ALL THAT JAZZ...A WEEK WITH HONDA'S NC700S
JOHN NEWMAN HAS BEEN TRYING OUT THE HONDA NC700S
Five grand doesn't buy you much these days if you're seeking out a new larger capacity motorcycle. But add another £499 and you can purchase Honda's very fuel efficient and lightweight user friendly roadster, the NC700S.
Kicks on Route 25
I began my weeks review of this bike by riding straight into the morass of four wheel metal and plastic that was crawling along the M25 on the first morning following a holiday weekend. I didn't have a lot of choice as the Honda press fleet lives just off the motorway near Heathrow Airport, and I was headed to Epsom for a lunch date.
Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the road network in this part of the London metropolis; will know that any alternative routes are just as crowded and frustrating. Fortunately the NC700 is slim and very easy to ride. It is one of those motorcycles that fitted as soon as I was in the saddle: and it felt nimble and confident to flick through the congestion. The engine was ticking and purring gently in second and third.
Let's talk engine
Let's talk about that engine. It's a twin, a new motorcycle design but effectively half of a Honda Jazz car engine, which they have also used in the taller NC700X; a more 'adventure' looking bike: and in the Integra scooter. One of the big selling points in these models is fuel economy, with Honda claiming a staggering 79mpg.
It's 47bhp...no don't stop reading. I know motorcycle bhp is supposed to be measured at 100 +, but this unit is a little gem which is very flexible and lively from about three thousand revs. I rode the bike twice in the company of people on much faster machines, and didn't hold them back. Though you sometimes have to be patient with an overtake that a rider on a more powerful machine would go for sooner. It is only seconds out of your life though.
It does run out of power quickly at just over six thousand, as if you have hit a rev limiter, but this is a different motorcycling menu from what the manufacturers have put before us for a good time now. It is a light, sharp handling bike, requiring minimum maintenance, which can be used for commuting, weekend pleasure or longer touring rides.
All round usefulness
What is lost in power is made up for by the NC's fuel economy, rideability, and all round usefulness. Other reviews have claimed slightly less than the manufacturers mpg figures; mostly in the upper 60's: and my experience bore this out. It's a good feeling to know that with fuel prices set to stay high, you can go some way to 'cheating' the oil cartels and Middle Eastern despots. Good for Honda in producing, at last, a motorcycle engine that matches the fuel economy improvements in car technology.
Their technical information tells us that the engine has been developed using 'stoichiometric analyses'. There may be those among us that can interpret this more comprehensively. But in lay terms it involves delivering the exact fuel to air ratio so that effective engine burn is achieved in all running conditions, and maximum torque is achieved. With the Dual Clutch model, a fuel consumption target of 27.9 kilometres per litre was set. Impressive stuff.
A lot of miles
I put in a lot of miles on the NC700 over all types and conditions of road. First off I had to ride over two hundred miles to my home in the north of England. Using the dual carriageway A1 and then cutting across country on regular A roads, it takes about four hours. I'm used to long motorcycle journeys, but Honda haven't included much comfort in the specification. The seat is hard, and after about an hour and a half it's move the bum around and stretch time before a longer stop is needed. I found this strange for a bike that can potentially go for a couple of hundred miles between petrol pumps. Better padding please.
On their technical and publicity information site for the NC, Honda wordsmiths describe the handling as 'Joyous and intuitive' (it is when you're not tired from the hard seat). They have the handling in relation to the power output spot on; and on routes where there are a lot of twisties and roundabouts there's a lot of fun waiting.
The frame is a rugged tubular construction in a diamond shape, and with forks and rear suspension tried and tested over many of the Honda model ranges, plus 17” wheels, confidence to move the bike around and brake into bends is soon acquired. This pin point handling is equally positive in town conditions where you might want to make good progress through dense traffic.
I did find myself using the rear brake more than I do on my own bikes or others I've ridden, although braking hard into a roundabout or into a tight bend was necessary – more open bends could be swooped through using the engine and gear box to scrub off speed. The NC700 has a single 320mm front disc and a 240mm rear in wavy design. I suspect the single front is to save weight and cost. The whole bike weighs in at 211kgs, about 460lbs, but Honda have pulled of the trick of making this model seem lighter than the weight stats when riding, especially at slow speed.
Neat and well presented
If you like modern bike design this one will appeal. It looks as it rides: neat and well presented. I liked the small straightforward instrument panel, digital speedo, straight line rev reading, miles covered, four bar fuel indicator and a clock - nothing more is required.
The 'tank' is not, and opens up into a very useful storage area with enough space to hold a full face helmet and more. It took enough 'stuff' for me to be away from home for a long weekend, including a camera, bike lock, and casual shoes. Fuel is filled from under the pillion seat, and the tank holds 14.1 litres. Honda have deliberately kept the capacity small to save weight, and this works because of the dramatically improved fuel consumption.
Honda provide a Dual Clutch Transmission option for the NC700S which means you get twist and go functionality or push button gear change on the handlebar. There are also three engine control modes to choose from; two automatic – city/open road and sporty – plus manual if you want to flick between gears using your own judgement. It's almost a thousand pounds more for the model with this technology, but this bike is so easy to get on with that I would question whether it is necessary.
The standard model has a very small screen which was adequate in diverting the air flow. I'm about five seven, and a taller rider might get blown around. There are others on the market such as a these double bubble and flip up ones from Wemoto if you feel the need to up your screen size.
What's not to like?
The NC700S and the X model have been out about a year, and already there is a lively forum for owners which is always a good sign. In the pub after a day in the saddle riding from London to Hampshire and back to visit Sammy Miller's museum I put forward the notion that I should buy something 'sensible' like the NC. It was greeted with some ribaldry and scepticism by the riders around the table. But with a decent as new price; used low mileage models on ebay that can save you well over a grand; low fuel and insurance costs; ease of handling at slow and higher speed; decent carrying capacity; range of after market parts and accessories, what's not to like, apart from the seat? I might surprise them sceptics one day.
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