The motorcycle industry has taken its fair share of blows these past five years, and the two-wheel market is a far cry from what it was in its prime. It doesn’t take a day off your happy pills to realize that sales are only slowly headed in the right direction, and that product development has significantly suffered the consequences of dwindling profits. But while other Japanese manufacturers continue to simply ride out the economic turmoil that’s caused all this, Honda has accepted the challenge at hand. Big Red has all but gone back to the drawing board in fact, and along the way come up with a motorcycle that it feels will rejuvenate the market by reaching out to newer riders and returning enthusiasts alike. This is Honda’s “New Concept,” and more specifically, this is the basis of the NC700X.
Ingenuity goes a long way when developing a motorcycle that’s tasked with upsetting the apple cart, and fortunately the NC lacks none of it. Tucked behind the low-slung steel tube frame is the most creative piece to the NC700X puzzle, the engine, which is mostly a Honda Fit four-cylinder car engine sans two cylinders. The 670cc parallel-twin powerplant has significantly undersquare bore x stroke dimensions (70.3 x 80mm) and is canted forward 62 degrees for ideal weight distribution. At its bottom, the engine runs a new primary balancer and crankshaft that’s been twisted 270 degrees for quelled vibes and added character. Back up top, special combustion chamber shapes, a single 36mm throttle body acting on both cylinders and low-friction coated pistons work to provide a wallet-friendly 64 mpg, as suggested by Honda.
The NC700X engine is innovative in terms of construction. The intake ports, for instance, converge to a single port inside the cylinder head, and the exhaust ports similarly meet inside the head to require a single exhaust pipe. That innovation trickles down to the transmission of the NC700XD model, which comes equipped with ABS and Honda’s lighter, second generation Automatic Dual Clutch Transmission. Biggest news is that the NC’s DCT now operates off a “learning function”, which recognizes what type of riding you’re doing and adjusts the shift patterns accordingly. Drive and Sport options in addition to a Manual mode (controlled via buttons on the left clip-on) are standard fare, and the ABS stays linked rear to front. The devoid-of-ABS standard NC700X remains a clutch-operated six-speed manual transmission for those opposed to completely forgoing their shifting rights.
The NC700X’s steel frame looks avant-garde when stripped of its fairings, but is a key component of the NC design thanks to its low center of gravity. The bike’s suspension is long in contrast, with the 41mm nonadjustable fork providing 6.0 inches of travel up front and the preload-adjustable shock offering 5.9 inches of travel out back. A single 320mm brake disc paired to a three-piston caliper mounts directly to the NC’s front 17-inch cast aluminum hoop and is matched by a 240mm disc out back; a set of Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact tires complete the chassis package.
The NC700X’s 3.7 gallon fuel...
The NC700X’s 3.7 gallon fuel tank has been moved to below the seat and accessing the filler cap means lifting the passenger seat. The design contributes to the bike’s lower center of gravity.
The NC700X’s beak-like nose and enduro-esque looks won’t turn twenty-something-year-old sportbike enthusiasts into adventure-touring fans overnight, but I couldn’t utterly mock the NC’s design after first laying eyes on it at the bike’s launch in Westlake Village, CA. The New Concept looks svelte and feels unimposing once you throw a leg over it — just the way a bike intended for new riders should feel. Seat height measures an unobtrusive 32.7 inches but feels dramatically lower thanks to the shape of the seat and the long travel suspension’s tendency to droop into its sweet spot. The reach to the wide, upright handlebar is equally as friendly, although it becomes immediately apparent that the bike is aimed for those measuring under six feet tall — a point that’s exaggerated when you take the seat-to-footrest distance into account. At 6-foot-3-inches, I found little room in the small saddle for my derrière or legs, and was hoping Honda would make mention of a taller seat option. No luck on that front just yet, although it’s worth mentioning that Big Red already offers a large number of accessories. It’s also important to mention that the NC is designed with a luggage-consuming 21-liter storage compartment where the tank would normally reside, and that the fuel tank is pushed back under the seat.
The Honda’s 6250-rpm rev limiter initially feels like the end to all things fun and admittedly takes some time to get accustomed to, but once you get the feel for the bike’s low-end and midrange power all is forgiven. Power builds respectably past 4000 rpm and the NC pulls well to around 6000 rpm, at which point it begins to taper off; by no means is the parallel-twin engine a top-end happy, rev-hungry powerhouse, thus short shifts and the torque curve are your friend. Throttle application is smooth and consistent, and the twin surprisingly doesn’t buzz you into oblivion thanks to the internal balancer. According to Honda reps, the small amount of vibrations that remain are intended to provide some character to a bike that could otherwise borderline vanilla.
The NC’s 21-liter storage...
The NC’s 21-liter storage compartment conveniently allowed us to ditch our backpacks during the bike’s launch. It’s big enough to suck up some groceries too, or even a (small!) helmet.
The NC700X is extremely light on its toes through a bend and steers exceptionally well into a corner, another trait that helps transform the ride from lackluster to exciting. And while we don’t doubt the bike’s low power figures play a role in that superb handling, we’re happy to admit that the NC can effectively keep you grinning through a tight section of road. Suspension damping is admirable despite the suspenders being of the non-adjustable variety, with both the fork and shock providing a plush feel over the rough stuff and enough firmness in the faster, smoother sections to keep the bike in line. The steel frame itself remains composed no matter the input, speed or amount of luggage, which also instills a great deal of confidence as your ride transitions from touring to sport.
Straddling the standard-transmission-equipped NC model bolsters the fun factor as the manual transmission feels more assertive and provides more control over the power delivery. The standard transmission isn’t without its downfalls, however, and shifts don’t come at the slightest tap of the lever. Clutchless upshifts are difficult to manage, and you really have to be precise with the clutch and throttle combination in order to avoid abrupt gear changes. Shifts are much more composed with the DCT-equipped model, and this coming from a person who wasn’t particularly a fan of the automatic-transmission-equipped Honda VFR. Drive mode leaves the bike in an overly tall gear for improved fuel mileage, as expected, but Sport mode now surprisingly manages to keep you satisfied by always selecting a gear that seems sufficient for the road ahead. Honda’s new manual override feature also allows you to manually switch gears via the paddles without automatically (for lack of a better term) reverting you to manual mode, a feature I appreciated when looking to downshift and pass cars on the highway, etc.
There are limitations when taking this adventure bike past its comfort zone, the primary concern being footrest clearance. I managed to swipe the ground on multiple occasions through tighter sections of road, a quick reminder that the NC is more about leisurely cruising than any type of aggressive riding. The OE Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact rubber has its limits as well, and the stiffer sport touring construction doesn’t provide total compliance mid-corner on rougher canyon roads.
The NC700X’s digital gauge...
The NC700X’s digital gauge is tucked behind the small — but extremely effective — windscreen and gets the job done. Yes, redline is at 6250 rpm. No, you didn’t read that wrong.
The brakes on both NC models provide mediocre power without the brute force that would intimidate inexperienced riders. The clutch and brake lever are a very light pull, which also provides a better sense of control for those without as many miles under their belt. The ABS on the D mode in particular is surprisingly without any aggressive cycling rates and proved rather unobtrusive in almost all environs. On other fronts, the small windscreen provides an impressive shield against windblasts, and the digital gauge tucked behind it provides a clear readout of the necessary information despite its small size.
Beyond its unintimidating nature that lends itself to newer riders, the NC700X has an advantage for the everyday commuter and long-distance rider: utterly impressive fuel mileage. I personally averaged 64 mpg during a 125 mile test loop without so much of a thought about fuel conservation, highlighting the NC’s potential to be extremely easy on your wallet. And with a price tag of just $6999 ($8999 for the DCT/ABS-equipped model), getting one in your garage won’t hurt the bank account much either.
While the NC700X may not send blood rushing to your eyeballs the way a CBR600RR or CBR1000RR will, the truth is that it’s the correct answer to the problems currently faced by the motorcycle industry. Affordable, practical and fun (in its own way), the NC is Honda’s best-yet counterpunch to the many blows it’s been delivered over the past five years.
2012 Honda NC700X/ NC700XD (with DCT and ABS)
Liquid-cooled, SOHC parallel twin, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke:
73.0 x 80.0mm
PGM-FI, 36mm throttle body, single injector
120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact
160/60ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact
27.0 degrees/4.3 in. (110mm)
60.6 in. (1539mm)
32.7 in. (831mm)
3.7 gal. (14L)
Claimed curb weight:
474 lb. (184kg)/505 lb. (229kg)