Rugged times in the motorcycle industry have substantially thinned out the
herd in the middleweight chopper class of 1984. Just two companies are in the
running this year, offering a total of three models. Last year was quite a
different story, with each of the big four building middie-cruisers. The eight
models available covered most conceivable design permutations. In-line fours
could be had in any flavor, and there was even a V-twin. What you couldn't get
was a vertical twin (not all that popular anyway) or a V-4 (quite popular).
This year, Honda fills the V-4 gap with the V30 Magna, a machine which, if
nothing else, possesses the most sophisticated engine in the class. Honda has
all V-engined bets covered this year, offering vees of two speeds: the Magna and
the even more laid back V-twin Shadow. The twin truly is a cruiser to the core,
with its Harleyesque looks and extreme riding position. The Magna, though it
looks the part of the boulevard loafer, has a more bearable seating layout, as
well as the most and best power in the class. The inline four Nighthawk 550 that
Honda offered last year has been discontinued, leaving the in-line market to its
only competitor, Kawasaki, with its shaft-drive KZ550 LTD, the third and final
player in the class this year. These three very different motorcycles give
anyone who likes custom styling room for choice in the 500 division.
Honda is exploring new marketing territory with the V30 Magna. The Magna's
styling closely parallels that of the discontinued 550 Nighthawk, so much so
that only a long stare at the engines helps tell them apart for sure. A peek at
the final drive systems of both bikes would give their identities away too. The
old Night-hawk had shaft final drive, but the Magna has a chain. That in itself
is a bit of a surprise, since Hondas 750 and 1100 Mag-nas are shafties, and for
good reason. Riders drawn to custom styling seem to favor the reduced
maintenance of shaft drive, even at the cost of a little extra weight and
slightly flawed handling. The decision to go with a chain on the Magna might
very well be one of convenience and economy, since the 500 Magna and Interceptor
engines are virtually identical and are the smallest V-4s Honda has sold in
Differences between the half-liter V-4s are few. An airbox with less volume
and a set of smaller mufflers account for a four-horsepower drop in peak power
compared to the Interceptor. Both primary and final drive ratios are the same,
but the internal transmission ratios have been stirred around. The Magna's
redline sits at 11,500 rpm, which is 500 rpm lower than the Interceptor's. The
Magna's reduced intake and exhaust breathing ability makes the extra revving
In all other respects, the water-cooled V-4 is largely the same. Each valve
(four per cylinder) is actuated by a follower with threaded adjuster. The four
separate camshafts are spun by roller chains that are tensioned automatically.
All the power-producing parts are scaled-down versions of those in the bigger
Magnas. Honda engineers have settled on specific design formulas that extract
the type and quantity of power they want from the V-4s, and they have not
strayed far from these blueprints yet. The Magna's 500cc engine is a
masterpiece, both functionally and aesthetically.
As is the pattern with cruiser bikes, the Magna's rolling chassis is a piece
of styling work first and foremost, with functional engineering second. That's
almost an arguable point in a cruiser, since in a way, a cruising machine's form
is its function. You can decide for yourself if the Magna is visually
pleasing; technically and functionally, its chassis is merely average. Wheel
sizes are a routine 18 inches in front and 16 inches rear. A single disc stops
the front wheel, and a drum brake slows the rear. A pair of glistening chrome
shocks support the box-section steel swingarm; only spring preload is
adjustable. The long leading-axle front fork has individual air caps for fine
tuning; the steering stem rides in ball bearings. A chrome tubular steel
handlebar is fitted, and the switch assemblies are logically laid out and easy
to use. The bar-mounted choke handle is convenient, but the noncancelling turn
Honda engineers ran into a few problems when it came time to mate the V-4
engine to the required custom-styled bodywork. With all four carburetors set in
the engine's V and a large airbox sitting on top of them, little space is left
for the fuel tank. Honda got around this problem by placing additional fuel
capacity in a tank under the seat and using an electric pump to carry gas back
up to the carbs. Both tanks fill and drain as one, but once the upper one is
empty and the fuel is out of sight, there's no reliable way of finding out how
much fuel remains. No fuel gauge is provided, and the fuel petcock has no
reserve position. Only a glowing red idiot light on the instrument panel
indicates that you're down to the last nine-tenths of a gallon. With a grand
total of just 3.6 gallons to begin with, that annoying little light usually
flickers on after just 80 or 90 miles of city riding.
Chassis dimensions for the Magna are closer to those of the 500 Shadow than
to the Interceptor's. The Magna's wheel-base is a lengthy 59.1 inches, for the
long and low look. The Interceptor is over three inches shorter, and the Shadow
is about a half-inch shorter. The Magna is properly raked out, too; its steering
stem sits 31.5 degrees from vertical—not as extreme as the Shadow's 33.5-degree
angle but much more rakish than the Interceptor's 27-degree head angle. Trail
measurements for all three machines fall between four and five inches, with the
Interceptor on the short end of the range and the Shadow on the long end,
leaving the Magna in the middle. Both cruiser models have their seats positioned
about 1.5 inches lower than the Interceptor's.
The numbers alone would add up to indicate that the Magna (and the Shadow) is
a slow, ponderous steerer, but one other number, the Magna's manageable
434-pound wet weight, helps to make the whole equation work just fine overall.
Both the engine and Magna rider are low to the ground, resulting in responsive
handling that doesn't feel unstable or too twitchy. The long wheelbase and
chopperlike steering-head angle are most noticeable in low-speed parking lot
maneuvers. There, the V30 tries to turn its front end into turns; the wide
buckhorn handlebar gives the rider plenty of leverage to deal with the floppy
low-speed handling, though. The machine's lightness is apparent at all speeds
and builds the rider's confidence in controlling the Honda.
In turns that are faster than a crawl, the V30 goes about where you point it.
It's not nearly as quick through transitions in-to and out of turns as the
Interceptor; instead, it has a steady, predictable feel that lets you set up a
quick, smooth pace on a curvy road. The steering is close to neutral in bends
above about 20 mph, with a comforting tendency to gradually straighten itself
back up during a corner unless the rider keeps it countersteered into the turn
just a hair. Grabbing a moderate amount of front brake when leaned over doesn't
cause the Honda to try to stand up much, an aspect that helps reduce the rider's
work load. Though designed as long-wearing rubber, the Dun-lops stick well
enough to let the V30 use up its cornering clearance if the rider desires. This
is no roadracer, though, so the pegs and pipes touch down fairly early. Both
front and rear brakes are controllable and powerful enough to lock the wheels.
The single front disc fades if used hard, but even then it retains its
predictability and most of its power.
The Magna's outer limits of handling performance are set by its suspension.
Suspension rates seem to be targeted at a 140-pound solo rider who travels at
levelheaded speeds. Front and rear springing is decidedly soft, and the damping
rates are light, particularly in the rear. Our testers all weigh over 150 pounds
and bottomed the rear suspension regularly, even with the preload jacked all the
way up. Adding a few pounds of air to the front fork helped to keep it off the
stops, including over the relatively big bumps. There's no cure for the back end
short of replacing the shocks entirely. The soft suspension rules out really
fast cornering on the Magna. A great deal of heaving and lurching goes on if the
bike is driven hard through a bumpy bend. More rebound damping in the rear would
help, but then the steering should be quickened up too, and so on. Pretty soon
the Magna would look and work just like the Interceptor; Honda already makes one
of those, and they don't need another. No, the Magna is supposed to be a
cruiser. For the lower speed levels that line of duty entails, the chassis works
Judged against comparable machines, the V30 is competitive, comfort-wise. The
easy-chair riding position leaves plenty of room, even for taller riders. Like
the rest of the cruisers, the V30 is engineered to be comfortable at a stop and
at low speeds. Over about 40 mph or so, wind pressure on the rider's chest makes
him yearn for a more forward-canted riding position. The standard bar has too
much sweepback and droop, and the pegs are much too far forward for long-haul
comfort. The seat itself is pretty nice: the padding is of the proper density,
and the shape is decent. Some riders wished that
it was a little wider, but most were
happy with it. The passenger's section is too narrow and firm for. anything more
than ^ short-term comfort. As is the case with other cruisers, the V30 can make
a good touring bike with the simple addition of a lightweight fairing to keep
the wind off the rider's chest; then the riding position becomes livable, if not
Suspension compliance seems better than the V-twin Shadow's but not up to the
standards of the best street bikes. The little bumps and ripples slide under the
wheels smoothly enough, but over moderately sized jolts the fork is slow to
respond. Like the long fork assemblies on the other Magnas, the 500's fork has
quite a lot of fore and aft flex. The fork hits the medium bumps hard enough to
make it try to deflect some before it compresses, sending an initial jolt
through the handlebar and on to the rider. The slushy rear shocks are more
compliant on midsized bumps. The big dips bottom the shocks hard; the fork
handles them decently. In the final analysis the Magna's chassis gets the job
done, but not in spectacular style.
But the motor that's spectacular. The V30 has the same type of
power for which all Honda V-4s are becoming known. No perceptible hills or
valleys can be found in power delivery; bottom-end power is usable, and the urge
builds in a linear way as revs rise. By the time the tach swings through four
grand, the acceleration in the lower gears is brisk. Though not vibration free,
the engine never shakes uncomfortably, even clear up at redline where the best
power is. There, the engine will launch the bike through the quarter-mile in
12.83 seconds at 103.2 mph. That's a half second and five mph slower than the
more powerful and aerodynamically superior 500 Interceptor, but a second and 10
mph faster than the 500 Shadow.
Day-to-day riding on the Magna is a pleasure, due largely to the V-4's
excellent behavior. Warm-up is a one-block affair. Throttle response is clean
and predictable. Fuel mileage is a reasonable 44.5 mpg on the average. The
extremely broad powerband makes a ride on the Magna undemanding. Any of a few
gears will do in most situations; the more urgent your desire to accelerate, the
more you downshift. The bike is noticeably slower than the Interceptor but still
feels quite fast.
The only flaws in the Magna's power package are confined to the driveline.
Like the Interceptor we tested recently, the Magna's shifting is occasionally
sticky. Once in a while it fails to re-index after a downshift and won't
complete successive downshifts unless the clutch and throttle are given a number
of swats to unstick things. This only seems to happen when you're rolling along
in top gear and decide to stop. You need to make all five downshifts in quick
succession, and maybe one time in fifty, the Magna isn't willing to play along.
There's also a healthy dose of driveline lash present-enough so that some
hop-on-and-ride types assumed the bike had shaft drive. "Not bad for a shaftie,"
they said. Then they saw the chain and said, "Lotta lash for a chain-drive
bike." The smooth throttle response makes the lash pretty livable, though.
Overall, the Magna is the best bike of the three customs offered this year.
Though the chassis is functionally uninspired, it falls right in line with those
of other bikes available to the middleweight cruising rider. It's the motor that
makes the Magna a true standout. No middleweight street cruiser for sale this
year is faster or more agreeable.