Tag Archives: Africa Twin DCT

Honda NC750X DCT – 1100-mile review

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See also:
NC750
Africa Twin 800

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I tried an NC a few weeks back, liked it as I knew I would, so bought a low-mileage current XA/XD model with an idea of converting it into a budget but high-economy ‘Africa Twain’. Plus I wanted to properly get to grips with this DCT malarkey. Judging by Google search results (right), I’m not the only one.
I picked it up near Leamington, rode straight down to Cornwall, then over a couple of days headed back to London via the Dorset Coast. Here’s what I found.

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  • High 80s/low 90s mpg without really trying. Back off a bit – say 60mph – and it will register a live 26.4mpl or 100mpg. With the 14.1-litre tank, at 88mpg/31.1kpl that would give a range of  438km or 272 miles.
  • Plenty of real-world power to get the job done. Fifty-four hp really is all you need
  • Thumb/finger manual changes slicker than my MTB 
  • I like the manual override on auto
  • And the auto downshift override when in manual. They thought it through
  • Suspension – what a surprise! I assumed it would be poor, like a CB-X or XSR7. Far from it. I rode an RE Interceptor recently; it’s better than that, too
  • Corners really well. Not had such a planted road bike for years
  • Right-engle tyre valves. No more struggles with inflation nozzles
  • Tubeless tyres
  • TFT dash – also new on me and the way to go
  • Despite low-speed lugging, day to day preferred the smoother D mode. Settled OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoccasionally on S1. Higher S levels felt more jerky.
  • Tank box (but even open-face lids can be a squeeze; right)
  • Seat was actually pretty good; sore over 4 slow hours, but not in outright agony
  • For a modern bike, the slabby space ship look is less bad than some
  • Nice crobba-crobba thudding noise as the 270° mill pulls away.
  • Average mpl display was pretty accurate – 5% under at fill up
  • You pull in, flick down the sidestand and it switches off. Remove the key and walk away.
  • It’s a Honda; peace of mind on a long trip
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  • Heavy – on the home scales it came very close to the claimed 232kg wet. Holds you back on some rough bends.
  • Lumpy pulling away at town speeds. That was my impression hopping back on the bike after a couple of weeks. A bit more lumpy than you’d assume is good for the engine, but it’s only a 750, not a huge Harley. It may well smooth out when warm.
  • Harshness – noticed this as soon as I pulled away from the seller’s place. Could be part engine, part transmission (on the move). The test bike I rode a month earlier felt notably smoother, but this wouldn’t be the first time a Honda-sourced (not dealer) test bike felt better than what you buy. It mostly cleared after 1000 miles – maybe old fuel stood for months and needed a good blast? But it’s not as smooth as modern injected twins can be, cf: Interceptor.
  • The engine on my XSR700 was much nicer – and it was 47hp restricted, not the full 72hp. But the XSR only averaged 74mpg over 4000 miles. Can’t see an NC ever dropping below 80. I do wonder if extreme leanness – either to gain economy or pass emissions regs – can spoil an engine’s feel.
  • Still a bit auto-clunky at low speeds, not seamless like an auto car despite the so-called Adaptive Clutch Capability Control.
  • Rode mostly in D but felt like it lugged at times, especially up steep hills and despite ‘a control system in AT mode for gauging the angle of ascent or descent and adapting shift pattern accordingly’. Got into manual downshifting. Auto downshifted better on downhills. Maybe it would have adapted for uphills in time?
  • Maxed it out but the TFT dash was still a bit dim in daylight. Plus would have liked engine/ambient temp info on there, too
  • No 12-v power outlet. I thought there was one in the tank box?
  • I know it’s how we fill up in the UK, but would have preferred other metrics besides Miles per Litre – a new one on me but you’d learn soon enough. (I assume it shows kpl or L/100km if you flip the speedo to kph). Older models had mpg – maybe I didn’t RTFM enough.
  • Like other bikes I’ve had lately, trip distance total (for true mpg calcs) is annoyingly lost when it resets to reserve towards E (or I didn’t work out how to dig it out)
  • Screen is of course too small
  • No centre stand. I bought one before I even picked it up
  • Traction control was a new game for me. I played with it on mid-road gravel patches and the steep track down to my Cornish mate’s house. But unlike ABS, I can’t really see a real-world use for it on a fat-tyred, 54-hp bike like this, assuming you ride alert and sensibly. Corner too fast in the wet or hit oil and the front might go just as fast. TC just seems to be a brake on applying so much power you lose traction. How often do you do that on the road ?
  • The TC switch on the left bars is a clumsy afterthought. Same could be said for the parking brake, tbh.

At the Overland show, organiser Paddy Tyson told me he’d covered 38,000 miles on a manual NC and wondered ‘why isn’t everyone using these for overlanding?’ It was a good question. Manual or auto, an NC is a practical and exceedingly economical machine which carries it’s weight low while easily keeping up on fast highways. I’m pretty sure even in stock form it could cover the tracks on my Morocco tours, and with tyres to suit would have easily managed what I rode on the Himalayan in spring, but without the need to be truck to Malaga. And it would have used 15% less fuel too. CRF250-like mpg but with the grunt to tackle headwinds and hills and the power to sit comfortably at 70+ is not something you get on most bikes. That makes the NC sound like a pretty versatile machine but as is often the case, some bikes fail to catch the buying public’s imagination. The NC is a big seller among commuters, but I’ve barely heard of travellers using them. If DCT is so fabulous, it seems the much flashier Africa Twin is the bike of choice from what I’ve seen at shows lately. Just like BMW’s F800GS trounced the 650/700 version, despite my avowed pronouncements to the latter two’s superiority!

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To me an AT (left) was going a bit far. Yes, it may have eaten all the dirt I was able to feed it but is even heavier an NC with a higher CoG, costs more and had much inferior economy. I’d like to see DCT in a lighter bike like the CB500X, but maybe that just cannot be achieved, yet. Or a sub 200-kg 750 Africa Twin as has been mooted now the 1000L is becoming an 1100.
Low-speed clunks apart, it’s great not have to concentrate on stalling or heavy clutches or agricultural gearboxes or miss-shifts while still having manual control for slowing down into fast bends or steep hills. It allows you to concentrate on other things, and that includes gnarly climbs with steep, clutch-stressing hairpins which in auto or manual 1st would be easy work on the DCT.

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Behind a plastic cowling the electro-hydraulic gear shifters look a bit vulnerable. Get a crash bar.

I’d bought an unusually nice (for me) late model which would be easy to shift – at ~£5k the most I’ve ever spent on a bike. In the end, I decided the 750X was too nice a road machine to meddle with weight-adding protection, longer travel suspension, higher-profile tyres and maybe a 19er front (I suspect the front wheel from a 2019 CB500X would fit). At over 230kg it was too heavy for my sort of gravel roading and the lack of smoothness compared to similar motors was surprisingly off-putting. How spoiled we’ve become!
I lost 100 quid selling it back on ebay; a reasonable sum for a fortnight’s rental. While selling the NC I took Enfield’s 650 Interceptor out for a quickie. Read what I thought about that one here.

Quick spin • Africa Twin DCT review

See also:
Honda X-ADV
Yamaha XT700 Tenere
Honda NC750X DCT
BMW F750GS
In early 2020 I bought myself a manual AT

at1There’s one problem with marrying Honda’s ‘have your cake and eat it’ DCT transmission with their 270°-crank parallel-twin engine: you can’t dip the clutch and blip the throttle for the sheer fun of unleashing the motor’s V-twin-like growl.

dctctAs for the other 999 reasons, after less than an hour’s riding I can see why this third generation of Honda’s sophisticated electro-hydraulic Dual Clutch Transmission system (baffling image right, baffling video below) is expected to outsell manual ATs. They say last year, of the Hondas sold with optional DCT (VFR1200X, Crosstourer, VFR1200F, NC750X and -S), less than half were manuals.

at2.jpgI’ve not read the recent rush of road tests to glean the impression, but Honda’s prolonged promo campaign for the Africa Twin appears to have paid off. Their nostalgia-tinted hype at-oldin reviving the rugged spirit of the original 1980s Africa Twin (right) conveniently skips the similar Honda-VaraderoXL1000VXL1000V Varadero (right) which sold in the UK till about 2011 and now goes used from two grand. That seems to be a bike which most actual owners recall far more fondly than reviewers or pundits, and is what Honda have succeeded in comprehensively eclipsing with the new AT – not the original AT which is from another era. Good technical article on the AT.

at9The test bike I tried was fully optioned: luggage racks (hideous topbox removed on request), crash bars, spots, centre stand, taller screen. Maybe the hot grips were extras too.
Outside the shop the dealer explained how the DCT works. On the right bar you have a rocker switch at8(below left) marked Neutral; Drive and – on this latest DCT – three Sport settings. Once the stand is up you press D, open the throttle and glide away like a scooter.
at7And this version of DCT (also on 2016 NC750s) includes refinements like gear-holding gradient sensors and a clutch-slip reducing ‘G switch’ (right), all with a matching array of ABS/Traction Control settings to help align the model’s aspirational CRF1000L moniker and potential with the like-named CRF dirt racers.

The sales guy recommended the S1 mode which holds revs longer before changing gears, and within a few miles I agreed with him. As you decelerate the DCT smoothly drops down through the gears at just the right pace – on my unhurried test ride at least. In the Sport modes it’ll do so more briskly. The regular D setting was up in sixth by 30mph which made acceleration unpleasantly juddery. It’s presumably great for economy but it felt less good for the chain and transmission. I neglected to see if there was a ‘floor it’ kickdown like on an auto car, but at any time you can use the MTB-like thumb and forefinger shifters on the left bar to manually change up or down. You can lock it in Manual too, using the A/M button below the Drive selector.

hondamatic.jpgThe clutch-like lever on the left bar is actually an out-of-reach handbrake, a bit like on my late 1970s 400AT (right). That bike ran a less efficient two-speed, foot-shifted torque converter using fluid and turbines. Don’t ask me exactly how, but with DCT there’s no power-robbing slippage apart from at rest and momentarily when it changes gear, so the bike responds to acceleration and deceleration much like a manual bike. And if you still have trouble getting your head around your DCT you can get an optional electronic foot-shift lever to emulate the left-bar shifters.

at4I did sense the weight on pulling away (probably a quarter of a ton fully fuelled), but once on the move I was surprised how quickly I adapted to that mass, as well as the DCT. No twitching left hand or foot, just the novelty of smooth, scooter-like propulsion without the small-wheel stigma. Riding gently in Drive you can detect the shifting – ride harder and it becomes barely perceptible.
Some bikers proclaim such automation emasculates the motorcycling experience – for a young, hard-charging Gixxer pilot with licence points to spare, perhaps. But aren’t sports bike quickshifters also chasing smoother progress through automation? Me, I’ve had my share of tearing around – it was my job for over a decade – but 37 years ago my 400 Hondamatic made town riding a whole lot less tiresome. I’ve had a lot of bikes before and since, but I can’t say many have had a slick gearbox and a light, smooth clutch operation which enhanced the riding experience. For the moment I’d be happy to experiment with an alternative, and just as with 4WDs, I believe auto shifting can actually make some off-roading easier. On a bike this size I bet crawling up a rocky, washed-out hairpin in the Anti Atlas would be much easier than feathering a clutch or risking a sudden stall and tip over, just because first gear is typically too high or you misjudged the input required.

at999Back in mid-winter Surrey. Once I popped out onto the Epsom bypass I was able to open it up and couldn’t suppress a broad grin spreading across my face. At this speed you have to concentrate hard to detect any gear changing activity as the bars on the reversed LCD digital speedo hurriedly rearrange themselves to match the pace.
That’s probably the best thing you can say about DCT – after 40-odd years of mostly manual shifting you adapt to it in no time – it’s no harder than trying an auto car for the first time, but much more fun. A better test for the DCT AT might be charging down some switchback canyon where conventional engine- and wheel-braking give the impression of greater control. That’ll have to be for another time but I do wonder how the front 21-incher would perform. Meanwhile, at the other end of the speed dial, I found feet-up, walking pace U-turns close on lock-to-lock as easy as you’d expect on a direct drive automatic. Until that tank is full, the bike feels very well balanced for its low-set weight.

CRF-rallyat3Other stuff on the DCT AT? It looks great in black, white and red, the colours of Honda’s nearly Dakar winning CRF450R-based desert racer (right). The coppery-bronze crankcases (like the new Husky 701) add a nice touch, too.

They’ve really got to grips with seat height on this bike – something that stops so many riders enjoying big Advs. With two levels (850mm and 870) and two seats offered, there’s about 50mm of potential variation, assuming I heard the dealer right. I had mine set at 870 (34.25″) and it felt lower than my satCB500X RR. The suspension felt plusher too, though right now my 500X is still set for load carrying, and one back lane pothole shot a harsh jolt through the AT’s bars. On the picture above left you can see a rear spring preload adjustment knob, and doubtless there are more compression settings front and back than a squad of saturation divers.


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About the same time I was riding around north Surrey two Italian guys took a brand new and old XRV AT for a ride around Mauritania.


at5Among the accessories, the high screen worked great for me at up to 90. Heated grips were another seamless addition, with a heat-level bar packed in on the busy lower LCD display. Real-time rumination over the innovative DCT took my mind off the bike’s more mundane aspects, but the real question here is: would it make a good overlander? Or, in what way is it better than the all-conquering R1200GS?

I’ve long thought that by the time such bikes are properly equipped and loaded, they’re just too heavy for the sort of all-terrain travel I like to do, but that doesn’t stop masses buying, equipping and actually taking them on the road. The Honda looks significantly less colossal than a GSA, even if it’s probably no lighter, though I imagine it’s more economical. And the benefits of DCT is either something you appreciate or not. For overlanding I’d take it.

at6Riding back home I was reminded what a great all-round machine my Rally Raided CB500X is (left). Off-road ready for half the price with a used base bike, 10-15% lighter on the dirt, and more economical by the same amount too. The AT builds on the same great looks and performance – far outdoing what I recall of the original Africa Twin which I occasionally encountered in the Sahara. It was regarded back then as a heavy and juicy machine. I also like the fact that Honda ignored engaging in the current 150-hp mania with the latest mega Advs from Ducati, KTM and BMW. Instead, they’ve focussed hard on trying to create a full-sized machine with better at88gravel-road manners than most, even if the antics demonstrated in the video below require surnames like Marquez and Barreda.
The transmission system’s complexity on the road can’t be any worse than a regular gearbox, except you have two clutches to share the load. All the electronic engine management – well we’re all getting accustomed to that aren’t we, and I’d sooner it came on a high-end Honda than some other marques.

The new Africa Twin is clearly a brilliant road bike and I imagine a pretty good gravel roader, but there are a few of those already. It’s also heavier and costs way more than I’d ever spend on a travel bike – and there are many more in that category too.
rideapart1But finally encountering the marvel of DCT does make me reappraise bikes like a DCT-equipped NC750X which, in the original 700 form (left) now goes for about £3000 used. Problem is NC-Xs come with the same soft, budget-level logo-rallyraidsuspension as the CB500X and, like my 500, probably don’t have a bar/seat/peg set-up suited to me standing, unless I get into cable transplants. Meanwhile, for the moment there’s CRF1000L at your nearest UK main dealer so you can decide for yourself.

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