Honda NC700X - ROAD TEST

That’s right, 73 mpg and room for junk in the trunk

Honda NC700X action left-side view

Honda NC700X - action left-side view

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn

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.

Honda NC700X right profile

Honda NC700X - right-side view

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn

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.

Honda NC700X on-road action

Honda NC700X - action #5

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn

As described in the “NC700X: Fuel-Efficiency Game-Changer” sidebar, one of the greatest benefits of this low-revving, undersquare engine design is excellent fuel economy. At the end of a spirited day of riding on the NC, we recorded 59 mpg, a bit short of Honda’s 64-mpg claims but still impressive considering the throttle had been pinned wide-open quite a bit of the time. Riding more sedately but still with a touch of sportiness, we got 73 mpg on our very first attempt at a “good” number. If the 700X is ridden conservatively, 80 mpg is not out of the question—impressive by any standards.

Another benefit of the Honda’s tuning is a remarkable degree of torque from just above idle. This can be a huge confidence-builder for novice riders learning how to master a clutch by making it dead-easy for anybody to glide away from a stop. In fact, with smooth clutch application, the NC can be put in motion cleanly and stall-free with your right hand completely off the throttle.

A glance at the dyno graph explains why this is so. The engine is making 30 foot-pounds of torque at 1600 rpm, and it rises to 40 ft.-lb. by 2600, staying above that mark until 6200 revs, just 300 short of redline. And its peak torque, 44 ft.-lb., puts it right on par with Kawasaki's Versys and ZX-6R and Triumph's Street Triple R. But, again, the riding experience on the 700X is completely different than it is on any of those other bikes.

Although “soul” is mentioned in the same sentence with “Twin” more often than with any other cylinder layout, the NC700X’s engine will never be accused of having a lot of character. It’s too quiet, smooth and linear in delivery to be thought of as soulful. But it doesn’t sound like a scooter, either. It thrums through the bars and pegs a bit, and the low-pitched engine note is barely audible at cruise.

Honda NC700X left-side rear view

Honda NC700X - left-side rear view

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn

Judged on engine performance alone, then, the NC700X might seem a bit vanilla; but thanks in large part to its chassis, the Honda is a really fun bike to ride. There is nothing special or high-tech about the frame or suspension, yet the NC offers excellent handling, whether in a straight line or through backroad twisties. The engine’s forward-canted cylinders contribute to a low center of gravity, which also makes the bike feel lighter than its 451-pound dry weight suggests. So, despite having a longish 60.5-in. wheelbase, the 700X is surprisingly agile. It flicks into corners with a light push or pull on the grips, arcs through on the chosen line without protest, doesn’t drag anything until you’ve reached an impressive lean angle and gives off nary a wiggle along the way. The engine might not be wailing like a 600 repli-racer on boil, but the NC’s attainable speed through corners is amazingly high.

Honda’s wise choice of tire sizes plays a role here. The unfashionably narrow 160/60-17 rear matched with the typical 120/70-17 front, both Metzelers, contributes to the 700’s quick, easy turn-in. From parking-lot speeds to high-speed sweepers, the steering is neutral and predictable, which instills trust.

Honda had to cut corners somewhere to keep the base model’s price under $7000, and the suspension and brakes are what got budgetized. Neither system detracts from the overall riding experience, though, and certainly not for the NC700X’s intended use. Most riders will find that the conventional 41mm fork and Pro-Link shock’s plush ride combines with reasonably controlled overall damping to make the bike perfectly comfortable for everyday riding. And the 5.4 and 5.9 in. of travel front and rear, respectively, means it takes a big hit to bottom the suspension.

Honda NC700X with accessories

Honda NC700X with accessories

Honda NC700X with accessoriesFran Kuhn

As for slowing down, the single, two-piston caliper and 320mm disc up front provide good but not great stopping power with decent feel. The single-piston caliper biting a 240mm disc at the rear, however, requires a hearty pedal-stomp and doesn’t offer particularly good feedback for detection of impending lockup. But unless you’re planning to make an elapsed-time record run on your favorite curvy road, the NC’s braking is perfectly adequate, especially for a workaday machine.

Ergonomically, the 700’s riding position is upright and comfortable, with a wide handlebar, good footpeg position, decent wind protection from the little adjustable flyscreen and a roomy saddle. The seat foam is pretty firm, though, so your butt may want a break long before you reach the potential 260-mile fuel range. The seat’s 32.7-in. height may also scare off some buyers, but at least it’s well-shaped and tapers at the front, which should help many short-inseam riders touch the ground securely. Because the fuel tank is under the saddle, Honda doesn’t offer an optional lower seat.

Just about the time you’ve convinced your friends that the NC700X is a “real” motorcycle, you’ll open the locking storage bin where the fuel tank is supposed to be, and they’ll all yell “scooter!” But then they’ll ask you to carry their water, jacket liner and sunglasses. That “trunk” will swallow a full-face helmet or a six-pack or a bag of groceries, so there’s room for your buddies’ stuff, but you really should make them retract their scooter comments before carrying it. An interior-mounted 12-volt outlet ($114.85) is an option, but you’ll have to be creative if you want it to power a GPS or other device outside the compartment, since there is no obvious opening for a cord.

Honda NC700X with accessories

Honda NC700X with accessories - 45-liter top case

Honda NC700X with accessories - 45-liter top caseFran Kuhn

Honda has an extensive list of accessories available for this machine. At the bike’s press introduction, we rode two fully accessorized NC700s and were impressed by the quality of the 29-liter saddlebags ($949.85) and 45-liter top case ($599.85). Heated grips ($289.84), a centerstand ($149.95), lightbars ($149.95), a tall windscreen ($169.95) and air deflectors ($89.95 for upper or lower) are among the options.

While it is clear that Honda has changed the game with the NC700X, company reps also assured us that this is not an entirely new route for the company's future or a move away from its high-performance heritage; it instead is a means of attracting new riders and getting those who used to ride back on board to ensure that motorcycling is in good health well into the future. It's simply a new application of Honda's technological and engineering leadership.

“One day, we woke up and the world had changed,” said a Honda executive.

He’s right. So, don’t blame the NC700X for fitting the times and redefining the modern all-round motorcycle.

Honda NC700X Dyno Chart

Honda NC700X Dyno Chart

Honda NC700X Dyno ChartFran Kuhn
List price $6999
Warranty 12 mo./unlimited mi.
Engine liquid-cooled, four-stroke parallel Twin
Bore & Stroke 73.0 x 80.0mm
Displacement 670cc
Compression ratio 10.7:1
Valvetrain sohc, four valves per cylinder, threaded adjustment
Valve adjust intervals 8000 mi.
Induction 36mm throttle body
Oil capacity 3.3 qt.
Electrical power 420w
Battery 12v, 11ah
Weight (tank empty) 451 lb.
Weight (tank full) 474 lb.
Fuel capacity 3.7 gal.
Wheelbase 60.5 in.
Rake/trail 27.0°/4.3 in.
Seat height 32.7 in.
Ground clearance 6.7 in.
GVWR 904 lb.
Load capacity (tank full) 430 lb.
Manufacturer Showa
Tube diameter 41mm
Claimed wheel travel 5.4 in.
Adjustments none
Manufacturer Showa
Type single shock
Claimed wheel travel 5.9 in.
Adjustments spring preload
Front 120/70ZR17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact
Rear 160/60ZR17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact
1/4-mile 13.86 sec. @ 94.23 mph
0-30 mph 1.6 sec.
0-60 mph 4.9 sec.
0-90 mph 11.9 sec.
0-100 mph 17.3 sec.
Top gear time to speed: 40-60 mph 6.9 sec.
Top gear time to speed: 60-80 mph 8.7 sec.
Measured top speed 111 mph
Engine speed at 60 mph 3229 rpm
High/low/average 73/52/63 mpg
Avg. range inc. reserve 233 mi.
From 30 mph 35 ft.
From 60 mph 142 ft.
30 mph indicated 30 mph
60 mph indicated 60 mph
Honda NC700X turning road action

Honda NC700X - action #2

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X cornering road action

Honda NC700X - action #3

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X cityscape action

Honda NC700X - action #4

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X static left-side view

Honda NC700X - left-side view

Honda NC700XFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X front fork details

Honda NC700X - front fork

Honda NC700X front wheelFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X headlight windshield details

Honda NC700X - headlight/windshield

Honda NC700X headlight/windshieldFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X cockpit view

Honda NC700X - dashboard

Honda NC700X cockpit viewFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X fuel tank access details

Honda NC700X - fuel tank access

Honda NC700X fuel tank accessFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X 21-liter storage compartment details

Honda NC700X - 21-liter storage compartment

Honda NC700X 21-liter storage compartmentFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X seat details

Honda NC700X - seat

Honda NC700X seatFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X exhaust pipe details

Honda NC700X - exhaust pipe

Honda NC700X exhaust pipeFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X light bars details

Honda NC700X with accessories - light bars

Honda NC700X with accessories - light barsFran Kuhn
Honda NC700X tall windscreen details

Honda NC700X with accessories - tall windscreen

Honda NC700X with accessories - tall windscreenCourtesy of Honda
Honda NC700X centerstand details

Honda NC700X with accessories - centerstand

Honda NC700X with accessories - centerstandCourtesy of Honda
Honda NC700X 29-liter saddlebags and 45-liter top case

Honda NC700X with accessories - 29-liter saddlebags and 45-liter top case

Honda NC700X with accessories - 29-liter saddlebags and 45-liter top caseFran Kuhn