2012 Honda NC700X and NC700XD: Affordable Fun

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Kevin Wing

One of Honda’s latest offspring, the NC700X, was designed to appeal to new and re-entry riders as well as folks who want a lot of bang for their buck.

You can choose one of two NC700 iterations. There’s the base model, NC700X, with a regular six-speed transmission at $ 6,999, or for another two grand you can have the NC700XD, which adds a dual-clutch transmission (DCT) and an antilock braking system (ABS). Too bad you can’t get a manual tranny with ABS!

Powertrain and Performance

Both versions are propelled by a unique water-cooled 670cc twin with single-overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. What makes the engine different is the layout. The parallel cylinders are tilted forward a steep 62 degrees, which keeps the center of gravity low. The long stroke (80mm vs. a 73mm bore) combined with a high-inertia crankshaft work together to deliver high torque and smooth power. With cylinders firing at 270 crankshaft degrees, it mimics the character of a 90 degree V-twin layout, and a balance shaft damps vibrations quite effectively.

Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) feeds 
the engine through a single 36mm throttle body. With auto enrichment, no choke control is needed, and the engine fires right up cold or hot. Honda claims a peak of 51 horsepower at a low 6,250 rpm (at the crankshaft) and 45.7 lb-ft of torque at 4,750 rpm. Throttle response is accurate, and there’s a broad torque band that delivers linear power.

Choose the base NC700X with its conventional six-speed manual transmission and you get light clutch pull, smooth engagement, and slick shifting. If you get the optional DCT on the NC700XD, you’ll have no clutch lever or foot shifter, but instead you’ll have two automatic hydraulically actuated clutches that provide rapid, effortless gear changes. There’s also a parking brake lever on the left handlebar to keep it from rolling away.

In manual mode, gear changes are accomplished instantly with paddle-shift buttons on the left handlebar. You can select either of two fully automatic modes on the fly: “D” (Drive) is appropriate for conservative, around-town riding and saves gas, and “S” (Sport Mode) keeps the transmission in each gear longer for higher revs. A rev limiter kicks in before 6,500 rpm, and it’s easy to “bounce off” the limiter when riding enthusiastically as the bar-graph tachometer is difficult to see, and the engine revs freely. This DCT is a second-generation design (the first was the VFR1200) and it now incorporates a learning function that lets the ECM recognize various riding styles and adjust the shifting without human intervention.

Chassis and Handling

Honda’s engineers cooked up a steel, diamond-shaped trellis framework that employs the engine as a stressed member for greater resistance to twisting forces. Up front, a 41mm non-adjustable conventional fork with 5.4 inches of travel handles suspension chores with 27 degrees of rake and 4.3 inches of trail. At the rear is a Pro-Link suspension that uses a single shock with only preload adjustability and 5.9 inches of travel. A 120/70-17 front and 160/60-17 rear tire are fitted, and while these are readily available, the small front wheel diameter seriously limits off-pavement agility.

On the NC700XD with standard ABS, the combined braking system consists of a single petal-type 320mm front disc with a three-piston, radial-mount caliper. The NC700X models get a similar rotor but have a two-piston caliper. Both models have a single 240mm rear rotor with a single-piston caliper.

Suspension travel is about an inch more than most similar bikes, and this imparts a cushy feeling. Steering effort is light; the bike turns in nicely, maintains a clean line through a turn, and the long-ish 60.4-inch wheelbase helps to make it stable at highway speeds.

Braking components and non-adjustable suspension (except rear preload) were cost-containing areas, and the single front disc doesn’t provide the amount of stopping force that we prefer on a fully loaded machine riding two up. Load-free curb weight of the NC700X is 474 pounds; the NC700XD is 505 pounds. When you apply just the front brake on the XD version, only the two outer pistons are activated. In order to get maximum braking, you have to apply the rear brake, which also activates that center front piston.

Where the gas tank is normally located on other bikes, you’ll find a 21-liter lockable storage compartment, which is supposed to stow helmets and other items. My XL didn’t fit. The 3.7-gallon tank is placed under the seat, which lowers the center of gravity, but its location limits capacity and hence range. Although Honda claims 64 mpg, expect real-world mileage to be closer to 50 mpg.

Ergonomics and Features

The NC’s riding position is upright. The handlebar is within easy reach, and footpegs are set slightly aft and high for cornering clearance. The seat height is 32.7 inches, and it’s firm and tapered so that shorter riders can reach the ground more readily. We found it started to feel too hard after a while, and the reach to the footpegs can feel cramped if you’re more than 6 feet tall.

The short windshield offers some wind protection, but fortunately the accessory list includes a taller windscreen in addition to a 45-liter rear trunk and liner, 29-liter saddlebags and liners, a rear carrier, front side cowl panel, foot deflectors, leg deflectors, heated grips, a 12-volt DC socket, and a centerstand. The saddlebag capacity is on the small side, so consider carefully before selecting these extras. Aftermarket panniers could provide more volume.

Parting Thoughts

Honda has delivered a well-made motorcycle with Japanese attention to detail, European styling, and American practicality that should appeal to beginners and experienced motorcyclists alike. Its size and ease of handling should make it attractive to folks of smaller stature too. The NC700 works equally well for local rides, commuting, long-distance tours, and sporty forays through the canyons. It’s an affordable, everyday motorcycle that can be well equipped for less than ten grand.