There's a feature on Honda's new NC700X that looks a bit like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Lift the lid on a space that holds the gas on most motorcycles, and riders can fit an entire full-face helmet.
This in-place-of-the-gas-tank cubby is just one of several innovations on a bike that caters to want-it-all but can't-really-afford-it Americans now that the world economy has backfired and put the skids on an industry long dominated by twist-the-grip excess. In development since the Lehman Brothers collapse of 2008 and on the market since August, the $6,999 NC700X is the latest, low-cost offering in what Honda is calling its Value for Money lineup, which includes the $4,099 CBR250R sport bike released last year and the $4,499 CRF250L dual sport that came on the market earlier this month.
What's truly groundbreaking about the NC700X is that it offers so much for so little cost. Powered with a 670 cc parallel twin that's canted forward in the frame to allow storage space up above it, and to relocate the gas tank under the saddle, the NC700X averaged 63 mpg during a 600-mile road test. In a bid to attract seasoned riders (who are increasingly cost-conscious), as well as beginning riders (who may feel uneasy about a clutch), in a single machine, Honda offers a NC700XD model, or dual-clutch version, with a 6-speed transmission that can be operated as an automatic or with a push-button manual shift.
It used to be that motorcycle customers were looking for "the latest, greatest 600 cc sportbike that could turn a couple seconds quicker on the track than the last version," said Jon Seidel, spokesman for American Honda Motor Co. in Torrance. "And there's some enthusiasts that still look forward to those products, but these fun-to-ride, great price-point bikes are one of the keys to new riders being able to access the sport."
The U.S. motorcycle market, which is more recreational and discretionary than other parts of the world, has suffered steep sales declines since 2007, when 948,000 new on- and off-road motorcycles were sold, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council in Irvine. New motorcycle sales had fallen to 441,000 units in 2011. Last year, Honda sold almost 18 million two-wheelers globally, Seidel said.
"The NC700X is a step in the right direction," said Larry Jacklin, general manager of Orange County Honda Kawasaki in Orange, where entry-level, 250 cc sport bikes costing less than $5,000 are the bestsellers. "Motorcycle prices have gone pretty high. It's hard for someone who's just learning to drop $12,000. Younger guys can't even qualify for loans."