Welcome to the brave new world. “New” because the motorcycle you see here, Honda’s innovative NC700X, is a distinct, almost 180-degree change in direction from where motorcycles have been heading for many years. And “brave” because Honda has rolled the dice with this all-new-from-the-ground-up machine, gambling that there are legions of current, past and would-be riders out there who want practicality, efficiency and affordability much more than they crave 190 horsepower, 9-second quarter-miles and five-digit price tags.
Honda’s goals with the NC700X were simple in concept but difficult in execution. It wanted to target new and re-entry buyers with an affordable but fun machine that was extremely easy to ride and delivered exceptional fuel efficiency. These same qualities would also make the bike attractive as a commuter for established riders.
Obviously, this required thinking about the motorcycle in a different way, as well as application of newer technologies (some not normally used in two-wheelers) and rigorous adherence to controlling production costs. This uncommon approach is reflected in the bike’s model designation: “NC” stands for “New Concept.”
So, is the resultant motorcycle glamorous? Not really. Wicked fast? Nope. An adventure bike, as implied by its styling? Maybe, but only if your adventures are not too, you know, adventurous. But is it fun to ride? Absolutely. The NC is atypical, particularly in the character of its liquid-cooled, 670cc parallel-Twin engine; but even on your first ride, it becomes clear that Honda is really onto something here.
Just about everything that is different about the NC700X is centered around the engine. Foremost emphasis was put on fuel efficiency and usable torque, and the designers were inspired by the efficient and compact architecture of the 1.5-liter inline-Four that powers Honda’s Fit automobile, minus two cylinders, of course. The NC shares the Fit’s 73mm bore but uses a 9.4mm-shorter, 80mm stroke. Crankshaft throws are spaced 270 degrees apart, creating a 90-degree-V-Twin-like firing order. For simplicity and to save space, secondary internal engine components share duties: The water pump is driven off the single overhead camshaft, and the counterbalancer shaft powers the oil pump.
Compression was bumped up to 10.7:1 from the Fit’s 10.4, and the four-valve-per-cylinder head inhales through a single 36mm EFI throttle body. Burned gases exit through ports that merge in the head and enter a single pipe with a very short run to the catalytic converter. This leads to rapid heating of the cat and reduced emissions on startup—again, more automotive thinking.
The 62-degree forward lean of the cylinders helps give the NC a low center of gravity while freeing up room for the 21-liter storage compartment over the engine where the fuel tank normally would reside; a 3.7-gallon fuel cell is located under the seat. The engine is clearly the jewel of the package, and its design easily overshadows the relatively pedestrian but effective tubular steel frame and the NC’s working-man’s suspension and brake components.
Compared to what you experience with most of today’s motorcycle engines, getting accustomed to the 700X’s method of propulsion takes a little time. The combination of the low-end-centric power delivery, the staggered firing order’s lopey sound, the low rev ceiling and a whisper-quiet exhaust note requires a slight adjustment in the rider’s thinking—so much so that within the first few minutes of riding, you’re likely to bang off the 6500-rpm rev limiter more than once.
Even compared to modern lower-revving powerplants, the Honda is still very different. The 7000-rpm Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom we tested is a perfect example. The NC700X spins up with an urgency that the heavy-cranked, two-valve-per-cylinder 1200cc V-Twin can’t match, so the perception on the Honda is that there is more rpm headroom than actually exists. That’s why visits to the NC’s rather abrupt rev limiter are more frequent than expected.