2013 Honda NC700X Review

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Since its launch in August, we’ve ridden the Honda NC700X on both street and track and come away impressed with its jack-of-all-trades ability. At just $7,499 and averaging 64 mpg, it’s one of the most practical, economical bikes there is. Not bad for something that shares its chassis and motor with a scooter. But, is the adventure-style bike capable of getting dirty? We just spent two days on it in the Nevada desert at AltRider’s Taste of Dakar and the answer is a definitive yes.

What’s New:
The NC700X is one iteration of Honda’s new modular platform that also sees the Integra maxi scooter, naked NC700S and even the new CTX700 cruisers share the same steel tube chassis and 48 bhp, 44lb.-ft., 670cc parallel-twin. They also all use the same, basic suspension, wheels and brakes.

All those are available with Honda’s newest dual-clutch transmission, but the model we’re riding here is the base version, sans DCT and ABS. Along with the CTX700, the NC700X is the only Integra-family model available in the U.S.

The NC’s specification is very basic. Forks are non-adjustable and right-way-up; there’s only one, sliding, two-piston caliper on the single front brake disc; the aluminum swingarm is a simple box-section affair supported by a shock with only preload adjustment.

Things get a little more clever in the engine department. The parallel-twin is essentially half a Honda Fit motor, its undersquare (longer stroke and narrower bore is the opposite of most performance motorcycle engines) bore and stroke reducing internal friction, but also leading to a redline of just 6,500 rpm, around half that of most other bikes of similar capacity. That engine’s cylinders, canted forward at 62 degrees, lay nearly flat, combining with the underseat fuel tank to drastically lower the center of gravity.

None of this sounds terribly adventuresome. Most bikes intended to carry you a long way from nowhere are overbuilt exercises in excess, huge engines powering the most intimidating German machines since WWII’s Panzers. A friend just emailed the phrase “adventure poser” when he heard I’d been riding the NC off road. Jimmy Lewis, a former Dakar racer who performed the rare feat of being American and finishing on the podium in that race dubbed it “the silver porpoise.”

The Ride:
Organized by Jimmy and aftermarket adventure parts company AltRider, the “Taste of Dakar” is an epic two-day event intended to give riders exactly that. It’s predominantly high speed off-road riding through the loose rock and deep sand of the Nevada desert, culminating in a spin around “Big Dune,” which is also exactly that.

It’s this kind of riding that most adventure riders dream about, but also the hardest test of their bikes. Any surface that’s both loose and deep presents real problems for heavy bikes like these. Add speed to that weight and you get a lot of momentum. If that momentum starts going the wrong way, you have a crash. In the Nevada desert, that’s likely onto sharp rocks or into a ravine or down the slope of a big dune.

There’s also climbs and descents and other technical obstacles that need to be negotiated at very low speed. Think walking pace. Again, doing so is very hard on a big, heavy bike, requiring fine control and minute balance.

Don’t believe me on the difficulty or the danger? An R1200GS rider shattered his femur in three places while practicing lofting the front wheel at 0mph. The cylinder head fell on his leg and he got a ride to Vegas Medical Center in a helicopter.

Shorn of its bodywork, the NC700X reveals just how low and centralized all its mechanical components are.

What’s Good:
Strip the plastic off the NC and you can see just how low and centralized its mass is. Kinda looks like a big trials bike, right? Well, it feels like one too. While practicing low-speed control alongside other riders on everything from single-cylinder dirt bikes to the big KTMs and BMWs, the humble little Honda drew envious stares. Balance is so good and so easy, standing on it, both legs up, at 0mph, just comes naturally.

The engine’s Diesel-like character — most torque is just above idle, there’s no benefit to revving it out to the redline — also sees it simply drive over any obstacle you can throw at it. Even very steep, walking pace climbs can be tackled in 2nd or 3rd gear; the NC will just walk right up whatever you ask it to. It helps, too, that the fueling is completely smooth and hiccup free. You can get off the clutch as soon as you pull away, then just control everything with only the throttle until you decide to come to a dead stop.

That suspension that sounds so basic (just 5.4 inches of travel front and 5.9 rear), actually ends up being well damped. I was able to attack whoops in the sand and gravel at speed and, instead of bottoming out, the bike just floated over the top. In fact, I didn’t find the suspension’s stops once all weekend. Neither did I drag the low, exposed sump.

Those basic brakes, too, are strong, reassuring and capable. They deliver enough feel that I was able to lock the front wheel on command, with safety and ease. Or, just come to a commanding stop by keeping them on the threshold of locking.

By rotating the stock bars forwards, the NC also achieves perfect ergonomics for standing. At 6’ 2”, I was able to stand fully upright and comfortably. That was helped by the SW-Motech pegs provided by Twisted Throttle; they offered much more secure and comfortable footing than the stock, road-biased items.

The NC achieves that standability without erring towards on overly tall seat. At just 31 inches, the Honda’s seat height remains accessible to the vast majority of riders. The exact opposite of virtually every other adventure bike.

The Honda’s fuel economy and practicality also helped on the trip. Even off-road, the range from the 3.7 gallon tank remained in excess of 200 miles and the lockable cubby between your legs, where the tank normally goes, was perfect for hauling an extra gallon jerry can, plus photo equipment. That extra fuel was needed for the other bikes along on the ride, which sometimes struggled to top 60 miles between refills. We even worried the extra gallon may not be enough and planned to siphon fuel from the Honda if so.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.e.cormier Jason Evariste Cormier

    Big problem I foresee round my parts is that you are getting all the mind-blowing excitement and practicality of a scooter… With the high insurance and registration costs of a big 700cc bike. And in Canada the X is 9000$, which puts it head-to-head with a lot of pretty good, much more exciting bikes (SV650, FZ6/8, Ninja 650).

  • http://twitter.com/AmericanSahara J. Brandon

    Nice job, Wes. This is the first real dirt test ride I’ve seen on the NC700X. I got to spend a week riding it in a Cycle World event a few months ago. If I was shopping for a new bike on a budget of less than $8,000, I’d buy one.

    • Stuki

      What about less than 9 grand? I’m asking since that would include it’s most natural competitors, the VStrom 650 and the Versys; as well as it’s own abs/dct equipped stablemate. At a hard limit of <8gs, there's really nothing else comparable.

      • http://twitter.com/AmericanSahara J. Brandon

        If I had a another $1,000 in the budget I would buy the NC700X with the DCT transmission. That thing is a ball to ride. Last year’s pricing with the $2,000 uptick for the DCT and ABS was difficult to swallow. New pricing structure makes it an easy choice — if you can get some real seat time on the DCT first.

  • George Roberts

    I’m really impressed with the abilities of this scrappy little thing, but i’d take a DL650 or Versys over it any day. For less than a grand more, you get significantly more motorcycle.

    But i do love how your $7500 streetbike was pwning the GSs out there…

    • Mark Desrosiers

      I mostly agree with you, but still, 64 mpgs on a do-it-all 700cc bike…that’s tough to pass up!

  • Speedo007

    Nice review. Great rational bike!

  • dale gray

    i have a nc700x set up as a adventure bike with a skid plate and all the accessory, for of road use, it works very good very nice test

  • Chris Davis

    So very Honda.

    To an experienced rider that tackles some of the more extreme aspects of the sport, I’m sure it seems vanilla, but compare it to driving a car. That’s what a lot of the Integra family riders will be comparing it to and they’re going to have a blast because they will have more confidence than they would if they were on almost any other bike.

    My wife’s bike would be an NC700S w/DCT if Honda would make it available to us.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Why the S over the X?

      • Chris Davis

        Style, but I wouldn’t totally rule out the X. Just never been fans of the woodpecker look.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emsmith29 Eddie Smith

    Something about 4.7″ of el cheapo suspension being up to the task an not bottoming makes me skeptical. I’m sure Honda’s got some nice bumpstops on there but I would expect the rear to pack up and kick on a good line of sand whoops. Is there really any substitute for wheel travel off road?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler


      • Stuki

        And, perhaps, a slower pace?

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          How slow is slow? I rode faster than most of the GS guys and was on-pace with people riding 690 Enduro Rs.

          • Stuki

            If your 690 enduro guys are like the ones I know, that means the bike (and you) are capable of going way faster than I would want to, off road :)

            I have some experience on a 650 VStrom (owned one for a few years), which is another bike you seem to like. What would you say are the pros and cons of that one vs this Honda?

            Off the bat, I’d say hard luggage is superior on the Honda, given it’s front storage, low exhaust and narrow panniers. With soft luggage perhaps a plus on the VStrom, since you don’t have to remove it to refuel, and can hang tank panniers over the tank. ABS without maxicomplexity gear box also gos to the dl. Until this review, I would have assumed the same about off/soft roading, given 19″ vs 17″ front wheel. But I guess that was premature. But what about general comfort, quickness in dense traffic, stability on highway, wind management (both have the option of Madstads now, I see) etc?

            • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

              The V-Strom is a little faster everywhere, but isn’t going to be as novice-friendly. It’s also a little unwieldy in dense urban traffic, where the NC continues to excel.

              And yeah, that Suzuki luggage is terrible.

              • George Roberts

                More on this soon…

          • http://www.facebook.com/peter.mcleod.758 Peter McLeod

            C’mon dude, seriously? No hating but call a spade a spade. The 690r is a race bike and saying the Honda was on pace implying it is either as fast as – or no slower than the KTM is a long, long draw. Most will empathise with your enthusiasm however and understand the capability multiplier the engine and basement CoG provide for a very very average rider.

            • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

              Oh, the 690R is a way faster bike. Just saying that I was keeping up with the guys riding them, not pussyfooting.

              Most of the time, I was riding with Nick on a DR650 and Sean on a DR-Z400. They were faster and could ride a little more…expressively, but I went everywhere they did without falling behind and enjoyed the ride.

              • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

                umm, about that.

              • HoldenL

                The message I’m getting from Wes’s review is this: The NC700X isn’t a substitute for a supermoto. But if you’re going to own one bike, and you’re going to use it mostly for commuting and errands, but every once in a while you would like to take the bike to go camping, you might wonder: Is there anything that’s dependable and affordable (i.e., Japanese) that would meet my needs besides the VStrom and Versys?

                Wes’s answer clearly is yes. I doubt the Honda is as fun to ride on the street as the Versys, but it looks like it’s more capable offroad than the Versys, and it gets that wonderful mpg.

                My wife wishes the NC700X’s saddle were lower. Maybe there are lowering kits available now. In a perfect world, she would like a saddle height of 28 inches or lower.

                • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

                  That’s pretty much it. And it’s actually better on the road than the Versys, it’s a seriously fun bike once you get used to riding the torque instead of chasing peak power.

                  No lower seats for the NC i’m afraid, due to the underseat fuel tank. Have her try on, the seat is very narrow at the front and I think she’ll feel pretty confident on it.

  • Stuki

    Would it be too much, to ask for width measurements across handlebars, mirrors, pannier mounts and panniers on motorcycles? Especially for ones as obviously aimed at commuting in traffic as this one.

    The reason I’m asking is, the GS seems all kinds of nice, until you try to wrangle it, with the BMW OEM panniers, through tight traffic. The handlebars are seemingly about 40″ wide, and the panniers even worse. And that’s the normal one. The Adventure is even worse.

    Jesse bags do narrow it in the back, at the cost of having hard corner metal bags that will hook on anything, and are affixed hard enough to rip apart both themselves and the bike (and whatever you hook them on) before yielding. And it seems all the other big adventure bikes are trying to outwide the German guy. And then there’s the dl650, whose factory fitted pannier mounts (to clear the exhaust) makes it rational to talk not about the bikes width, but rather it’s wingspan.

    The NC has exhaust in a sane place for a sane motorcycle, and looks narrow in pictures. But it would be nice if at least one magazine would measure it, as well as it’s competition. It at least ought to be an important detail on a practical motorcycle.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Bars are 31.5 inches wide, I just went out to the garage and measured for you. I don’t have the panniers on this bike, but I used them on the launch back in August and they’re considerably slimmer than the bars.

      • Stuki

        Man, I think I need to go look at this bike! That’s slimmer across the bars than the BMW F800 st. And infinitely slimmer across the panniers. Compared to other Japanese bikes, the non racy engine and vanilla componentry should make it less of a theft target, as well. Which is one thing I’ve always liked about BMWs. Having a bike you can’t leave anywhere for fear of theft, really kills it for me, no matter how fun it is to ride.

  • yipY

    A 17″ front wheel and home brand forks on a trail with soft sandy holes to swallow it? Get DRZ400 or a KLR.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      the point isn’t that it’s better off road or a better value than those bikes, it’s that this bike is also capable of this should you already be considering it for other reasons.

      • yipY

        Q:”My biggest moment came while crossing a gravely wash, as the wheels sank in, the bike skidded sideways, threatening to pitch me over when I hit the climb on the opposite side. Throwing my weight on the outside peg pulled the bike back straight just in time though.Deep sand entering the dunes also defeated the 17-inch wheels, even with those TKC80s.”. It seems a new definition of “capable” is at play.

        • George Roberts

          Try the above on a CBR or a Harley. That is the definition of capable. Bikes like the NC700, the DL650, the Versys, etc. allow you to do so much more than the standard type of bike that the vast majority of riders in the U.S. tend to buy.

          • yipY

            The heavy “adventure bike” phenomenon is nonsense.If a bike cannot be picked up easily from laying in mud it just a recipe for broken bones or tank-slapping worse.Encouraging people to ride heavy bikes ill designed for the conditions is daft.BMW’s later GS dirt lumps do what the designers intended:for fat Frenchmen and fat Germans to tear down the highway tarmacadam and the occasional cobblestone laneway.Every adventure doco I’ve seen with these ridiculously heavy fashion items has a Charlie or a Ewan falling off for no apparent reason at very low speeds,that I’m sure amuses the natives no end who would ride along at similar speeds with a brace of young pigs in a big basket on a step-thru scooter with no stability issues whatsoever.If I want dirty fun I’ll ride an XR100,If I want to play Dakar on dirt roads I’ll ride my KLR650 and if I want to go get a burger I’ll do it on my 400 Burg-man.Taking this NC700X off road makes as much sense as taking an accordion to a knife fight at Carnegie Hall.

            • MSF rider coach

              Your klr would run out of fuel and you would be pushing it to a gas station.

              • IRS4

                Too heavy for what? I’ve ridden mine in dozens of dual sport events mostly populated by 250-400 cc dirt bikes, including two Barstow To Vegas runs. She’s slower and more work for sure, but being the in-flight refueling supertanker for the little KTMs has its benefits in free dinners. As does having the rack space to haul a good backcountry camping set up.

  • Jim Priest

    When I go camping I have gear piled all over the rear seat, rack. Isn’t that where the gas fillup is? When I commute I usually have my backpack/laptop bungied to the rear seat/rack.

    Having to undo that to fill up seems like a pita.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Unstrapping the bungees from the milk crate was a total PITA. The stock Honda luggage is great though, which I’d had that.

      • Gabriel Torres

        It must also be mentioned the rear rack that is required to mount the OEM luggage extends the rear a good 6-8 inches, if not more. Odds are the milk crate could have mounted to that and allowed access to the fuel tank.

    • http://twitter.com/AmericanSahara J. Brandon

      Remember that the bike has 21 liters of storage up front. That’s bigger than a 5-gallon Jerry can. Imagine what you can stow in that much space.

  • yipY

    Q:”It’s this kind of riding that most adventure riders dream about”.

    Nobody dreams of this:

    Q:”My biggest moment came while crossing a gravely wash, as the wheels sank in, the bike skidded sideways, threatening to pitch me over when I hit the climb on the opposite side. Throwing my weight on the outside peg pulled the bike back straight just in time though.Deep sand entering the dunes also defeated the 17-inch wheels, even with those TKC80s.”.

    • Scott Jameson

      I don’t know, this , “…Throwing my weight on the outside peg pulled the bike back straight just in time though.” reads like some of my dreams,

      : )

  • socalutilityrider

    I have a question, and no I’m not joking. Could someone tell me if the DCT would be good or bad off road or just different?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Good question. You’d lose the ability to lift the front with clutch, but other than that, it might actually work quite well. Easy shifting, idiot-proof walking speed control for climbs and obstacles.

      Anyone else care to chime in?

      • George Roberts

        DCT may not be the best accessory for slow off-road work compared to a manual clutch, but YMMV. As for ABS, none of the Japanese OEMs include an ‘off’ switch, but you can always work around that by pulling a fuse or doing the centerstand trick.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Scott.jones.876 Scott Jones

        I Haven’t ridden a DCT bike but I used to own a CRF450 setup for hare scrambles with a rekluse auto clutch and I hated the setup. I imagine DCT would feel similar to me. For someone who starts out on a DCT bike it probably wouldn’t matter, but for anyone who is used to being able to control the clutch will need to make some serious adjustment to their riding style. For me, I’d just go for the regular version without ABS and DCT.

        I’m really impressed with this bike. I’ve been looking for a good all around bike to have as a second bike and the NC700 just may be the best fit overall. Thanks for a quality review.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michael.howard.9889 Michael Howard

        Auto clutch pretty much sucks at low speeds. You have no control over the engagement point and basically have to ride the rear brake to keep the power up. Most people assume CVT scooters are easy to ride but, at walking speeds, they’re actually harder since you have practically no control over the clutch engagement.

        • yipY

          A Dual clutch setup is not anything like a CVT in use or its trans action.I’ve got a 400 Burgman so I know what a CVT is like in use.The trick with a CVT is to apply big throttle to get the clutch to bite hard and avoid gentle slipping all the time.I think a CVT or DTC would be useless off road.The use of a clutch is vital for dirt riding prowess.

          • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

            We’re going to be seeing DCT-equipped dual sports and similar bikes in the near future.

          • http://www.facebook.com/michael.howard.9889 Michael Howard

            Yeah, my comment was comparing auto vs manual clutches, not DCT vs CVT. Please try to keep up. ;)

            • yipY

              In reply to this guy: socalutilityrider .

          • Crim

            yipY says: “The use of a clutch is vital for dirt riding prowess.”

            Don’t tell that to all of us satisfied Rekluse customers.

    • Stuki

      I also wonder how the abs brakes that come with the dct would fare in conditions as severe as sand dunes.

      • socalutilityrider

        I forgot about the ABS. Hopefully there would be a way to turn it off easily

  • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

    you have something besides the triumph? I would have invited you!!! I’m sorry man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.s.power.9 Michael Skiny Power

    great article.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Thanks dude.

  • Scott Jameson

    Spied first of these on the road today.
    Enjoyed, thank-you.

  • TarBroil

    I ride the heck out of my NCX. I got the bike with the understanding
    that the machine was designed for efficiency and I wasn’t expecting it
    to perform so well. I have to say that it’s just about perfect, just a
    tad slow on the acceleration. It’s nice to see people enjoying this bike -TarBroil

  • jem777

    Looks like fun! Im dying to try it.

    big island helicopter tours

  • Jonathan Curran

    I just bought the 2012 nc700x and just love it. I bought a 22 inch oversize windshield from parabellum that provides great wind protection and some soft bags from cycle gear that work quite well to round out this gas miserly bike. I get about 74 mpg. I recommend this bike to any who like a quick, practical, and well-weighted bike to go about town or the sometimes out of town weekend adventure.

  • Steven Barwick

    I must add the DCT transmission, which is the bane of most riders, is my required for my specific needs. I do not have the ability to shift with my Left Foot and have issues with my thumbs,,,It is my sincere wish the NC700X will fill a long drought of design considerations for the active disabled.

  • Julian

    I’ve just returned to this excellent article, do you think Honda’ll let take the nc750x to this venue? PS with the extra weight I think it’ll have ABS for the US this time.

  • 670cc

    Have had the NC700x for over a year now. Truly an outstanding design that lives up to the hype. The engine is incredible for adventure touring with the easy to manage torque and powerband. I can see why journalists who live in a world of spec sheets don’t like it, but there’s a reason this bike has broken sales records in several different country’s. Give the seat time to break in and don’t rush to replace it. Traded in my 650 V-Strom for it and glad I did. The V-Strom had a strong top end but felt anemic by comparison on the bottom, very top heavy, mediocre gas mileage, and horrible job for valve adjustments and even changing the air filter.