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Ride Review – Honda NC750X

On its website, Honda says the NC750X has a “relaxed character”, calls it “pleasant” and declares that it “maximizes purification efficiency”.  If this confuses you about what kind of motorcycle this is, you are not alone.

Let me tell you a secret. I used to be a weirdo.

Ever since high school I understood that I was not typical, not one that could easily be placed into one of the accepted categories. I didn’t belong to the Dungeons and Dragons club, though I played the game. I was on the soccer team, but didn’t fit in with the jocks. I was nearly always a straight-A student but no one would have called me a nerd. I was a hodgepodge of disparate interests wrapped in a body that was in some ways athletic but also physically unattractive. I wasn’t, as you may have guessed, popular.

Motorcycles also come in a vast array of flavours and most fit neatly into predefined categories. One can usually glean from the shape and proportion of a bike if it’s meant for off-road or track use, for example. Among the biker fraternity, great joy is derived from the minutiae of mechanical detail, because those nuances in component size, quality and layout further articulate the specific use of a motorcycle. Beefy brakes telegraph speed; lofty fenders speak of backwoods adventure; and so on.

Like human beings, the more in-character a motorcycle presents itself, generally, the more popular it is. So it comes as no surprise that a bike like the Honda NC750X falls into the weirdo category. Strange looks, confused layout and totally oddball riding qualities make this one difficult to understand from the get go. Living with one for a few weeks did not make the picture much clearer.

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So good on paper.

I originally supposed to get the NC750X in early summer, but due to some minor planning changes got the marvelous CB500X instead. From what I had read and seen of the NC750X, it was going to be every bit as good as the CB only more refined and, well, more memorable. As I wrote many times, Honda motorcycles are peerless in execution but often lack character. I tend to forget about them minutes after giving them back.

The New Mid Concept that Honda presented in 2011 previewed a break from convention. Simple twin cylinder motors laid low in a steel frame with lots of design flexibility, the NC700S and NC700X that entered the market a year later promised all that: ease of use, agility, cargo space and extremely low fuel consumption. Indeed, they became the Honda naked models I most gravitated to at shows.

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Having eyed the NC platform, I expected great things. Here at last were mid-capacity, entry-level motorcycles that could be both practical and desirable. As a motorcycle design professional I’ve always been more attracted to novel ideas, especially when they pertained to bikes lower down the price register. After all, it is a lot easier to make greatness happen when price is no object, but to create a great low-cost motorcycle is difficult.

Pretty body sculpture is a Honda standard. Luscious surfaces and high quality paint are everywhere.
Pretty body sculpture is a Honda standard. Luscious surfaces and high quality paint are everywhere.

So is the Honda NC750X great? It should be. With a starting price of just $8,999, it comes with generous seating, a lockable helmet storage compartment in the tank, sharp bodywork reminiscent of contemporary European adventure machines and technical goodies like ABS and a very nice TFT instrument panel that changes colour the faster you rev.

The NC750 has an average wet weight (220 kgs) for a budget 750, but the weight is carried low thanks to a parallel twin motor slanted severely forward, and a fuel tank underneath the drivers seat. This, combined with a very long wheelbase, hints at stability even in hurricane crosswinds and tippy-toe handling at parking lot speeds – features that beginners and casual riders ought to find attractive. All these facts point to greatness. But then, life does not happen on paper.

Cargo storage in the "tank" space also integrates bungee hook points for a tank bag. Fuel is under passenger seat.
Cargo storage in the “tank” space also integrates bungee hook points for a tank bag. Fuel is under passenger seat.

Real life is not just punching the clock

Riding a motorcycle is dangerous at the best of times. The risk is high, but so too is the potential reward. It is this complicated mixture of thrills that entices us to do it, to seek the highs that can only be found on a perfect day riding a motorcycle. How much of the experience aboard one is created by circumstances, and how much is due to the bike?

Last year, I rode the wheels off Honda’s CBR650, and gushed about it to the world. Much maligned by the enthusiast press, that bike had been a revelation for me. It did everything so well, and made me feel so good about myself and life, that it made me rethink my whole motorcycle design ethos.

My expectations for the CBR650 were low, so the delight I felt riding it came as a wonderful surprise that melded with the emotional highs of my trip. Honda had, as usual, delivered a nearly perfect machine but one that somehow also managed to stir my soul. It liked me. I ended up in love with it.

NC750X in its natural habitat: a street lined with bars, in this case Argyle Street in Halifax.
NC750X in its natural habitat: a street lined with bars, in this case Argyle Street in Halifax.

The 2016 Honda NC750X is, I am told, an improvement over the outgoing model. In Europe it was a top seller for Honda, and even here it has won high praise from some pretty tough critics. The formula of low price, features and ease of use, evidently, was just what the market ordered. New for 2016 are LED headlights, some revised bodywork, and other improvements. The fuel consumption is purported to be so low, that owners will forget where the filler cap is located (under the passenger seat).

But none of that matters, because it’s all entirely lost on me. Not because I do not appreciate all the clever features, but because even with them the NC750X is utterly flaccid.

A motorcycle for the oatmeal crowd.

When the NC platform was first presented, Honda said it was attempting to win over people new to motorcycling as well as those who were budget-minded and practical. Combine those three consumer qualities and you end up with porridge. As in the lukewarm, flavourless breakfast paste championed by unimaginative people everywhere.

Sibling rivalry can get ugly. Brother Africa Twin has looks, athletic performance and a mind like a razor. NC750X broods in the corner pretending not to care.
Sibling rivalry can get ugly. Brother Africa Twin has looks, athletic performance and a mind like a razor. NC750X broods in the corner pretending not to care.

According to Honda, the NC puts out 56 hp, not much considering its girth. When called to task, the NC750X will accelerate but only very reluctantly, hitting the redline at 6500 RPM, at which point the ECU raps you on the hand with a red-flashing instrument screen and the jerking, pogo motion of a motorcycle bouncing off the rev-limiter. I have hit the rev-limiter on a manufacturer test bike precisely twice in my life. Both times were on the NC750X, in city traffic, and in neither circumstance was I acting like a hooligan. Anyone with even a casual familiarity with riding will end up doing this daily. The bike simply has no go.

The NC farts down the road, pulsing slightly but not enough to make a noise worthy of the word “motorcycle”. There is a barely discernible vibration in the pegs, but like the engine noise it is not sure if it’s supposed to be there or not, so registers as just annoying. The Honda is mechanically neutered, forgoing even the mellow rasp of a pedestrian Yamaha T-Max scooter or the throaty thumping of the humble Suzuki V-Strom 650.

Comfortably at home next to steel and glass, the NC750X can flex it's adventure styling muscles at urbanites in yoga wear.
Comfortably at home next to steel and glass, the NC750X can flex its adventure styling muscles at urbanites in business suits and yoga wear.

As far as fuel consumption is concerned, it is as miserly as advertised, but still inadequate. I hit the reserve after 200 kms of legal speed riding in a metropolitan city area. It only consumed 11 or so litres, so that’s very good. However as the former owner of two bikes with short range I can attest to the irritation and eventual rage that comes with hitting the pump two times per week during summer commuting months, or every two hours on a tour. In this day and age, no manufacturer should be selling anything calling itself practical that cannot at least crawl 300 km on one full tank. A Ducati Hypermotard can flash the empty light with 187 kms on the trip meter, not a Honda adventure model.

The Unexplained Brilliance?

I tested the NC750X as I imagined it was meant to be used: commuting from ex-burbs into a congested city. Living 40 or so kms from downtown Halifax my setup was perfect: I would run my daily errands and go to meetings on the Honda. One particular day, I had to hit four different meetings in three distinct areas of town, bring along some product samples, and then pick up some groceries for dinner. A job perfectly suited to Honda’s idea of an urban SUV on two wheels.

But as I loped along the magnificent coastal road I am blessed to live on, the disappointments came swiftly. For sure the NC750X handles. In fact, I would say that handling is the only thing this bike does well. The riding position is natural, upright and the suspension and seat isolate the frost heaves without eliminating road feel. The brakes, too, are typical Honda. Perfect.

2016 was going to be the year the NC750X went to the playoffs. It didn't.
2016 was going to be the year the NC750X got game and finally went all the way to the playoffs. It didn’t.

However, that useless motor meant that shifting often was the only way to get in and out of the tight turns around the bay. Normally that is a rewarding experience on a motorcycle, but on the NC it just felt like work. Honda’s CB500X, by comparison, could be left in third gear and just surfed all day long on the same stretch of road.

In town, the engine’s shortness of breath required lots of clutch use. My test bike was not equipped with Honda’s DCT electric shift option, which costs an extra $1,000 and  allows clutchless operation, something that would have been welcome. Heat management is fine, and comfort excellent, but again, unlike the CB500X, the windscreen is not adjustable which limits aerodynamic performance for taller riders.

The tank cargo space is, at best, a cubby hole. Advertised as helmet storage, the only one of my five helmets that fit inside was that of my wife. Any of my full face lids (size large) would not allow the hatch to close. It was another disappointment, and one which is inexcusable. In product design rule number one is never promise if you cannot deliver. A few extra cm would have made all the difference, and there was no technical reason it could not have been done. If Honda can achieve this with SH-series scooters costing $4000, then why not here?

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Answering a question nobody asked

Riding at night with a cargo-tank full of fresh corn I picked up from a roadside vendor, my thoughts went back to high school. I eventually figured out who I was going to be, and let go of the rest. I hated being on the soccer team, was content to read fantasy fiction in public, and liked that I could use big words in foreign languages. What others thought didn’t matter, so I gave up the pretense of fitting in with those with whom I had nothing in common.

The Honda NC750X is a $9000 motorcycle with the body of an adventure bike, the motor of a scooter and the ride qualities of a compact car. Given that we ride motorcycles to feel something visceral in a sanitized world, these are not flattering characteristics. It fits nowhere. Too weak and poorly provisioned for adventure touring, but also lacking the wheels and tires for venturing off-road. Design features like the tank stowage are novel, but not practical, while the styling and colours are generic, completely missing the opportunity presented by the layout.

We had high hopes for NC750X. But it never lived up to its potential, sadly.
We had high hopes for NC750X. But it never lived up to its potential, sadly.

It is a technically competent motorcycle that tries to do many things but does none of them well. A mediocre commuter, tourer and lousy sport ride with delusions of adventure, it is a clear example of what happens when you succumb to peer pressure. The NC750X works hard but for all the wrong reasons. It needs to relax, let go of the outcome and maybe come back next summer a changed being.

The market is full of amazing bikes right now, many from Honda, all of which makes me wonder. The CB500X is similar in comfort but more fun, more versatile, nearly as fuel efficient, and costs $1800 less… For me NC platform stands for No Chance.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ About the author

Michael Uhlarik is an international award-winning motorcycle designer with more than 16 years of experience creating bikes for Yamaha, Aprilia, Piaggio, Derbi and many others.  He is a veteran motorcycle industry analyst and part-time industrial design lecturer.  He is based in Nova Scotia. 

40 thoughts on “Ride Review – Honda NC750X”

  1. After reading many of your magazine and on-line stories over the past years, I am beyond disappointed in this review, and unfortunately now question another “expert” source of motorcycle information.

    I quit reading the American publications a number of years ago, as I got disgusted with every motorcycle being evaluated on how effective they were on a race track, and how much faster and better handling than the competitive models they were. Smaller and lower performance oriented models were only paid lip service to, and standard and cruisers were discounted almost entirely. Many manufacturers drank the journalistic kook-aid, and by the mid nineties, we had almost no entry level bikes, or standard style bikes, or even smaller dual-sports. But boy, did we have lots of sport bikes, exactly what California Journalists loved. Harley Davidson grew massively during those years, because their quality improved, but mostly because The Motor Company knew what most riders needed and wanted, and built them. When mainstream magazine journalists tested them, you could almost read the disdain between the lines, with ‘for a Harley’ being a common dismissive comment. Incidentally, I have no interest in Harley’s , and I own and have owned many, many sport bikes, plus dozens of other on and off road bikes.

    I have been interested in the NC series bikes since they were announced in 2012, because one of my pet peeves about bikes is that unless you buy some sort of touring bike or bagger, or outfit a regular bike with luggage, most motorcycles have no useful storage. Plus, those so equipped bikes become bulkier, and in the case of accesory saddlebags, ugly. The NC allows you to use the bike more, and the car less, while still providing a super maneuverable, light, and fun motorcycle. And gets stupid good fuel economy doing it.

    I bought my NC just before I found your review on-line this spring, as Honda Canada did not see fit to bring the DCT in (!!) until this year. I had previously read many other reviews, and these unimpressive reports, plus my years of experience made me uncertain as whether this bike would satisfy me, even after short back to back test rides on it and the CB500X. However, evaluated on it’s strengths, this bike is in a class of one. Race Track performance nor personal appeal have no business permeating this review, and judging by the other comments, your perspective is Utterly misleading. I expect better.

    By the way, I can send you pictures of my Nolan flip front helmet in the storage hold – and I have an XL head!

    1. adding on, it has the same “usable” RPM band as a high revving bike, because a high revving bike needs to be revved to 6000 to get anything done. this bike has max torque at 2000.. its insane.

      1. To you and all the others who love the NX :

        I am really happy for you. I didn’t like it, obviously. I didn’t appreciate it’s qualities. But then again, I came into it with expectations that almost certainly didn’t match with it’s intended target audience. The NC750X has been a huge success for Honda globally, so evidently they saw something guys like me did’t.

        Happy, safe motorcycling.

  2. I rode both the cb500x and the nc750x and bought the 750 for the comfort and ease of driving and what felt like better stability at highway speeds. Yup the power isnt any thing close to a normal street bike and maxs out at about 220km/h, but once you figure out to use the torque in the low rpm you’re all set. Anyways im out of points on my driver’s license. Going up to Labrador with it in a couple months and feel very confident.

  3. I’ve owned bikes for over 30yrs and I bought an nc750x last summer, handles like a charm. Took perseverance to get used to the ultra low red line, just got take advantage of the low end torque and you’re set. This not a sports bike but rather a very well adapted commuter which probably is why it is so popular in Europe. Not redlining the engine on every shift made a big difference on gas consumption for me. I do gravel roads and yea the tires could been better, next set maybe.

  4. I’m not what I consider an experienced rider but I have tested quite a few different manufacturers and different styles of bikes trying to find a fit. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a sport bike guy, I have no desire to drag my knee or lift the front wheel at 100mph with the twist of the throttle. However, i do like a good twisting, technical ride and I still have the desire to beat the Camaro to the speed limit off the line. I’m not a big block Harley cruiser guy either. I don’t want to wake the neighbourhood with the po-ta-to po-ta-to straight pipe thumper and the foot forward seating doesn’t do my back any favours. Living in eastern Ontario, I’m not a city dweller who would covet a light commuter to fling through downtown traffic and at 6’2″ I don’t want to look like a russian bear riding a tricycle but I will want to visit the city and will have to deal with the insane traffic of multi lane highways. I don’t see me embarking on a cross continent adventure any time soon so fixing the bike on the side of a jungle road in a monsoon with a tie wrap and bubblegum really isn’t a concern. Finally, and maybe most importantly, I do not have an unlimited income in which to indulge my fancies. So what am I left with? I find myself drawn to the adventure class for the upright riding position, possibility of taking that dirt road just to see where it goes and the availability of different power and pricing across the sector. I test drove the CB500X and the NC750X back to back last summer. I found the 500 a little shy on the available passing power and wouldn’t feel comfortable challenging a semi on a two lane highway without a good two mile view of on coming traffic. The 750 however, left me with a huge smile on my face after the test ride. Throw in the DCT which I find very attractive due to damage to my left wrist and I have a very short list of possible bikes. Maybe I’m a oatmeal kind of guy but this Honda seems to be in the front running for a 2017 purchase. or maybe the AT if I can save up some more before making the final decision.

    1. I appreciate your opinion. The CB500X is on my short list for the same reasons. My main use will be city commuting, but I want the ability to do longer rides in comfort. I am 53 and have a bad back so I don’t want a firmly suspended bike. The NC750X may just give me what I’m looking for with the greater torque that would you would want on the highway. The standard clutch version is very competitively priced in this sector. I too, am an oatmeal kind of a guy.

  5. What a load of twaddle. The NC 750 x is a great bike and serves a purpose. Most bike journalist s in Canada seem to be on an ego trip and are so full of themselves. Pretentious waffle.

  6. Kinda sad that many people in Canada might pass up the nc750x because of this review, which will have Honda.ca pull it from the lineup within a few years. Then we’ll be bitchin’ that we Canadians don’t get many of the motorcycles that are available in Europe.

    I strongly encourage readers to look at many other reviews that speak highly of this bike, and not just the European reviews (if I recall, this is Honda’s best selling bike over there).

    Anybody that has to spend hours in traffic every week can appreciate the auto clutch of this bike. It’s unfortunate that Michael didn’t get a chance to ride the DCT version of the nc750x, as this engine really is made for an auto transmission.

    Do you think Honda Canada would be up for a rematch, but with the DCT?

      1. You might be surprised by the trust put into CMG. Since most people can’t always get to test-ride a bike for a few days, we look to the people that do, for their professional opinion. BTW, I do not own an NC, I just find it sad when an innovative bike gets shot down before it has time to be understood and appreciated for what it is. In any case, I think this could be a good opportunity to try out this bike at it’s best – with the DCT, specially in heavy traffic. I do appreciate your review, as all testers can’t all be vomiting sunshine about one model.

  7. As an owner I’m gratified that such a mild mannered bike can generate such passion in the motorcycling journalist community. 🙂

    1. To be fair, this was the first motorcycle in decades that I felt strongly was below par. Having said that, it was “Honda below par”, which as I wrote means that some aspects were excellent, while others were disappointing. Had the NC been made by, say, Ducati then it would be out of the park.

      That’s the difference between high expectations (Honda), and low expectations (Ducati).

      m

  8. “… no manufacturer should be selling anything calling itself practical that cannot at least crawl 300 km on one full tank. A Ducati Hypermotard can flash the empty light with 187 kms on the trip meter, not a Honda adventure model.”

    My CB500X can go 300km on a tank touring at highway speed and Honda claims the Twin can do 400km.

    1. My point exactly! As I wrote, when I rode the CB500X it did amazingly well in all areas, especially fuel efficiency at speed. The NC750X just sucks in that department. It is very disappointing.

      1. The claim “…not a Honda adventure model.” is misleading and untrue. Honda has 3 adventure models and only the NC700X has this problem. The article should state “… not the NC700X” as its the only bike with the range problem.

  9. Making one motorcycle to fit all styles/requirements is a recipe for failure. The nice roads out there make this bike even more tragic. When these things first came out I actually thought they were just big scooters morphed into a motorcycle mold. Doesn’t sound like I was very wrong.

    FZ07.. would love to try one (responding to comment)

  10. The largest and newest motorcycle dealerships in the greater Montreal areal, such as Motos Illimitées (The biggest dealership in Canada, probably in NA) or Nadon sport don’t sell Hondas. Instead, on top of other Japanese brands, they have expanded in European brands like Ducati, BMW, Triumph, KTM and even Triumph. Those attract investments. If you look for a Honda dealer you will only find a few older and smaller dealerships.

    In this market at least Honda in being left in the dust and when I look at their lineup I get why. Good luck to them in emerging markets…

  11. «Answering a question nobody asked»

    This is exactly what I said here several week ago when we were discussing another strange offer from Honda… (this one is far from the worse and it actually sells, I see this bike sometimes on Montreal streets, I guess it works as a purely utilitarian machine)

    Sure I understand they might want to experiment with automatic transmission and such. But why in hell should anybody buy this very ordinary machine when you can get (for example) a better at everything Yamaha FZ7 for almost 2 grand less, hell you can get a FZ9 for the same price. Even a BMW F800R won’t cost you much more. And even it is was cheaper is this really where Honda should be going, building passionless and cheap entry level motorcycles?

    Tried some bikes from Honda this spring, as a typical offer the CBR650F reminded me of a Toyota Corolla on 2 wheels, competent but can you say boring? The one I liked best (despite some major flaws and lagging technologically…) the bike they should be working on, the (once mighty) VFR800 , they are abandoning.

    Sad to see that once great company go down like this, but I guess that what you get with poor management and lack of passion.

          1. Same everywhere, Honda still selling lots of small displacement machines, especially in emerging markets, their best seller being the NCN110, they are otherwise being left behind.

      1. Not sure how a reference to Australia matters in this context. Yes, Honda is still the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturer, but pBrasseur’s point of view is that here in Canada, the brand appears weak.

        1. That wasn’t what he said, he said the major company was going down. Meanwhile, they have a dealer in Ottawa, another in Embrun 30 minutes away. Reports of their demise may be exaggerated. If people don’t like what they’re offering, so be it; and yeah, some of their stuff may seem bland, but the CB-1, definitely not bland, tanked whereas the CX500 sold like hotcakes in our market. What people say they want (MV Augsta), and what they shell out money for (KLR, or a garden tractor), are often two wildly different things.

          1. I reread his post, and it’s pretty much one person’s anecdotal opinion on the success of Honda in Canada. I am not agreeing with pBrasseur on any points, only pointing out that your argument does not seem to line up with the thread exactly.

  12. “Answering a question nobody asked”.
    Honda seems to do that a lot – because they can, and because they want to see what sticks.
    Witness the DN-01 and the Rune.
    BMW gets away with it because, well, they’re BMW and European.
    Its what happens when you let car guys runs the show….

    1. Right, I read this engine is actually half a car engine, which explain the low revs…

      If Honda don’t like bikes anymore maybe they should stop making them, making room for those who still care such as KTM…

      1. KTM never seems to care about how comfortable your butt is, though; otherwise I have nothing against them. Well, the colour too.

        1. Rode a KTM SuperDuke 1290 GT last week, true the seat is firm (wich I like) but anyway I was having so much fun my butt was the least of my worry

          BTW the SuperDure weights only 8 kg more than this soulless honda…

  13. While nice looking, with specs that sound promising, I totally agree with this article. I’ve tested this bike, and found it completely underwhelming, and faceless. Oh, and the buffeting with the stock wind screen, had me feeling like my brain was being rattled into a state of jelly. I imagine the DCT version, allows it’s smooth and easy scooter soul to shine forth, nice and easy.

      1. That explains the popularity of BMW’s over there too.

        I test rode the DN-01 for CMG and liked it except for the foot position. I think this kind of engine favours the automatic transmission; I hit the rev limiter when shifting manually too. I suspect I’d like the NC, although I would not like being unable to fit my helmet in the helmet space..There were lots of NC’s on the road when I toured Europe four years ago.

        Then again, there were a surprising number of Harley chopper trikes in Europe too …

      1. The fact that the Honda Canada website still lists the 2015 model for sale, discounted, in September as the 2017’s come in suggests that indeed, the NC750X answered a question nobody in Canada asked

    1. Pat is a die hard Honda loyalist through & through and had been there from their North American beginning. I don’t blame him for having their back.

      However, being on the Honda powersports retail front line we definitely have noticed a disconnect from the North American market in the last few years (specifically motorcycle). Lots of new models and lots of big time flops.

      I spent a lot of seat time on a 2016 NC750X DCT demo this summer and other than the buffeting that was mentioned, I thought it was an incredible bike to ride!

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