First Take: John Joss
Years Riding: Countless, Favorite Complaint: Fuel Range
Experienced riders are asked repeatedly: “What motorcycle should I buy?” The rational response is: “What kind of riding do you do? What’s your budget?”
The broader the needs, the wider the choice—commuter or cruiser, sport bike or sport-tourer, off-road or adventure machine, and so forth. The fewer the bucks, the narrower the possibilities.
Focused machines—say, sport bikes—may do a few things brilliantly, the rest hardly at all. ‘Do-it-all’ models may cover almost everything badly. Ya pays ya money . . .
Motorcycle uses and categories have proliferated. Choice is a conundrum. For most of us, able to afford only one ‘working’ motorcycle, and considering shaky world economics, Honda’s NC700 (NC = New Concept) line may offer a solution: doing enough, affordably. It represents an engineering/marketing/accounting compromise built for thrift in economically unstable times.
Honda’s solution: an ‘efficiency-algorithm’ power platform, the core fuel-to-motion converter. Honda’s engineers understand design efficiency—they’ve created hundreds of cars and motorcycles (plus off-road vehicles, generators, watercraft, and, and, and). Honda’s marketeers know world markets, demographics and trends. Honda’s accountants can calibrate beans within Ångström widths.
Stir these people and challenges in the motorcycle-design pot and—voilà—the NC700X. For efficiency and minimum internal friction (mechanical friction kills economy), the result is an under-square (73mm bore/80mm stroke), SOHC eight-valve, 670cc parallel Twin, conceptually a bifurcated Honda Fit car engine with 270-degree crank. It delivers modest power (47 bhp) at low revs (6250) and plonking torque (44 ft.-lb. at 4750rpm), while emitting a hushed, throaty burble. Power/torque vary slightly depending on model—X (tested), S or D, described below.
Honda wanted economy. The NC sips gasoline—70 mpg average, more or less, they say, depending on how hard one rides, offering outstanding 200-mile (or more) range from the 3.7-gallon under-seat tank (that ‘tank’ is a big storage locker, accommodating a full-face helmet).
The power platform, cylinders angled forward 62 degrees to accommodate the storage locker, powers three models: dual-sport (the 2012 NC700X ‘adventure,’ introduced in Europe in 2011—the U.S. came late in Honda’s global release), naked (NC700S, not sold in the U.S.), and scooter (NC700D Integra, also not here yet). Optional Honda technology is available—ABS, VFR1200F-derived DCT (dual-clutch automatic transmission). Other options include a 45-liter top case, 29-liter bags, crash guards, LED foglights, heated grips and center stand. The dual-clutch DCT and ABS on the NC700X adds a whopping $2000.
You can please some of the customers all of the time or all of the customers some of the time. To succeed, you must please enough of the customers enough of the time. Thus the NC700 series. Compromises, principally in suspension, brakes and tube-steel frame, slash that base sticker. Yet the package is executed brilliantly, in typical Honda fashion. Every detail works.
That motor, cammed for low- and mid-range torque, performs well, making the machine easy to ride, ideal for beginners. It runs out of revs above 6000rpm, but delivers smooth, quiet power everywhere below. The hydraulic clutch engages smoothly; gearshifts are Honda decisive.
Ride quality? Though rear-shock preload is the only suspension adjustment, the X’s almost 6-inch travel at both ends smoothes the way, though severe surfaces push the limits of comfort and confidence.
Brakes? The single, two-piston caliper operating on the front 320mm wavy disk does a workmanlike job. Ignore the insensitive 240mm rear brake.
Handling? Bar effort is light. Corners track neutrally. The low CG promotes easy low-speed maneuvering, though at a claimed 451 pounds dry, it’s no lightweight. The seating position is comfortably upright but the firm-ish, slippery seat inflicts discomfort around 200 continuous miles. Wind protection from the stock flyscreen is minimal. Doubtless the aftermarket will address the seat and screen issues.
Economy? I saw 58.75, measured, riding purposefully (77-year-old Joss rode the bike from Torrance, California to the San Francisco Bay Area in a day—ed.)—still notable. The economy stems partly from the tall sixth gear: at an indicated 75 mph, the ribbon LCD tach shows a mere 4000 rpm.
Bottom line: does it work?
What can the NC700X do for you? Honda’s engineers have managed the compromise, satisfying the marketeers and bean counters, meeting that ‘most-of-the-customers-most-of-the-time’ criterion. It’s versatile: commute, tour, strafe apexes with reasonable agility. Will the S come here? Dunno. Viewed on the Web, the Integra’s man-sized wheels are safer than competitors’ minuscule rubber donuts front and rear. Will Honda bring it? One hopes. But avoid tram tracks, bridge grids and potholes, anyway!
A motorcycle for the ages? Yes, 17 to whatever, rookie or returner. From every indication, worldwide, Honda has a palpable hit: enough performance at the right time at sensible cost.
Will the NC cannibalize other Honda models’ sales? Probably not. It has its own niche, and faces down the competition at its friendly base price. Life is compromises. This one works.
Second Take: Gabe Ets-Hokin
Years Riding: Too Many and Yet Not Enough, Favorite Complaint: Too Much Fuel Range
Ol’ Raymond Blank, how we miss ye. The visionary V.P. for Motorcycles at American Honda Motors helmed Big Red’s moto-division in the USA for decades and now he’s gone—retired? Pasture-ized? Melted down for seat foam? We don’t know, as we haven’t heard from him, but I have a very vivid memory of sitting at a bar in Birmingham, Alabama at some press event or another and hearing him talk about Honda’s incredible engineering and design capabilities. “We can make anything we want.” Super-awesome V5 MotoGP racer-for-the-street? Sure. Electric dual-sport? Why not?
But why would it build the perfect bike for you when Honda can build the perfect bikes for everybody? Because when you sell vehicles in the tens of millions, it doesn’t make sense to build exciting niche products a relative handful of well-heeled 50 year-olds might consider buying. Instead, we get…the NC700X.
Don’t get me wrong. I really liked this motorcycle. The design is great, with eye-pleasing shapes and angles. The seat is low for an adventure-styled machine, especially with an underseat gas tank (it really took 100 years for designers to figure out the best place for the tank is under the seat, freeing up storage space and improving handling?). It’s as easy to ride as any bike in this category, with great steering radius, quick steering (those bars feel higher and wider than they are, somehow) and smooth, light gearbox and clutch. But I’ll probably skip having “NC700X 4eVr” tattooed on my chest.
John calling the 670cc powerplant half a Fit engine is very apt. Like a car, the NC bumps off the rev limiter at 6000 rpm, surprising the rider—up to redline, the motor is just a little buzzy, feeling the same at 5500 as it does at 1500. First gear is very short, but after that, the gears are well-spaced and the motor is flexy enough so that there are enough guts for passing in fifth or even sixth. Cruising at an indicated 90 mph is fine, if that’s your thing—not too loud, okay wind protection, and just a little thrumming from the engine.
I’m at a loss to imagine a better (gas-powered) commuter. Sixty miles per gallon? More trunk space than a lot of scooters? Lots more if you add the optional bags and trunk, which are well finished and easy to use. Sign me up. It’s also just fun and satisfying to ride around town or on divided freeways, a product so refined and well-engineered it’s hard to believe it can be brought to market for under $7000.
Downsides? It’s slow, there’s no getting around that. Suzuki made an honest 70 hp with a budget-priced, 649cc liquid-cooled Twin 15 years ago. Honda took tuning-for-torque to a whole new level, lopping 40 percent off the top of this bike’s powerband—and though the bike is plenty fast to keep up with traffic, I missed it. ABS without the extra 33 pounds and $2000 of the dual-clutch version would be nice, but isn’t available. The brakes and suspension are el cheap-o, even for this price range—I could feel the front brake juddering under heavy pressure, and bumpy freeways are less pleasant than they could be, although the spring rates and damping feel well-calibrated.
So, you and I and just about everybody else you’ll meet would probably rather have this bike with 20 more horses, better brakes, adjustable suspension…but then again, we already have plenty of choices with that kind of spec sheet. This kind of refinement, economy, value and ease of use has opened up new markets for Honda (and boosted sales)—and that’s what Honda wants to do.