Long-term Test: Honda NC700X - Simple economics

Published: 12:54PM Apr 20th, 2012
By: Words: Steve Rose; Photography: Joe Dick

One of the first bikes on the MCM test fleet this year, the Honda NC700X is already impressing us with its frugal mile-munching credentials...

Long-term Test: Honda NC700X - Simple economics

It”s easier on the wallet than it is on the eye

MOTORCYCLE clichés no 27. Why don’t the Japanese stop building bikes with crazy horsepower figures at stratospheric redlines and build one that does 110mph, cruises at 80mph and does 65mpg? You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, we’ve all probably said it at some point. Well, now they have. Honda’s new NC700 series (three bikes use this engine and chassis), makes 47bhp, redlines at 6500rpm and claims 110mph, easy motorway cruising and 78mpg. All for just £5850.

This one, the NC700X, is styled like an adventure bike taking cues from VFR-based Crossrunner and Crosstourer. If you ever rode Honda’s Transalp, you’ll feel comfy with the NC’s similar riding position, its similar power delivery and its similar all-round excellence.

The Transalp’s V-twin engine felt lumpier, with more character, but it also needed more revs. The NC’s engine is based on the one in Honda’s four-wheeled Jazz, missing a couple of cylinders and the VTEC, with a motorcycle gearbox bolted on. Plus the pistons in this parallel twin engine fire at 270º intervals which make it feel like a bit like a V-twin. There’s lots of torque from very low revs, a lowly (6500rpm) redline and an easygoing, lazy feel.

That laziness comes from a relatively small bore and long piston stroke. Long stroke engines (mostly cruisers) make plenty of torque at low revs but the last time we saw a stroke this long on a street bike was Norton’s 1968 Commando 750, which also claimed about 47bhp at around 6500rpm.

So the NC’s performance is on par with a 1960s British sports bike or a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200, but the Honda squeezes almost 50% more mileage from every gallon of fuel than either of those bikes and at least 20mpg more than almost any other bike you care to name.

What’s it like to live with?

During our first 1500 miles together, the NC’s best fuel figure has been 83mpg, ridden at a constant(ish) 55mph over 150 miles. Average consumption ridden normally has been 70-75mpg and the worst was 51mpg being thrashed almost flat out, desperately trying to make a meeting 40 miles away with just 25 minutes to spare. We made it in time and bearing in mind that the only other bikes I’ve managed those kind of A-to-B speeds on returned about 35mpg, I’d suggest that Honda has got the efficiency/performance balance about right.

Engine aside, it’s a simple but effective chassis with supple but controlled suspension, a comfy ride and decent brakes. ABS is standard and the handling is superb for a budget machine. It steers quickly and has plenty of ground clearance and tracks through fast corners without any sign of a weave or wallow.

Only having one front brake disc means you need a hefty squeeze for last-minute braking but then you remember that the brakes are linked and a stamp on the rear pedal brings in the third piston on the front caliper (as well as the two in the rear) which slows the NC in plenty of time. The ABS is unobtrusive in normal riding, with none of the rear-wheel chatter that accompanies so many ABS bikes.

So, a good bike then, but not perfect. The biggest niggle is that lowly redline. It caught me out a couple of times hitting the rev limiter while halfway through an overtake, losing vital seconds when you can least afford it. It only took a day or so to get used to it and I haven’t had a problem since – there’s enough torque to be in a gear higher than you’d normally select and make the pass with ease. Other than that my biggest niggles are down to the bike’s spec and that has to be qualified by the price. If this is a bike to get people commuting on two wheels then for me it needs heated handlebar grips and a luggage rack as standard. The sizeable storage compartment where the fuel tank would normally be (the fuel is under the seat), has been designed with helmet stowage in mind so isn’t as flexible in shape as a top box would be (I said it was only a niggle).

And talking of capacity, another two litres of fuel would be good too. The tank holds 14 litres, which is enough, for around 175 careful miles before the warning light flashes and another 50 miles afterwards. But knowing that there is only three litres in reserve makes me panic. The mega-economy only happens when riding very carefully and it only takes a couple of spirited overtakes or a long-ish spell keeping up with faster moving traffic to drop (raise?) the consumption down to a ‘mere’ 65mpg and then how long have I got?

Sorry. It’s a silly point. Irrational, I know, but the fact is that the NC700 changes your priorities as a rider from mph to mpg. Which isn’t to say that the NC isn’t fun. Ridden with gusto it’s as thrilling as anything else in this class. But the knowledge that when it’s ridden differently, it can be soooo very economical brings out the angel in me where motorcycling usually tends to do the opposite.

It’s a bit like those hybrid, eco-friendly cars. I once drove a Toyota Prius which was a tedious experience mainly because there’s a flipping great ‘saint-ometer’ in the middle of the dash that tells you when you’re being economical. You spend the whole time staring at it, desperately trying to achieve the maximum efficiency, refusing to concede momentum to anything because accelerating back up to speed will turn you into a planet-killing, bunny-smothering monster. The NC700X doesn’t have such a gauge, which is good, but once you know how frugal it can be, it’s hard to go back to ragging it.

So, are you prepared to meet your inner angel?

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