Honda's new twin opts for sensible shoes.
Imagine that you're an advocate for motorcycling and have to choose a bike that most displays the sort of values that will call into question any move by politicians to ban motorised two-wheeled transport as too dangerous, too decadent, and clearly too much fun. Which bike model would you choose? For me it would have to be the bike you see on this page, the new Honda NC700S.
At $11,995, it's highly affordable, and at a quoted 3.7litres/100km (80mpg), its consumption of fuel is about as miserly as a biggish motorcycle gets. The NC is just as focused as any high-performance sportsbike, it's just that it is sprinting toward the opposite design goal posts - toward increased practicality, comfort, and convenience instead of achieving the sporty ballistics synonymous with racing success.
Recently, I made a personal vow never to use the cliche "user-friendly" again in one of these reports. However, the NC presents a huge challenge to the resolution as it is definitely the Captain Sensible of the over 600cc roadbike segment. It even has a large lockable storage area where most bikes place their fuel reservoirs, and you refill it by popping up the pillion seat to access the filler for the 14.1 litre tank located at the centre of the bike. Now 14.1 litres might not appear a lot of fuel to carry to keep the NC700S trucking along. However, it will range as far as most 600+cc bikes equipped with 20-litre tanks thanks to its parsimonious attitude to fuel use.
For those worried in the slightest way about peak oil, or indeed the political image of motorcycling in general, the NC700S is potentially the perfect big bike to ride.
Honda evidently felt inspired to build the NC700S after its research showed that most big bike riders rev their bikes above 6000rpm for short, brief periods only during the machine's useful life. It's highly unlikely that the Japanese bike maker also asked said riders which part of their bike's rev range they actually enjoy most, for the 670cc parallel twin that powers the NC700S calls an abrupt halt to proceedings at 6500rpm. The rev limiter cuts in with such authority that it's like a publican calling time at the bar, or your Mum telling you that your play with your mates is getting a little too rough.
Fortunately the steeply-inclined parallel twin does generate enough torque throughout its limited rev range to keep riders from falling asleep at the bars through complete boredom. The smooth unruffled delivery of the grunt confirms Honda's statement that it effectively created this new motor by cutting the 1.4litre inline four of the Jazz hatchback in half, such is the emphasis on reduced noise, vibration, and harshness.
Honda also left just enough thump in the exhaust note to scotch any comment that this new engine has as little emotive appeal as the electric motor fitted to a fridge. It's a motorcycle alright, but not as we normally know them.
It's therefore best to adopt a similar operating style to the driver of a diesel passenger car when aboard the NC700S. Shift early in the rev range, and the result is mildly impressive surge forward. By contrast, revving the engine out to its maximum guarantees an early meeting with Mr Killjoy - the rev limiter. Overtaking needs a bit of advance planning as any encounter with the latter is likely to extend the time spent on the wrong side of the road while fumbling for a higher gear. The Honda's overdriven sixth gear isn't the best choice for the manoeuvre either as its sky-high gearing flattens the roll-on overtaking performance. Best then to choose either third, fourth, or fifth, depending on the speed of the slower target vehicle in front. Trouble is, you soon lose track of which ratio you've chosen as the engine seems to perform with exactly the same character and torque delivery in any gear other than sixth. An automatic gearbox would seem the perfect mate for such androgynous engine characteristics, however neither the Integra scooter that shares the new parallel twin, nor the optional twin-clutch gearbox offered on European NC700 models, appear to be coming to NZ.
Bar the budget suspension fitted to the cheapest NC700 model sold here, the rest of the bike works just fine.
Steering quality is perhaps the dynamic highlight of the riding experience thanks to a low centre of gravity and the extra-nimble handling characteristics bestowed by the narrow Metzeler Z8 tyres fitted. The cutting-edge carving characteristics are enhanced by the use of a single front disc to slow the bike down, which further reduces steering inertia through pruning down the un-sprung mass attached to the front wheel.
Yet despite enjoying my time aboard the NC700S when carving up twisty backroads, overall it was a slightly disappointing bike.
It lacks the heritage appeal and sweet styling of homage-twins like the Moto Guzzi V7 and Triumph Bonneville that deliver similar engine characteristics, as well as the sheer thrash-ability of Honda CBR250R that delivers similarly outstanding fuel economy.
Here's hoping that the slightly-more upmarket NC700X will generate a bit more emotion when I swing my leg over it soon.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 670cc liquid-cooled sohc 8-valve parallel twin, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 38.1kW (52bhp) at 6250rpm and 62Nm at 470rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive
Frame: Steel-tube trellis frame and square-section steel rear swingarm; 41mm unadjustable front forks, un-adjustable rear monoshock.
Hot: A hybrid Honda in terms of its ability to blur the boundaries between scooters and motorcycles; single front disc works surprisingly well.
Not: World's ugliest radiator cap, front wheel blasts the catalytic converter mounted directly behind it with corrosive road spray.
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