Middleweight Multi-tool Shootout: 2012 Honda NC700X vs. Kawasaki Versys - Video
Honda's New Concept versus Kawi Versys-tility
Different But the Same
Outside their engine compartments, this pair is remarkably similar. Each plays to the Adventure-style niche du jour, with relatively long-travel suspension and hints of dirt-ready pretense. Neither is truly ready for any serious off-road work, but both handle mild dirt duty quite well.
“Tires aside, both handle well on a trail and if not ridden beyond their capabilities were up to the task,” says Firestone, a longtime dirt rider. “Can you say picnic?”
Their tall suspensions add up to fairly tall seat heights. Loftiest is the Versys at 33.1 inches, a skosh higher than the NC’s 32.7 inches. With legs astride, the 700X’s thickness through its midsection actually makes it feel higher than its specs. With my 32-inch inseam, I was forced onto the balls of my feet when at a stop. The Kawi’s narrower seat offers legs a more direct downward trajectory.
It’s a mixed bag in terms of seating comfort. The NC’s seat is slippery but roomier. The Versys has a gripper-type material that keeps its rider in place, but its shape slopes up at rear and confines taller riders. Roderick, our most vertically blessed staffer, says he hated the Kawi’s saddle.
“Although other testers didn't experience the same level of discomfort,” remarks the near-six-footer, “I think the seat's shape and the high positioning of its footpegs conspire to create a tight seating position for taller riders.”
As for myself and our guest tester, we didn’t have the same issue. “Both have comfortable seating and a great bar-to-peg relationship,” says the 5-foot-11 Firestone. “Both are very comfortable, and I could and did ride both all day and evening with no regrets.”
Long-haul comfort is aided by small but beneficial nose fairings and windshields that do an appreciable job deflecting air around a rider. The Kawi’s is adjustable for height and angle, while the NC has just a simple vertical range over two positions. Both require a screwdriver to make changes. If more protection is needed, both OEMs offer larger windscreens from their accessory catalogs.
“Both bikes have small mini windshields that look very cool to me,” observes Firestone. “The Honda provides a bit more shielding from the wind, and that gets more apparent the faster you go. Pretty good for such a small shield.”
Compared to sportier bikes, the Versys demands little from its rider. Bars are placed fairly high, so there’s no pressure whatsoever on a rider’s wrists. But with the 700X’s slightly better wind protection, less buzz from its engine and greater legroom, it’s a smoother traveling companion over longer distances.
“The Honda’s super-smooth engine simply hums down the road with a super-stable ride, and it ruled the freeways for me,” says Firestone.
Both hand levers on the Kawasaki are adjustable for reach, while the Honda’s are fixed. Lane-splitters will be annoyed that the Honda’s mirrors are located outboard of its bar ends, adding unnecessary width in tight quarters. Both have large and sturdy passenger grab handles that, in addition to a more secure pillion, offer several options of tie-down points.
If your favorite aspect of riding motorcycles is dismantling a twisty road, the Versys will deliver greater satisfaction. Its steeper rake (a full 2 degrees) and shorter wheelbase (by a significant 4.9 inches) endow the Versys with incredible agility. It knifes into corners with more eagerness than the tamer Honda, with the latter having the lazy steering response usually associated with using a 19-inch front wheel.
“I preferred the Kawasaki over the Honda in the canyons as it simply goes faster, better,” Firestone enthuses. “The Honda is super smooth on the more open canyon roads, but when the going got tight, the Kawasaki got going.”
Aiding the Versys is a more sophisticated suspension. It uses an inverted fork up front that is adjustable for preload and rebound damping, while a direct-acting shock (with the same adjustments as the fork) works through an aluminum swingarm. The NC700X’s suspenders, including lower-tech conventional fork, have no provisions for adjustment other than rear preload, and it uses a heavier steel swingarm.
Despite its lack of adjustments, the NC’s suspension performs well at absorbing bumps while being a bit tauter than expected from a commuter-style motorcycle. It has a well-tuned balance that comes up short only when ridden aggressively by heavier riders.
Braking performance is another area in which the Kawi’s higher specifications give it an edge. While the 700X uses a single front disc, the Versys employs a pair up front. The Honda offers a nicely firm feel from the front lever, and the single-disc setup performs above expectations, but it simply doesn’t offer the outright power of the Kawi.
Somewhat surprisingly, ABS isn’t an option for the Versys. Combined ABS is offered on the NC, but it’s only available with the DCT transmission option that adds a princely $2000 to the MSRP.
“Brakes on both bikes felt very good when ridden at the pace they were designed for,” Firestone remarks. “Keeping in mind these are both closer to commuter bikes than sport bikes, I’d say they are spec’ed out very well in the chassis and braking departments.”
Neither of these bikes will win many beauty contests. Their adventure-bike-ish profiles make them appear ungainly from some angles. To our eyes, the biggest style wart is the nose of the Versys that appears odd and funky, and not in a good way. Otherwise it is nicely finished and modestly pretty. We used last year’s model in our testing, but 2013 editions are available in two attractive new colors: a classy Pearl Stardust White or a lustrous Candy Thunder Blue.
The 700X is blessed with a more up-to-date style than the Versys, with various features flowing smoothly from one into the next. Its overall profile hints of the Ducati Multistrada, if you squint tightly,
“Style and looks being purely subjective, I liked the Honda best,” Firestone weighs in. “The things that stick out for me were the faux tank area, the beak-style front fender and the mature graphics and paint scheme.”
Not much of a distinction between instrumentation. The Honda’s LCD panel is a fresher design, but its bar-graph tachometer is more difficult to read than the white-faced analog unit on the Versys. The Kawi’s 4000-rpm greater rev range adds to the importance of its legibility.
Even more than the differences between engines, it’s the NC’s amazingly capacious storage compartment that might decide how your money is spent. The bike’s inclined cylinders and underseat gas tank opens up the area where fuel is typically stored, allowing a considerable 21 liters of stowage of whatever you need carried.
Sure, a Versys rider can carry a backpack for a quickie trip to the grocery store, but the always-ready enclosed storage in the Honda is immeasurably more convenient. Whether you need space to tote sunglasses, a rainsuit, a bottle of water or a post-ride six-pack, the NC has a secure place for it.
If you’re serious about onboard storage, lockable saddlebags and top boxes are available from each OEM’s accessory catalog, as well as the aftermarket.