Off-road, there’s two main concerns with the NC700X: its wheels and sump.
Those wheels are street-sized, 17-inch items made from cast aluminum. Most dirt wheels are 21 inches in diameter and made from much-stronger (but heavier) steel spokes and rims.
The sump hovers much closer to the ground than on other adventure bikes and no one makes a protection plate for it yet. The oil filter is also low and exposed on the front of the motor. A plastic shroud hides it, but offers little actual protection.
A set of Continental TKC80s went a long way to curing the wheel issue. They obviously don’t make that front any taller, but they do deliver commanding grip on pretty much any surface on-road or off. Airing them down from 36/42psi stock pressures to 27psi at both ends gave a reassuringly larger footprint while still offering protection for the wheels against impact. But, even with them fitted, I had to take it easy over obstacles like rocks and lips and the front didn’t deliver much confidence in deep rocks or sand.
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. The front just doesn’t deliver much control over direction in those conditions. At least at my moderate skill level.
Still, I was able to go everywhere Sean did on a DR-Z400S, just a little slower and more carefully. Even backing into and sliding out of corners, just again, with a little more care and a little less speed.
For off-road riding the radiator is a little exposed, wearing no cover and protruding from the sides of the frame. SW-Motech crash bars cure that problem and make the NC feel positively crashable, something we weren’t able to test, this time.
Perhaps the NC’s biggest problem is its lack of excitement though. While just competently doing whatever you ask of it sounds perfect to us, the lack of huge power or sexy graphics or fancy components fails to deliver a sense of “machine lust,” to quote Brammo, a company that worked hard to re-instill a feeling of the analog back into its electric sportsbike.
This is where the NC700X comes back into its own. Prices are up $500 for 2013, but at just $7,499, still deliver an unbelievable bargain. Compare that to the bikes it was equally capable to on Taste of Dakar: the $12,090 BMW F800GS, $15,800 R1200GS and even the $18,350 R1200GS Adventure. One of those BMW riders would inevitably wander over while walking off a sore knee or whatever from their latest fall, ask about the unscathed Honda, then hobble off looking distinctly sour after hearing the words “seven thousand bucks.”
Fuel economy is a factor here too. 64 mpg is equivalent to Honda’s own range of 250cc single-cylinder road bikes, just here with plenty of performance. Your fuel bills will feel like they disappear. On the 700 mile trip, I spent about $40 on gas.
The only fly in the ointment comes with the (not tested here) DCT/ABS package. By bundling the two together, Honda adds (in 2013) $1,000 to the bottom line. That ABS should come as standard, without requiring an expensive and unnecessary transmission.
What Others Say:
“It's not the überpowerful or omnipotent bike of adolescent dreams, but with this impending era of two-wheeled functionality looming large, the Honda NC700X answers a whole lot of questions Americans never knew they had about modern motorcycles.” — Autoblog
“Judged on engine performance alone, then, the NC700X might seem a bit vanilla; but thanks in large part to its chassis, the Honda is a really fun bike to ride.” — Cycle World
“This is probably the easiest motorcycle available today to get on and just ride.” — MCN
“…the most friendly beginner mount on the market.” — Motorcycle-USA
“…finally giving a large number of riders a bike that suits their real world needs rather than conforming to the fantasy performance template forged by sports-oriented bike journalists.” — Kevin Ash
The NC700X isn’t the fastest motorcycle on the market. It’s not the sexiest either. Or even the cheapest or the most broadly-capable. Instead, it’s simply capable of going anywhere any other motorcycle can, at an affordable price, using very little fuel and excelling in practicality.
All-day comfort combines with outstanding control (thanks to that low center of gravity), low running costs and the ability to carry stuff with you to create a motorcycle that simply doesn’t need to be anything more than it already is. The perfect do-it-all bike for commuting, camping, hauling, trips, just having fun or even epic desert adventures. Or, all the above, in one affordable motorcycle.
RideApart Rating: 10/10
Helmet: AGV AX-8 Dual Evo Tour ($450)
Hydration Pack: Kriega Hydro-3 ($140)
Jacket: Dainese Teren ($600)
Pants: Dainese Teren ($400)
Gloves: Racer Sicuro ($240)
Boots: Dainese Carroarmato ($370)
Tailpack: Kriega US-10 ($100)