New-age Honda for a timid new world
Aldous Huxley might have titled his influential futuristic 1931 novel, Brave New World, but it's looking increasingly likely that we'll inherit a timid one instead.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 670cc liquid-cooled sohc eight-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, unadjustable rear monoshock.
Hot: A extra $500 buys more comfort and finesse than the entry-level NC700S while attributes such as reduced thirst, flickable handling and strong brakes carry over
Not: World's most unsightly radiator cap, front wheel blasts the catalytic converter mounted directly behind it with corrosive road spray.
Not: World's most unsightly radiator cap, front wheel blasts the catalytic converter mounted directly behind it with corrosive road spray. Just look at speed limits in this nation. As our desire for lifestyle properties accelerates the extension of the boundaries of our urban areas into the precious rural landscape, 80kmh signs are popping up all over the place.
Click on photo at left for more views of the Honda NC700X.
Smokers and drinkers are being increasingly marginalised, extreme sports are now heavily scrutinised to ensure that they're no longer extreme, and a nanny-state bureaucracy appears immune to the Government's cost-reducing rampage through the public sector.
Cometh the times, cometh the bikes, especially if there's a Honda badge attached to them.
Enter the $12,495 NC700X, a squeaky-clean church-mouse of a parallel twin dedicated to eco-correctness, and determined not to offend anyone.
The most extreme part of the new Honda is the "X" attached to its model nomenclature, and it's a bike aimed more at persuading people away from car use than caressing the "sweet spot" of old grey-bearded riders like me.
With 43 years of continuous biking under my belt, I'm potentially too old-school in my thinking, too jaded in attitude, and too expectant of high performance from a motorcycle of 670cc capacity to "get" the NC700X.
With an engine created by sawing a Jazz hatchback's 1.4-litre inline four in half, and a scooter-sized lockable storage area, it's definitely the most revolutionary new bike that I've ridden in years, but is this a revolution that's worth plonking down 12½ grand of your hard-earned for?
Extended seat time aboard the NC700X certainly aids that decision, for the timid new Honda is a "grower" in terms of its long-term appeal. The more you realise how little fuel it uses (3.7 litres per 100km), how comfortable and refined it is, and how it looks after your riding gear when you stop for a coffee, the more it starts to get under your skin.
Chuck in a couple of twisty back-road experiences, where the roadscape is too constricted to expose the soft engine performance and the easy flickable handling of the Honda truly shines, and the affection that's missing from the early encounters with the bike continues to grow.
It helps that this example is painted in the same Ducati-esque shade of red as a Fireblade sportsbike, for we all know that blood-coloured machines are subjectively faster.
It's also amazing what spending an extra $500 can do for a bike. Regular readers of this page will recall that the $11,995 NC700S sister-bike left me somewhat cold and uninspired a few weeks ago, whereas the X-model generated genuine respect.
The extra dollars buy crossover adventure bike styling complete with a small but effective screen, more absorbent suspension with extended wheel travel, a silky silver finish for the engine instead of matt black, and a more comfortable rider/machine interface.
One of the biggest wins when opting for the X is that the simple digital instrument panel that both NC700 bikes share is mounted higher and is therefore much easier to refer to. This salient feature eroded my resistance to the appeal of a NC700, for you need to refer to that panel quite often when riding one as there's little difference felt through the senses of whether you're travelling at 100 or 120kmh, such are the hushed noise, vibration, and harshness levels of the powertrain, and the consistency of the torque output throughout the engine's limited rev range.
Another reason you need those instruments placed in your line of sight to the road is that the linear tachometer needs constant monitoring to avoid hitting the rather officious rev limiter that cuts abruptly in at 6500rpm.
Car engine attributes such as a heavier crankshaft and longer piston strokes have been passed on to the NC700's motor, but I found myself wishing for a little more friction - if only to stop the rev-happy race of the engine to snuggle up to the rev limiter.
Said tacho also gives a reference to which of the six gears you've selected, which is handy as it's easy to lose track thanks to an engine whose sole concession towards character is a thumping bass-laden exhaust note. This is so well-muffled that you no longer hear anything but wind noise above 50kmh, hence the need to constantly fly the NC700 by instruments and use them to achieve the optimum mating of gear ratio to speed.
If the extra five-hundy bought the X-model's extra suspension travel alone it would be worth paying. As unadjustable as the shorter legs of the S-model, the 41mm front forks and rear monoshock each boast 30mm of extra wheel travel, giving an improved ride at all speeds over all roads.
A simple stat helps put the social responsibility exhibited by NC700X in perspective. The Honda tops out at 170kmh in sixth gear, roughly the speed that a "normal" Japanese 1000cc four-cylinder sportsbike achieves in first.
Huxley also wrote an essay on speed, calling it ''the one genuinely modern pleasure'' and comparing the hedonistic drug-like effects of modest amounts of velocity with the intense and painful experiences of higher ballistics. The mildest 600cc-plus Honda ever created would have provided the perfect example to go with that piece.