The Honda NC700X (above) uses a tube-steel frame that looks a lot like the BMW C650GT (below). The C650GT has simple suspension, a fuel tank beneath the seat and wide bars, just like the Honda NC700X.
Even with different transmissions, it’s remarkable how similar these two machines look when you strip them naked (unlike me and Alan). The Honda uses a tube-steel frame that not only looks like the C650GT’s, but it also cants the liquid-cooled, 670cc DOHC Twin forward in the frame, like the Beemer. Similarly, it has simple suspension (although the scooter offers easily adjustable rear preload), a fuel tank beneath the seat, high, wide bars, lots of plastic bodywork and a roomy trunk.
There are a lot of similarities, including the design-by-committee corporate feel to the two machines. So it’s surprising how different they feel. Before our comparison, I had ridden the C650GT from Southern California to Oakland, so I knew how good it was at long-distance touring—and what a large, solid presence it has. It’s power delivery is seamless, handles great, is comfortable, has solid brakes, and is heavy enough to stamp out the goofy, carefree character of smaller scooters. The 15-inch wheels didn’t feel too different from a motorcycle’s, their generally quick-steering advantage cancelled out by the greater bulk of the big beige C650GT, and I found that while I wouldn’t call the scooter unwieldy around town or at slower speeds, you can’t get jiggy with it like a rented beat-up Elite at the beach in Cozumel.
After all, this is an urban mobility device intended to get the job done, and with typical BMW character, it does the job exactly as designed. It’s the result of many carefully negotiated compromises, and in the process, it lost some ability to convey passion to the rider. Still, it does everything very well, although despite the included ABS and other safety features, it requires a little more focus from the rider, a little more seriousness. You’d expect that from a German-made scooter, nicht wahr?
As serious as the C650 is, the Honda is simple and casual. The seat is low and comfy, there’s plenty of steering lock for super-tight U-turns and the clutch and gearbox are as simple and easy to operate as manual equipment can possibly be. Sure, riders have to work the clutch around town, but that hassle is negated by the Honda’s lighter weight and more nimble feel. I also enjoyed the helmet box, impressive fuel economy and range (but once you get used to having the cave-like trunk on the BMW, you don’t want to go back). And the styling hits the mark, all pointy and aggressive, yet somehow friendly at the same time. What I didn’t like is the gutless top end of the powerband—6000
The NC700X had good around-town handling and power characteristics but ran out of breath at freeway speeds.
rpm redline? Seriously? Nor its pudgy weight, although the low center of gravity, thanks to a low-slung fuel tank and motor, make it feel a lot lighter than it is, and much lighter than the Beemer.
Ironically, though I’m the Scooter Guy on this site, I prefer the motorcycle in the test more. That’s probably because the NC700X delivers in the spirit of a scooter much more so than the BMW. That shouldn’t really surprise you, as Honda has not just been in the scooter game, when you compare raw numbers (approaching 100 million), Honda kind of is the scooter game.
As intensely engineered a product as the NC700X is, it really conveyed to me the spirit of a lightweight, simple, affordable and easy-to-ride motorcycle. Think of it as a 50 horsepower Honda Cub. At $7499 for the 2013 model—that’s $500 more than the 2012, although the dual-clutch equipped version, which also includes ABS, is the same $8499 it was last year—the NC is a lot of motorcycle, able to do it all if what you need is a simple, economical and easy-to-ride two-wheeled companion.
The C650GT is a lot of things, a lot of very good things, but simple? Fun? Affordable? Not like the Honda. Viewed through a scooterist’s goggles, the NC is more true to what we want than the salon-car approach of the BMW. Would this have been a different comparison with the dual-clutch Honda mixed in? It would have been a closer contest, but for me, the friendly little NC700X is the way to go.