2012 Honda NC700X Review - Video
Big fun at a small price
In today’s economic climate, motorcycle manufacturers are well aware consumers are looking to get the most value for their hard-earned dollar. At the same time, OEMs are trying to introduce new riders to the sport. With the NC700X, Honda believes the way to do both is to bring back the UJM, or Universal Japanese Motorcycle.
Any discussion about the NC has to begin with its price. Starting at just $6999 for the standard-transmission variant, the bang-for-the-buck quotient is undoubtedly high. This is an impressive feat for a bike made in Japan, and is possible thanks to its use of inexpensive parts – mainly non-adjustable suspension and a single front brake rotor. More to the point, the NC is a world model, meaning this same platform (which is shared with the NC700S and Integra scooter/motorcycle hybrid) is used for markets all around the globe, thereby reducing production costs.
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Under Its Skin
That’s not to say the NC is cheap. In fact, it’s an all-new motorcycle from the ground up. The diamond-shape steel frame is a new design that incorporates the also-new 670cc parallel-Twin engine. Honda saved considerable time and resources when developing the NC’s engine by essentially designing it as one half of the four-cylinder, 1497cc engine used in the Fit automobile. The 73mm bore is identical but the stroke is substantially shorter. Both are SOHC with four valves per cylinder and similar camshaft/rocker arm architecture.
What this means is a powerplant biased towards low- to mid-range torque. The all-new liquid-cooled, eight-valve Twin uses a 270-degree firing order. The long-stroke design lends itself towards torque production and fuel economy at the expense of high-rpm horsepower.
Programmable fuel injection feeds gas through a single 36mm throttle body leading to a branched intake port which then is routed to each cylinder. Leading-edge MotoGP technology this definitely is not. However, frictional losses within the engine are reduced via low-friction coating on the pistons and roller rocker arms in the valvetrain.
Keeping things compact, the camshaft drives the water pump, while the engine counterbalancer drives the oil pump. Lastly, the exhaust ports are consolidated within the parallel-Twin engine, creating the need for only one exhaust header and catalytic converter.
On the chassis side, the NC claims a low CG by virtue of its 62-degree cylinder slant and 3.7 liters of fuel stored under the seat. Apart from the handling benefits, the forward cylinder slant also frees up room for a 21-liter storage compartment where the fuel tank usually sits, big enough for a full-face helmet.
The bottom-barrel suspension components mentioned earlier consist of a non-adjustable 41mm fork, and a similarly simple rear shock, capable of preload adjustability only. They offer 5.4 inches and 5.9 inches of travel, respectively. Rake is a lazy 27.0 degrees and trail is 4.3 inches (110.0mm).
Dual Clutch Transmission/Combined ABS
Besides its price, the second major talking point surrounding the NC700X is its use as a platform to utilize the optional, second-generation DCT, or Dual Clutch Transmission. It adds $2000 to the $6999 base price, but also includes Honda’s Combined ABS. First seen on the VFR1200F, DCT indeed incorporates two clutches: one for start-up and first, third and fifth gears, and another for second, fourth and sixth. By preselecting the next gear using the clutch not currently driving the motorcycle, this system delivers seamless gearshifts.
This second-gen DCT is lighter, smaller and more compact than before, making it ideal for a mid-displacement engine like the NC. Despite its new size, clean, crisp shifts in either direction are done at the push of a button. But don’t worry, purists, a traditional six-speed transmission comes standard.
An interesting statistic provided by Honda’s automotive arm found that only 7% of new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. today are equipped with manual transmissions, indicating their decline in popularity among the general population. Honda reasons prospective new motorcyclists sometimes turn away from the sport due to the intimidation of shifting. Simplifying the task of changing gears is one way Honda hopes to lure new riders.
In much the same way DCT (paddle shift) technology has found its way into more and more cars – alleviating the need to learn proper clutch manipulation on your uncle’s old VW Beetle – push-button shifting takes the same intimidation factor away from the sport of motorcycling. The DCT can operate in three modes – MT, D and S – depending on rider preference.
MT mode allows the rider full control over shifts via the buttons on the left twistgrip and for this reason is clearly the most fun. D, or Drive, mode is suited for around-town riding thanks to its automatic shifting and is on the polar opposite end of the fun spectrum. It hunts for sixth gear as quickly as possible for maximum fuel conservation. On the NC, top gear is reached at a blisteringly quick 38 mph. S, or Sport, mode strikes a balance between the two, allowing the engine to rev a bit more before automatic upshifts, with downshifts happening sooner to utilize the engine-braking effect.
Manual override is available in either D or S modes, allowing the rider to choose their own gear for a given situation (say, passing a slower vehicle). Once the rider is done, the computer notices and will revert back to whatever mode was used earlier.
Honda’s Combined ABS comes standard should you choose the DCT option and is linked only rear to front. During application, all three pistons in the front caliper (non-ABS models have two-pot calipers) are applied to the single 320mm disc. It’s been refined to reduce the pulsing sensation typically associated with ABS. When only using the front brake, the third piston isn’t activated.
Unlike some other motorcycles, whose accessories are designed after the motorcycle completes production, the NC and its accessories were designed in conjunction with each other. The variety of accessories is a reflection of the wide array of riders Honda hopes to attract.
The touring rider can outfit their NC with a 29-liter pannier set ($599.95), 45-liter top case ($299.95), tall windscreen ($169.95) and heated grips ($229.95). Meanwhile, for the adventure-minded rider, there’s the light bar ($149.95), centerstand ($149.95) lower cowl and fairing deflectors (both $89.95). All told, a fully-kitted, standard transmission NC will come in just shy of the $10K mark at $9899.
A Bike with an Identity Crisis
We’ve established the NC is an inexpensive machine, but what about its looks? There’s no arguing the 700X is an odd looking motorcycle, the question is whether it will be a sour spot in the eyes of new or returning riders. During the NC’s design stage, four key words dictated its architecture: Easy, Stylish, Practical and Dynamic.
Combining influences from the adventure and standard segments, the final appearance is meant to appeal to everyone from urban commuter to country-road explorer and everything in between. We’ll leave it up to you to decide if Honda was successful.
Smiles Per Mile
Honda invited journalists to Westlake Village, just north of Los Angeles, to try the NC700X in and around the surrounding hillsides to put the bike through its paces. There were a total of four bikes available; two standard models and two fully-accessorized units. Each pairing had one conventional transmission and another with DCT.
Ergonomically, the NC is a neutral motorcycle, with low(ish) pegs and raised handlebars, giving the rider an upright sitting position. However, with its 32.7-inch seat height, some shorter riders may feel intimidated. On the other hand, a few taller journos at the event noted they felt cramped, having to scoot back on the saddle to afford their legs some room.
Thanks to its low center of gravity, its 472.0-pound curb weight doesn’t feel overbearing at a standstill, though a featherweight machine it most definitely is not. Once moving, the 670cc Twin is one of the smoothest-running engines I’ve sampled and provides ample torque low in the rev range, perfect for street riding. However, unless you’re transitioning from cruisers, you’ll find the long-stroke engine hits its 6500-rpm rev limit quickly. With the NC, short shifting is key.
That said, the standard six-speed transmission performs in typical Honda fashion, providing positive shifts with easy clutch pull. However, neither clutch nor brake levers provide any adjustability. Switching to the DCT model is a snap, as a toggle on the right switchgear selects neutral, D or S modes. With a mode chosen, simply twist the throttle and go – there is no clutch lever or shifter.
For those worried about bucking or surging at slow speed, don’t be. The second-gen DCT performs slow-speed maneuvers just like, if not easier than, a standard transmission motorcycle. Instead of manipulating clutch, throttle and/or rear brake, with the DCT you simply don’t have to worry about clutch action whatsoever. A tight U-turn, for instance, can be achieved with just rear brake and throttle modulation.
Tapping a toggle switch with your right pointer finger engages MT mode, giving you full control over shifts. At speed the DCT upshifts with the same quickness as a traditional clutch-pull upshift. However, those adept at clutchless upshifts will be able to do it faster. For two-up riding, DCT will eliminate the notorious “head bump” during sloppy shifts.
The real beauty of DCT comes during spirited riding. You can enter a corner hot, downshift three gears at the push of a button and be greeted with perfect rev-matching each time. Can you execute perfect downshifts every single time with a conventional transmission?
Of course, something has to give when the cost of a motorcycle is so low. For the NC, spirited riding exposes the weakness of the budget suspension components. For normal use the ride is comfortable, even erring on the soft side.
Surprisingly, for the times the road gets twisty, both ends hold up even at a moderate pace. Go too fast, however, and things start to protest. The front dives under hard braking, the rear bottoms out over harsh bumps, and holding a line is difficult. With its 27.0-degree rake, steering agility is expectedly sluggish, though the handlebars provide decent leverage for quick inputs.
Also surprising was the performance from the single 320mm front rotor and twin-piston caliper. It’s able to slow the NC reasonably well, with ample feel at the lever, though maximum braking definitely benefits from using both front and rear binders.
Turning our attention to practicality, the 21-liter storage compartment proves very handy as a built-in tankbag, and should you opt for the accessory luggage, there’s no reason you couldn’t get away for a long road trip and never wear the same clothes twice. If not, there are still ample anchor points throughout to strap things to the back seat via bungee cords. Honda claims the 670cc Twin is capable of 64 mpg, and during our approximately 150-mile ride, we returned a very impressive 60.7 mpg.
Lastly, despite its adventure-bike styling, the 700X is simply an off-road pretender. Its 17-inch wheels are meant for street use and its Metzeler Roadtec Z8 tires are evidence of such. However, should you feel the need to travel off the beaten path, fire roads will likely be the limit to your adventure.
The New Frontier
During our tech briefing the morning of our ride, Honda reps revealed the company’s powersports directive. It centered around “Value for Money,” with a push to bring bikes to market that will provide high customer appreciation at affordable prices. With the NC700X, the Universal Japanese Motorcycle has returned, embodying the VFM mantra.
Short for New Concept, the NC700X lives up to its billing as a simple motorcycle capable of meeting the needs of many. The 670cc engine’s repurposing in the NC700S and Integra scooter/motorcycle hybrid (both of which won’t be sold in the U.S.) is further evidence of Honda going back to its roots and providing transportation for the masses.
Honda’s taking a risk with the NC, hoping it will attract new and returning riders. While its looks are definitely polarizing, its practicality, performance, comfort and value can’t be overlooked. As long as potential customers recognize what they’re getting for the money, the NC700X will be a winner.
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