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Honda NT 650 Bros MKII
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 importers.
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 horsepower.
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 lever.
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 territory.
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