I had a friend when I was a kid (really), whose dad owned an Audi with a rinky dink fuel economy gauge in the dash. We found this fascinating as the needle swung to the right every time the throttle was depressed, signifying that the vehicle was being operated in the “poor fuel economy zone”.
I’m not sure what was more annoying for my poor friend’s dad – the eye-catching swing of the gauge or the two annoying 10 year olds pointing it out every two minutes.
Thirty-five years later and Honda have taken up the fuel economy challenge — with an altogether more serious air than a simple manifold pressure gauge — in the form of their new range of NC700 bikes.
And we’re talking a significant difference. Honda reckon that their new NC700s get as good economy as their gas sipping CBR250R and a staggering 56% better return than their own CBF600.
But economy comes at a price and the NC has been built from the ground up with that overriding purpose in mind. The price is reduced power (maxing out at a claimed 51 hp), achieved by reducing the max RPM to a car-like 6,500 rpm. Which is apt, as the NC700 designers apparently spent much of their time talking to the Honda car designers in order to achieve their goal.
Car-like elements include a single throttle body that feeds both cylinders and a catalyzer mounted right up by the exhaust ports to get hot quick and thus be very efficient (emitting half of what is required under Euro 3). Then there’s the cam mounted water pump that positions itself close to the rad and so minimizes hosing and coolant for less weight and quicker warm up.
Granted, the engine is an inline twin and not a four, but the NC700 designer reportedly joked that they took a car motor from the Honda Jazz (car, not the scooter) and cut it in half.
The bores are the same — albeit with a slightly longer stroke — and even some components are purported to be swappable between the two.
In order to add some character to the motor, Honda opted for a 270 degree crank spacing between the two cylinders which makes it a lumpy firing order but mimics the sound and feel of a 90 degree v-twin in the process.
And by leaning those twin pots forward at a 62-degree canter, they allowed for a large storage area above where a conventional tank may be found, the NC’s tank being moved rearward with the filler under the passenger seat. Oh and that better efficiency means that they can use a smaller tank and still get a decent range.
So there is some technology being applied here, but the big question is will all this radical theory and emphasis on economy stunt the appeal of the NC700s in a market that is slightly more conservative than Mussolini? Will the NC700s be destined for the dusty showroom corner occupied by the deeply discounted DN-01s and Varaderos, or fly off the floors and result in a two year waiting list?
We figured that we’d have to get one for a medium term test from Honda to find out.
As I had mentioned, the NC700 comes in multiple formats, namely the X (‘adventure’), S (road) and D (or the Integra, which is a scooter version, though it won’t be available in Canada just yet). They also come with optional Dual Clutch (read auto) Transmission though we won’t be getting those in Canada either, which is a bit of a shame as the DCT would likely suit the NC700 very well.
We asked for, and received, the X version, which boasts taller suspension than the S although coming with cast wheels, claiming it as an adventure bike is a little bit of a stretch.
My first impression was that THIS IS NOT A DN-01! I want to emphasize that because Honda claimed similar revolutionary outcomes when they introduced the extremely un-innovative DN-01 (it was really just styling and the DCT that defined it, oh and the ludicrous $17k price tag). Of course, the trouble with revolutionaries is that they either end up dead and/or (if they’re lucky) on a t-shirt. The DN-01 did achieve the former at least, thought to my knowledge there may well be a warehouse full of the latter somewhere in Japan.
But I digress, all this to say that the NC700 actually has some engineering to back up the hype and it not only comes with a comfy riding position, it’s a fun ride to boot!
Although the motor redlines at a lowly 6,500, peak power comes in at 6k and peak torque at 5k, which gives you 500 rpm to feel the tail off and change gear. It means some short shifting is required if you want to push it but I was pleased to find that shifting at the right spot was somewhat intuitive. I was expecting a bit of the old Buell issue where the power party unexpectedly hits a brick wall courtesy of the rev limiter and so you have to consciously learn to shift early without any helpful hints from the motor.
On the NC, the power just gets soft and fluffy a little early and you upshift to jump back into the max torque (at 5,000 rpm) where the NC is at its happy place. Granted, this ultimately means that the experienced rider has to bend to the motor somewhat, but the result is a more relaxed ride aided by a subtle rumble of vibration and emanations from the pipe.
On the highway the NC can cruise comfortably at a steady 130 km/h with 150 km/h being the highest that I could see. However, if you intend to do that all day, then it would be wise to invest in a larger screen as the stock unit is small but still relatively effective up to about 100.
The gearbox is super smooth (sadly putting the long-term V-Strom to shame in the process) and the braking more than adequate for the machine’s purpose (using just a single disc up front, but with combined braking and a very functional ABS too).
Although the suspension is built to a price and non adjustable (save for preload at the rear), it’s adequate, if a little choppy and under damped. The wide bars make for quick and easy steering and the low centre of gravity helps greatly in corners and in slow speed traffic … oh, and yes, gravel too.
And let’s not forget that very handy 21 litre storage area in the faux tank. A stop at the shops on the way home and you can get a surprising amount of supplies in there or use it to deposit your full face helmet in before entering the shop. On the longer ride it proved to be a very useful place to carry a set of waterproofs/spare gloves and a bottle of water too.
A penny saved
Overall the NC700 has a very friendly character – the lack of top end power surge, low centre of gravity and sensible riding position will likely make this a very appealing package to the more novice riders out there. But the dash of character means that they may also keep it for a the long term, while also being attractive to the commuter who needs practicality and cheap running over the thrill of a screaming motor.
And talking of the Raison D’être of the machine — the fuel economy — during my tenure I saw an average of 23.1 km/l (or 4.33 l/100km, 65.3 imp mpg). The best of 24.9 km/l coming after a day scooting around minor roads around 110 km/h, the worst of 21.2 km/l after a day at a steady 130-140 … on the CMG private test track of course.
All this gives an average range of 326 km (warning light comes on around 250 km mark), which is all pretty impressive considering it spent much of its ‘Arris time being thrashed. Ehum.
Second opinion – by Zac Kurylyk
I gotta confess – the NC700X had me confused when I first saw it.
Sure, it had definite adventure bike styling – that front cowling and the long-travel suspension give the impression Honda intended this motorcycle to challenge the competition in the quick-growing adventure riding market.
But a second look put some holes in that theory. The cast wheels certainly don’t lend themselves to serious work on rough terrain, and while it may be very trick to hide the gas tank cap under the rear seat, it certainly makes it trickier to strap down luggage (maybe that’s supposed to motivate us to buy the $559.95 pannier set).
So what was the bike’s purpose? In the limited time I’ve had aboard it so far, it seems Honda’s come up with the modern answer to the mid-range UJM of days past.
Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s the Japanese spent plenty of time building sensible mid-sized machines like the CB550, the GS550, and the XS650. These bikes might not have had the performance of their big-bore brethren at the time, but they were perfect do-it-all machines; you could commute on them, you could tour on them, they got decent gas mileage, and the price tag wasn’t as high as a bigger machine’s. And for a beginning rider, they were plenty fast, too.
The NC700X fits nicely into those roles today. This machine certainly seems aimed at the beginning rider or commuter but you could also ride across the country on it tomorrow in relative comfort, though you may want to do something about the seat and if you want to strap luggage to the pillion pad, you’re going to be in for a hassle every time you re-fuel.
The motor’s 6,500 rpm redline sneaks up on you pretty quickly and an enthusiastic twist of the wrist will have you bouncing off the rev limiter rather quickly. You’ll have to be happy with low-end and mid-range torque; thankfully, there’s plenty on tap, even though this bike won’t turn you into a wheelie wizard overnight. And hey, all that low-end power means gas mileage around the mid-60 mpg range.
The bike has adventure styling, but if you took it down a rocky road, you’d be in trouble when a boulder bashed in the engine case or warped your wheels. But for the terrain most adventure bikes realistically see (easy gravel roads, or bad back-road pavement), this machine is a blast, mainly thanks to its low center of gravity.
I recently took it on a scouting trip for this year’s Dawn ‘til Dusk Rally, and it was a perfect match to the backcountry routes we’ll be traveling this September 15th (too bad it isn’t a 250!).
The windscreen seems to be well-designed, too, unlike the sub-standard units found on many similar bikes. Sure, it has all the coverage of a too-tight Speedo on the beach’s biggest fatty, but just like that overstressed garment, it provides basic coverage.
If you’re going fast enough for the lack of windscreen to bother you, you’re going fast enough to get a decent ticket (and for the sensible people we anticipate buying this machine, that’s just not appealing).
You’ve heard what ‘Arris and Kurylyk have to say about the NC700X, but what about the riders it’s aimed at, the average Joe on the street?
We’ve lined up some local riders to test the machine over the next few weeks, to see how it fits them and their riding styles.
When we get their reports back, we’ll update you.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled parallel twin|
|Power (crank)*||48 hp|
|Tank Capacity||14.1 liters|
|Carburetion||Electronic fuel injection|
|Tires, front||120/70ZR17M/C (58W)|
|Tires, rear||160/60ZR17M/C (69W)|
|Brakes, front||Single 320 mm disc|
|Brakes, rear||Single 240 mm disc|
|Seat height||32.7 inches (83 cm)|
|Wheelbase||60.6 inches (154 cm)|
|Wet weight*||472 lbs (214 kg)|
|Warranty||One year, unlimited mileage, extended warranty available at extra cost.|