Every motorcycle manufacturer would like to sell more bikes. So Honda is going down a route to actively try and encourage novice riders into the motorcycle world with the launch of its Honda CTX700 range. But are low prices, automatic transmissions and easy riding positions enough to bring a new generation of motorcyclists beating a path to Honda’s door?
Photos: Kevin Wing
It was at the 2013 Chicago International Motorcycle Show in February, Honda unveiled four versions of the CTX700 with its rubber-mounted, liquid-cooled 670cc parallel twin engine. Included in the line-up is a pair of naked versions CTX700N and CTX700ND and then fairing-equipped CTX700 and CTX700D. The ‘D’ stands for Dual Clutch Transmission and is offered along with ABS as standard fit on just two of the four CTX models.
Essentially the CTX is a variation of the Honda NC700X platform, but has been designed as a reliable, starter bike and specifically aimed at getting new riders on to motorcycles for the first time at an affordable price in a cruiser-style package.
At first glance it’s a blend of cruiser and sport bike while the stripped down version has what Honda describes as an ‘urban roadster’ look and feel. It’s not a head turning sort of a motorcycle but the CTX has some nice lines and we liked the overall look and feel of the naked version.
From the outset Honda’s game plan was to make the CTX range non-intimidating for novices while still presenting an attractive proposition as a practical every day ride for more experienced riders.
The CTX700 use Honda’s proven fuel-injected, four valves per cylinder, parallel-twin engine. Like the NC700X, this has been mounted into the CTX frame at a 62-degree forward slant to lower the centre of gravity and make the bike more agile and responsive, particularly at low speeds. Power is delivered through a six-speed gearbox to the rear wheel by chain drive.
Honda makes no performance claims for the CTX but the same motor in the NC makes 51bhp at 6,250rpm and a fairly flat torque curve peaking at 44lb/ft at 4,750rpm. That’s not a lot of power when you consider the lightest CTX version, the CTX700N, weighs in 478lbs right up to 516lbs for the CTX700D with fairing, but that’s still more than sufficient for a novice rider or for daily use around town.
Honda also believes the clutch lever on motorcycles maybe coming to an end. So it has spent some considerable time and investment in developing its own Automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) specifically for bikes and the CTX is the first in the range to use the latest generation of the Honda system.
Ease of use for the CTX was a priority for Honda, which is why DCT is offered as a model option. That might immediately make you think of scooters and less rider involvement and therefore it has no place on a motorcycle. But that’s not really the case with the CTX.
Honda refers to its DCT as automatic, which is a little confusing as there are still conventional clutches used on the CTX and not torque converters that you would expect to find in an automatic transmission. What’s actually changed is they way you operate the clutch – you can choose automatic or electronically manual mode at a flick of a switch.
For the CTX700D and CTX700ND there is no clutch lever or gear lever. At a press of a button you select your transmission setting either ‘Normal’ or ‘Sport’ and then just twist the throttle and go.
Honda’s DCT uses a pair of clutches – one for start-up, first, third and fifth gear and another for second, fourth and sixth. By pre-selecting the next gear the system delivers a smooth seamless gearshift both up and down. On the move you can opt for ‘Normal’ riding, or ‘Sport’, which shortens the shift and increases the engine’s revs. If you want a more sporting ride you can also shift up and down with buttons mounted on the left side of the handlebars.
The DCT’s technology means it’s also capable of adapting to a rider’s style of riding and selects the best gear and preferred shift pattern when cruising along in either mode.
All four versions of the CTX have the same 320mm single front disc with two-piston caliper and there’s a single 240mm disc and single piston on the rear. They work well but as this bike is aimed at the novice rider we would have liked to see more confidence inspiring twin discs on the front particularly for a bike that weighs in around 500lbs. There is though Honda’s dual-channel ABS for the ‘D’ specification models as part of the DCT package.
Honda’s designers have come up with a new riding position too and although the CTX shares the same 17-inch wheels and steel tube frame of the NC700X to maintain a sporting ride, it has been slightly modified to give a comfortable and low 28.3-inch seat height (the NC’s is a still-accesible 31 inches). The rear of the CTX frame has been altered too, allowing Honda’s quick release accessory hard bags to be fitted.
That lower seat rail makes the bike easy to mount and maneuver and the seating position is more upright with forward pegs positioned in front of the pulled-back handlebars.
The CTX’s wheelbase is 60.2 inches, a fraction shorter than the NC700X, and it has a rake of 27.7 degrees and a trail of 4.4 inches. The front suspension is a 41 mm fork combined with a single shock giving 4.2 inches of travel, while the rear suspension is a Pro-Link single shock suspension with 4.3 inches of travel that is nonadjustable.
You get some easy choices in the styling department too. The naked version of the CTX looks mildly sporting, while the faired in version offers better rider protection, a small screen and stereo speaker grilles fitted if you want to upgrade your bike at a later date. Engine and transmission casing are all flat black and CTX colors are limited to Candy Red, Black and Pearl White.
Instrumentation is clear and precise with a simple digital readout that is easy to see even in bright sunlight. There is a small storage area on the top of the tank under a pop-up lid that is handy for a cell phone and wallet but it unlike the NC700X, which stores some of the fuel under its seat, the CTX keeps it all in the tank. That drops fuel capacity from 3.7 to 3.2 gallons, which still maintains a practical 200-mile range.
Honda has hit the nail firmly on the head by offering the CTX as a non-threatening, fun motorcycle for a novice rider. Often when we test bikes it takes a bit of time to get used to a new motorcycle’s layout and discover where everything is.
In conventional form with the clutch lever, the CTX is simple to ride and it took just a matter of minutes to get to grips with it. The low ride height makes it easy to maneuver at low speed and it’s evident that Honda has spent some time trying to find the optimum riding position on the CTX.
Some people may find that it’s too upright for them but for a novice rider just starting out this cruiser style set-up is a good compromise that allows you to see well ahead down the road whilst feeling in control of the bike at all times.
It would be unfair to unduly criticize the CTX for being underpowered. It’s at best peppy and revs well but it’s definitely no street racer. You can still do unkind things to it and it won’t flinch at all but lopes along feeling reassuringly well planted on the road. Out on the freeway it’s composed and comfortable too and the faired-in version of the CTX is definitely the model to consider if you’re planning to do a lot of touring or using the bike as a daily commute.
We raised a question mark over the CTX’s weight as it’s not exactly lean but it changes direction nicely and far better than you would expect and when you come to a stop no matter how small you are you should always be able get two feet on the ground with that low seating position.
At all speeds the CTX gives a sensation of being solid and secure. You can lean it over in the corners and even attempt to drag the pegs and whilst its performance won’t make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck it’s still a fun ride.
The limited suspension travel is probably the best compromise on a bike of this size and type, but it would be nice to adjust it and personalize the CTX’s set-up for your own riding style just a little bit more. Something that Honda admitted it looked at but decided against as it would have made the CTX a little more expensive.
Honda’s DCT option on the CTX is an interesting proposition. For a few years now, the auto industry has been offering paddle shift and dual clutches but the early systems were jerky and were forever hunting for the correct gear to match the engine speed.
Honda has clearly learned from the automobile companies’ mistakes and its second-generation system makes riding the CTX even easier and faster than the conventional clutch CTX version. It does take a bit of time to understand what DCT is capable of and for the first few miles of riding a DCT-equipped CTX we were not entirely sure what to do with our now redundant left leg.
For experienced riders it’s still not going to be that involving. There are two modes – ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ and you can switch between automatic sport and manual sport and change gears yourself at a press of a button on the handlebars. In the car world by opting for the sport mode you can also adapt the suspension to suit a more aggressive driving style. You can’t do this on the CTX. Nor can you turn off the ABS.
However, from a rookie’s point of view the Honda automatic clutch system makes a lot of sense. No more fumbling for gear changes and once you understand how it works it’s really not that difficult. From our perspective it removes some of the riding experience but for a new rider it’s hassle free and an asset if the CTX is your first bike.
Honda is firmly committed to its DCT program and has said the CTX is just the first of many of its motorcycles that will have this system. It maybe early days but potentially Honda thinks the clutch lever could soon be a thing of the past. We’re not sure where we stand yet on that argument.
If you have wanted to take up motorcycling but were unsure where to start Honda may well have the simplest and most straight forward answer for you currently available in the market. In conventional transmission form the CTX is a sprightly, easy to ride non-dramatic motorcycle. It does exactly what it says on the box.
With the DCT option you can also have a bike that has some clever technology that is confidence inspiring, ABS as standard and a set-up that make even the most nervous rider quickly feel at home in the saddle. And if you want to slip a bit of fun into the bargain put it into ‘sport’ manual mode and enjoy the ride.
This is not the bike for the experienced rider. It simply doesn’t have enough power or flat out sport performance and ability. Some would say it’s simply not involving enough. But they are not the customers whom Honda is after. That small 3.27-gallon gas tank compromises the CTX’s long-range touring ability and we would have liked to see twin front disc brakes fitted as standard.
For an entry-level price of $6,999 a novice rider can get on the naked CTX 700N and that’s good value. For $1,000 more you can opt for the same bike but with DCT and ABS. If you plan on going touring the CTX 700 fairing version with conventional clutch starts at $7799 or splash out $8,799 for the CTX700D and go for the automatic clutch and ABS. You pays your money you takes your choice.
What Others Say:
“Perhaps predictably, many in the motorcycle community are less than excited at what some term bland, unexciting bikes. Still, there seems near universal agreement that the CTX700s have a place in the market and it will be certainly be interesting to see if Honda heads into sportier territory with additional models in the CTX range.” — Gizmag
“Sitting on the CTX, the low seat height is extremely inviting and non-intimidating. Ergonomics feel very cruiser-like, with the hand controls placed directly in front of the rider. Reach to the pegs is natural too, even for my stubby 30-inch inseam. The seat is broad and the cockpit roomy, meaning riders of various body types should find their comfort zone quickly and easily on the CTX.” — Motorcycle.com
Honda makes no excuses with the CTX. It has made a concerted effort to offer a bike that will appeal to new riders but who were unsure of exactly where to begin. As a first step into the motorcycle world, on a cruiser-style bike, the CTX is a sensible, no nonsense approach. And, with a starting price of $6,999, Honda may be onto something here. And if that means more people will get on a bike and join the motorcycling community because of the CTX then we’re all for it. And this is just one bike in a multi-faceted pursuit of that goal. CRF250L, CBR250R, the new 500 range, the NC700X and now this CTX. Getting started riding on a truly great, appealing, capable, friendly motorcycle has never been easier.
RideApart Rating: 8/10
Helmet: Bell Custom 500 ($100)
Jacket: Alpinestars Viper Air ($200)
Gloves: Alpinestars Scheme Kevlar ($60)
Tim Watson is RideApart’s new Cruiser Editor. A veteran of the auto industry, Tim also writes motorcycle travel books. There and Back Again to See How Far It Is tells the story of his travels around small town America on a Harley-Davidson.