Since this review was written, the bike has completed 36,000 miles in 22 months. Longterm updates are added below.
As the transit van switched lanes and pushed me toward the kerb, I vigorously cancelled my indicators as I had done earlier in the week when returning a cheery wave. Warning or greeting, the silence was deafening – a result of Honda switching the position of the indicator and horn buttons.
It’s an odd decision to have taken, and one based on the idea that you use the indicators more frequently, so they should be easier to reach. My mind, and clearly my thumb, doesn’t agree.
I’d prefer my thumb to incur minimal workload in urgent times, but much of the Honda NC700X design is based on an underlying principle of challenging motorcycling convention. A New Concept (NC) as the name claims.
For a bike that sells for only £5,850 in the UK, you’d expect a parts bin special and something made using tried and tested technology. In part, you do get this with Honda’s latest middleweight. The suspension for example, isn’t adjustable and is a little crude, though that same simplicity could prove itself a blessing miles from home, when your main requirements become ‘tough and simple’. But what makes this bike so interesting and worthy of review, is that from the outset, the ideas have been complete antipathy to contemporary motorcycle fashion.
The bike is far from conservative in concept, brimming with new ideas, which are both a blessing and a curse for the Overlander, but they sit oddly with some very old technology. I’ll start with the engine, the heart of the machine and your best friend when the landscape is desolate and it’s hundreds of miles to civilisation.
The Honda NC700X Engine
It’s a parallel twin where the cylinders are so canted forward as to be almost horizontal, creating a terrifically low centre of gravity. It’s a slow revving engine with a long stroke and big flywheels, reminiscent of all those post-war British twins that are still held in such high regard for their torque characteristics. That, and the single overhead camshaft, sounds like extreme engineering orthodoxy, but it hasn’t been the norm for years as manufacturers (and journalists) have relentlessly chased power figures further up the rev range. Instead, this is an engine that refuses to rev, redlines at only 6500rpm and delivers everything useful between 2 and 5 grand.
It sounds ludicrous; rather like everything we as travellers might demand and yet have only previously found in big singles. Honda are probably the only manufacturer who could have been brave enough, or secure enough in their own identity, to create such an engine, risking ridicule in the process, but I am so very glad that they have.
The torque curve is exactly what you need when travelling. It makes for a relaxing engine, but a grunty one that belies its size and means the overall weight is low and not just low to the ground. It’s a bike that’s incredibly easy to ride and only frustrates on a typical UK long-overtake manoeuvre where you think you’ll take all three cars and the truck, only to discover, when a vehicle looms the other way, that there’s nothing left and the throttle is already on the stop. It doesn’t take long to adapt though, because this really isn’t a failing – it’s more a consequence of all the low down power fooling you into thinking you’re on a bigger bike.
Honda NC700X Fuel Efficiency
But why create such an engine? Well that’s the second great blessing for travellers. Amongst motorcyclists, ‘overlanders’ stand out with their miles per gallon pre-occupation and Honda make great play of the fact that the NC700X does 80 miles to every four and a half litres. Hooray you shout, with visions of making it from London to Istanbul on one tankful, but alas, Honda have decided not to capitalise on this frugality, instead limiting us to only 14.1 litre capacity, which is truly infuriating.
Nearly 240 miles may be enough for commuters (and the bike does share common platform with the NC700S which is designed for that market) but why oh why emasculate the ‘adventure’ model? Even a 19L tank could have assured over 300 miles after luggage and poor road conditions are brought into consideration and that range’s something parts of Canada and Australia need, let alone somewhere where fuel supplies aren’t guaranteed or are of poor quality.
But when you are in geographical areas like that, you’ll be immensely pleased that servicing is so easy. The tappet design harks back to an earlier day too, and adjustment is by screw and locknut; rather at odds with the technology employed in crankshaft construction, which is bang up to date. Honda decided that a 270 degree crank would make an engine with a little more character and provide the power delivery they sought, but rather than an expensive and time consuming pressing together of many components, the engineers worked out a way they could twist the single piece unit during cooling after manufacture, ensuring maximum strength.
Convenient to Use?
Further demonstrating this design/construction paradox is the NC frame, which is good old steel and therefore repairable anywhere in the world, but shaped in a very unconventional way, enabling the creation of a cavernous 21L luggage space where a conventional fuel tank should be. Again, this is a great idea for the convenience of the commuter, but if you want to use a tankbag and map pocket etc, it immediately becomes redundant as somewhere ‘easy access’.
The forward sloping engine, single throttle body and low frame top tubes enabled the designers to use all this space for storage, but I already know someone who is creating a supplementary fuel tank to go in the hole with a small pump to feed the main fuel tank.
You may think a ‘pull out and pour’ system would do, but therein lies the other problem with using so much of the commuter bike as a base: the small fuel tank mentioned earlier, and celebrated by Honda, is under the seat. The fuel filler is under the seat too. Actually beneath it, not beside it like on the F650. Yes that’s right, all the luggage that may be strapped on has to be removed and placed on the floor. It seems like a tiny inconvenience, but it’s already annoying me because I’m using soft luggage while I wait for my hard boxes to arrive. I have to undo the securing straps, lift it off, set it somewhere, hope no-one’ll nick it, get my hands filthy in the process etc etc.
As I write this, I’ve had the bike four weeks and the odometer has just turned 4,000 miles. Every fill up bugs me. If you haven’t done a ‘big trip’ yet, believe me, it really is the little things that can grow out of all proportion especially when it’s something that could be avoided. Yes, it’ll be better when the hard luggage arrives, but even then, I may end up using one side just to hold a jerry can….
The riding position is sublime. Straight out of the shop only the seat (after 130miles) is a minor issue for me and I will investigate alternatives, but I may have grown into it soon. The general ergonomics are spot on for someone who is 5’ 10” and 12 stone with a 31” inside leg. I can get both feet flat on the ground even with a quoted seat height of 830mm because of the sculpted shape at the seat nose, and the distance to and position of the footpegs, is supremely comfortable. The riding position offers visibility akin to something with a much higher seat and I can’t quite work out how. Seeing over the roofs of cars in the UK translates to great sightseeing when abroad and minimal stress when negotiating foreign traffic. You’re free to marvel at the vistas while avoiding the free-range children and feral dogs.
The mirrors are vibration free and well placed, though the lower outside corner has been cut away in the interests of style just enough to create a blind-spot big enough to swallow a car on a dual carriageway.
Honda NC700X Handling and Ride
I’m yet to ride off-road with the NC other than on some gravel tracks in Ireland, and I won’t mention poor highway maintenance in the British high street in some pathetic attempt at simile, but the bike is definitely tarmac biased. The suspension may be taller than the standard ‘S’ version by 30mm but it’s every bit as robust, which, budget components aside, make it really very handy on a twisty road. Combined with the wide 17” Bridgestone tyres on light alloy rims, the whole package is incredibly flickable and I’d love to be back on the road from Durango to Mazatlan in Mexico to try it out.
The downside to that is the shortage of knobblies or semi-knobblies that’ll fit. 120/70 x 17 front and 160/60 x 17 rear. There are some supermoto tyres from Pirelli that’ll certainly look good, but truth is you might want to consider narrower spoked wheels, which may even improve fuel economy. Talking of which, I’ve managed a best of 84.9 and a worst of 77.6mpg so far, always with luggage, surely a consequence of the engine only revving at 4,000rpm when the digital speedo is reading 80mph. Most of the miles I’ve ridden have involved my being late for appointments so you may achieve much better economy, but combined with the flickable nature of the bike this has led to both the footpegs, the gear and brake levers and the exhaust sustaining damage from the road surface.
Don’t for a minute think that this bike isn’t fun. It can certainly carry speed if you’ll let it, and if you don’t want to, the combined brakes really are terrific. It’s a single 320mm wavy disc up front, but the three piston caliper offers secure two-finger braking with loads of power and feel. The brakes are another area where Honda thought about efficiency and cost in production and which contributes to the overall low price of the NC. The rear disc is cut out of the same piece of steel as the front, leading to the external diameter being the same as the internal edge of the bigger front brake.
On-board Electrics and Weather Protection
Lighting systems are improving every year and this is more modern technology the NC embraces. The headlight is one of the best I’ve ridden behind and the simple, though comprehensive, instrument display is a very pleasing black on white at night. Perhaps a little bright if you glance down and are temporarily blinded as you re adjust to the road ahead. The buttons to adjust the two trip meters are either side of the clock pod and incredibly easy to use with gloves on. The dip/full beam switch has an extra position for flash which is as difficult to use as the horn button, but just so you don’t think I have a complete downer on the switchgear, it does look good and the hazard warning system will work after the key has been removed, which is so much better than having to leave the ignition turned on, so burning out the ignition coil in the process.
While I’m discussing the pointy end, the front screen has two positions, adjusted by undoing some button head screws and reversing the small mounting brackets beneath. Raising the screen has little effect other than increasing buffeting and wind noise, so I’ve fitted a Skidmarx taller tinted item and given my stature, it definitely improves time spent on motorways.
The front mudguard adheres to the fashion of being far too short to be of any use at all, so I’ll investigate a fender extender. I’ve decided to get a Skidmarx hugger for the rear wheel, given the quality construction of their screen. Fork legs are given no protection by Honda so you may wish to get bellows or some kind of dirt deflector for them as you may also wish to for your hands. Handguards are, after all, de rigueur for all self-respecting travellers.
Incredibly annoying is the fact that a centre stand is an option from Honda at £147.06. A bike this practical really should include a main stand for puncture repair, chain lubing etc but having fitted one now I’m pleased to say it doesn’t alter ground clearance at all.
The NC mk2 that Honda is bound to release in a few years will be just about perfect…
It’ll have a power take off inside the front storage area and it’ll have narrower spoked wheels. The centre stand will be standard equipment and the fuel tank will be 5L larger with a filler cap that you can actually reach, rather like the horn button on the new switchgear. Then, given its power delivery and fuel range it really will be a New Concept in much more than name. Paddy Tyson
Honda NC700X Specifications
UK list price £5,850
|Engine type||W/C 4 stroke, 8 valve, SOHC parallel twin, 10.7 : 1 compression ratio|
|Size||670cc, 73x80mm (bore, stroke)|
|Carburetion||PGM-FI electronic fuel injection, 36mm throttle body|
|Fuel tank||14.1 litres|
|Ignition||Computer controlled digital transistorised, electronic advance|
|Spark plug||IFR6G- 11K|
|Gear Ratios (to 1)||2.812, 1.894, 1.454, 1.200, 1.033, 0.837|
|Final Drive||‘O’ ring Chain|
|Front suspension||41mm non-adjustable telescopic forks. 153.5mm travel|
|Rear suspension||Honda Pro-link with single shock. Preload adjustable. 150mm travel|
|Front brake||320mm single wavy disc, 2 piston caliper|
|Rear brake||240mm single disc, 1 piston caliper|
|Tyres||F 120/70×17, R 160/60×17|
Honda NC700X accessories and modifications as they happen…
The first accessories fitted were both made in Dorset by Skidmarx and they’re both wildly practical, which may mark me out as someone terribly dull. The hugger was the first thing, because I just can’t understand why manufacturers are prepared to let the rear shock get covered in road filth. At £75 the Glass Reinforced Plastic hugger isn’t that cheap, but getting one early on means prolonged rear shock life, and a much easier cleaning job too.
Fit and finish is spot on, none of the mounting holes had to be realigned and the clearance to the tyre means there is no problem with the expanding tyre touching at motorway speeds. Little replacement plastic clips are supplied in the kit to locate the brake line too, which is a really neat touch. I could have gone for the lighter carbon fibre version at £135 but, em… I didn’t, as I remembered it was for an NC700.
The quality fit and finish of the hugger is why I opted for the taller screen from Skidmarx too, for a little added protection. The Honda official accessory screen is £145.43, but the Skidmarx version is £60 and seems to do the same job. It will never provide the weather protection of a Pan European, but just to lessen the constant blast on the chest, it does the job. Clear, light or dark tint, I opted for the light tint and again, the construction can’t be faulted. There’s no vibration or flex in use and the hole alignment is again, spot on. Whether or not it’ll cause you extra wind noise is something that’ll be dependant on your height. For me, there was a slight increase in noise, but the warmer chest is worth it. If I have a complaint it’s aesthetic. The styling of the NC700 is quite angular, as is the fashion (and the original screen), but the Skidmarx screen is curved. Perhaps it suits the ‘S’ model a bit better than my ‘X’, but at £60 it’s hardly significant.
I also chose a set of neoprene fork gaitors, which I found on ebay for under a tenner including postage from Portugal. They’ve managed a year and still seem to be doing the job although the rather garish graphics peeled off after a couple of months.
Luggage racks from GIVI (PL1111 for £129) were a simple bolt on (in association with 1111FZ rear rack £59) and chosen because I had a couple of sets of GIVI boxes; E45 and E21. I can’t say they are either beautiful or particularly well made and I will get around to cutting them, and moving them in quite a few mm to make the overall setup slimmer. I have no concern about damaging the GIVI frames, as they are already rusting and look bad after one winter anyway.
I have just fitted a set of SW-Motech ‘crashbars’ and at first glance they seem much more robustly made and perhaps better finished that the GIVI luggage frames. You can read a review of them here.
How it is performing over time
I’ve now had the NC for 14 months and 26,000 miles. Finish remains very good generally, even after daily use through the winter. The exhaust pipes are rusty and the centre stand seizes and requires lubing, but the only part of the bike’s appearance that looks shabby is actually the GIVI luggage rack system. In essence this bike appears to have only one achilles heel; the final drive.
At 12,000 miles the original chain was stretched beyond adjustment and had a series of tight spots. Luckily this coincided with a chain recall from Honda so I hoped I’d benefit from a new one. Alas, although my dealer acknowledged the chain was beyond use, I was told that the recall was for bikes fitted with RK as opposed to DID. Sent on my way with a fresh spray of lubricant, a replacement was fitted 500 miles later. This 2nd chain lasted a total of 5,300 miles before snapping and removing the sprocket cover lug from the crankcase as it made its bid for freedom. The 3rd chain, bought from Honda for an unbeliveable £130 pounds, had gained its first tight spot in a matter of weeks, but regularly cleaned and lubed, is still in active service.
Honda recommend oil changes at 8,000 miles, but as a matter of course I have done them every 5,000. Interestingly, the handbook says that air filters should be changed at 16,000 but having noticed a fall off in fuel economy at 10, I had a look and it was truely filthy, so I elected to change it then. Unfortunately, actually buying an air filter is harder than one might expect. There is no aftermarket supply yet, so it has to be a genuine part, but Honda dealers don’t seem keen to accept that it’s a regular service item, so I am yet to find one that keeps them in stock.
The same appears to be the case with brake pads, discs and everything else I’ve tried to buy from the Honda dealer network. I’m not bitter, I just find it astounding that a bike which is, and which is marketed as, a practical everyday machine, isn’t supported with basic service spares.
The original set of front brake pads lasted 18,000 miles, when the disc was also showing signs of wear. The second set were cheapies picked up at the NEC bike show because main dealers had said there’d be an indeterminate wait for some to arrive. I did not change the disc at the same time. Unfortunately the new pads transformed the braking into something that felt wooden and did very little in the way of scrubbing off speed. As bad as they were, they only managed 5,000 miles, but they did incredible extra damage to the disc.
Honda then wanted £40 for front pads (but didn’t have any in stock) and £275 for a disc (but didn’t have any of those either – 3 dealers) so I chose EBC pads for £19 from Wemoto delivered next day. In association with a secondhand disc from ebay (£75) the braking was transformed to its previous quality.
To date, the only other item to fail has been the rear wheel bearings at 25,580 miles. The sprocket carrier bearing showed no obvious signs of wear and as it is a genuine part only, I haven’t replaced it. The others however, were purchased off the shelf from a local bearing factor and fitted the same day by TWS in Swindon.
The fuel economy is still admirable, but it is severely affected by the luggage, even the top box. Wearing all three boxes and riding in a nasty wind, economy dips to 67mpg, but without the side boxes, and even two-up, 79.5mpg is still an easily attainable figure.
Continental Road Attack 2 tyres have improved the NC’s road manners no end. Lean angle is limited by the exhaust on one side and the sidestand bracket on the other; something the Conti’s have let me discover. Turn in, braking and mid corner stability wet or dry, are much improved which means that if the NC is your only machine it can hold its own if you have a desire to ‘press on’ occasionally.
To Be Continued…