Road Test Review
Competence. Like common sense, it’s all too uncommon. Motorcycles today, while generally reliable and well-engineered, tend to be specialized, designed to fit particular images or play specific roles. All-round bikes—like the go-anywhere, do-anything UJMs of years past—rarely win popularity contests or break sales records. Wide-ranging competence isn’t sexy or glamorous. Competence gets overlooked, collects dust, fades away. Remember Honda’s 599 or 919? Great bikes, lousy sellers.
Honda’s new (to the United States, anyway) NT700V is versatile, well-mannered and user-friendly. It is with the utmost respect and admiration —not damning faint praise—that I consider the 2010 Honda NT700V to be a very competent motorcycle. It’s as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans, as easy to spend time with as an old friend. If the NT700V were a dog, it would be a Labrador Retriever, dutifully at your side.
We Americans like to grouse about great bikes sold in Europe or Japan but not here. Truth is, manufacturers do their homework; they have a pretty good idea of what will or won’t sell over here. The loud complaints of the few rarely result in purchases by the many. The NT700V was introduced in Europe in 1998, where it is called the Deauville (pronounced doh-vil), a resort town on the northern coast of France that hosts an international film festival every year. Europeans love the Deauville. They’ve bought nearly 50,000 of them over the past decade. If Honda thought they would have sold boatloads of them over here, they would have been on showroom floors years ago.
Now, needing to fill a middleweight sport-touring hole in its lineup since the VFR800 has been supplanted by the VFR1200, Honda figures the Deauville is ready to come to America. But since Americans have a curious aversion to all things French, Honda is using the NT700V model designation as its U.S. appellation. Said to be targeted at entry-level touring and commuting riders who have survived their 20s, the NT700V has roughly half the displacement of Honda’s ST1300 and a base price that is $6,000 lower. With integrated saddlebags, shaft drive, optional ABS, a comfortable saddle, an adjustable windscreen, a centerstand and good fuel economy, touring is the NT’s bailiwick. All you need is a destination. The narrow V-twin and tucked-in saddlebags keep its profile slender and its 573-pound wet weight is easy to handle. Styling is modern, though conservative, with a generous amount of plastic and a strong family resemblance to the ST1300, especially from behind (love the black plastic tip-over bumpers!). The controls are basic but easy to use, and the analog speedo, tach, fuel and temp gauges are complemented by a small LCD display (odometer, A/B tripmeter, clock, average fuel consumption)—all the critical information is right there, easy to see.
The NT700V’s roots go deeper than the decade-old Deauville. Its liquid-cooled, 52-degreee V-twin engine has been a workhorse in Honda’s stable, withsmaller versions powering various U.S. and European models since the late 1980s, including the Hawk GT, Revere, NTV650 and Transalp. The Deauville’s powerplant was 647cc from 1998-2005, after which it got a 33cc displacement boost during a major update in 2006. There’s nothing cutting edge about the engine, just tried-and-true engineering that should keep on chugging forever. The transverse-mounted V-twin has an oversquare bore/stroke of 81mm x 66mm, with chain-driven single-overhead cams that use forked rockers to actuate four valves per cylinder. The screw-type adjusters need their clearances checked every 8,000 miles, which also happens to be the recommended oil change and spark plug replacement interval.
Power befits the NT700V’s modest displacement. On Jett Tuning’s Dynojet dyno, its conversion of chemical energy into kinetic energy peaks at 55.1 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 41.6lb-ft of torque at 6,700 rpm. The programmed fuel injection, which uses dual 40mm throttle bodies with 12-hole injectors, is spot-on, with no hesitation or sloppiness. The NT’s V-twin is the little engine that could, rumbling along with a methodical cadence up to its 9,000-rpm redline and providing linear power and spirited—if underwhelming—acceleration. Riding two-up with both saddlebags full of gear, it pulls adequately on the highway and up steep grades. Passing vehicles or maintaining speed uphill often calls for a downshift, which is just fine. With feather-light clutch action and a five-speed transmission that shifts positively with minimal effort, gear changes are a genuine pleasure.
While it doesn’t swaddle you in anesthetizing luxury like a Gold Wing, the NT700V provides a satisfying level of touring comfort. Recently I took my girlfriend Carrie on her first overnight motorcycle trip. Despite cold, wet weather, we had a great time (thank goodness for Gore-Tex and heated apparel… dry + warm = happy!). The wide, flat saddle provided agreeable, upright seating for two, and the windscreen and fairing protected us from the worst of the elements. No tools are needed to manually adjust the windscreen over a 6.3-inch range and five locking positions; just grab both outer edges and give it a firm yank up or down. Watertight, locking his-and-hers saddlebags allow sufficient stowage. The left holds 27.4 liters and the right holds 26.6 liters (less capacity and a smaller opening because of the exhaust pipe), and each is rated for up to 11 pounds. The nifty saddlebag pass-through is a great place to stash tools (no toolkit provided) and a tire repair kit, and the two fairing pockets hold extra gloves, a wallet, a cell phone and a point-n-shoot camera. Carrie liked the sense of security she got from the large passenger grab handles, and we both appreciated the insulation from road buzz provided by the rubber footpeg covers. If the NT700V was my own bike, I’d accessorize it with Honda’s 45-liter top box plus liner and back pad, heated grips, DC socket and fairing wind deflectors for even more touring prowess.
Say what you will about anemic power from a 680cc twin, it’s hard to argue about the NT700V’s fuel economy. With a 5.2-gallon tank and just 86 octane minimum, a tank full of the cheap stuff got us anywhere from 197 miles (solo, aggressive riding) to 251 miles (relaxed pace, two-up, loaded saddlebags) between fill-ups. Honda claims an EPA estimate of 50 mpg, but our average was 41.2 mpg, with a low of 37.9 mpg and a high of 48.3. Curiously, the NT700V doesn’t have a low-fuel light. The 0.9-gallon reserve in the specs simply means that when the fuel gauge hits the red “E” zone, you’ve got just under a gallon of fuel remaining. Be vigilant! And I found the fuel gauge to be misleading at times. For example, it showed a quarter tank at start-up but then the needle fell to the bottom of the “E” range when riding around. Wouldn’t be a big deal if there was a low-fuel light.
The NT700V’s twin-spar frame and swingarm are made of good, old-fashioned steel. To minimize mess and maintenance, power is transmitted to the rear wheel via shaft drive that operates smoothly. To keep costs down, the male-slider fork uses a damping rod rather than cartridge design and has no adjustability. But it has progressive damping and its 4.5 inches of travel soak up bumps quite well. The rear shock, which offers 4.8 inches of travel, has a handy remote preload adjustment knob with a wide, 40-click range and indicator lines to easily identify preferred solo and two-up settings.
Our ABS-equipped test bike slowed down in a controlled, predictable manner. Its Combined Braking System minimally links the rear to the front only (front brake lever does not actuate the rear caliper). Two 296mm front rotors are gripped by three-piston calipers and a single 276mm rear rotor is gripped by a two-piston caliper. When you squeeze the front brake lever, all three pistons in the right-front caliper and two pistons in the front-left caliper are actuated. When you step on the rear brake pedal, the rear caliper and one piston of the front-left brake caliper is actuated. A proportional control valve distributes braking force evenly. ABS engages smoothly, though grabbing a handful at the lever will result in some kickback.
The NT700V is effortless to ride. The only other bike I’ve tested that was as immediately intuitive is the Suzuki V-Strom 650. Both bikes are well-balanced and comfortable, with neutral, predictable handling and user-friendly controls—and they’re obvious competitors. Shod with Bridgestone Battlax BT-020 sport-touring radials and steering geometry (28-degree rake, 4.5-inch trail) that strikes a balance between stability and maneuverability, the NT700V occupies a sweet spot that makes motorcycling fun and carefree. Just get on and ride.
When it comes to complaints, I’m reminded of the commercial showing the Maytag repair man, looking bored. With 10 years of obsessive Honda development in the European market and a diehard engine that goes back even further, the NT700V seems bulletproof. The plasticky looking rear end and the cheesy, nonfunctional vents on the fairing don’t do it any favors, but that’s a matter of taste. The fairing panels at the front of the gas tank complicate the use of a magnetic tankbag, and my left boot heel rubs against the centerstand when riding with the balls of my feet on the pegs. Minor stuff, really.
Besides the missing low-fuel light, a more significant concern is limited load capacity. We measured it at 399 pounds (972-pound GVWR less the 573-pound wet weight), and Honda lists it at 403 pounds in the owner’s manual. We’ve seen load capacities around 400 pounds on many bikes designed for touring, yet this weight is easily surpassed by just a rider and passenger suited up with helmets and riding gear. Adding accessories and filling up the saddlebags further exceeds the allowable limit. As Tuttle suggested in a recent Rider blog post, the OEMs may report conservative numbers to protect themselves from liability. An important issue better addressed elsewhere.
With lots of miles together, me and the NT700V have become two sweet peas in an even sweeter pod (to quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Everything about the bike is well-engineered and sensible, qualities I appreciate more and more as I get closer to my 40s and ego-inflating hormones diminish. I realize that many people buy bikes because of the image they want to portray, and that some will immediately dismiss this bike as underpowered or boring. Their loss. Hopefully American motorcyclists will embrace the NT700V because we need more bikes like this on the road. Competent and well-rounded, and without gratuitous weight, power and complexity. I’m sure Honda loyalists who’ve been waiting a long time for the NT700V to be sold in the States are already forming an owner’s club and planning a rally. If so, please send an invitation to Greg Drevenstedt, care of Rider magazine!