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
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