10cc. That’s all it is. The Honda NC700 misses out on qualifying for the Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme by its engine being 10cc above the 660c maximum engine-size. Contrary to what the salesman told me, it isn’t because the engine exceeds the maximum power-to-weight ratio (which is how bikes under that maximum engine-size are rated in or out), but because its capacity exceeds the upper limit. By just 10cc. That’s the capacity of a dessert spoon. And that’s a pity. It’s a pity because this bike would be excellent for a rider of limited experience. But they miss out, because its engine is a spoonful too big. The more you look at this bike the more of a pity that unavailability to the learner market becomes. Let’s start with the price. At just $8,490 it is remarkably good value for money! And that’s something I don’t often say about Hondas. Yes, Hondas always display a high standard of quality, in both build and engineering, but that quality is usually reflected in the price. But this Honda is cheap. I must admit to thinking that, with even BMW having some of their engines made in China these days, this Honda was probably made in some Chinese factory and just had a “Honda” badge put on the side. Ah, not so, grasshopper! This was made in Japan. It’s cheap, but definitely not nasty. A real bargain! The bike shares its engine, and much of its architecture and running-gear, with the NC700 Integra scooter. (There are other variations overseas too, that we don't get here). As a result, the petrol tank isn’t a petrol tank, it’s a storage unit; and a decent sized one too. It will take a full-face helmet with no trouble. Or lots of shopping; or all that other stuff that many of us carry around. Add a top-box (there’s one as an option) and you could easily go touring! The petrol tank is, like a scooter, under the seat; the split pillion section in this case. Well, that’s where the filler-cap is; the actual tank runs up in front of the back mudguard. Capacity, at just 14 litres, might be a bit on the small side, but considering the economy the bike achieves it would still give a good fuel-range. The engine is interesting. Already you will have learnt that its engine-size is a bit less than what it says on the box; it’s 670cc, not 700cc. That’s not too unusual in the world of marketing, but is worth bearing in mind. Think of it as a “650” (which it’s closer to) rather than a “700”. To develop it, Honda took their 4-cylinder Jazz car engine and cut it in half. Tidy up the edges, give it a few tweaks to make it more “motorcycle” in character, and there you go – one new bike engine! Part of the reason for this would undoubtedly be to keep development and manufacturing costs down, but Honda reportedly said that one of their main objectives was to make an engine that would be first and foremost an economical commuter. Half a Honda Jazz engine in a light-weight bike would seem likely to achieve that! One legacy of that car-based design though, is the low redline of just 6,500rpm. Honda also intended it to be, “A direct, intuitive, confidence-inspiring ride for all levels of experience.” They go on to claim that the NC700 is, “A machine that takes no time at all to get used to with direct and uncomplicated responses bringing joy to anyone who rides it.” So, reading between those marketing lines, it’s good for all riders, but would be especially good for the inexperienced.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Looking at the bike, the first impression is that it’s a modern looking thing. It comes in two colours, red and white. I had the white one. Not just plain white though, this was a metallic white, which looked great. (Honda calls it “Pearl Sunbeam White”). My only real question on the styling is the tiny little windscreen; what’s that supposed to do? Maybe it’s for keeping bugs off the instruments. Despite the cheap price, it feels very well put together. Yes, some of the components feel a bit plasticky, but that typical Honda quality is still there, as I indicated above. The riding-position is typical naked-bike; an upright position with relatively wide bars. For a lanky bloke like me, it felt a bit cramped at first, but that was never a problem, and I didn’t really think about it out on the road. The seat is hard. The step-up to the pillion section creates a kind of very small back-rest; I suppose it stops you sliding off the back under full acceleration – which, to be honest, you’d never be likely to do! It feels very light. Hondas always seem to feel lighter than their stated weight, but this feels exceptionally light. That fuel-tank positioned down low, and the forward sloping engine, all help lower the centre-of-gravity, which makes it feel lighter than it actually is. It makes it very easy to push around the driveway, and equally easy to manouvre out on the road. The instruments are all digital. The speedo is the usual big numeric display, and the tacho is a strip along the top above the speedo. Strangely, the numbers are printed on the panel above the actual LCD display, with the bar-graph thing being part of the LCD display below. It is small, but easy enough to see when you get used to it. The mirrors are a decent size and well positioned. The work well, and don’t vibrate.
OUT ON THE ROAD
Start the engine and it is, typically, pretty quiet. In the driveway, with the helmet off, there is a certain amount of throaty roar from the exhaust if you give it a big rev. On the road though, with the helmet on, it’s quiet. Actually it sounds like a scooter; not the sound you expect to hear from a 700cc road-bike! Acceleration is efficient, and a couple of front-row starts from traffic-lights showed it to be easily capable of out-pacing the general traffic. Being half a Honda Jazz engine, it performs a bit more leisurely than you expect from a “700”. Although to be fair, the bike was very new when I rode it and would no doubt free up a bit with more kilometres. In any case, the nature of the engine does make the bike easy to ride. That brings us back to the issue of it being suitable for learners. The engine's performance and characteristics, combined with the general ease of riding, make it the sort of thing a rider with limited experience could enjoy without getting spat off. The engine isn’t particularly happy under about 3,000rpm. It vibrates a bit and feels harsh, and there’s not a lot of performance there either. At around 4,000 – 5,000 it gets going pretty well and you can ride it in an almost sporty manner. But remember that low redline; it’s not far away, and when you get there, the engine breaks! Well that’s what it felt like when I gave it a handful and sent it swinging up to the red. Suddenly there was a “Bang!” and the acceleration stopped. Yes, you’ve probably guessed, it has a rev-limiter. If you’ve heard the sound of the V8 Supercars as they trundle into the pits with the rev-limiter popping and banging, then you’ll know what this sounds like. It’s not a nice sound at all! But at least when you know that’s what it is it doesn’t scare you as much. The gearing is fairly high. 1st is okay; low enough to take off easily, but high enough to get you across the intersection before you have to change. But it starts feeling more over-geared as you progress up through the ‘box. Around town you’ll be in 2nd a lot and 3rd only when the traffic clears. Top runs about 32 kph per 1,000rpm and given the characteristics of the engine you really need to be over 100 – 110kph before it feels happy in top. On the highway I rode it in 5th at around 110kph and it felt good; more sprightly, although more noisy of course. The gearing would be good for touring though. At around 120kph it feels quite relaxed. But lower gearing would still allow it to cruise easily, while making it feel more responsive and lively. The ride is pretty firm. And you notice this almost from the time you bump out of the driveway. Out on the road big bumps give you a decent thump and even some bumps on the highway bounced me off the seat. And that hard seat doesn’t help matters either! At higher speeds though, the ride actually smoothes out. It’s like the gearing, it works better at higher speeds. I reckon the handling is great! The bike feels light and nimble and goes exactly where you point it. It’s accurate and very stable, right from walking-pace to highway speed. It holds its line well through corners, but allows you to easily change line if you want to. Very confidence inspiring and makes the bike easy to ride. (See what I mean about it being good for learners?). The brakes are linked and ABS is standard. Pretty impressive, especially for the price! They weren’t quite as impressive in operation though. They were good, but needed a decent squeeze at the lever. They seemed to lack some initial bite too, and even a harder pull on the lever didn’t quite stop it as quickly as I expected. Although remember I said that the bike was very new when I picked it up, so the brakes would probably be better once they had really bedded in properly. In fact, by the end of the test I thought they had improved, with more initial bite and a bit more stopping power. Once again though, the non-threatening nature of the brakes would make it ideal for a learner; and even more so with the comforting knowledge that there is ABS there if you panic and hit the brakes too hard, especially on a slippery surface. So there we have the new NC700. It’s very good as a commuter, because it feels so light and easy to ride, but I reckon it works even better out on the open road, cruising the highways or cutting through some twisties. It’s just a pity that the engine is a spoonful too big for LAMS eligibility. SNAPSHOT Here is a Honda that is extremely practical, very easy to ride, works well at commuting, but probably even better outside the city limits, and is terrific value for money. Its totally non-threatening nature would make it a great bike for learners and inexperienced riders, but sadly it falls just outside the engine-capacity limit for that. The only let-down for me is the seat and suspension, both of which could be a bit more comfortable. But hey, at the price you could afford to make a few after-market improvements to suit your requirements.
Engine: 2-cylinder, 670cc. *Power: 35kW at 6,250rpm. Torque: 60Nm at 4750rpm.
Suspension: Front: Non-adjustable fork. Rear: Monoshock, adjustable for preload.
Fuel capacity: 14.1litres.
Seat height: 790mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120X 17”, Rear: 160 X 17”
Brakes: Front: Single 320mm disc, Rear: Single 240mm disc.
Price: $8,490 + ORC.
*Note: Honda don’t supply power figures, these figures were obtained from other sources
Ridden 2012 (end of year).
UPDATE 2014: NC750.
For 2014 Honda decided to give it a bigger motor: they've added another 75cc to bring it to 745cc. As a result, power is up, by just 2kW, and torque is up by 8Nm. They would be useful gains. They've also reduced the vibes a bit, making it a smoother engine. That should be worthwhile. Strangely perhaps (they obviously didn't read my review! Ha Ha), they've raised the gearing. I thought it should be lowered, but they've raised it a bit - which would probably negate any benefit from the extra power and torque. (Honda claims it acclerates quicker and has a higher top-speed than the old model). Everything else appears to be the same as the previous one. Except price - that has gone up too, to $8700 +ORC.
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