With street standard construction and cruiser seating, the Honda CTX700 N/T pairing is something fresh for the novice rider.
Quebec City and the north shore of the St. Lawrence River were the backdrops for the introduction of the new CTX700N and CTX700T, two of the least traditional “cruisers” yet to enter the Canadian market. The Honda CTX700 offerings are cruisers in that they have a long, low, feet-forward riding position, but beyond these criteria the bikes could fall within a category of their own.
The look is a “modern” interpretation of the cruiser and is going to be polarizing. Honda refers to the styling as “urban roadster” with some similarities to the F6B, but the Gold Wing derivative is itself polarizing. Honda aims these bikes primarily at “new riders” but whether these new riders feel a loyalty to traditional motorcycle design or are open to new interpretations will be the key.
Of the two Honda CTX700 offerings, the N is naked (any colour you want as long as it’s black) while the T is touring with an eyebrow windscreen on a frame-mounted fairing (any colour you want as long as it’s red). Beyond their naked/faired differences the bikes are identical.
Honda once offered a wide range of traditional cruiser models, but recently the company’s middleweight segment has been pared down to essentially the Shadow Phantom and Aero. The challenge Honda saw before it was to insert a model into the lineup that would appeal to that “new rider.”
This segment of the market is so elusive yet so crucial it requires quotation marks to emphasize its importance if the motorcycle industry is ever to return to pre-2008 highs.
Honda has launched a number of models at this demographic over the past year but, so far, not a cruiser. Enter the CTX range:
X could also represent ineXpensive, which is yet another critical factor.
To build the new Honda CTX700 line and to keep costs in check the company took advantage of its existing platform for the NC700 and built a cruiser body around it. Why start from scratch when the development work has been done? The primary difference between the two platforms is that the rear subframe has been lowered to accommodate the lower profile of the CTX. Honda felt confident in the NC platform, its engine and performance, but the challenge was to translate these components into a viable cruiser.
For the new rider the CTXs are ideal in most respects. Both on the road and at standstill the bikes feel light with a low centre of gravity thanks in part to the forward canted engine, which sits low in the frame. Their excellent balance hides the respective weights of the bikes yet sitting on the CTX700N for the first time lends the impression something is missing. Small wonder. The naked version is actually eight kilos lighter than the 224-kg (495-lb.) 700T. This weight difference does come into play.
Their shared 670cc liquid-cooled parallel Twin must be one of the most compliant motors around. It is the go-to engine for a series of machines and has a home in the NC bikes, these two CTX models, plus the non-imported Integra super scooter. It pulls smoothly away from stop with plenty of low range torque and combined with a very forgiving clutch and light shifting, this makes for unintimidating riding.
On the surprisingly steep hills along the north shore of the St. Lawrence, the CTX would run out of breath accelerating hard up hill, which is the compromise for delivering excellent fuel economy. A rev limiter also cuts in to keep the engine from being worked too hard, but on the faired and heavier CTX700T the need for a few additional horsepower was apparent.
Although targeted at new riders, the Honda CTX700 comes to Canada without the DCT automatic transmission and is offered only with the manual six-speed. While the automatic may be advantageous for new riders the CTX’s transmission is very forgiving.
Honda says Canadians are not as enthralled with DCT transmissions as riders in other markets around the world but in truth the automatic also adds cost to the bike even though the CTX was designed with the intent of keeping manufacturing costs down.
DCT also has the ring of “scooter” about it and this machine is supposed to be a motorcycle, right?
What isn’t sacrificed for cost is ABS, which augments a 320/240mm front/rear disc combo. Hitting the brakes hard from speed results in a series of quiet chirps as the ABS system kicks in and stops the bike with little dive and no drama from the 41mm front forks. This is a very confidence inspiring brake set-up.
But despite a wide, soft seat, 106mm (4.2 in.) of front fork travel and a rear monoshock that will dampen all but the most jarring of impacts, harsher road imperfections can still telegraph to the rider. This is probably the result of the the feet-first seating position that shifts weight to the rider’s tailbone and leaves him more exposed to the natural jostling of a poor road. Looking at the CTX700 with its feet forward riding position implies a low saddle, but compared to other mid-level Honda cruisers, it is actually a little taller with a seat height of 718mm (28 in.)
Despite its seating position, which may seem unusual at first, the Honda CTX700 is a motorcycle that most novice riders will find easy to ride and handle. The power delivery is spirited off the line then tapers near the top, with especially tame acceleration when carrying a load at highway speeds. The CTX700T is definitely a one-up touring machine. Add a pillion, fill the saddlebags with gear, and the 670cc parallel Twin would be overwhelmed when called upon for uphill passing or sudden bursts of acceleration.
Fuel capacity is a seemingly small 12 litres but on a 150-km loop into Quebec’s Saguenay region the press bike I was riding didn’t drop much below half full. This would place fuel consumption somewhere around 25 km/l (58 mpg) by my calculations.
The gauges are clear, bright and all digital which seem to enforce the idea that this is not a traditional cruiser. There is a small storage compartment right on top of the tank so if you have to quickly check your Facebook status the mobile device will be within easy grasp. If that is, in fact, what new riders are doing these days.
In all likelihood, what will appeal most to the “New Rider” is the style. Eventually “traditional” cruiser styling will evolve—whether the evolution is to fit a global platform (versus North America’s more traditional cruiser bias) or in response to some yet unspoken consumer demand. The challenge lies in not knowing what will appeal to new riders until they have a product to choose. Will the look of these two new bikes resonate? That much has yet to be determined. They may not speak to long time riders but for those without expectations, they just might.
The Honda CTX700 “N” is the better looking of the two bikes with a cleaner, less stylized, appearance and it does feel nimbler on the road. At $8,499 and $8,999 respectively, the NC700N and NC700T are priced in the lower range of new models in the middleweight catgory. The bikes were built to hit a price point that would be attractive to new riders but there is little to suggest the bikes are cheap rather than inexpensive. There is a lot of composite material in the bodywork, but that is true for just about every motorcycle on the market. The cost savings came from using platforms and parts that were already in the Honda factory.
There are colour-matched saddlebags, a taller windscreen and backrest as accessory options. The taller screen provides good protection but loses points for style.
Overall the differences between the two bikes are few, especially with the option of putting saddlebags on the N version, which would be a more pleasing and lively touring option unless you really require the added weather protection that the taller windscreen can provide.
What is significant is that underneath the fancy bodywork there is a competent bike to satisfy entry-level riders and even more experienced riders who want something a bit different and easy to ride but aren’t looking for power.
By John Molony, Canadian Biker 2014
SIDEBAR: Honda CTX700 N/T : Another Set of Thoughts
What are they?
Establishing the very nature of Honda’s new pair of CTX700s challenges the most experienced motorcyclists. I mean, what are they exactly? And please, don’t just throw out “cruisers” as an answer just because they have forward footpegs. It’s much more complicated than that.
As far as I’m concerned, I thought I’d be able to categorize them after some seat time, but for the life of me, I just can’t decide which box to put them in.
However, whether it’s the standard-ish N or the touring-ish T we’re talking about, one thing I can do is vouch for how well they function. Honda says their goal with the CTX bikes is to bring new customers to motorcycling, banking mainly on their unparalleled ease of use—and both are indeed very easy to ride, thanks to extremely light steering, accessible power, low seats and an impressively light general feel.
Other than suspension, which occasionally feels basic, especially when the bikes are ridden aggressively, everything you’d wish on a novice-friendly machine is here. Actually, throw the accessory hard bags and high windshield on the CTX700T, and what you get is a lightweight, light-touring machine, a proposition that is not only unique, but also quite original and interesting.
What messes with common wisdom on both Honda CTX bikes is their riding position (well, their sort-of-weird styling is also a bit difficult to digest), which is nothing more or less than a cruiser’s. Close your eyes while sitting on either of the two and you’d swear you were about to hit the road on a Shadow 750 or a Boulevard C50, albeit a lighter one. Honda obviously hopes this feature will make the models attractive to someone who might otherwise have been interested in a cruiser—which accounts to about half of new motorcycle buyers —but it also mixes two elements previously thought unmixable: a cruiser seating position and normal streetbike construction and behaviour. Actually, the bottom line is exactly that. Both the CTX700N and CTX700T are normal streetbikes in their construction as well as in their road manners. But you sit on them as you would on a cruiser. It’s neither pleasant nor unpleasant, it just is what it is.
Who will buy them and why? Frankly, I have no idea. But we’ll see, I guess.
By Bertrand Gahel
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