The last time I talked about the NC700X, I said it was an updated UJM, a middleweight bike you can ride for a Sunday afternoon rip, then commute with all week long, and then head out for a weekend tour on Friday after work.
CMG’s Three East Coast Stooges (Matt, Glen, and Scott) took the bike out for pleasure rides and used it for commuting, and found it fit those roles rather nicely, but they didn’t have a chance to tour on it.
So, I took it out on a couple of inter-provincial jaunts (first to Newfoundland, then on the CMG Fall Tour) to see how well it stacked up as a touring machine.
The answer? The NC700X works quite well as a tourer, but it’s got some serious limitations as a long-distance machine.
Let me explain.
THE LUGGAGE QUANDARY
If you want to take the NC700X touring, the first thing to do is figure out how far you’re going to go and what luggage you’re packing. This will have a big impact on how much you enjoy your ride.
Of course,the NC700X has a built-in luggage hatch in the area most motorcycles use for a gas tank. This comes in very handy on shorter rides. Want to go away for an overnighter, or maybe a weekend jaunt, and don’t feel like strapping on a tank bag or tail bag? No problem, the voluminous hatch takes all the important stuff.
On my tour of Newfoundland, I usually kept my Blackberry Playbook, my netbook, my DSLR (with a couple of lenses), a few battery chargers, maps, notebooks, and a rain jacket, sometimes even my lunch, or some extra shirts, in case the temperature dropped.
It was a little tricky getting the camera out for roadside snaps, but aside from that, the luggage hatch worked extremely well for this purpose.
If you want to get away for more than a weekend, though, you’ll pay – literally. If you want to travel with a pair of saddlebags, you need to buy Honda’s OEM units for $600 (top box is $385). You can make soft luggage work, but it’s going to be a hassle.
I found this out the hard way on my Newfoundland trip. We’d requested a set of the OEM luggage from Honda, but they were late coming into the country so we didn’t get any. So, I strapped on a set of Ortlieb saddlebags for my clothes, food, and tools, and another couple of drybags for my camping gear, and set out.
The trouble with this arrangement, of course, is that the NC700X has its gas fill cap under the rear seat. So, every time I needed to gas up, I had to remove all the luggage, fuel up the bike, then strap all the luggage down again, making sure it was tight enough.
During one leg of the trip, I got careless, and ended up having the Ortlieb bag get caught up in the rear wheel when I hit a bump. No damage to anything except for the bag and my nerves.
Honda’s factory luggage works around the problem of the gas tank, with a luggage rack that hangs your panniers and top box around the rear seat, enabling full access to the gas tank.
This is certainly the best setup for touring on the machine, and ‘Arris found that the taller screen and Moose evaporating accessory lights transformed the NC’s touring prowess massively when he had a fully equipped machine for a couple of days courtesy of Toys For Big Boys.
That’s not to say you can’t use soft luggage; I suspect something like Giant Loop’s bags could work better for the NC700X than the Ortlieb bags did.
For those riders who want hard bags but can’t afford or don’t like the Honda units, the aftermarket is already providing some alternatives (for example, these bags from Givi). You can also strap a tankbag on to the front of the bike to make gas fillups easier, while still packing a lot of luggage.
This setup works quite well, as long as you don’t have to access the storage hatch; I used a Wolfman tankbag on my trip across Newfoundland and found it wasn’t difficult to work around, but the Ortlieb tankbag I used on the Fall Tour didn’t allow easy access to the storage compartment.
But there’s more to a touring bike than luggage. Riders who are in the saddle for hours at a time generally want that saddle to be comfortable. The NC700X saddle is not really suitable for that kind of work.
A few hours into my Newfoundland trip, my backside was accustomed to the seat, but it wasn’t ever comfortable for me. I’m not one of those guys who hates stock seats, but I wasn’t a fan of the Honda’s.
My solution? I simply strapped an Airhawk cruiser seat to the bike for the Fall Tour. My saddle sores disappeared shortly afterwards. Airhawks are relatively affordable, especially when you compare them to custom seats, and until the aftermarket comes out with units for the NC700X, I’d recommend users who are interested in touring check out the Airhawk option.
But what about wind protection? Honda’s touring package for this bike includes bolt-on louvers to reduce wind resistance, as well as a larger windscreen. Our test bike had neither.
I don’t think the louvers are a necessity for the NC700X, but the larger windscreen (as ‘Arris testified) is certainly beneficial for anybody interested in touring at speed.
The stock windscreen is pretty spartan, and you start to feel the resistance build up after you reach the 120-130 range (a speed only reached at the top secret CMG test facility, BTW).
You can lie down on the “tank” to get a break from the wind and noise, but that position certainly isn’t comfortable all day long. Beside the saddlebags, the windscreen is the other factory option I’d recommend looking into.
You can also purchase heated grips for the NC700X, and an accessory light bar; if you ride much in the cold, or after dark, these could be pretty important upgrades. I would have liked the heated grips while riding in the rain, but if I’d had good gloves, I might not have been so cold.
THE NC’s RAISON D’ÊTRE
And what about the Honda’s much-vaunted gas saving?
I rode the bike for 1,630 kms during the CMG Fall Tour, before switching over to the CRF250L. I used 78.7 litres of fuel in that time, working out to an average of 20.7 km/l, or 47 mpg.
That number didn’t vary much between fill-ups, although most of those were hard miles.
During my Newfoundland trip, I noticed the bike’s mileage varied drastically, depending on throttle position. If I tucked down on the tank behind the windscreen and opened the throttle carefully, my mileage was great. If I kept the bike mid-range on the tach for best performance, my mileage suffered a lot.
Depending on your riding style, the NC’s power delivery could be limiting for touring as well. If you’re used to winding the throttle out in every gear and shifting when you feel the power slack off, the NC’s abrupt redline can sneak up on you when you’re passing.
While I adjusted well to the NC’s mid-range powerband, I found myself bouncing off the rev limiter several times when I was overtaking another vehicle, concentrating on oncoming traffic and not my tachometer.
BACK TO HONDA
It might sound like I’ve found a lot to whine about on the NC700X, but I actually think it’s quite a decent motorcycle for touring. It just isn’t as fast as the larger sport tourers, and you need to purchase a few factory accessories, but it ought to work as well as, or better than many of its mid-sized competitors.
If you don’t have the dosh to shell out for Honda’s luggage, the bike will still make a great budget tourer for overnight or weekend trips.
Despite our NC coming with the X (for adventure) moniker, I would not recommend this bike for adventure touring work. Sure, it has that aggressive styling, but the suspension isn’t really up to it, and it’s running on 17″ cast wheels with road tires.
I didn’t take the NC onto gravel but I did traverse for hundreds of kilometres of potholed, cracked, bumpy pavement in Newfoundland, and I don’t care to repeat the experience. I can’t imagine it would work any better on gravel.
But on the street, it’s a mild, well-mannered machine you can ride to work all week, then use for a weekend getaway, without burning a hole in your wallet with gas bills.
That kind of versatility is just what many motorcyclists are looking for; if you’re one of them, for sure, you should check out the NC700X.
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