There it stood, an impeccably built twin-cylinder machine that squeezed just 48hp from 670cc, which was about on a par with a decent 650cc single. Honda doesn't do things without a plan, though.
First generation NC
The NC in the name stands for New Concept, and the factory wanted to break away from convention and cater for folk who wanted a user-friendly moderately powerful full size commuter bike that was practical, affordable, and cheap to run, but also fun to ride. Convenience and parsimonious fuel consumption were more important than a three second 0-100 time, and the 21 litre lockable storage compartment inside the dummy petrol tank was more useful to these buyers than a 220km/h top speed.
Customers - an average of 50 of them a month in South Africa alone - voted with their wallets and by the time Honda increased the engine size and power to 745cc and 54hp in 2014 it was consistently Honda's top selling big bike in Europe, and one of the top ten across all brands.
Early this month Honda South Africa launched the second generation NC750X at Hartebeespoort in North-West province. The new bike uses the existing frame and 54hp engine, but with a raft of improvements. These include new Showa 41mm telescopic forks, and seven-step preload adjustment for the rear shock. The storage capacity in the dummy tank has grown by a litre, and there's now a sexier, lighter less restrictive exhaust.
New digital instrumentation will give younger riders hours of pleasure while they fiddle with countless display colours, and the side panels have been trimmed back while the tank shrouds near the front have bulked up to give the bike a more adventure bike appearance. The windscreen is 70mm taller and now has a central vent to equalise pressure, as well as slits on the upper sides to reduce wind noise.
The dual-clutch six speed automatic transmission version - arriving later this year - has been upgraded to soften the transition between throttle opening and closing, and the sports setting in automatic mode now gives three levels of sports performance. This is not one of those droning CVT gearboxes as found in scooters and some cars, but a proper dual-clutch six-speed unit that can be shifted manually via small paddles on the left handlebar.
I'm not a fan of automatic gearboxes on motorcycles but look forward to trying this one out because the DCT on the Africa Twin last year earned my grudging respect. The manual NCX we rode at the launch comes sans ABS brakes or traction control, which is a bit of a bummer, but Honda will probably rectify that if demand is high.
The Honda NC750X was fun to ride once I learnt to shift cogs before 6,750rpm, where the rev limiter intervenes rather brutally - the first time it happened I thought I'd broken the crankshaft.
There's plenty of torque spread evenly across most of the rev range, and acceleration is brisk enough to get you to 100km/h in just over five seconds, while top speed is 180km/h and handling is very good. You could cruise all day at 140 - 150km/h without raising a sweat, and use perhaps 4,5l/100km travelled - the 14,1 litre under-seat fuel tank costs about R170 to fill, and should carry you 300 to 350 km between stops.
The Honda NC750X is a proper motorcycle with good manners, adequate performance and loads of functionality. It'll make a great commuter, give loads of fun over weekends and even cope well as a long distance tourer. It retails at R99,999, and the DCT version with ABS will set you back R10,000 more.