike that’s a lot of fun to ride.

As mentioned, the arrival of the Brute into my life coincided with being back in North Wales visiting family and friends. Despite being early November I was blessed with a few dry, bright, but bloody freezing days. I had collected the bike from Herald’s HQ in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and ridden it over to Wales on a motorway-avoiding 4.5-hour journey. That felt like a bit of an effort, riding unfamiliar and rather dull roads in bad weather, chasing the sun to make sure I got to my destination in daylight and not end up with frostbite.

So, a few days after that, and with as many layers as I could fit and still manage to get astride the bike, I put my ‘out-of-office’ on and headed out across north Wales. Home turf, better weather, and no deadlines, definitely more of a fun vibe than my original ride.

First impressions? It’s light, quick and nimble. I really liked the riding position… upright, wide bars, and foot-pegs in a very neutral, dirt-bike position. The previous boring slog of a journey across the UK had felt uninspiring, but this time deep into the twisting roads of Snowdonia the bike is starting to make more sense.

Coming from a trials background my MO on a bike is usually quite sedate riding in a lower rev range. The Brute didn’t like this at all, it seemed to fight against me, making for a clunky feel to the ride when pulling out of a corner in too high a gear. Start riding the bike harder, keeping a higher rev range, the whole thing smoothed out. Was the Brute actually changing my riding style? I think it was. I found myself braking a little later, leaning harder, charging out of corners quicker and overtaking with more confidence.

Now, at this point, I should mention the exhaust note. That makes it sound like I’m about to describe the subtle tones of a fine wine. I’m not. The Brute is loud, with a capital LOUD. Every roll-off of the throttle is celebrated with pops and bangs. The first time you hear this it’s exciting, but I soon tired of it, especially when trundling through 30mph limits. It just attracted a lot of attention and became quite tiresome. I can suffer with tinnitus so have high quality ear plugs. Even wearing these my ears suffered after every ride. The only time I remember my ears ringing as much was after watching My Bloody Valentine live.

On the bike I had there was a lot of play in the tailpipe joint to the exhaust, and a sooty stain quickly appeared there after a couple of rides. I’m sure this didn’t help with all the noise. I also know some people will love this level of sound, and I’ve heard noisier pipes on bikes before, but it’s not something I could live with.

As the day rolls on and I’m heading down from the mountains and on to the coast I’m beginning to understand the bike better. The simplicity of its build and the back-to-basics, big single engine give it a retro feel in modern dress. I’ve forgotten about the bone-chilling drop in temperature and the ringing in my ears, and I’m just enjoying the simple act of riding a motorbike.

The fact that I live nomadically means I’m still trying to work out what kind of bike would fit into my lifestyle. If I lived in a house, with a garage, I would be very tempted to add a Brute to my (imaginary) stable of bikes. In isolation, looking at the detailing and quality of components, £7k is a fair price, and feels like value for money, but look only at the price tag and it put it in competition with some big names, all with at least a cylinder more, if that's what people are looking for: Yamaha MT07, Triumph Trident, Royal Enfield Interceptor/Continental. Still, with the Brute you’re getting a more individual bike, a kind of off-the-shelf-custom. I loved my time with the Brute, but my ears are still mad at me.

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