By: Aaron Frank
What a difference a year makes. Honda’s biggest news in 2009 was the Fury chopper—a stretched-and slammed symbol of aughts-era conspicuous consumption, the two-wheeled equivalent of a Hummer on 28s. This year, the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer did an about face. The era of blinged-out butt jewelry is over, so American Honda representatives tell us. Our nation is hungry for economical, practical motorcycles. Enter the NT700V—just the bike for our post-recession age.
The NT700V isn’t a new model. It’s a carryover on loan from Europe where it’s called the Deauville (or Dullville, to some). It’s one of Honda’s best-sellers overseas, with more than 47,000 units sold since 2000—mostly to commuters, couriers and seemingly every police force from Birmingham to Barcelona. Originally released in 1998, the NT700V can actually trace its roots to the late-’80s NT650 Hawk GT. A major overhaul in ‘06 introduced new styling, a change from three- to four-valve cylinder heads and increased displacement. The model has received no significant changes since then.
Recalling another ghost from Honda’s past, the PC800 Pacific Coast, the upper half of the NT700V is completely plastic-wrapped, so there’s no risk of soiling your Dockers on the way to work. Integrated (meaning non-removable), 27-liter saddlebags will swallow a briefcase and bag lunch, but not much more. Best invest in the optional 45-liter top box ($392.95) if you want to stow a full-face helmet. Or make a friend in Europe, where Honda sells optional extended saddlebag lids to increase capacity by 10 liters. A “pass-thru” tunnel connects the two bags to accommodate long, skinny cargo. No more folding autographed posters in half on the way home from the races.
An effective full fairing keeps your necktie from flapping about, aided by a five-position, manually adjustable windscreen. Just pull up or push down, no tools required, although because it takes both hands to pull the windscreen up, you can’t do it on the fly. A tall, tubular handlebar, broad, flat saddle and low foot pegs create an agreeable, upright riding position. And the generous, 58.1-inch wheelbase leaves plenty of room for a passenger, adding two-up travel to the NT’s diverse resume. A sensible selection of Honda Genuine Accessories, including wind deflectors, knee pads and heated hand grips, further enhances comfort and versatility.
The liquid-cooled, 52-degree, 680cc V-twin (identical to that which powers the DN-01 super-scooter and the Europe-only Transalp adventure-tourer) is one of the most mature engines in Honda’s lineup, and legendary for its durability. Reliable technology such as chain-driven single overhead cams and screw-type valve adjusters should keep service needs minimal and inexpensive, as will maintenance-free shaft drive. It’s a quick starter and smooth runner too, thanks to twin 40mm throttle bodies fitted with Honda’s PGM-FI programmed fuel injection.
Once underway, the NT is as unobjectionable as the John Mayer soundtrack at Bennigan’s happy hour. With about 55 horsepower at the wheel, acceleration is modest but acceptable for commuting and light touring. High-speed, two-up travel, however, could stretch the bike’s limits. The V-twin’s characteristically strong low-end power is appreciated around town, but the engine strains as revs rise. It’s a sweetheart solo at 65 mph, but accelerate to 75 mph (where the tach passes 5000 rpm) and vibration becomes present. The wide-ratio five-speed transmission would definitely benefit from the addition of a sixth cog.
Whether crossing town or crossing state lines, the NT comports its rider with the comfort and character of a Rockport walking shoe. The non-adjustable, damper-rod fork and single shock aren’t high-tech, but both are calibrated to provide an excellent ride at any sensible speed. The shock offers 40 clicks of remote spring preload adjustment, a benefit for riders who occasionally ride two-up. Braking performance is likewise adequate, bolstered by Honda’s unobtrusive Combined Braking System that links one piston in the left front caliper with the rear to improve braking balance and confidence. Optional ABS further increases the safety margin during inclement weather or on dirty streets.
As promised, the NT is a very efficient machine. EPA-rated to deliver 50 mpg, our test unit actually exceeded that figure during our 130-mile first ride on mixed canyon, city and interstate roads, with its fuel consumption readout reporting 52 mpg. A 5.2-gallon fuel tank translates to a bladder bursting 250-mile range—a figure that will be celebrated by Iron Butters and penny-pinching commuters alike.
The only aspect that isn’t recession ready is the price. With an MSRP of $9999 (add $1000 for ABS), the Honda costs a full $2500 more than competitors like the Kawasaki Versys and Suzuki V-Strom 650. That could make the NT700V a tough sell in a down market. Honda hopes that the advantages of integrated luggage, better weather protection and shaft drive—plus a healthy dose of refinement and functionality—will justify the premium price. That arithmetic worked in Europe—we’ll see how the numbers add up with American buyers.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Motorcyclist®