Two Bikes in Vermont: A Riders Perspective

Back in June, our moto club, the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association, held it’s annual gathering at Stratton Mountain Resort, Vermont. Time being an issue, Roo and I scratched the original idea of riding our Honda ST1300 from South Carolina to Vermont, choosing instead to fly up and rent a bike from MotoVermont in Burlington. The bike chosen was a BMW R1200RT sport-tourer.

Also, the American Honda Demo Team was at our rally, offering up their touring and sport-touring lineup to all of us MSTA members. My chosen motorbike to demo, three times, was Honda’s NC700X DCT. As I have been thinking of purchasing this bike in the near future, it was the perfect opportunity to get some saddle time in on this awesome machine.

Following is my perspective on each of these machines from my riding experience with them. If you are looking for a techno-geek, spec’d out review of these bikes, it ain’t here.  I’ll start with the RT, as it was our main ride for the trip.

RT vs. ST ……. (Spy vs. Spy?)

To start, both these motorbikes are big. The RT weighs in at approximately 600 lbs wet, while the ST tips the scales at over 700 lbs.

Ergonomics: Both these bikes fit me similarly. Knee bend and peg placement were virtually identical. Same for distance to handlebars. However, what was disconcerting to me was the size of the cockpit area on the RT. There was a lot of bike between my torso and the instrument cluster. On the ST, even though upright, my torso feels planted a bit over the gas tank with much less motorbike in front of me, which is how I prefer it. The electric adjustable suspension on the RT allowed me to keep my feet flat on the ground.

The ride, solo: The RT rode well, similar to my ST. Stable on the straights, held her line without micro-adjustments in the curves. However, my low back began hurting from day two onward! Apparently, the RT’s seat was canted just enough forward to cause compression in my low back. There are only two seat adjustments on the RT, and neither helped the situation. Brakes were excellent, good grip stopping the big machine quickly. Clutch pull was surprisingly light. However, I never got used to the clutch engagement. On my ST, clutch engagement comes on early. I prefer that as I can then modulate the clutch immediately, especially at slow parking lot speeds. The RT’s clutch engagement was way out at the end of the clutch lever travel. This was very disconcerting, especially riding two-up. I never knew when the clutch was going to engage! I never developed a “feel” for it, even after a week of riding.

The ride, two-up: As you can see from the photos above, the RT has a large profile, compared to the somewhat slimmer profile of the ST. The RT’s side cases are huge, and this caused a major problem for Roo during mounting and dismounting. Add to that the RT’s rear peg configuration to those sidecases was such that Roo had a very hard time dismounting, at times having to stop half-way through the dismount and start again. Very disconcerting to me as I am trying to hold the bike stable while her weight shifts back and forth! Our solution was to ride without the side cases, which helped, but the RT’s rear sets just didn’t feel right on her knees.

Farkles: The RT has so many modes of operation I can’t even remember them all. The electronic adjustable suspension was fantastic! Choose normal, soft or firm (damping), then choose solo, solo with luggage, two-up, two-up with luggage (pre-load). Awesome! The electric windscreen was great in a bit of rain that we went through. Raised it up to max and it was like riding in your car! This was my first time riding a bike with throttle by wire, and I loved it. Very smooth throttle response. I kept the ride mode in normal when riding with Roo for a gentler throttle response. The day I rode solo with my friend Jon, I switched it to sport mode for a more aggressive throttle response. Traction control and ABS, of course, I left on. I did not mess with the audio system, which could tap into everything: AM/FM radio, SAT radio, MP3 player, I Pod, blasting out of on-board speakers or into your helmet via Bluetooth. I prefer being in my own head in my helmet, unless droning on an Interstate highway, in which case, music it is. No SAT/NAV on board, but the guys at MotoVermont could wire one up if asked.

Final comments: In a nutshell, I never really felt comfortable on the RT. Riding solo was better than riding two-up, but there was not much solo riding! As the week wore on, I became a bit more confident on the RT, but it never “clicked.” After getting back home, taking the ST out for the first time in two weeks felt like putting on your most comfortable pair of shoes. It was as if my ST was saying “I told you so.”

2016 Honda NC700X DCT

This bike is awesome! There, done. Kidding. I rode this motorbike on three separate occasions during the week. Each ride was 30 to 40 minutes, brisk pace, on back-country Vermont roads, including dirt.

Honda’s DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) is an automatic transmission that can be switched to manual shifting via paddles on the left handlebar array. Throttle by wire has two ride modes: normal and sport. ABS is standard.

Ergonomics: Peg placement was perfect, and again, similar to my ST. Reach to handlebars was also excellent, with a nice slight bend in the elbows. Torso was upright. Seat height was tall “ish”. Definitely not adventure bike tall, but at 32.7 inches I wasn’t flat footing the pavement. Mid to forefoot placement on tarmac provided confident stability when stopped. At just under 500 LBS wet, compared to my ST at over 700 LBS, the NC felt like a feather.

The NC700X DCT fit like a glove

050

Ride #1: The first time out on the NC was low key. First off, the ride leader went over the operation of the DCT for those of us riding DCT equipped bikes, which included Honda’s groundbreaking Africa Twin. The first thing that raised an eyebrow was the lack of neutral on this transmission. While I was straddling the NC with the engine running, I assumed the bike was in neutral. Not so. Well, not really. Neutral is only attained when the tranny downshifts to first gear and the bike comes to a stop with the throttle closed. The ride leader had me foot push the bike back and forth a few feet-just like in neutral. Then he instructed me to crack the throttle a very wee bit….immediately the NC moved forward! “What happens at a stop sign or stop light?” I asked. He said “the transmission will automatically downshift to first gear, and when the bike comes to a halt, it will be just like it is now. But you must keep the throttle closed!” Neutral cannot be accessed by the rider at any other time (no coasting). So, those of you who like to blip, the DCT isn’t for you!

Off I went on my first ride with the NC700X DCT. I was a bit anxious about that first stop sign at the end of the access road. I kept the DCT in auto-normal for this ride. As our group slowed for the stop sign, the DCT downshifted: 3rd, 2nd, 1st……stop. Guess what I did? I reached for the non-existent clutch lever! Ha! I was squeezing that front brake pretty hard, not yet convinced that there was no power to the rear wheel. Slowly, I released the front brake. The NC stayed put. Huh. This is cool! For the remainder of the ride I just familiarized myself with the DCT in auto-normal, getting a feel for how the bike reacted to automatic upshifts and downshifts. I was beginning to be impressed.

Ride #2: On this ride I started playing with the DCT in auto-sport mode, and also venturing into manual mode with paddle shifting. Our ride guide today was the young lady mentioned earlier who really liked to turn some throttle, so keeping the NC in auto-sport was necessary to keep from opening the gap (I was the first bike behind her).

The difference between auto-sport and auto-normal is significant. Auto-sport throttle response is quicker and more aggressive, but you are not going to pull any wheelies with this motorbike. Auto-normal is the fuel economy mode. In both ride modes, you have full power, but in auto-sport, that 700cc engine starts to feel a lot bigger!

Automatic shifting. This is where Honda nailed it. As I am riding Vermonts undulating, curvy backroads, I am reading the road and anticipating where I would upshift or downshift. “Ok. Coming up on this steep incline….I would downshift right n…..DONE! The DCT downshifted precisely where I would have manually done so. It did this repeatedly throughout the ride! I’m impressed!

Ride#3: This is the ride where I really let loose with manual mode paddle shifting. First, the paddle shifting was very intuitive. I thought I was going to be fumbling around trying to find gears. Not so. I fell into it like I’d been paddle shifting for years. Second, when in auto mode, if you wanted to upshift or downshift sooner than the DCT would, you can overide it by just paddle shifting to your preferred gear. The DCT will then recalibrate and pick up auto-mode from whatever gear you are in. Cool!

Now the real fun. Manual mode paddle shifting. On the left handlebar array there is a “trigger” in front of the grip to pull with your index finger to upshift. Below the horn button is a button to press with your thumb to downshift. This was a blast! So much quicker than conventional shifting. There is no need to even close the throttle to match engine speed with clutch engagement! Amazing!

Once again, our group had Little Miss Speedster as ride guide (yay!), and, once again, I was the bike right behind her. As we are carving our way on Vermont backroads, we come to a stop sign in which we will be making a right turn, going uphill on a nice, curvy road. Little Miss Speedster stops, waits for the group, makes the turn and blasts off up the road! I roll to the stop sign, check traffic, and make the turn. I’m in manual mode and itching to put this paddle shifting to the test. I roll on the throttle and trigger finger in rapid succession: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th…Bam! Bam!, Bam!, Bam! The NC flew up that hill! I have never shifted that fast, even when attempting to do so, in all my years of motorcycling! Damn! Color me very impressed.

Final comments: If you couldn’t tell, I was very impressed with this motorcycle. Technologically advanced, easy to ride, lightweight, great gas mileage (50 to 60 mpg). But most of all, FUN! A few add-ons will make this motorbike perfect for me and the type of riding I want to do at this stage of my motorcycling. I never thought I would drift away from a conventional motorcycle, but once I rode this NC 700X DCT, I was sold. If I’m going to change, I’m going to change big. This one is in the bag, or, should I say, garage.

 

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