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A day out on Honda’s NC750X
A while ago, I tested the original NC700 just after it was released, riding both the DCT automatic version and the conventional bike with the manual gearshift. It’s hard to believe it was almost eight years ago that I wrote the original article. I titled it:
Fun, functional, frugal… or flawed? Honda’s NC700X tested
Although I subsequently got a lot of flak from happy owners telling me that my criticisms were ‘wrong’ and how good the bike was, I felt those four words really summed up the bike from MY perspective as a potential owner. Obviously, what I want out of a bike isn’t what everyone wants and the machine obviously hit the spot for those owners who gave me a hard time. Nevertheless, my comments were valid, and the fact is, there are also plenty of experienced riders who’ve tried the original NC700 and found it lacking.
What turned me off about the original?
To start with, Honda made a feature of the car-based motor being low revving. But a car engine is designed to haul two tonnes of vehicle away from a standing start, for which low gearing is actually necessary. And with a wheel at each corner, a car is inherently stable, and so changing gear halfway round a bend isn’t an issue if it’s reasonable smooth.
But a powered two-wheeler driven by chain is a very different beast.
My impression was that the motor was TOO low revving for a bike, with the auto version changing gear so early that it usually caused the chain to chatter when accelerating. Rather bizarrely, the dealer had already advised me that the bike would be better off in the higher-revving sport mode around town.
The DCT bike also had a bad habit of changing up a gear halfway out of junctions, just where the bike is leaned over and the rider wants smooth drive for stability. Yes, the DCT is ultra-smooth but it cannot completely eliminate the jerk.
I also found it hanging onto a high gear for too long when slowing down which not only offered little in the way of engine braking, but could leave the rider a bit stuck for drive if the traffic started moving again before the bike came to a halt.
True, switching to manual mode and riding it on the flippers meant I could change gear when I liked but if we’re going to be overriding the auto box, I couldn’t really see the point of DCT for normal riding so having handed the auto version back, I took the manual gearbox bike out for a spin too.
Even with full control over gear shifts, I still found the low red line and the ultra-low gearing a pain. Almost as soon as the bike was moving, it needed shifting up through the box.
And in terms of get up and go, it performed almost exactly the same as the auto because both versions of the old bike lacked power – pulling out to overtake a truck uphill on a dual carriageway, there was near-zero acceleration in top @ 60-odd and not much more when it shifted down a gear in response to me cracking the throttle wide open.
There were ergonomic issues. The tank was too wide at the rear, pushing my knees out into the breeze. And the indicator switch, moved to where the horn usually sits, was a PITA to operate. Yes, you could (and would) get used to the new, lower, position if you only ever ride the one machine. But it wasn’t ergonomic to reach, and if you swap bikes regularly (as I do) it makes sense to put an important switch like this in the same place as all the other bikes.
So the NC700 was definitely a Marmite bike. Overall, I DID like the bike – it handled well and on back roads, both versions were fun to ride – but the pluses were not enough to consider one as a work machine.
To my surprise, Honda released an updated 750 version almost immediately, with a slightly bigger engine, a higher rev limit and a bit more power. Although I was intrigued to see how they had addressed the issues, I had to wait a while to get my ride on one and that chance came when my brother bought a 2019 DCT model late last year.
And he loves it. Just to put his experience into context, he’s owns a modern WR250 and a classic Honda CB350. He’s ridden everything from an AR80 to a fire-breathing TL1000R, and his riding experience encompasses everything from working as a courier in London to riding from the UK across the Sahara and down the length of Africa to the borders of South Africa on a lightly-modified CB250RSA long before overlanding was ‘a thing’.
So what were my impressions of the revised model?
Almost the first thing I noticed was that the indicator switch seems to have moved. It’s still under the horn button but now it’s more or less back in line with the thumb joint as opposed to below it, so it works cleanly. Now it’s the horn that is harder to hit, although as a result I hooted rather less often when trying to signal than on the older bike. Frankly, Honda would be better off admitting that this arrangement is a mistake, and going back to putting the buttons back in the conventional positions.
As soon as I pulled away in the standard ‘drive’ mode, I noticed that the revised motor changes up a little later which partially solves the chain chatter issue. It also seems to downshift a bit sooner, which offers more engine braking. However, as you pull to a halt, and the revs drop ever lower, you still get the machine ‘chugging’ on the chain, which upsets the bike just as it stops. You can live with it, but it’s definitely a good idea to get this bike upright as it comes to a halt.
On the move, you can select between drive and one of the sport modes. As I mentioned, sport mode on the old machine paradoxically worked better in town than the drive mode, yet now the new drive mode seems far more usable and although I did experiment, I saw no real need to switch away from it in the heavy LA traffic.
Having escaped the urban sprawl at last, we headed up into the canyon roads north-east of Los Angeles. They make for challenging riding, with a mix of short straights, fairly steep slopes and sharp bends. Whilst drive mode coped, it was also a chance to try out the new multiple sport modes. This new feature gives the option of pre-setting the bike in one of three sport modes, although you can only switch between them at a standstill. Once selected, that mode can be swapped in and out with drive on the move as needed.
Something I love about my 600-fours is the long, flexible rev range which allows most twisty roads to be ridden in just one or two gears. It’s not just avoiding the need to shift, it’s all about getting a good mix of drive and engine braking too. On the new NC, the combination of the revised sport modes and higher red line gives a bit more flexibility, and the motor seems to be less busy shifting gear. Stopping every now and again to change the sport modes and trying to get the best results, after much back and forth between the modes, I settled on S2 as a good compromise downhill, although it still had a tendency to change up a gear as I started to open the throttle just as I arrived at a bend.
[Edit – I’ve been corrected by owner David Gibson, who tells me you don’t have to come to a standstill to switch sport modes, but just close the throttle completely. The correction on the sport mode is appreciated, though on a purely practical basis the idea of having to close the throttle completely to change mode on the move is a less-than-appealing one. It would have been better to do something like flip from D to S with a short press, then cycle through S1, S2, S3 with a long press of the button. That would make far more sense than having to shut the throttle on the move.]
Once again, I could avoid this by selecting manual mode and changing gear via the ‘flipper’ system – my brother said that he either rides it in S2 or on the flippers – but quite honestly, if I it were me, and the canyons were going to be my regular riding environment, I’d just buy the foot shift version saving the weight and cost of the DCT system.
However, I suspect that most people won’t be buying this bike for canyon carving, but instead for town and general commuting use. I certainly concede twist-n-go is nice in city traffic and there is plenty of that in LA.
In terms of get up and go, the 750 feels as if it’s gained a bit of power too (although it’s a long time since I rode a 700) but it’s still not a fast-accelerating machine. It’s good enough for the traffic light GP, and it pulls well from bend to bend on twisty roads, just like the old bike. It’s when you twist the throttle hard you notice not much happens – even my pretty tame XJ6 has more zip. In normal riding, it’s not really an issue, but there’s still not much in reserve. Fully laden with luggage and passenger, it would tour but I wouldn’t want to be planning too many overtakes without plenty of room to make them.
On paper, the bike’s quite heavy but the weight is carried low and on the move the machine changes direction quickly. The suspension may be basic but it’s well-controlled – whilst it may not suit the quickest sporting riders the NC handled some seriously bumpy surfaces with ease. In other words, it’s a suspension system that copes perfectly well with what 95% of riders will need 95% of the time. Likewise, the brakes are good enough without being startling. The bars are well-angled for the upright riding position and the seat was comfortable for the journey on a hot 80F day. Interestingly, I didn’t notice the ‘knees stuck out in the breeze’ effect of the earlier bike either – has the tank been re-profiled at the rear?
One problem my brother reports is poor lighting from the dual LED headlamp on low beam. Just one of the pair of beams is lit, the other joins in when using high beam. Having ridden behind this kind of set-up before, it’s often like someone turns out the lights when low beam is selected.
And what about fuel consumption? It was hard to read on the too-small, too-cluttered and too-reflective LCD display (what is this current trend for shrinking all the instruments into a tiny binnacle – give me something bigger and instantly readable any day!) but when I was able to stop at the end of the ride and put my reading glasses on, the dash panel was showing an average 84 mpg at the end of our 175 mile ride in the mountains. That’ll be the short-change US gallons of course, and when converted to the chunkier UK measurement, that is a quite remarkable 101 mpg. And we weren’t hanging around either.
My final comments? The improvements are small but make a real difference. It’s still not a choice for everyone but for me personally, the bike’s gone from being one I crossed off the list of possible work bikes to one I’d consider. when I retire the Hornet, I’ll have a long and very hard look at the NC750X. Fun, functional and frugal.
Why Survival Skills?
…because it’s a jungle out there
Since 1997, Kevin Williams MSc and Survival Skills Rider Training have led the way in making high quality rider training courses and advanced motorcycling skills accessible to all riders. The goal of Survival Skills has always been to help motorcyclists at all levels – newly-qualified, intermediate, and advanced – to develop skills and ride with more confidence and enjoyment, not just by offering practical training courses but by offering books, online advice and even working on numerous rider safety projects – often for free!