2012 Honda NC700X | First Ride

New Concepts in a Broad-Band Beginner Bike

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.

A clean-sheet design using an engine with Honda Fit bones.

Kawasaki Ninja 650 and Versys, Suzuki V-Strom 650

Price 6999
Engine type l-c parallel twin
Valve train SOHC, 8v
Displacement 670cc
Bore x stroke 73.0 x 80.0mm
Compression 10.7:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed, DCT automated manual optional
Claimed horsepower na
Claimed torque na
Frame Tubular-steel twin-spar
Front suspension Showa 41mm fork
Rear suspension Showa shock with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Nissin two-piston caliper (three-piston caliper ABS), 320mm disc
Rear brake Nissin one-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Z-8
Rear tire 160/60ZR-17 Metzeler Z-8
Rake/trail 27.0°/4.3 in.
Seat height 32.7 in.
Wheelbase 60.6 in.
Fuel capacity 3.7 gal.
Claimed curb weight 472 lbs.
Colors Light Silver Metallic
Available Now
Warranty 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact American Honda Motor Co. Inc. PO Box 2200 Torrance, CA 90509 866.784.1870 www.powersports.honda.com
VERDICT 4 out of 5 stars
Soft-spoken sweetie for the starter set.
Honda worked hard to make the NC700X confidence inspiring for beginners but didn’t shortchange the bike’s handling, which is excellent.
Two-up isn’t out of the question, thanks to a roomy, two-piece saddle and sufficient power.
Adventure-style bikes get accessorized, it’s just the way of the world. Honda has a line of bolt-on pieces including luggage and a taller windscreen ready to go at the bike’s introduction.
Brushed-aluminum inserts for the fairing panels ($89.95) and saddlebags ($89.95) are options.
An early design sketch for the NC700. Very early, we presume.
That’s more like it.
Nothing missing here. Clever design work moved the engine forward and down, and the fuel tank up and back, to create a large storage bin in the middle.
Honda’s all-new 670cc parallel-twin powerplant uses design and manufacturing technologies from the Fit automobile. The long-stroke, SOHC mill has a modest 6500-rpm redline with a wide spread of torque beneath it.
Optional wind deflectors should be welcome in colder climates. $89.95.
You want a centerstand? See the man in accessories, please. $149.95
A tubular-steel “light bar” is another Honda option, designed to, well, carry accessory lighting. If it just happens to protect the bodywork in the event of a low-speed tipover, please say you didn’t hear it from us. $149.95
Optional heated grips with “smart heat allocation” and integrated battery protection circuitry.
Buy one heated grip for $289.84 (including mounting kits) and get the other one for free!
An optional 45-liter trunk holds two full-face helmets. The quick-detach system is $299.95 plus $299.90 for the two required mount kits.
On the DCT model, the small paddle switch at the bottom of the cluster initiates downshifts.
While the button on the front of the cluster commands upshifts.
The drive-mode selector resides between the kill and starter switches. Push the left side once for the D (drive) mode and again for S (sport) mode. Push the right side to select neutral.
Linked/ABS brakes come as part of the DCT package, and are not available on the manual-shift bike at this time. The three-piston Nissin caliper uses all three pistons when the front level gets yanked, but adds additional force on the third caliper through a delay valve when you stand on the foot pedal.
Hey, that’s where it is! Flip up the rear seat to add gas. When you get to 3.7 gallons, it’s full.
That’s 21 liters of storage capacity right under your chin.
Linkage-equipped rear suspension includes a Showa shock adjustable for spring preload only; that it for suspension adjustments, kids.
What we call a hat trick.
Auto-styled, all-digital gauges live just under your beak. The LCD-segment tach is a bit hard to read, so let the DCT take care of shifting.
A taller windscreen is part of Honda’s accessory package for the NC. It’s 5.5 inches higher and 3. 1 in. taller than stock; $169.95