2012 Honda NC700X | First Ride

New Concepts in a Broad-Band Beginner Bike

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

Motorcycle manufacturers agonize over a lot of things, chief among them is how to bring new riders into the sport and how to encourage those who have left to slap down the old Visa card and jump back in. Honda's recent success on this front is the CBR250R, an utterly conventional motorcycle that happens to be dead cheap and unexpectedly well built. That it's scads of fun doesn't hurt at all.

And now we have the NC700X—the NC standing for “new concept” and the X denoting the adventure-bike version of it. A world model, meaning that it was developed in and for other markets, the NC-X is elsewhere joined by a fully naked version and a quasi-scooter called the Integra. Because ADV bikes are selling well here, American Honda selected the X to launch the line.

Honda is blurring a lot of lines with the NC. The basic architecture is, in fact, almost scooter-like, with a low-slung steel-tube frame encircling a lay-down parallel-twin engine. Careful packaging of the drivetrain allows a massive central storage compartment in the place normally used for fuel and an airbox; it’s big enough to swallow all but the largest full-face helmets. Fuel, 3.7 gallons of it, resides in a steel tank beneath the seat and rear bodywork—you flip up the passenger saddle to find the filler cap.

That doesn’t sound like a lot of fuel, but it should be fine considering Honda’s claim of 64 mpg. Honda wanted to push all the cheapskate buttons, so the NC, along with its amazing $6999 base price ($8999 with ABS and a second-generation Dual Clutch Transmission automatic), is designed to positively sip fuel. Look closely and you can see that the bike’s new 670cc engine was built with an emphasis on low consumption rather than high power. With a 73mm bore and an 80mm stroke, it’s one of the few undersquare engines in a sporty role. The general philosophy appears to favor inexpensive manufacturing over high-tech, big-power solutions. Build cheap, ride for less.

On the road the NC’s engine reveals itself as smooth and torquey, utterly incapable of surprising you with a sudden burst of power or even so much as a polite post-soda belch. Honda gave the engine a 270-degree firing order by twisting the crankshaft 90 degrees, so the character is more like a V-twin than a traditional 180-degree parallel twin. Tuning that emphasizes low-rpm power helps explain the 6500-rpm redline, and it's also why you need to treat the bike like a small cruiser—short shift and let the torque do its thing.

Or you could opt for the DCT version, which is an evolution of the system currently on the VFR1200F. Here, the DCT makes a lot more sense. It doesn’t have the VFR’s dramatic torque cut in the lower gears, and the auto-shift modes work perfectly with the engine’s nature; running the D (drive) or S (sport) modes also keep you from looking like a rookie by banging into the rev limiter so often. Everything about this application of the DCT synchs up: Seamless throttle response joins ideal clutch-takeup programming, prompt shifts and no-fuss demeanor for a package new riders will adore. Yes, it saps some of the bike’s already modest performance, but beginning riders won’t care.

If the available thrust is less than experienced riders would want, the NC’s chassis is good enough to make them grin. There’s sufficient cornering clearance for a good time, well-controlled (if slightly soft) suspension, adequate brakes (the combined/ABS system is slightly better), and really sweet, intuitive steering. The NC reminds us of the best light, sporty standards, including the Suzuki SV650 and Honda’s own short-lived 599. What’s more, the ergonomic layout is ideal for the mission—upright but not dirt bike-y, benefitting from good wind protection and effective dispersal of engine heat.

Honda is betting big that the NC700X’s low base price will lure people into dealerships. Once they arrive, they’ll be surprised by the bike’s very good fit and finish, complete feature set and extensive selection of accessories that Honda proudly says were developed during the basic design of the bike, not as afterthoughts. That the NC700X has such a gentle, forgiving nature should certainly help seal that deal.

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