Why is it that motorcycles have almost exclusively employed manual transmissions as other forms of personal transportation, such as automobiles and scooters, have embraced automatics so completely? Why does a bike like the CTX700, with one of the most sophisticated automatics available on two wheels, receive smirks, and even derision, from some of motorcycling’s “old guard”?
Many years ago, Honda asked me to test its Silver Wing Scooter, a large, heavy and relatively powerful 600cc two wheeler that happened to fit within the scooter category and feature an automatic transmission. I essentially concluded that automatics don’t have to take away the fun associated with riding on two wheels, and can even provide an interesting new sensation to an old dog like myself.
Which brings us to the subject of this test, Honda’s 2013 CTX700. This bike comes with a standard six speed transmission, but we tested the optional version with Honda’s sophisticated automatic transmission and ABS brakes. Honda’s DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) found in the CTX 700 is a second-generation design of a transmission technology introduced by Honda several years ago. It features six speeds and, by incorporating two clutches, it can pre-select the next gear for quick, almost seamless changes. Honda claims its second-generation design of this DCT results in a very light and efficient package that delivers an estimated 61 mpg.
The DCT can be used purely as an automatic in one of two modes, Drive or Sport. In “Drive”, the transmission focuses on fuel efficiency and upshifts at low rpm levels, and downshifts less aggressively while coming to a stop or entering corners. In “Sport” mode, the DCT hangs onto the gear as the revs rise for a more aggressive acceleration, and almost seems to read your mind as it downshifts aggressively while you attack a corner. Finally, you can turn off the automatic nature of the transmission and shift manually up and down with paddles adjacent to the left hand grip.
We found that the DCT performed as advertised. All of the options can be a bit confusing at first, but once you learn how to use it the DCT reacts quickly, and predictably.
A 670cc parallel-twin engine powers the CTX700, and it adequately moves Honda’s claimed curb weight of 516 pounds, although you won’t be winning many drag races against other motorcycles. Nevertheless, in town, particularly in Sport mode, you will dispatch most cages with ease. The bike launches aggressively off the line without any snatch or judder . . . just a quick, seamless escape. Likewise, the bike downshifts very quickly when you ride it aggressively to squirt through holes in traffic.
The CTX700 has fairly simple, non-adjustable suspension and only a single disc brake (with two-piston caliper) in front. Nevertheless, our bike stopped impressively short and sure, partly due to the very low center of gravity (you will feel the same sensation on some scooters). The added weight and placement of the DCT concentrates the mass of the bike very close to the ground, largely eliminating any squat under acceleration and dive under braking. The more even weight distribution under braking also allows the rear brake (also a disc) to do more of the work.
As you can see from the photos, the CTX700 has a very low seat height and forward-placed pegs. The seating position is reasonably comfortable, and the seat itself is firm enough to provide support for longer rides. The “feet forward” position does not appeal to everyone, but it somehow feels right on this particular bike. The weight distributed by the rider seems to balance the machine well, given the already unusual weight distribution resulting from the automatic transmission placement. The bars should be comfortably within reach for most riders, as well.
The CTX 700 has a long wheelbase, and does not turn in quickly. It is one of the most stable bikes I have ever ridden in a straight line, however, and the relatively wide bars make turns a low effort affair, if you don’t rush things too much. You can have some fun in the corners, although ground clearance becomes an issue too quickly.
The suspension settings chosen by Honda worked pretty well for our test riders, including one close to 200 pounds, and one approximately 160 pounds. I wouldn’t call the fork or the shock plush, but the fork soaks up big and small bumps without too much complaint. The shock, however, does feel like it is carrying too much unsprung weight . . . similar to the feeling you would get riding a scooter that mounts part of the engine/transmission on its swingarm.
If you are in the mood to relax and simply commuting, for instance, the automatic transmission is a nice feature. Wind protection at elevated speeds on the highway is adequate except at helmet level, where the ultra-short windscreen allows too much wind and buffeting. Among several other accessories, Honda offers a much taller windscreen (which you can see in one of the photos), although we did not get a chance to test it..
A small storage compartment above the gas tank is a nice feature, although it is small (allowing room for your wallet, gloves, or mobile phone, but not much else). Fuel capacity is 3.2 gallons, and we recorded 52 mpg during our test (riding the bike quite hard). This does not provide huge range, but a more relaxed right wrist could easily net 150 miles or so between visits to the gas station.
Honda recognizes that the CTX700 DCT ABS offers some natural appeal to beginners. In one of its brochures, it makes the case fairly plainly: “While clutch manipulation and shifting are second nature to experienced motorcycle riders, some potential new riders find that mastering these steps can be intimidating at first – enough to cause them to walk away from the sport before they’ve even begun.” DCT is Honda’s answer to this problem.
But can the CTX700 DCT ABS, with it’s U.S. MSRP of $8,799, offer an attractive alternative to some experienced motorcyclists, as well? We think it can. Those riders who are looking for a relaxed, comfortable commuter, that can still be fun in the twisties, might be candidates, particularly if they no longer feel the need for excessive horsepower. The CTX 700 is a bike that feels lighter due to its extremely low center of gravity, and as a result does provide plenty of entertainment together with ease of use. These days, however, $8,799 will find many alternative, higher performance machines that will likely steer the “old guard” away from this unique motorcycle. For additional details and specifications regarding the 2014 Honda CTX700 DCT ABS, visit Honda’s web site.