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.
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.”
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.
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.