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2021 Honda NC750X Review

We were kicking candidates back and forth for this year’s MOTY awards, when somebody threw out as a possible Best Standard the Honda NC750X. Hey wait a minute, I’m the only guy around here who ever liked the NC! Maybe my stately mature influence is rubbing off on the kids at last? For me, it was love at first ride of the original NC700X, way back in 2012. By then, I guess I’d been subjected to enough compromising positions on exotic high-maintenance motorcycles to appreciate the NC’s practical advantages and comfort – and I wasn’t even doing any of the maintaining.

I also wasn’t paying for the gas, but I could still appreciate 60+ mpg. The NC’s ingenious storage compartment and automatic transmission were the ultimate in convenience, even if both were lifted directly from the Aprilia Mana. But when it was mentioned as a candidate in the 2021 MOTY fray, we realized we hadn’t ridden an NC since the big update to NC750X in 2018. How could that have happened?

2012 Honda NC700X Review – Video

Who will volunteer to test one? Ohhh! Pick me! Frankly, I think the NC is the only thing in Honda’s lineup I’d swap for the PCX I had in my garage, and so I once again made the majestic pilgrimage to Door #8 at Honda’s Torrance HQ.

What’s New?

What was new in 2018 was a 75cc displacement increase (4mm bigger bores) that bumped the 270-cranked parallel Twin to 745cc, and a full 1000-rpm bump in redline to 7500. Four drive modes now allow full exploitation of the automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), two-level Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC), and engine braking too. American Honda doesn’t do horsepower, but Honda UK does: They have it at 43.1 kW at 6750 rpm, or 57.8 horsepower. And 69 nM at 4750 rpm equals 50.9 pound-feet of torque.

The original NC was a bit bland looking in some eyes; the new one sports “Bold, adventurous design identity based on the ‘Sensual Performance’ concept, with an LED headlight, taillight, and running lights.” In addition to the boring-out of the engine, they added another hot rod touch by lowering the bike: The original seat height was 32.7 inches; our 2021 claims 31.6 inches, which makes the NC even easier to roll around on in the maze. Despite that, Honda sticks it in the Adventure category, and it looks the part. It’s definitely more dashing than the PCX I traded in.

Better Suspension too

Early MO tests poo-pooed the bike’s cheap suspension while admitting it worked pretty alright. In 2018, the 750X got a new Showa Dual Bending Valve fork with 41mm tubes to go with its single-shock Pro-Link rear end. You don’t need any adjustments except rear preload, so pipe down and be happy with the 4.7 inches of wheel travel at both ends. (That’s actually 1.3 and 1.2 inches less travel than the 700X had, but I for one will take it in exchange for the lower seat.)

Shall we ride?

Surprise! The new suspenders are nicer and in their reduced travel are also a bit firmer and more controlling… Together with that extra power, we’re suddenly riding a much sportier NC-X than before. The Dual Clutch Transmission has reached a high state of refinement: Push D with your right thumb after the engine’s running to move ahead, and if you do nothing else you’ll motor off in Standard Automatic mode and let DCT do all the work. Or, hit the M button with the same right thumb for Manual, and perform instant up- and downshifts with your left forefinger and thumb; it becomes almost instantly instinctive.

All you need is your right thumb, but there’re also paddle shifters for your left thumb and forefinger for maximum progress.

You’ve also got Sport, Rain, and User modes. Be sure to thumb it into Sport every time with your left thumb to get full power; Sport also puts the gearbox in its Sport mode. Standard and Rain modes both dial back the power and up the traction control, fine for doddling round the corner for a gallon of Metamucil and a can of cat food.

It’s kind of hard to see why Honda bothers with M at first, because even in Automatic the shift toggles respond instantly to your left digits. The biggest reason is that in Manual, the newly fortified Twin will keep revving all the way to its new 7500-rpm limiter – 1000 rpm more than before – and it doesn’t shift until you give the command. Otherwise, DCT shifts at the 6700 power peak. There’s not a lot more power to be had beyond there, but maybe you want to hold a gear between corners when you’re getting all Marquezy in the curves? It’s also fun to watch the LCD tachometer bar go past the red zone when you blip a couple of quick downshifts into a corner.

In Standard, you can see your Power, Engine Braking and Traction controls are all set to medium. Sport mode gives you all the beans, and there are Rain and User modes too. Gas mileage goes up considerably when you’re not blasting past a camera 36 times in the mountains.

Speaking of Marquezy, you’ll be hearing Ducatis all around you, because that’s what the parallel Twin’s engine sounds like with that 270-degree crankshaft. Much of the time you can barely hear the engine at all, but when you open the throttle and get the revs up the NC comes alive.

The laydown cylinder bank and underseat gas tank keep the weight low, which makes the bike feel light. The 745 cc Twin is happy with 86 octane and not much of it.

Once you’re in Sport, you might be surprised how much fun this “boring” Honda can be. Is it because I just traded up from a PCX scooter that 58 horses and 51 lb-ft of torque feel like more? It’s not so much a straight-line hot rod (though it does get to 60 really quickly and 100 mph not that much later), but using the DCT paddles for seamless shifts as you bend the NC in and out of serial corners, and even in the middle of them is fine too, makes you feel like a hero. Sport mode also cranks up engine braking to max. And traction control, on minimum in Sport, lets you feel good about dialing up the Ducati noises early and often at every corner exit.

The new fork is firmer and better damped than before, and makes you want to upgrade the shock – which is adequate. The wide-ish near ADV-style handlebar gives more than enough leverage to stick the NC’s snout into corners. For 2021, the NC is ride-by-wire, with imperceptible lag and zero lurch between throttle opening and acceleration. All of it conspires to have you going down your favorite road surprisingly quickly. Since it’s geared tall, the soothing Twin noises lull you into a false sense of not rolling all that fast. Surprise! Even on the Dunlop Trailmaxes, you find yourself dragging the occasional footpeg feeler, and the 17-inch wheels mean sportier rubber will spoon right on.

The single front disc has good feel and feedback, but I needed three fingers firmly squeezing to get the front ABS to kick in; a bit more braking power to go with the other upgrades wouldn’t be a bad thing.

At a claimed 493 pounds (non-DCT 472), she’s not exactly light and with a 60-inch wheelbase not exactly quick-steering, but she is stable, predictable, and fun for all ages. And if you wanted to tangent down a dirt road, she’s up for that too. For 5’8” me, the handlebar is just about right for standing up on the footpegs.

Utility player

There’s no finer machine for making it through the Del Taco drive-thru. You don’t even have to dismount to open the big 23-liter trunk right in front of you where the gas tank should be, and secure all sorts of things out of sight in the lockable bin including most full-face helmets and burritos mas grande. Honda says the PCX scooter’s underseat bin holds 30 L, so you’re actually not far off that when it comes to cargo capacity. I’m typing on my 12-inch Macbook in there right now. Let me know if there are any other motorcycles under 500 lbs that offer any storage.

For tootling around the surface streets, the DCT, upright ergos and really good suspension make it ideal, though maybe slightly less so than the PCX only because the NCs’ greater power makes it harder to go slower, for safety! And its wider handlebar requires a wider berth between the cars. Past those minor considerations, just thumb it into Standard and roll serenely wherever. It’s nice to be shiftless, especially when you know you can deploy the paddleshifters instantly.

On the freeway, the NC pulls way ahead of any scooter or other motorcycle of its displacement, cruising effortlessly at 80 and 90 mph with supertanker stability. (I rode a KTM 1290 Super Duke R to the dyno in the midst of the NC test; it and the NC both turn about 4500 rpm at 85 mph.) Dual counterbalancers in the parallel Twin render it 98% vibrationless, and if there was one more button to control the electronic cruise control which it doesn’t have, the NC would be fighting it out with the new Yamaha Tracer 9 GT for lightweight touring bike honors. Okay, maybe not, but close, and for ⅔ the money.

Can we justify this?

Without DCT, the NC750X is still a pretty cool motorcycle. With it, it’s kind of a transformatory one: So effortless and fun to ride, so convenient and practical. Originally, DCT added $2,000 to the base bike. Now it’s only an additional $800. That sounds pretty swell until you factor in that the 2012 NC700X base model was only $7k, and the new base price has climbed to $8,499. Spun in a positive way, though, the 2021 NC750X DCT has only crept $300 above the 2012 DCT bike, from $8,999 to $9,299. Soichiro really wants you to have the DCT. Trust him.

Most helmets will fit in the locking bin where the gas usually goes, and there’s also a helmet lock loop included for ones that don’t.

I think I’ve said before that if they pulled the MO rug out from under me tomorrow, the motorcycle I’d be Most Likely to Embezzle would be the NC, and now that I’ve ridden the new and improved 750X, only one thing has changed: Since then, I’ve also vowed I would never buy a new bike without electronic cruise control. If only Honda had found a way to squeeze in one more button, life could be a dream. They thought of everything else. The optional USB charger is only $34.95, heated grips are $315.95, the centerstand is $125.95. Why no CC, why, Honda?

Aside from that, if you like practical motorcycles that can carry things, that are also a hoot to flog in the curvy stuff, squeeze nearly 60 miles from a gallon of gas, cost less than $10k, and leave your left hand free for waving at your adoring fans, the NC is the only game in town, a genius practical fun transportation device. Will all that be enough nine years after the original?

2021 Honda NC750X Review

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