Honda NC700X – Alternative thinking

Alternative thinking

Buy a Honda NC700X and halve your fuel costs. Yes, really. And without going any slower. I m astonished how economical this bike is. But also how good it can be too. And how quickly it can cover ground when you want it to. But it s taken a while to get the hang of it.

The good thing about being the boss is that I get first pick of the long term fleet. So that s a Ducati Multistrada, Yamaha YZF – R1, Triumph Explorer etc. etc. However, the bad thing about a 100 mile round trip to the office is that with petrol costing ?1.40 a litre any bike that claims 70mpg is always going to trump any of those.

Last summer my fuel bill leapt from ?200 to ?300 and I spent months riding thirsty, overpowered motorcycles in such a way that I could still afford to eat when I got home. This year I m doing the opposite. Finding out how much fun I can have on a bike designed with running costs in mind.
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Honda s all – new NC700X has a parallel twin engine with a small bore and very long stroke. So it revs out at just 6500rpm but makes a broad spread of torque and enough power (47bhp) to keep ahead of the traffic. Interestingly, Norton s 1968 Commando 750 had almost the same stroke, made a fraction more bhp and (if you could keep one running for long enough) would also do about 65mpg. So, while the NC700X is a lovely thing to ride, in performance terms, it s hardly what you d call progress.

What it is though is a good looking, well put together, adventure – styled bike that likes to short shift, does a little over 110mph flat out, claims 70mpg and sits at 80mph with plenty of rpm to spare – all for just ?5850. Surely, you d be crazy not to buy one.

It s a very different engine for a bike – and using it feels like riding a sophisticated turbo diesel. Short – shifting is recommended or you soon run into the rev limiter in the lower gears, but like most new things, after a couple of hundred miles you get used to it.

And the first signs are good: 65mpg on a very new and tight engine (my VFR1200 gave another 5mpg once properly run in) and 55 minutes (five longer than normal) to do the 50 miles home. Last summer I tried half a dozen offbeat commuters from a 125cc scooter (90mpg, but 65 minutes to get home) to a diesel powered Royal Enfield (110mpg and 70 minutes travel time). My target for the Honda is 50 minutes and 70mpg. That s ambitious, but if successful it will save around ?80 a month in fuel.

Engine aside, the NC700X handles well and is comfy, with plush suspension and reasonable brakes. It s well built and has a kind of storage womb where the fuel tank should be (the fuel lives under the pillion seat) that holds a full face lid, small dog (or baby)… or enough sandwiches to feed the MSL editorial team.

So, good then, but not perfect. A bike designed for commuting should have heated grips as standard and that lowly 6500rpm redline is a problem overtaking those weird drivers who speed up as you pull alongside. I ve run out of revs a couple of times while alongside such a halfwit and had to change up early which costs momentum and added even more vital seconds to the pass, making me look like the halfwit. Maybe Honda would have been better running an enormous analogue rev counter with a prominent redline at 6500rpm but the actual limiter set to come in 7500rpm.That way, we d all routinely obey the red line for maximum efficiency, but a little bit of over – rev for ill – timed overtakes would save the sphincter pilates.

So, 10 days in, 1200 miles on the clock and we re getting along just fine. I know how it likes to be ridden and right now am standing at the pump in disbelief. I ve just completed 150 miles in 150 minutes and used just nine litres of fuel. That s 75mpg and my target for the summer beaten already. Blimey. Smooth riding and sticking to a cruising speed of 65mph leaves plenty in reserve for overtaking and puts the responsibility back on me to plan said overtakes properly.

Over the next few days I repeat the figure again and again – the same average speed as pretty much every other one of the 70 or so bikes I ve ridden on this test route and almost double the mpg. Think about that for a moment and tell me you don t want one. Thought so.