By Bryan Harley

Needs more power to stand up to the competition

One characteristic common among Honda motorcycles is smoothness. Fuss-free transmissions, even power delivery, and light handling are de rigueur for most Honda-made machinery. So it was refreshing to discover that Honda injected the NC700X with, dare we say, a little character by virtue of the buzz in its bars, the rumble of its exhaust and a bit of notchiness to its tranny. These are by no means detractions from the NC700X’s build quality. The buzz is primarily noticeable at high rpm, the note emanating from its exhaust is pleasingly rich, and while there’s a little click during gear engagement, the six-speed gearbox still engages efficiently with no slippage. We actually appreciate the fact that it’s a little rougher around the edges for a Honda.

Compared to the other bikes, the 2013 Honda NC700X feels smaller and more compact. Its ergos are different, as the NC700X almost slides riders forward with the far-back positioning of its foot pegs and the way the seat pushes the rider toward the tank. At 32.7 inches, it does sport the lowest seat height, but is only a scant 0.2 inch lower than the V-Strom. It does have the easiest reach to the ground, a fact pointed out by my 5’6” wife. In motion, riders feel more on top than in the bike on the Honda. And while it feels like the smallest bike of the bunch, the Versys actually has a tighter rake and a wheelbase that’s almost five inches shorter.

The NC700X feels smaller than it really is because it carries its weight low. The bulk the other two motorcycles carry up high in their five-gallon gas tanks is shifted under the seat on the Honda, whose faux tank serves as a storage area instead. The engine mounted in its steel trellis frame serves as a stressed member, which also helps give the NC700X the best mass centralization of the bunch. This comes into play when transitioning from side-to-side, which the Honda does much easier than the more top heavy V-Strom or Versys.

The 2013 NC700X is also well-composed when it comes time to lean in on tight corners. We’ve challenged both the narrow, blind-corner-laden stretch on Highway 199 to the Oregon coast as well as blasts along the ribbons running up Green Springs Highway, and the Honda is quick to turn in and steering is precise. The bars require little coercion to get the NC700X pointed in the right direction, and the bike tracks true once you get it on the edges of the tires.

“The NC700X turns and changes direction with ease, and the Honda is super stable. This is definitely a mount that encourages new riders. The bike carries its weight down low, so it feels much different from the other bikes,” said Motorcycle USA Managing Editor Bart Madson.

While the Honda handles its own in the corners, its Metzelers didn’t feel as if they had as much grip at speed as the other two bikes. The differences are minute, but going from bike-to-bike on the same 360-degree bank for photo shoots reveals little things like this. It also sheds light on the slight disparity in braking. The NC700X has better feel at the lever than the Versys, but the Kawasaki binders have better power. The Nissin calipers on the front don’t have quite the same bite as the Honda's, which use a single wave rotor up front as opposed to the twin disc arrangements of the other two bikes in the shootout. Admittedly, the V-Strom has the definite advantage because of its ABS, but it pays off because the Suzuki had the best brakes of the bunch in terms of stopping power. We would like to see how the optional combined ABS for the NC700X stacks up, but it’s not standard on the manual transmission version. The NC700X also lacks the five-way adjustability of the Versys brake lever.

“The Honda’s brakes don’t wow with stopping power. They get the job done well enough, but the single front disc left me wanting when I needed to scrub off a lot of speed setting up for a corner. I did enjoy the responsive lever modulation, which will be encouraging to novice and intermediate riders,” said Madson.

When it came time to open the 650 Twins up, the NC700X matches the other two on the torque chart, slotting in between the class-leading Kawasaki and the V-Strom at 42.28 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm. So the Honda has a touch of pull in the low- to mid-range regions. But it doesn’t launch anything like the other two, and its powerband is considerably shorter as the Honda signs off abruptly in first gear when it hits its 36-37 mph redline. This short powerband continues through the other gears, and while the Kawasaki and Suzuki are winding it out, the Honda gets left behind. Test rider Madson again sums it up well.

“The NC700X engine has me scratching my head … it takes getting used to, with a super short powerband for a street bike. I don’t think I’ve ever hit the rev-limiter so many times. 35 mph in first gear?! I find the NC700X limited by its ho-hum engine performance. Add another 2,500 revs to the powerband and you’d have something – but a 6,500 redline is something for a cruiser, not a zippy street bike,” he said.

Ride quality on the NC700X is comparable to the other two, the 41mm fork soaking up most of the road imperfections in its 5.4 inches of travel. The single shock on the rear fluctuates even more with road conditions as it ranges through 5.9 inches of travel. Rotating through three different riders roadside doesn’t allow much time for adjustments, so one setting on the rear served riders ranging from 180 to 225 pounds. The Honda’s rear shock is tucked in behind bodywork more so than the others, making it challenging to access and requiring a spanner wrench for any adjustments.

On the styling side of things, the sharp beak of the NC700X teeters toward the adventure side of things more than the sport-oriented Versys and V-Strom. More of the falcon-like appearance of the Honda is concealed under covers and panels. Its 17-inch cast aluminum wheels jazz up its appearance, and the steel tubing of its diamond-shaped frame looks industrial strength, but we wish Honda would have left more of it on display. On its front end, the bike’s instrument panel is tucked behind a small, clear windscreen, the numerals of its digital speedo the most prominent display. The NC700X has a digital tach running along the top of the display that’s harder to read than the analog dial of the Suzuki, and it doesn’t have a gear indicator. Overall though, our managing editor said the “Honda fit and finish still shines through for me, particularly the switchgear, grips and levers.”

The 2013 NC700X establishes itself as an easy bike to ride in this test. Its handling is light at the bars, its power isn’t going to overwhelm anybody, its gears slide into place smoothly, and it has the easiest reach to the ground. But for a bike that is great for beginning riders, it does require a lot of shifting because of its limited powerband. And this lack of outright power is only exacerbated when compared to the Versys and V-Strom. The Honda just doesn’t quite stack up, be it cornering, accelerating or braking, which is why it is relegated to third place in our 650 Twins Shootout.