Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The One That Got Away: Honda CB750 Nighthawk

In 1994 I walked into my local Honda dealer to get some parts for the Honda CB400F that was at home in the basement. At the time my daily rider was a well-used ’79 Suzuki GS850 that I’d fixed up for an article in Rider. I really liked it, but the engine was starting to make ominous noises way down deep, and I wasn't sure how long it was going to last.

So when I saw the brand new 1992 CB750 Nighthawk on the showroom floor, I stopped to look at it. I’d read about it a while back, and the specs impressed me. Air-cooled inline four, with hydraulic valves. Simple twin-shock rear suspension. A single disc up front, a drum in the back. It appealed to my practical side like no bike had since...well, since the GS850.

What really appealed to me was the price—$4,000 out the door. Which is where I rolled it two days later.

The Nighthawk kept on impressing me for the next 27,000 miles. It was a joy to work on, not that I ever had to. Wait, I take that back—a turn-signal bulb burned out around 17,000 miles. (So much for Honda’s legendary reliability.)

It had a few flaws that could be fixed—a mushy seat, no wind protection, and a wooden front brake—and one that couldn’t, a range of about 160 miles on a full tank. I added a Corbin, a Hondaline screen, and DP brake pads, and lived with the smallish tank. A set of Givi hard bags came later, which turned the Nighthawk into a middleweight tourer.

Someone once asked me if I went to work for motorcycle magazines because I was fickle about bikes, or if I got that way because I had worked for motorcycle magazines. I couldn’t answer the question, but the fact is I tend to get tired of even the best bikes after a while. And so it was with the Nighthawk.

When Suzuki introduced the 1200 Bandit in ‘97 or ’98, I fell hopelessly in lust with it. Rider arranged to get me one for a long-term road test/fix-up article. Suzuki’s only proviso was that someone had to buy the bike at the end of the test. They didn’t care who, they just didn’t want a modified bike back. That was fine by me.

The time eventually came to settle up, and Suzuki made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The problem was the Nighthawk had to go in order to finance the Bandit purchase. By then I was so besotted with the 1200’s eyeball-flattening power that I was blinded to everything else, and decided to take the Nighthawk back to the dealer where I bought it to sell on consignment.

I almost didn’t make it there. As I rode into town, a voice in my head kept screaming, “What’s wrong with you?! This is a great bike! Keep it!”

Had I had any other way to buy the Bandit I would have. And there are still days when I wish I had. My current ride, a 650 V-Strom, is a great bike, too. But the amount of time it look me last year just to check—not adjust—the valves and replace the air filter added up to more hours of service than I put into the Nighthawk in the entire time I owned it. And I honestly can’t say I’ve had more fun on the Suzuki than I had on the Honda. About the same, maybe, but certainly not more.

Every now and then I get all misty about the Nighthawk, and go looking for used ones on Craigslist and Cycle Trader. About $2,500 would buy a really good one these days; a slightly scruffier one might set you back $1,900.

In today’s market that’s pocket change. Not my pocket, sad to say, but someone else’s for sure. Still, if a good one came my way, and the price was right...well, I wouldn’t throw the V-Strom aside for it, but it might be nice to have something to ride next time I have to dive into the Suzuki’s inner workings.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I have a 2000 I'm rather fond of. I'm
getting ready to replace the pogo
spring-like front fork springs with
some progressives. I liked your article on the Honda 550. I had a CB450 with sliver glitter paint that
I still remember.