COMMUTING DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN THIS: Honda’s NC750XD rides and feels like a proper motorcycle should – with an auto gearbox. Image: Dave Fall
Automatic transmissions for larger capacity motorcycles are virtually unheard of – until now, that is. Sure, they’ve been tried, the ‘waters tested’ by one or two manufacturers, but until now have never really caught the imagination of bikers.
I’m not talking about second-rate CVT-type transmissions*, either: those twist-and-go boxes that most scooter-makers feel we should ride to keep their manufacturing costs low with the bonus of other undoubtedly easy-to-ride attributes.
SIX GEARS, INSTANT CHANGES
Nope, rather one that has real dual-clutch transmission technology – same idea as used by BMW cars and other – and is fitted to the latest Honda NC750XD street motorcycle.
It and the conventionally-geared version were launched in South Africa in early 2014.
Honda, perhaps the leader in the field of automatic motorcycles, has come up with a ‘twist-and-go’ method to change up - or down - through six distinct gears: as one gear disengages the next instantly engages, making for smooth-enough gear-changing.
It’s not perfect but is acceptable.
Sit astride the good-looking automatic Honda NC750 and the first thing one notices is the ‘missing’ clutch lever that should be within the grasp of one’s left hand. Apart from the indicator, lights-on and hooter button that usually reside here there’s a pair of toggle switches nestling neatly between thumb and forefinger for going up or down the gears.
HAVE FAITH IN NEW INSTINCTS
Instead, now there’s a number of switches and levers for either hand palm to control in various guises: sport-neutral-drive selections – and even the addition of a handbrake – should you need to park on a steep gradient.
Innocuous they may be but for the first 10km or so – especially in traffic –it’s a biker’s ingrained reaction to reach out for a clutch lever. Rather have faith in your new-found instincts and shut the throttle – it’s all you have to do when it’s time to stop.
A gap in the traffic? Simply twist the throttle and away you go; the dual clutch gearshifts are markedly poignant by minor clunks and clonks – much as those found on a regular motorcycle ’box.
Without getting too technical, one clutch is responsible for odd gears, the other the even ones.
There’s a couple of more surprises coming your way: the fuel tank between your knees is a dummy, much like a Gold Wing of old. There’s some real storage space in the ‘tank’ – enough to swallow a full-face crash helmet, I discovered.
Not such a nice surprise is the not-so-generous’ 14-litre fuel tank that sits separate and quite low in the frame, neatly positioned and just where the centre of gravity should be on a decent motorcycle.
HALF A HONDA JAZZ ENGINE
Fuel-consumption figures weren’t considered due to time constraints but I have no reason to doubt that the NC750 in auto guise would be light on fuel.
Yes, but what’s the engine like, I hear you ask? Well, for starters, it’s a half a Honda Jazz automobile motor – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Obviously one of the brand’s bright engineers hit on the idea of powering this newcomer (this 745cc model takes over from the 2012 675cc NC700) from the Jazz’s parts bin, one that has liquid cooling, eight engine valves moved by a single overhead camshaft and four-stroke parallel-twin cylinder technology developing 40kW/68Nm.
It all seems perfect for commuting, thanks to the auto transmission it could well gain further stature as a long-distance tourer – but sport bike it most certainly ain’t.
I found performance somewhat underwhelming: the box was too eager to up-change but hang on to each gear and it will buzz along quite nicely before lapsing into a loping style that somehow demands more for a machine that costs small change less than R100 000.
MORE TRAFFIC, THE BETTER!
Still, this is a Honda motorcycle, and as such one of the very best machines available in its class. The build quality is superb, fit-‘n-finish and lustrous chrome/coachwork out of the top drawer.
Everyday reliable commuter-style motorcycling doesn’t get better than this – the more traffic around you the better!
* CVT transmissions found in cars these past few years have been grudgingly accepted by ‘tin box’ drivers but there’s no getting away from the constant feeling that when you put your foot down the noise (supported by a quick glance at the rev counter) suggest agonising and an annoyingly over-engineered and infinite number of gears – definitely an undesirable trait on a large-capacity motorcycle with its lack of direct throttle response.
GET USED TO IT: The Honda NC750XD doesn't have either a clutch lever or a toe-change gear-shifter - just a six-speed auto box and a couple of toggle switches. Ride laid-back! Image: DAVE FALL
SPECS AND PRICE
Honda NC750XD automatic
Engine: 750cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, eight-valve, SOHC, parallel twin
Transmission: automatic (dual-clutch technology)
Tank: 14.1 litres
Seat height: 830mm
Kerb weight: 221kg
Brakes: Anti-lock discs
Price: R99 990