By: Justin Dawes
Far too often terms such as “unique”, “revolutionary” and “game changing” are thrust upon the motorcycle world to describe the latest and greatest from the marketing wizards responsible for grabbing your attention. It is always a full frontal assault on the buyers with more and better and faster. This is a yearly cycle we’ve come to expect as new models are introduced and touted as the next level. We’ve become accustomed to expecting more horsepower and more extreme performance from our two wheeled machines. But where does that leave the new or inexperienced rider? Sadly, many may give up before they begin, frustrated with learning the coordinated dance of controlling a motorcycle that's become second nature to seasoned riders. Honda has recognized this and has an answer, the 2012 NC700X.
But here’s the deal – Honda knows that the NC700X also needs to be fun as the rider’s skills grow and needs to still attract those that have years under their belts. What a new rider needs and what a seasoned rider wants are for most purposes worlds apart. The beginner needs something that is easy to control in order to harness the aptitude of piloting a two-wheeled conveyance, but experienced riders want a machine that will deliver that adrenaline fix when asked. Everyone wants excellent fuel economy. That is the Cliff’s Notes of Honda’s NC700X concept. So did Honda hit the mark? We hit the road in the mountains of Ventura County to find out.
Just about every aspect of the NC700X is unconventional, but the heart of this adventure bike-styled machine is different from anything Honda has offered to date, in a motorcycle at least. The 670cc Parallel Twin lays forward at 62 degrees and features a long stroke design with a 80mm stroke and 73mm bore diameter. This gives the NC’s powerplant a linear yet torquey engine character. In order to gain efficiency, the pistons have a low-fiction coating and the valvetrain features lightweight aluminum roller-rocker arms. A single 36mm throttle body meters out the combustible air/gas mixture straight through the downdraft style intake tract, for a claimed 64mpg. That’s approaching scooter fuel economy territory.
Honda offers two transmission configurations for the NC700X, a standard six-speed and the next generation of the automatic Dual Clutch Transmission. The DCT uses two hydraulically controlled clutches that can do the shifting for you in a standard drive mode or sport mode, or riders can choose to shift through the gears via paddles on the left bar sans clutch. This new-generation set-up “learns” by allowing the ECU to detect the riding conditions in the automatic modes and tailors the shift points to suit the riders riding style. Riders will shell out $6,999 for the six-speed, and $8,999 for the DCT model. A big difference in price to be sure, but Honda throws in combined ABS for that extra two grand.
The chassis is just as unconventional as the engine design and DCT transmission, with a compact steel frame that wraps around the engine for a narrow cross-section. Without its brawny adventure-styled bodywork the NC700X could easy be mistaken for a scooter. The low-slung construction allows for a massive 21-liter storage compartment where the tank would usually be, while the 3.7-gallon steel fuel tank resides under seat. The 41mm front forks have 5.4 inches of travel, and the rear has 5.9 inches of travel through a Pro-link equipped swingarm.
Swinging a leg over the NC700X finds a fairly compact cockpit. Although the seat height is 32.7 inches it feels lower and most riders should be able to find flat ground with both feet. The seat is firm and slim – but not narrow like a dual sport seat. The reach to the riser bars feels just right while the seat to footpeg relationship is tight for my 5’10” frame and could get uncomfortable if you surpass the 6-foot mark.
Honda had both the six-speed and DCT equipped models on hand for us to sample. I jumped right into the DCT game first to get a feel for the system as I’ve had only a few stints on the VFR equipped with the first generation of the same technology. At first it is a bit unnerving not having a clutch or shift lever on the left side of the bike, but you quickly adapt. In no time you are enjoying the torquey character of the long-stroke mill as the auto tranny does all the thinking for you. In regular drive mode the power character is not much to write home about from a speed-freak’s perspective, but it gets the job done in silky smooth fashion. This mode is all about fuel economy as it shifts early and keeps the revs low.
Thumb the right bar mounted switch to the Sport mode and the shifts firm up ever so slightly. The engine is also allowed to rev out further before the next gear is selected automatically.
Going to manual gives you control of when you grab the next gear with a squeeze of the trigger finger switch, but be quick! The limiter kicks in at 6500 rpm, and if you are used to a wringing a bike’s neck to get that rush, you’ll find that limiter often. Adjust the shift points to the meat of the power, right around 4500 to 5000 revs, and the acceleration is better than expected.
The standard transmission is, well, standard. Shifts are Honda reliable and solid, just as you would expect. My only criticism it the reach to the clutch lever could be a stretch for smaller hands.
While the engine performance will not hold the attention of experienced riders for long, the low center of gravity and well-sorted chassis will. Steering is light and almost dirt bike-ish. Just think about turning and you are. The NC700X falls into the corner with the lightest of bar input and once in it holds a line with composure that you wouldn’t expect from a bike that has a frame resembling a scooter.
Only the biggest of road imperfections upset the suspension balance. The tighter the road the more fun the NC gets, especially as you learn to use the bike’s momentum rather than horsepower to get out of the corners.
When it’s time to slow the NC700X’s roll the brakes are not as stellar as the handling, and one must be careful not to come in too hot. The response is predicable, but the power could be better for those that like to divebomb the corners. For beginners, grabbing a handful of right lever won’t be a complete disaster, and the combined ABS on the DCT model will keep even the most ham-fisted brake applications downright civil.
I am truly impressed with the 2012 Honda NC700X, but not for the usual reasons. I’m impressed with Honda’s ability to create a bike that will be one of, if not the most friendly beginner mount on the market. But it can at the same time entertain any rider out there. It looks cool, has useful storage, a gratifying chassis and user-friendly motor; a new rider can’t ask for much more than that. For me this “unique” bike might not be completely “revolutionary,” but I think it could be very well a “game changing" motorcycle.
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Motorcycle USA.