The new DS3, customise every feature to suit your style
According to Honda researchers, the average rider - in Europe, anyway - does 95 percent of his riding at less than 140km/h, spends more time at weekends wandering around café-land with his helmet in his hand than actually riding and is acutely conscious of fuel-consumption.
So they invented a bike for this mythical Cappucino Kid by borrowing technology from both cars and scooters, and wrapping the result in a stylish but surprisingly understated package.
Motorcycles typically have way-oversquare cylinders and rev like crazy; cars have long-stroke engines and seldom rev past 7000. Bikes usually have one throttle body per cylinder, cars have one for the whole engine.
Thus Honda's NC700X citybike has two parallel cylinders with 73mm pistons running an 80mm stroke, one 36mm throttle body and a split inlet port feeding all four inlet valves. One camshaft operates all eight valves and the exhaust ports are also siamesed, so there's only one header pipe.
Some say the 670cc twin is half of a 1.4-litre Jazz engine, but that's probably an urban legend.
It drives through a conventional six-speed box, although there is a double-clutch auto transmission version a la VFR1200 on the way, and chain final drive. Power output is a very modest 38.1kW at 6250rpm and peak torque 62Nm at 4750, which means that when other mid-sized twins are just getting into their stride, this one signs off.
It accelerates strongly in the first three gears, although you have to be careful not to hit the rev-limiter at 6800rpm, but runs out of steam above 110km/h. It took a long run, suitably crouched behind the little fly-screen and with elbows well tucked in, to record our best effort of 165km/h at 5500rpm with 5500 showing on the bar-graph rev-counter.
But the national speed limit is 120, I hear you say, you don't need much more than that anyway. True, but this bike's lack of top-end punch means that overtaking on the open road requires both planning and expertise if it is not to be a dangerously drawn-out manoeuvre.
You need racing snap-changes in both directions (something to which the crisp, six-speed box lends itself), and one eye constantly on the bar graph to keep the revs between 4000 and 6000, where the useful power lives.
“You keep riding this bike as if it was a 700cc twin.”
It was left to Herself, with her considerable racing experience, to point out where I was going wrong.
“It has the same power output and rev range as a 650 single,” she said. “It's a big plonker - ride it like one!”
So I relaxed into 'plonker' mode and began discovering this bike's good points - and there are lots of them.
It is superbly comfortable, with the rider's feet directly below the lowest point of the seat, a slight, perfectly balanced reach to the 'bars and just enough protection from the pointy little screen that you never feel any windblast other than on the open road.
The upright seating position and tallish (830mm) saddle place your head above the roof-height of the average car, so the NC700X is much easier (and safer!) slicing through the afternoon lemming luge than a low-slung sports bike - and that's also where its low-down torque comes into its own.
IDEAL FOR NEWBIES AND BORN-AGAINS
The controls are light and positive, the steering is accurate within the limits of the non-adjustable budget-level suspension, which becomes choppy when stressed but seldom upsets the chassis' composure, and ground clearance is practically unlimited, thanks to the compact engine's narrow crankcase.
The brakes are progressive and predictable, if a little lacking in initial bite - which may be a good thing for the newbies and born-agains who will probably make up the majority of this model's riders - and the all-LCD instrument panel is one of the clearest and most concise I've yet seen.
But the NC700X's two most successful features are its fuel consumption - at just under 4.6 litres per 100km, including performance testing, it's way short of Honda's claimed 3.6 but still impressive even by plonker standards - and the lockable crash helmet-sized storage compartment where most other bikes' fuel tanks are.
The 14.1-litre fuel tank - which should provide a range of at least 300km - is under the rider's seat and the fuel cap under the pillion pad.
After a few days of commuting on the NC700X I got used to just popping my lid 'in the box' and forgetting about it; having to carry my helmet to and from the office – and everywhere else! - will seem a bit of a drag when it goes home to mama.
At R66 000 Honda may very well have done for commuters what the Mini did for hatchbacks – provide a stylish, economical, comfortable and beautifully appointed alternative to the usual everyday wheels. And 4.6 litres per 100km doesn't hurt either.
Price: R66 000.
Bike from: Honda SA.
Engine: 670cc liquid-cooled parallel twin.
Bore x stroke: 73 x 80mm.
Compression ratio: 10.7:1.
Valvegear: SOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 38.1kW at 6250rpm.
Torque: 62Nm at 4750rpm.
Induction: PGM-FI electronic fuel-injection with one 36mm throttle body.
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorised with electronic advance.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 41mm conventional cartridge forks, non-adjustable.
Rear Suspension: Pro-link with monoshock adjustable for preload.
Front brakes: 320mm petal disk with Nissin twin- floating calliper.
Rear brake: 240mm petal disk with Nissin single-piston floating calliper.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 160/60 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 830mm.
Kerb weight: 214kg.
Fuel tank: 14.1 litres.
Top speed (measured): 165km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 4.58 litres per100km.
Warranty: Two years, unlimited distance.
Service intervals: 12 000km.
Price: R66 000.
Bike from: Honda SA.