That it’s fast? Maybe – but not necessarily. A buddy of mine owned a first-year Honda Interceptor VFR1000. The whir of gear driven cams – and 125 hp (in ’84).
Very memorable. I’ll never forget that one.
Modern stuff? Not so much. Not so far, anyhow.
Maybe because I’m older now – and more jaded than I was back in ’84. 180 hp (and 180 MPH) hardly raises an eyebrow anymore. It seems everyone’s got one.
Timing is most definitely a factor.
Good or bad, most of us remember our first bike – just as we remember our first car.
Still, some bikes stand out – regardless of the moment in time they came into our lives. Whether they were particularly fast – or not.
If they had character. If they were likeable.
For me, one such bike was the ’83 Honda Nighthawk CB550 I owned just after college, in the early ’90s
It was a One Year Only Special (I attract such bikes, for whatever weird karmic kismet reason) that appeared – and then just as quickly, disappeared. At least in the United Sates. Honda offered the CB550 for another year… in Canada as the CB550 SC.
Honda had made 550 cc machines before, but the ’83 was the first with dual rather than single overhead cams. The 550 SC also broke new ground by combining styling and functional elements of a cruiser and a middleweight sport bike in one bike.This made it stand out against more category-conventional rivals such as the Suzuki GS550 (a typical UJM “naked/standard” bike) and the Kaw GPZ550 (a bikini-faired sport bike).
On the one hand, you had Sons of Anarchy posture. The bike’s 29 degrees of front end rake feeding out to a 19 inch slim-line tire was almost chopper-ish. There were buckhorn bars and and a cushy, double-hump seat. Fatty 16 inch Dunlop tire out back; belligerent angle-cut 4-2 megaphone pipes on either side of you. Chrome and polished or brushed metal everywhere.
But if you did encounter the real Sons of Anarchy, the CB550 had what it took to break contact: 75 hp erupted out of that little DOHC four when aroused – spiked by cams from the larger (and longer stroke) 650 cc Nighthawk. Power peak at 9,500 RPM – redline somewhere past ten five. Stuffed in a bike that only weighed 440 pounds.
Bye-bye One Percenters.
The 550 (actually, a 572) posted some pretty big numbers: 12.64 at 102.7 MPH through the quarter-mile.
Well, for the early ’80s they were big numbers.
For some sense of scale, the big fish superbike of the ’70s – Kawasaki’s Z1900 (disclosure: I own one of these) made a claimed 82 hp out of 900 CCs and ran just slightly quicker. In part because it was much heavier (510 pounds).
Also unlike my 900 Kaw, the Honda was an almost zero-maintenance machine. No valve clearance checks – ever. It had a self-adjusting valvetrain with hydraulic lash adjusters that had the additional benefit of pumping down if you over-revved the engine, a fail safe against bending valves. No chain, no sprockets. No mess. No hassles. Shaft drive. Change out the fluid once every couple of years. Hydraulic clutch. No cables to break, no adjustments to make.
Just ride. Whenever, wherever. Forever.
That bike was always ready to go. And would go and go and go. It never let me down. Its only deficit – as far as I was concerned – was its tiny (3.2 gallon) tank, but this was compensated for to some extent by the overdriven six-speed transmission, which made it possible to get 50-plus MPGs out of the thing if ridden languidly. Back in the ’90s – when gas only cost about $1.20 a gallon – the Nighthawk was virtually free transportation.
$12 would cover the week, usually.
I stumbled onto the bike by chance while reading the classified ads. This was pre-Internets early ’90s, so it was an old school paper ad – just two lines of type and a phone number. The second line interested me the most. It read: “1565 miles, asking $1,300.” Notice the absence of a comma in the first figure. I, too, assumed it was probably 15,650 miles (seller’s typo). On the other hand, if it actually was 1,565 miles then it was time to pick up the phone.
It was a Richmond number – area code 804 – not far from where I lived at the time in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia. The guy who answered told me he’d bought the bike new, intending to ride it regularly but then he (cue funeral dirge) got married, a baby came and the wife did not cotton to him riding anything.
Thus the Nighthawk mostly sat… in his heated garage, under cover. Every so often, he’d start it up, let it run for a little while. But he almost never rode it after that first summer. The years passed, wife’s attitude didn’t change. It was time to sell.
Want to come take a look?
After hitting the ATM, the emergency slush fund (extra bills I kept in the lower drawer of my tool box, under some manuals) and borrowing another $350 from my pal Derek to cover the remainder, we hit the road. About an hour later I was in the guy’s garage, looking at what would soon be my Nighthawk.
Half an hour later, I was on the road, headed back home – on the Nighthawk.
It would be several years before I got off the Nighthawk – even though other bikes were acquired during that time. The Nighthawk stayed because it remained my go-to bike, the one I rode most often.
Bikes like that are keepers.
I often wish I’d kept this one.
Throw it in the Woods?