Honda UK refused to import the Bros Product One
because they were embarassed by its stupid name. OK, I made that one up, but
it's the only sensible reason I could think of for leaving the Bros out in
the cold and leaving us with the distressingly dull Revere. So let's try a
little group psychology. I want you to ignore the name Bros and call it a
Hawk instead. Do you think you can do that? Good, then I'll begin.
Like many Jap imports, this Hawk had only covered a fairly
low mileage before being considered no longer new or trendy enough for any
Jap consumer worth his sushi to be seen dead on. Their loss, our gain,
because the low resale value of anything over six months old in
The bike speeds along the leafy lane into the darkness that
is Winter. The squirrels store their nuts, the frost grips that which is
affected by such things and the flowers weep into the earth like corpses
decaying in their musty crusty coffins. We look forward to the Spring and
hope Santa brings us a shiny new Honda Hawk 650.
Japan means grey importers (in this case BAT Motorcycles in
London) can buy up vast numbers of nearly new bikes, ship them over in
containers and still sell them for considerably less than their
conventionally imported equivalents, much to the chagrin of the official
Stepping onto the Hawk straight from my ZZ-R1100 felt like
going from a bus to a sports car. With the exception of the anorexic SDR200
(another barking Jap import, tested PB July '91), it's the narrowest bike
I've ever sat on. Too narrow, really — the fuel tank is so slim it only
takes a couple of gallons, the clip-ons are slightly too narrow and the
seat, although not bad for the rider, is so narrow pillions have to keep
their buttocks clenched to avoid a nasty incident. Pillions aren't a good
idea anyway — the Hawk's rear suspension is a bit soft and does without the
benefit of any form of rising rate linkage. Two-up cornering has the shock
bottoming most of the time and there isn't enough Ground Clearance to get
away with that.
It didn't take long to decide the standard Bridgestone
Exedra tyres were way past their prime; they still had a fair bit of tread,
but they'd gone hard during storage and didn't want to grip at all.
A quick snout round the workshop turned up an Avon front in
the correct 110/70 size, and Avon Racing sent us a suitable soft compound
160/60 rear at extremely short notice. It wasn't 'til we took them to be
fitted that we noticed the front wasn't an Avon at all, but a Metzeler club
compound racing tyre originally destined for a KR-1S. Still, they were both
sticky, and the profiles looked right, so we fitted them anyway.
The result was a completely transformed bike. The Hawk went
from skitty, bouncy and nervous to skitty, bouncy and confidence-inspiring.
In the dry, it was more or less impossible to lock the front wheel, although
the old tyres had squealed at the merest hint of an emergency stop.
The extra grip meant I had to jack the rear preload up as
far as it would go to keep the undercarriage off the floor — not an easy
job, as the c-spanner kept slipping. Even so, on the photo session it was
easy to tip the Hawk in until the peg, exhaust and centre stand were on the
floor and still feel totally secure.
In the end I was getting worried about giving it back to its
rightful owner with a hole worn in the exhaust, so I took to leaning it over
until everything grounded, then pushing with my knee to keep the offending
parts just lightly in contact with the road — scraping rather than grinding.
I completely wore out three knee sliders and two toe sliders in less than an
hour, got cramp in my knee and loved every second of it. These are the sort
of memories which keep me going during my not-infrequent stays in hospital.
The steering is lazy but precise, courtesy of fairly
conservative rake and trail figures with a surprisingly short wheelbase. On
a smooth bend you can change line, steer round suicidal hedgehogs and avoid
sugar beet on the racing line without upsetting the suspension.
When the going gets bumpy, things are a bit more
entertaining. The forks and shock are softly sprung but quite stiffly
damped. This is OK when you hit one bump, but hit two or three in quick
succession and the forks in particular pump down by several inches, so by
the time you hit the fourth they've got no travel left to absorb it and the
energy goes into kicking the front end upwards or, if you're in a corner,
sideways. It never gets really alarming, but the forks are definitely the
weak part of the handling package. The frame is superb — it's very stiff and
it looks a lot like an NSR250 chassis. Yummy.
Like most twins, the Hawk saves up its best manners for
twisty back roads, where its relatively light weight, flat torque curve and
choice of several gears for any situation are worth any amount of
Which is just as well because, much though I love it, the
Hawk's 52° twin is hardly a tarmac-sizzler. The motor's closest relative is
the 583cc Transalp engine (the Hawk gets its extra 54ccs from an extra 4mm
on the bores), and the Hawk retains that bike's lazy feel at almost any
revs. Even when you're barrelling along absolutely flat out, trying^ to get
down behind the clocks for an extra couple of mph, the engine still feels
smooth and unworried, and attacking curves is accomplished by rolling
smoothly on and off the throttle rather than frantic tap-dancing on the gear
Speaking of clocks, we had our doubts about speedo accuracy,
so we tested it at an indicated 30,50 and 70mph, getting actual readings of
30.5,44.0 and 60.5mph respectively. At top speed, the needle was virtually
off the scale at over 190km/h (118mph) but according to the radar, 107mph
was the best we could manage, and the result was the same with headwind or
tailwind. I'm sure that on higher gearing and in better conditions 120mph
would be about right. We know, however, that there is more power inside the
Hawk, just waiting to be let out. In October 1990 we got a Kerker-piped,
open-carbed but otherwise standard Hawk up to 137.5mph — well up into 900SS
The only black mark against the Hawk in three weeks of
testing was when the spring link on the chain failed one night during Roop's
journey home. The chain wrapped itself a couple of times round the front
sprocket, smashing the plastic sprocket cover in the process.
Under normal circumstances Roop gives notoriously short
shrift to bikes which suffer mechanical mishaps during testing. Indeed, some
of his shrift is so short you can hardly see it. On this occasion, though,
he was still saying nice things about the Hawk for days afterwards, and he
wasn't the only one; everyone who rode it was reluctant to give it back.
Jon James, who lent us the Hawk, had my ZZ-R1100 to play on
for a while, and couldn't wait to swap back again. The only problems he's
had so far are head bearings which defy all attempts to keep them properly
adjusted and a tool kit which is still in Japan somewhere. On most bikes
this wouldn't matter, but the Hawk's single sided swing arm requires a
special peg spanner for its chain adjuster eccentric. Jon can't find one
anywhere, and is having to use a hammer and drift. Not nice.
I suppose if I had to justify the Hawk's appeal compared to
Fireblades, Exups and ZZ-Rs, I'd have to say that it may not have the most
power, it may not have the best brakes and it may not have the most
sophisticated suspension, but it's the first bike I've had for ages that
just makes me