A couple of weeks after I wrote this I bought one…
I know it’s not fashionable in adventureworld but I do believe the Honda NC750X DCT (…XD) would make a great travel bike. We’re assured the NC is nothing more than a sensible commuter bike, a modern-day Benly combining a high-economy, low-output motor, but with neo-adventurish looks and a capacious ‘tankbox’. NC = ‘No Character’ say some wags, but that has as much currency as ‘TDM = tedium’. Apart from basic suspension, a lot of what the NC-XD has got would make sense on a long ride, including occasional gravel roading:
- Tubeless wheels
- Low seat height and CoG for easy low-speed maneuvering, despite the weight
- Very economical
- Low-compression motor for low-octane fuel
- Decent ground clearance
- Good weather protection
- 420W alternator
- New or used; they’re half the price of an Africa Twin
And then you have the wonderful DCT auto gearbox. I very rarely use the W-word but DCT is the best thing since spam fritters. I first tried it a couple of years ago on the Africa Twin and got it straight away, and again on the NC-engined X-ADV X-cooter. I have well and truly had enough of clutches and gear changing, despite the advent of quickshifters. With a manual override on the left bar, DCT really is the best of all worlds and has been further refined on the latest models (read below) to possibly make it a little more effective on off-road slopes.
The 2018 DCT used in the NC750 models features “Adaptive Clutch Capability Control” that manages the amount of clutch torque transmitted. This adds a natural ‘feathered’ clutch feel when opening or shutting off the throttle for a smoother ride. Further refinements include fast operation of the N-D switch on turning on the ignition and a control system in AT mode for gauging the angle of ascent or descent and adapting shift pattern accordingly.
At the show where I tried it, the NC sat alongside the updated CB500X with more travel and a 19-er front end, and the odd X-ADV which, try as I might to like left-field ideas, I didn’t quite get as a genuine all-roader – well not at the price they want for it.
We set off for an escorted 45-minute backroad circuit with riders on Gold Wings the size of torpedoes, 500Xs and ATs. The DCT quickly came back to me: the start in neutral, shift with right thumb into Drive or shift again for Sport, then twist and off you go. Sport sees it hold on to higher revs before changing up, and there are three levels in S (didn’t get that deep). For manual, flick back a lever with your right index finger and it will stay in gear. To change up and down, use thumb/forefinger paddle controls on the left bar, just like an MTB. Manual gives you more control and engine breaking which you may appreciate on a fast descent. Flick back into auto any time, on the move or sat still.
Pulling away, the low-rpm grunt is quite impressive; the benefit of an engine tuned for torque before power. Just as I recall on the AT, it seems to shift up and down at just the right moment; you can leave your left hand and foot at home.
Having tried the brilliant new XT700 a couple of hours earlier, the engine character was similar, if not more torquey off the line. There’s 25% less power than the XT7 but the same max torque of 68Nm – except it’s delivered some 2000 rpm lower on the NC. Because you can’t park in gear, just like my late 1970s Dream 400 AT (right), the left bar has an ugly parking brake clamp if you leave the bike on a slope.
But the NCs suspension and roadholding was nowhere as good as the Yamaha. Two inches less travel must have a lot to do with it which at least contributes to a saddle height of just 830mm (32.7″).
I can’t quite put my finger on it; in bends it stood up a little on the rebound – inadequate damping perhaps? It didn’t feel half as planted as the XT, despite the low CoG. I hit all the manhole covers I could to give it a work-out while noticing the bloke on the CB500X in front was carefully avoiding them. So suspension on the 2019 CB-Xs is no better.
Looking at the stock NC shock (left), it’s not something you’d care to show anyone on a first date. Better shocks must be available and fork improvements too. It’s easier and less complicated to fix suspension than a motor, but is it as easy as that? I went through this all before and decided, no.
The single front brake was especially good considering the 230-kilo mass; goes to show one big diametre rotor can be enough. The original NC 700 had linked brakes like 1970s Guzzis (and maybe still). The brake pedal operated front and rear brakes at a given ratio, and the brake lever brought more pressure on the front. As with DCT, it frees up the hands. I loved it on a V50 Guzzi I rode years ago, but it seems there is only so much control you can remove from riders’ cold dead hands before they rebel. Riders claim they prefer conventional separate brakes because they can back the 750 into dirt bends with the rear locked or skidding… yeah, right. Switchable linked brakes, like switchable ABS would suit me, but maybe that’s too complicated.
On the road in auto, it’s great to have your left limbs liberated into redundancy. Taking pictures is easy, so is eating, waving or any number of other distractions. Sure, an emergency stop is best made with both hands on the bars, but these days we have ABS to modulate our clumsiness. And while it’s certainly heavy, the similar BMW 700GS and even my heavy-for-what-it-was Himalayan both proved in Morocco that because of the low-set weight, both are better than you’d expect for my level of gravel roading biking.
- The 750 from 2014. A big improvement over the original 700s (suspension, DCT, counterbalancer, gearing, unlinked brakes and ABS, dashboard, seat
- From 2016: fatter silencer, slightly bigger ‘tankbox‘, new ‘tank’ sides (usually silver), LED lights, 3 sport modes, a bit more poke, better suspension.
- From 2018: new dash, 2-level traction control, higher rpm limit.
They’ve just announced the 1100-cc Africa Twin, which some hope might also result in a smaller 750 spin-off. Otherwise, I don’t think customers would buy a properly adventurised version of the NC – its image is too ingrained and the weight and power would be perceived as all wrong.
A DIY job could include higher-profile knobblies to gain some clearance and dirt grip, better suspension to maintain it, add a bashplate and, fingers crossed, good to go is what you are.
Fuel access under the back seat could be a pain, and so might be seat comfort (early NC seats were bad). I’d probably end up with a bike not much better than my XSR, but that worked well enough. Both motors have the desirable 270-° crank timing to provide a V-twin throb without the bulk.
I’m tempted to try one and get to grips with the DCT to see if the novelty wears off in the face of the weight and modest horsepower. What really holds me back is the go-anywhere agility of a trail bike. I’d like to see DCT in a CB500X (along with a 270° crank). It’s safe to say that won’t be happening.