CBX750F or /CB750SC Nighthawk S/CBX750 HORIZON
By: Gregory Schmitz
Without my brother Jeff, I would not be the rider I am today, and thanks to my wife Linda, who got me back into something that I didn’t realize how much and how badly I missed motorcycling.
Closely Related Models
Family Line and Brief History
My Thoughts and Observations
Engine and Drive
Other Features RC20
Tariff and Harley Davidson
This started out as a write-up on the Nighthawk S, but I kept coming up with references to co produced motorcycles and derivatives , and there is a significant amount of reference here to those machines.
In the group are identical twins (Canadian and US Nighthawk S, a fraternal twin (Horizon) and what I think would best be referred to as a half sibling (CBX750F). I think a half sibling is closer, as they share a significant number of parts that would come close to or better than half the cycle.
NOTES: I have attempted to be accurate in all this, there may be mistakes, I welcome any constructive input as to correcting details. I am open to discussion on my opinions, but most are very solidly based, 16 years owning and riding a Nighthawk S, innumerable articles, reports and specs researched. Be polite in any response, or come see me in person and we will have a good shouting match (and if you are nice afterwards I will invite you in for a beer, and if I really like you afterwards, let you ride my Nighthawk S).
One cycle group (RC17)has gone to using frame (model) codes for the cycles. Actually its an excellent idea, as the situation gets extremely confusing, when Honda uses very the same designation to describe totally different era machines, or different ones to describe the same machine (in some cases). Using frame codes, identifies the basic configuration, and then the description when cross referenced identify exactly what was put on that frame (fairing, wheels sizes etc). I am going to adapt that here, though not totally.
There are a some co produced models, that are virtually identical, (RC18/20 Nighthawk S types) (engine, oil cooling and frame) and the RC17 (CBX750F) that shared the almost identical engine, oil cooling, front suspension and exhaust system, sold in Australia, Britain, Europe and Brazil (Britain and Europe are listed separately, as the Brits do not think of themselves as Europeans!)
CLOSE RELATIONS (First four are Nighthawk S type bikes (assume 10,000 rpm redline for 750CC types)
CBX750 Horizon 84-86 RC18: Japanese home market 750cc shaft drive, conventional rear shock. identical appearance, layout per Nighthawk S, with 18 inch front tire, I doubt we will get full details, but this has to be the significant version that both the Canadian and US Nighthawk S are derived from. Going by frame codes, it obviously led to the 750/700cc Canadian/US variation, not the other way around.
CBX750P 84-88: Police motorcycle, appears to have an R18frame designation. No detail other than pictures, showing carrying cases and fairings (on Thailand models). Police versions, dated at least to 1988). Conjecture this might have a beefed up frame, and maybe some built on bracket modifications to hang the equipment carrying cases to, as well as attachment of the fairing. http://www.hi-ho.ne.jp/i-maeda (for pictures of Japan/Thailand machines)
CB750SC Nighthawk S: 84-86: Canadian, 750CC engine,, shaft drive with 16 inch tires fore and aft. Believe frame code is RC20. If not for the Harley tariff, this would have been exact one marketed in the US.
CB700SC Nighthawk S: 84-86: R20 Frame, US only, 700CC, destroked from 750CC engine, shaft drive, conventional rear shocks, Number produced, around 27,000.
This was designed as a shaft drive machine, and while the rear shocks were conventional, extremely well done, with good adjustment. Along with a very good front shock system, it had excellent handling, not just by shaft drive standards.. I have yet to find a single article that wasn’t highly impressed with it. Redline is 10,750, Rev limiter reported to kick in at 11,500 (if I am at that RPM, I am not looking at the tach, I just shift if it drops!)
CBX750F: RC17: 84-86 at least 20,000 produced, Australia, Britain, Europe and Brazil. Totally different frame (but used frame tubes to move oil to/from oil cooler) , chain drive, with a mono shock, same engine, same gearbox, albeit with different gearing, slightly different clutch, exhaust system appears to be identical (though possibly bent differently). All came with various types of fairings. Front end appears to be identical, specs say that the brake disks were bigger (makes sense as its more sports oriented bike). Same front tire as the NighthawkS, front suspension close if not identical..
Variations: (all with RC17 frame code I think)
CBXFE and FG (semi faired machines)
CBX759FL (fully faired)
CBX750L BolD’Or: Fully faired, reliable report that it was made in Brazil till 1994, lot of local components used, mostly with 18 inch front tires.
CBX750 INDY: Brazil per above (hopefully more details to come)
CB 750 Nighthawk: (RC38) 1990 to present, Chain drive, NO frame commonality, many engine parts in common with RC17/18/20, an inexpensive suspension, not nearly as much horsepower, poorer brakes (front single disk), 5 speed trany, 8500rpm redline. Oil cooler still, but not using frame tubes. (I’d call this a very poor cousin.
CB750 (yes again) RC40? (I have it, just didn’t get incorporated). From reports this is an identical machine as the RC38, but it has dual front disk brakes and much better rear shocks.
Good news is that is also the reason components are still available, though ironically the crank and con rods are not going to fit the Nighthawk S.
THE FAMILY LINE & BRIEF HISTORY
While it may sound superfluous, the original CB750 needs to be mentioned. Not only was it the original progenitor, but it did it in a number of significant ways. It launched the Japanese into the big bike era, not just Honda, but all of them. It established the inline 4 configuration that is still hugely significant (reasonably priced to manufacture, as well as excellent performance). It also defined the ¾ liter class. That’s one hell of a accomplishment in one motorcycle. Today you read somewhat ho hum comments about it, but I owned two, my brother owned 3 (he bought the two of mine!). They were incredibly reliable, they handled well, maybe even phenomenally for the state of tires and suspension, and power was really good.
I had three complaints, the suspension lost it on bad roads, not normally a problem in the states, but on the harsh road in Alaska I got pounded. Braking was not all that great. And the chain always needed attention. O ring sealed chains were available (just coming out, but I could be wrong), but wickedly expensive, and you could tear one up on dirt roads, which you find in Alaska, and I did. It still was a terrific machine.
Models did come out eventually that overcame most of those problems, but it did have one limitation that only a major technical innovation would resolve, and that was the engine width in that design, i.e. things hanging out on the ends of the crank.
CB550/650: Led to the Nighthawk S and RC17 variations. The engine used in these pioneered the layout of alternator/starter behind the cylinders, getting the needed narrower engine, the use of hydraulic lifters originated in this model, as well pioneering of the shaft drive used in the Nighthawk S. Single cam engine. Make no mistake, the engine for the all the RC17/18/20 models was a complete from the ground up design, with all the forces and stress of a full 750CC mill designed in. It was not a modified 650 engine as some press reports indicate. Heads, block, casings, you name it were all new design. No parts were modified and used. If anything crossed over it may have been nuts and bolts that just happened to fit.
While the Nighthawk S got caught up in the successful Harleys tariff efforts (page 12), we at least lucked out that Honda elected to de-stroke the 750 into a 700CC mill. With the shorter stroke, they were able to up the RPM, so overall, I don’t think that much was lost.
Most of the RC17 information comes from the Australian RC17 site (that’s a frame code). The connection is the engine which is virtually identical, except gear ratios and a slightly different clutch assembly. I am going to generically refer to the 84-87 CBX750F and some of the latter variants as the RC17, as there are more variations under that model than the shaft drive NighthawkS group. The frame configuration does stay the same throughout and is far easier to keep track of, only what was hung on it changes.
I think its a fact that the engine they share had to be designed as both a shaft and chain drive. There is the Japanese market shaft drive 750CC machine, and the manufacture dates are identical, so it was not released and then modified from one to any other variant, all the versions came out in 84. The Canadian version came in as a full stroke 750CC machine. Other than the loss of 50cc, The US model is identical to the Canadian model. RC17 owners should keep in mind, the immediate parent to the 750CC mill that all models share (CB650), was a shaft drive bike with an almost identical layout. Its maybe more of a surprise to have a chain drive bike out of this heritage, as well as it having an earlier frame number.
While it is obviously conjecture, the group that developed the CB650 layout, and got approval to do a 750CC engine, may have realized they had a really potent combination if put into a chain drive, and made sure that it got co designed to ensure that it was in as many platforms as possible (particularly interesting that the RC17 is lower fame number). Corporate Honda may have gone along with it to be sure they had a competitive in line transverse 4, in case the V4s flubbed.
There is enormously more connection between the Nighthawk S and the RC17 than there is between the NighthawkS and the 750 Nighthawk still being made. Philosophically, the Nighthawk S and the RC17 were high performance machines, making a statement. The Nighthawk S was a shaft drive UJM (to foreign readers not familiar with that, it stands for Universal Japanese Motorcycle, i.e, upright seating, conventional suspension, chain drive general purpose motorcycle AKA original CB750).) Its got the hardware to back up the hot rod looks it got. Frankly, once a faring is mounted, I think its the greatest Sport Touring bike ever made. It has sports bike handling, it can be ridden all day very comfortably, and it has the zero maintenance shaft and valves.
Another thought is that it was a technological test bed, a lot of ideas were tried out on this model, maybe as much to see what kind of re-action it got, as well as getting a real world test on the configuration to see how it actually stood up.
The RC17 was definitely a more dedicated sports bike, the result hit the target right on the head, style wise and performance wise (it looks like what it was intended to do, gunslinger comes to mind). Today’s Nighthawk 750, is a low level entry bike, with as inexpensive components as possible, and considerably reduced performance. Other than the better cornering (due to narrower engine and better tires) it has virtually no better performance than the original 750s (and a single disk brake on the front to match, hmmm).
I hope the 750 Nighthawk rider of today don’t take this wrong, there’s no doubt it’s a good basic entry level, reliable machine, it has that wonderful engine, but it got knocked back technologically almost to where the ¾ liter class started. Hp is way down to 62.5, rpm is way down to 8500 , it’s a shame.
To try to separate the RC17 from the RC18/20 I is a mistake. They were obviously co-designed and launched with specific purposes in mine (though exactly what for Nighthawk S is unknown) The CBX750F actually makes sense for what its market was, the Nighthawk S is more the head scratch.
ODD NOTE RC18/20: I have no sure explanation or details, as to why what looks to be identical cycles, would have two different frame numbers. The larger front tire may have dictated a slightly different frame geometry, which would have caused the Nighthawk S versions to have the frame modified for the 16 inc front tire. RC17 frame went into all the variants as far as I know, despite going to 18 inch front in Brazil versions.
I don’t intend to contrast these competitively with each other, though I think it would be fun to actually ride them together. They are targeted at different riding purposes. A comparison is not so much could an RC18/20 beat a RC17, its interesting that a RC20 could come close. That gives the RC18/20 more range of purpose that you would otherwise think it would have.
What did hurt the Nighthawk S was its lack of a real faring fairing, particularly an aerodynamic faring. Without any fairing, admittedly on long trips it was no fun, because you were wind buffeted all the time. That was also true the original CB750 and any other bike of what they now call a naked bike style. What you could do for the Nighthawk S, was put on an after market fairing. That looses you some of the top end performance, but there’s no loss of handling (at least with the Rifle Sport), and it made it a great touring platform, with as much sport as you could possibly hope for (my definition of the ultimate sport tourer).
There are the mechanical items in common (RC17 and RC20) of interest, which might explain some of the results when you compare them to the VF (Interceptor) machines of the time. The engine timing advance information is identical. So there were no difference between the two engines in that regard, interesting to say the least, as the RC20 variants revved higher. As the peak HP is close to 9500 rpm in the RC17 (and probably the Canadian Nighthawk S, it explains why the US Nighthawk S keeps going with its higher RPM, there is still some upside to the engine output.
Weight wise, the RC17 actually comes out about 15 pounds heavier, in spite of the extra weight of the shaft drive on the NighthawkS. That weight has to be in the faring, and larger rear wheel.
Oil capacity went up in the 85 NighthawkS US models, while it stayed the same (apparently) in the RC17. My speculation is that the higher revs on the US NighthawkS caused some oil related problems (hot weather maybe) and that was a move to correct. No details on the Canadian Nighthawk S and oil, but it did have the lower reviving engine.
The RC17 seems to have more horsepower, and certainly at the back, even if you have a 750CC Nighthawk S, there’s going to be an advantage. Under some acceleration scenarios, they would probably be even until the aerodynamics of the RC17 came into play. At any real speed, I would expect the RC17 to be favored.
What would be fun, would be to have a RC17, 750CC Nighthawk S, and a VF750 Interceptor on a road race course, equal riders and rubber, and run a long distance race with balanced low speed acceleration, top speed and various handling scenarios,.
While this is speculation, its based on the superior hp of the RC17 along with its aerodynamics, and comfort of riding. As close as the NighthawkS came to the VF in short distance, I think long distance, rider fatigue would wear out the VF rider, allowing the NighthawkS to do better at the end, though it would be close as the RC20 rider would be suffering wind buffet.
The amazing part of this, is that the Nighthawk S is even talked about in the same context as the RC17 and VF machines. Something of a stunner, and a tremendous engineering job.
My Thoughts and observations.
I have always been curious about this very curious machine that I came to own when I returned to cycling in 1986/87. While I considered other makes/models, my choice came down to the NighthawkS and the V45 Saber, and the NighthawkS came up for sale fist (and was my first choice as well).
What attracted me to it were the fact that it was a Honda (which I had owned before and liked) and the maintenance free features (the self adjusting valves and shaft drive in particular), and the fact that they rated extremely well against the dedicated pure sports VF Interceptor machines, including the 750cc size. I could not afford a new cycle and while I would have taken the Saber V45 as a great choice, I really wanted the Nighthawk S (but used machine purveyors in small markets can’t always be choosy).
Now, I have nothing against adjusting valves, but the shim and bucket nightmare that developed in those days, I wanted nothing to do with. There was no way I was going to pay a shop $250 to adjust my valves (and at 5,000 miles not the called for 12 or 14k). To top it off, cycles were sitting at the dealers for months trying to get the right shim package, because they did not anticipate them needing adjustment as often as they were having to, they didn’t manufacture any spares, they were making just enough to meet production needs. They couldn’t be had when everyone found out they did need them, lots of them, and more often than expected. The hydraulic lifters were just the ticket, and they had proved they would live on the 650 just fine, and all reports indicated no problems on the 700cc engine.
While I was not after a pure sport machine, I wanted at least good riding and handling. For a cycle that was supposedly intended more as a hot rod, to be considered a really good handler seemed to make it an excellent choice, (and its proven to be). For $1500, I got a top of the line, low mileage great handling all around performance cycle that had just gone out of production, what a strange world. It has proven to be comfortable to ride all day long without crippling you up.
What it needed was a faring, and that took a long time, one that fit the odd Nighthawk S headlight setup and its integrated bikini fairing nose (a Rifle Sport,) albeit with a lot of mounting work, more due to the poor nature of the hardware mounting kit sent with it, rather than the basic adaptor insert which is fine.. It has proven to be an excellent sport touring platform, a lot of multi day camping trips on it, soft luggage on the sides, a duffle bag on the back with tent and sleeping back strapped on, it handles well, plenty of get up and go, you can ride all day long and it doesn’t beat you up.
I strongly suspect that to understand where it came from, and why it went away, you would have to go back to Japan, not just because that was where they were made, but in those days, that’s where the American interest was interpreted. Add that into the war (Japanese style of course) that had to have been waged between the rage at Honda of the time (V4 water cooled machines) and the old guard UJM in line fours that had launched Honda onto the world stage.,.
I would guess that while the inline four group was loosing ground rapidly, they still had enough clout (upper management had to be from that group) to be able to pull off an occasional counter move. I think that is where the genesis of the RC17/NighthawkS came from, and the hedging of the bets had to be a major factor. No company ever really wants to bet everything on one throw of the dice. Honda had done it once with the original CB750, to do so again on the V4s would have been foolish (if they didn’t have to). Cyclists have proven to be a strange bunch, some times leaping on a advance with no qualms, other times sending them to the scrap heap of history. Honda certainly had the money to cover its bases (I think the fact they also did the chain drive version further confirms, this, as both had conventional, but very well done frames, which makes sense for a fall back position. If you are falling back, your next line of defense better be a competitive one!
Harley certainly has had a tough time breaking out of the tradition of what is an extremely dated configuration. BMW tried to discard its history when it came up with the flat 4s to replace the Boxers, today they have both, but the K model has been moved up into the stratosphere with the Goldwings (or whatever they call them these days) and the full dress Harleys, the boxer twins (vastly updated) now rule the wide middle of the roost.
Why the two model types got sent where they did is baffling. For Europe you would think both models would be sent, and US would be the last place for a shaft. A shaft drive would have been a more logical choice in Europe, where it had much stronger adherents, a full 750CC shaft that performed as well as the Nighthawk S would have been a killer machine against the sloggy BMWs of the time. With some luggage and a faring for it, BMW might never have recovered from the blow.
Even a destroked RC17 would surely have been the delight of the crowd in the US, maybe more so in the Western US where high speeds and the hot rod revs would be more the norm than in the East.. The shaft drive Nighthawk S does seem to have taken a hold in the Eastern US, with a lot of the NighthawkS groups and references from there.
Maybe only in the Japanese mind was there some sense to see if they could force the V4s onto the top selling US crowd, hedge their bets in Europe, and bring to the US shores the shaft drive concept, just in case it took off big time, though based on the moderately successful but not wildly accepted CB650 shaft ( in those days, the jump from 650CC into the 750CC class was a big move, very different group of buyers, would they follow or not?)
Another guess is that the shaft drive RC18 model was already determined for Japanese production, and it was easy to take the 16 inch front wheel from the VF series and put it on the Nighthawk S bound US model, giving it a bit more of a hot rod image (as well as RC17 for the performance aspect).
Looking at the frame codes, the progression would appear to have been definitely a chain drive design, with the Japanese market 750 shaft drive next, and the Nighthawk S a variation with the 16 inch front.
Really confusing to me is the handling issue, the VF had 16 inch tires, but RC17 got the 18 inch rear, and Brazil went to 18 inch on both ends! What in the hell was the best handling setup? I could see the Nighthawk S being a street hot rod with a front tuned more to that, but frankly none of it makes sense, and maybe it just doesn’t matter, what is important is what you do with the frame and suspension, and tire size, as long as they are good tires, is just someone’s smoke to cover the pet theory of the week as to what works best where (maybe it helps keep the rim/wheel designer guys employed!)
ENGINE AND DRIVE
The true heart and soul of this machine, shaft drive or chain. What should be kept in mind, THIS IS NOT A MODIFIED CB650 ENGINE as some articles allude to.
While the CB650 engine pioneered the layout that allowed the narrow bottom end, as well as hydraulic lifters (and the shaft drive), for the CB700SC (or what would have been except the Harley tariff), it was designed from the ground up as a 750CC engine, with all the components engineered and manufactured with the requirements of a 750CC mill. There were modifications of the basic design elements that improved or corrected on those on the CB650 engine. If there is any doubt of its ground up design, this engine has a reputation for being extremely bullet proof and reliable. You are extremely hard put or impossible to upsize with these engines. What weaknesses were exhibited in the CB650 engine, were eliminated in this one. The new engine had dual overhead cams, another extremely unlikely modification.
While not impossible, it would be expensive to convert a shaft drive to chain, but the other way around would be relatively easy and inexpensive Its been done (thanks to Rod at RC17 for setting me straight) but you have to wonder on the economics of it. I have no doubt that this engine was designed from the outset to be both a shaft drive and chain drive.
The funny thing is that over time, the inline design has come back big time. Slightly over half of Hondas street models are in line 4s (most with water cooling). It’s a natural design that can’t be beat, cost wise, and performance wise they come so close it’s a moot (except for models that require a completely different dedicated engine to fulfill their function, like Goldwing, ST1100 and cruisers. ) The V4 street design has advantages, but you have to be pretty far out on the edge of riding to actually be able to use those (and how many of us really are?) , though you will snag a bunch who go for the image.
What I think is obvious, is that with what had to be limited financial resources, there was a tour de force of making what they had go an enormously long ways (maybe a lesson in this, we should have to work at something, not be given it). They took the in line concept, and probably made it as good as it could possibly get without liquid cooling. If you are going to compete with a narrow V4, then moving all the parts that hang out gets you a long way there, ergo the mounting of the starter and alternator behind the cylinders (tested on the Nighthawk 550/650 shafts, and then improved what little was not working well (better oil supply and purging of air from it), and updating to the dual cam design.
If you can’t afford a full water cooled engine design, then use that time honored way to keep heat down, put on an oil cooler, and take advantage of that existing medium with a minimum of extra work. Save weight, minimize complexity, get a lower profile with almost no oil pan, and use the frame to flow the oil to the cooler (and gain an bit of extra oil capacity as well).
Perhaps the most brilliant, and there has to be a huge story behind this, is the use of the hydraulic lifters, in the 550, 650, 700 and 750cc. That indeed had to be a ground up effort, as that has not been used before in this kind of high revving performance engine. (to my knowledge.). This had to be an in your face effort, getting to valves on V4 is not easy, let alone adjusting them, bucket and shim may be efficient, give some minor performance benefits, but if it is going to need adjusting, and it does, its ugly owner ship issue..
So, a marvel of compactness, allowing all sorts of latitude with frame geometry. For the Nighthawk S, the engine could be mounted forward, which led to the ability to minimize shaft jacking via the simple solution of a long shaft without making a long cycle (Eventually BMW conquered shaft affect completely with the Paralever design, but its not simple or inexpensive!).
But with this design, at no additional cost, and that had been done for all sorts of other good reasons, they got a shaft drive that so minimized the affect it had no affect on the handling. You have probably taken yourself off the road for other reasons before you reached a point in the handling envelope where this would have affected the ride. That’s brilliant engineering.
The engine was in more ways the heart and soul of the RC17 and NighthawkS, not just because of its performance, but what it allowed for the rest of it to become what it did.
That over square piston allowed some other interesting variations, within the engine. With a lot of circular area to work with, you can put in more and bigger valves, ergo more airflow, ergo more fuel, ergo lots of hp, so in came the 4 big valves. There are quotes of 90 hp at the engine output with 700cc (I don’t buy that, mid/low seventies at the rear seems closer- but you get that up over 7 grand and you wonder). So, while the engine was wide, it was wide up high, and you got the ground clearance where you needed it for cornering down low (not much wider than the V4s where it counted.
There is almost always some kind of price to pay, in this case, the price is the need to rev extremely high. At almost 11,000 rpm, that’s race cycle territory, not what one is used to. To get the serious power out of the machine, you have to live up over 7 grand, not hard to do on the straight, drop a gear or two and launch. Much harder to do in the twisties, as you are shifting a lot to keep it there. Probably not distracting for a racer, much more so for the more common types. And its unnerving to have the machine spinning that hard. Its not quite a two stroke mode, the power bands are wider, and you can often find a combination of two gears that covers it, but one is going to be up at 9 to 11 grand, and that is funny rev range to be in for an old low revving cycle rider (you just want to shift up all the time)
What’s interesting, that while the press blithered about it being over square, the VFs were far more so (1.44 stroke to bore) vs. 1.26 for the CBX750 and 1.35 for the CB700SC. The only reason the NighthawkS looks as over square as it is, was the de-stroke that took place. If it had been brought in as its intended 750CC configuration, it would have been the same 1.26 as the CB750SC and the RC17!
With all the VF had going for it, water cooling with fan, to not really blow away the in lines had to have really ticked some people off, I mean really, really upset them.
Unarguable the engine was a tour de force, and stands up well even today, add fuel injection and the latest combustion chamber designs and a sophisticated oil cooling system with thermostatic control, and I bet it would make everything look bad again!
And last, if you need any proof, drop 50CC, add in 750 rpm to compensate, and it still lives just fine. There may even have been some efficiency gains, as the fuel mileage seems to be a bit better than the 750s talk about (I get 45 to 50 mpg ). It was so close to the VFs in performance, it would seem that only the absorbing of a bit of power in the shaft (and some extra weight) was the difference
More Performance: If you can stand the noise, its as easy as bolting on a 4 into 1 exhaust system. Mine came with one. I couldn’t stand the noise, it burned the glass packing out in a couple hours. I traded straight across for a set of OEM pipes, which I like better, but the 4 into 1s sure gave you an extra kick in the butt. I would guess 10 to 20% more, lot of get up and go for an easy add on modification.
Was there a group in Honda that came to believe in shaft drives? It seems like it, that being the other totally non standard component of this machine. They were certainly around with the Sabers and Magna, did that hardy group of in liners grab this and why?
Maybe, the interest was not so much to dethrone the V4 sports group, but to see if they could carve out an inline niche. Where in the world did they get the notion to make it a custom hot rod with a shaft? Or, was this a stealth project, that was sold on that basis, but targeted more at the Touring/Cruiser groups?.
Did they surprise themselves and have the factors come together? Honda had the Goldwing (which if anyone remembers started out as a naked hot rod, that was for a very shot time, the machine to beat.) Other shaft drive machines were out there, so having a shaft drive division within Honda made sense (what if it became the rage, better be ready and have some experience.) Again, cover the bases, even if you didn’t believe in it entirely, and maybe a long term twinkling of taking on BMW (we did get the ST1100 eventually, as the Goldwing had moved up into the boat class by then).
I certainly could see an interest in the Japanese domestic market, which has to be nothing close to the balls to the walls go fast sellers for the rest of the world.
The wonder of it was, even with the shaft drive, they had a machine that was incredibly close to the performance levels of the V4 sports bikes, you have to wonder if that isn’t where they met their demise, getting too close for comfort to someone’s turf.
It was one of the main selling points for me. I hated having to adjust the chain on my 750s all the time, not to mention wondering if was going to come loose and tear through the case or lock up. They did do that occasionally. I was recently given a 72 CB450, and found that it had thrown a chain and tore stuff up under the sp[rocket cover. So a shaft drive that had that kind of performance level and no maintenance, not to mention a lot of saving on future expense in buy new chains, really got my interest. I have never regretted it.
If you put the best rider on a NighthawkS, I think he could beat a slightly less capable one on a VF (of the same manufacturer era!)
The chain drive versions of course did not have to worry about it, ergo, more sporty nature of those. All in all, I would give up the advantages of the chain, for the maintenance free (and non recurring costs) of the shaft, but I am also not a serious sports rider.
Another interesting bit here, in order for this all to work, it had to have a good frame. This was not put into another frame, or a modified frame from another machine. Both the RC18/20 shaft varients and the RC17, got from the ground up designed frames. Neither machine got the latest state of the art advanced frame they were putting into the V4s, but they did get as advanced a conventional frame as you could design.
The Nighthawk S went with an enormously square center tube. They did extremely well, there is no mention anywhere for any of the derivatives of any frame deficiencies, so the goal was accomplished. They came close enough to what they were after, that most people would never be able to tell the difference. If you are like me, and you can’t drive well enough to take a corner at 90 in this machine, then you likely shouldn’t be taking a corner at 90 in any machine
Another oddity in the equation. A very conventional appearing suspension, but equally deceiving, as it had a great deal of adjustment, and basic built in sophistication, and it had non Honda source components (Kayaba, not Showa). Maybe in Honda the suspension group wouldn’t give them what they wanted, and they went outside Honda to get it..
Upshot on the RC20 variants was while it looked conventional, the TRAC anti-dive worked pretty well, you can tune it if you want with air pressure, and the rear adjusts very nicely. It worked, and worked extremely well, without the sophisticated single shock systems. Another lesson in that if you aren’t racing, all those razor thin marginal improvements may not be worth the cost. Again, for the type of riding I do, the benefits of a sophisticated rising rate mono shock is wasted, I was happy for the other things I got.
The rear shocks may look normal, but thy handle their job extremely well, there are no reports of this being a deficiency of any kind.
RC17 got the Honda rear mono shock, and I will leave it to those knowledgeable on those bikes to definitively comment on how it works, press reports was very enthusiastic for the wide range of adjustability on it. They do have problems now with purchase of a new one, most seem to be getting theirs rebuilt, even if they have to do it themselves!
OTHER FEATURES NIGHTHAWK S
Probably the single neatest thoughtful feature are the adjustable handle bars. You don’t think this is a big deal, until your ride 600 or a 1,000 miles. It makes the difference between hurting badly at the end of the day, and feeling fine when you hang it up for the night.
Then there is the fun stuff, the digital gear indicator, which you could live without, but at times its handy to have to check in with. The fuel tank level gage is also a help, particularly in the long stretches where you need to be able to monitor fuel and make decisions or bet stuck a long ways from gas.
A feature that not many are aware of, was the move to the single actuation of all four carburetors. On the old 750s you had a cluster of 4 cables, not any fun to adjust. Nicely done, as well as the easy adjustment of the idle, handle bar mounted choke. Thoughtful things that make this long term enjoyment to own and ride (15 year now, and I am still happy with it).
When I got mine, the tires were pretty well shot (it had 7k on it). Further research seemed to point towards Metzlers, and a call to Competition Accessories confirmed it, they had a couple of staff who rode the Nighthawk S, and were very happy with them. So I went with the ME33 Laser on the front, and the ME99A on the rear. Inspired choice,. Drawback was that I wore two rears out for each front (14k on the front, 7 on the rear.)
While that may not sound bad, I am not a hard core racer type, so I was disappointed. Also, as you get up to 6500 or so, the disparity in the condition of the rubber starts to show, and handling deteriorated that last 500 miles (or more). You could probably live with it if you ride in a desert, but any rain and with the tread worn, bad news.
I have tried the ME88 rear (touring) badly disappointed, not vicious, but poor handling in the low speed real tight turns, and ho hum anywhere else (might be better in really hot conditions, but that is not Alaska.
So it will be back to the latest (probably an ME550), and maybe an investment in tire removal tools.
Funny, profit margin on tires has to be pretty good, but the local Honda shop won’t throw in tire mounting if you by the tires from them (it would about come out equal, saving in out of shop, add the freight on). So, I buy via mail, and have them mount them. hmmmm.
While the bikini fairing is a great styling touch, it didn’t work as a faring.. It also didn’t hurt anything, except it was impossible to find a faring to put on it! It took years, but I finally found a Rifle made fairing that had an adaptor that allowed it to work (the bikini fairing comes off). The bikini sure looked sharp though!
Others have taken the clear fairings, and with a bit of carving on the opening, made those work. I prefer the style I have, but the clear does allow keeping the bikini. The important thing, it can be done, and I can’t imagine riding long distances without one (my trips seldom are less that 200 miles except a test run or a check it out in the spring ride.
The fake carb stacks (velocity pipes) didn’t work either, but if your don’t like them (and no one seemed to), just pull them off like I did . I still have them in a box in the crawl space along with the bikini faring and turn signal stalks that came off. I don’t ever plan on selling it, but I am keeping those things, I suspect it’s a collectors item someday.
So, two cosmetic items that were non functional, but certainly didn’t hurt anything, and that’s it? Well if you come up with any, let me know, but that’s a pretty amazing achievement.
Yes I have read a few nit picks, the anti dive mechanism doesn’t work as well as its reported to have on some bikes, hmm. One article said if you blow up an engine the frame tubes would get contaminated and you couldn’t clean the metal out of them (excuse me, I am a mechanic, I know damned well I could flush anything out of those,) .
Fuel Capacity: Well that is a minor on going sore point. Certainly where fuel stops are few and far between, you often have to stop a lot sooner to top up, to make sure you get to the next one ok. In recent years though, the wonders of modern fueling have helped I drive up, slide in the credit card, get the fuel, and then go to park or just drive off. On the Nighthawk you can just ride away, as its comfortable enough for 250 miles before a stop.
Still, another half gallon would be nice, and a full gallon would be heaven (buy an old tank and have your welder put a bulge in it? That would be great. Interestingly, I seem to get better gas mileage than most, even with a lot of camping gear, maybe just not pushing it as hard as the magazine writers do.
Kick starter: Well, its not so much the starter doesn’t work well, with what I have had happen (twice) with batteries. In both cases when they went, they shorted, just plain went dead (after turning off bike and stopping each time). The first time I was on a hill, and apparently the dead battery sucked all the juice out of alternator, left none for ignition. I was low on the hill before I figured that tout. A friendly Dept of Highway crew gave me a jump, and I got home on that.
The second time was at the Honda shop, and I got a jump from them, unfortunately they didn’t have the battery I needed. It would be nice to be able to work it out if needed, but I carry jumper cables now! Note, the BMW has a kick starter, but it’s a sidewinder foot killer, so not having one is not so bad (just go direct to getting a jump, even if you have to stand in the road and stop someone)!
Loss of Fuel Flow: Occasionally, the fuel just quits flowing, there was a comment on one of the articles that this was due to wind direction and speed forming a vacuum and starving the carburetors. Go figure, but its always come right back after loosing speed down to 40 mph. It could also be a leak around the fuel shutoff vacuum line.
Other than comments that taller riders are not comfortable, I can’t imagine anything much more comfortable for me.. My wife who is almost 6 foot tall, certainly didn’t like it, so I can accept that. Me, I am 5’ 9”, and I find it terrific.
The adjustable handle bars are one of those touches that you don’t always immediately appreciate, but I sure do now. It took a bit of playing with them, but I came up with a set up that works great, and haven’t adjusted them in 8 years or better, but I did play with them a lot to get them there.
One trip I did was a hard core blitz, the Valdez oil terminal is 305 miles away, a lot of twisty mountain driving, some good straights, but always cracks and frost heaves in the road. I pulled out one morning at 6, and just had at it. Cool running to start, when I broke out above it all in the first pass, it was 75-80 degrees all the way. I ran as hard as road conditions permitted (80-95 a lot, and on Alaska roads that’s cooking). I grabbed a couple of meals, hit more than one hand water pump in a campground to cool off, got into Valdez, putted out to the oil terminal, and then hit the road hard again. Probably 650 miles all told in 12 hours. I don’t think there are many machines you could do that on (either that hard and fast, or be able to walk when you got done).
All the research keeps referring to the RC20 as a California hot rod design. I am going to disagree with that, though as stated previously, I speculate as to what and where it was.
Firstly, there is some Japanese history to be aware of. When the Horizon was being produced in Japan, the fastest allowed speed on the express ways was 48 mph.(probably 75kph). That was just changed, they can now go 65 MPH. (100KPH). Reasons were dated regulations that there was not a cycle capable of sustained 50 mph speed, and typically bureaucracy wise, they didn’t get changed until recently.
Factor that in with what was obviously the RC18 model that was the Japan market version. I don’t think that Japan is the hot bed of hot rods, not with special license required for over 400CC (and extremely hard to pass), probably regulations with sever consequence for misdeed.
Now how you get the hardware we have gotten out of that environment is incredible, but from all the photos I see, there is a lot of track activity for the big power machines, so it would appear to be in a controlled environment, and that certainly is not a California Hot rod concept.
As it appears there was only one significant change from the RC18 to the RC20, that leaves a puzzle, but I think its better to leave it open, than make false statements.. It definitely was styled with the bikini fairing, and I don’t think anyone argues that it looks great. So will leave this an open question.
What you do see is reference to the third generation 750CC class, and maybe that is the real clue, and the hype was added latter.
So why after what was a substantial effort and expense to design and build these machine, quit after 3 years (except the local Brazil variant and some police variants?) Maybe it’s a combination of you can make a lot more money on a fancy machine, even if most of the people that buy it, can’t ride it anywhere nears it capabilities. Put in that you tempt people to buy the less expensive machine if its available, so you just kill the line.
Maybe too, they lost sight of what keeps them in business, and that is lots of riders riding lots of machines, not a few rider buying a few machines. They did bring back a chain drive version of the Nighthawk to act as an entry bike (someone woke up?) but they made sure it was neutered. While you could probably get it back up to phenomenal performance levels, it would take a lot of parts, and the high performance models are already there with that (and its chain drive now).
I do not know what the RC17 models went for, but the Nighthawk S went for $4,000, what a phenomenal piece of machinery for that price. The present 750 Nighthawk is horribly over priced and under performs with that comparison.
Still it’s a shame that it doesn’t at least have a shaft drive variation, with a hotter engine, it still would be a terrific sports tourer, i.e. a lead into the ST1100. A market I think almost all of them are missing.
I had to laugh at one article on this. They compared it to the VF700 (I think). The Nighthawk S was a better in town machine, better at long distances, better on roll in power moves, and was just a shade slower in the quarter mile, as well as timed runs on the track road course, as well as on open road with corners.
After all that, the author clearly said the VF was the machine of choice. I still wonder if that was tongue in cheek, the conclusion was pre-determined, and while he had to say it in the end to keep his job, he sure didn’t leave that impression in the writing that went with it!
What’s relevant for all of us is, does it do what we want it to, and do we enjoy doing it on it. And that is why there are 3 or more major categories of cycles, people have different wants.
You could get luggage and fairings for it, Honda factory offering, though you don’t see much of it. I suspect its nicely done up variation from the Asian police line.
TARIFFS AND HARLEY DAVIDSON
There is some myth about Harley Davidson and the tariffs that were imposed in 84 on bikes OVER 700CC. Feeling about Harley motorcycles needs to be separated out from the tariff situation.
There is an American law that you cannot sell something for less than it cost to produce, other than promotional periods. (obviously difficult to prove). Its referred to as “dumping”. American steel producers have used the law in the past, as steel is a bootstrap industry for developing countries that are prone to do that. Foreign manufactures will do it in an attempt to stay in business in periods of distress, or to break into a market.
Harley Davidson used the law on the books, and proved that the Japanese motorcycle industry was ware-housing and dumping motorcycles into the US market under cost. When it was said and done, they were given a tariff that amounted to a 48% cost increase on over 700CC cycles (there was around 5% in place on all cycles already). While motorcycle enthusiasts lost out, it was appropriate and legal, no under handed dealing was involved.
At this point, any importation of motorcycles into the US was NOT PROHIBITED under the ruling, it was just expensive. I.E., Honda could have brought in any bike they wanted to, including RC17 variants. Rightly or wrongly they decided it was cost prohibitive for certain models that they felt would not sell. Two solutions were come up with, one was to de-stroke the CB750SC/VF750 and come in under the 700cc line, the other was to actually develop a competitive class of 600CC in line fours (interesting configuration!). Also keep in mind, from time immemorial, for whatever obscure thinking drives the Japanese mind, certain models were NEVER brought to the US, some of which would certainly have sold well. Go figure, between the inscrutable Japanese mind , the weird Corporate mindset of any nationality, and no corporate exposes, we probably will never know what Honda was thinking or why they were doing it, so wonder on, I certainly do for whatever good it does me.
I have a love hate relationship with Harley Davidson. As an American, I am proud of what they have accomplished, as they did use the tariff period wisely (and petitioned the US government took off the last 2 years as they had reached their goals). Whether you like Harley Davidson motorcycles or not, they turned the company around, leveraged their image into a highly successful motorcycle manufacturing company (and merchandizing machine). I suspect most of us in this community think they are big, heavy, outdated, poor handling machines. I also have a relation who is quite the motor cycle enthusiast, who wound up buying a 1200 Sportster and loves it. Two years ago, I took a long trip into Canada and Southeast Alaska (Whitehorse Yukon territory, Haines and Skagway Alaska). 60% of what I saw on the road out there were Harleys, I talked to two of them (from Michigan) while waiting for the ferry, one on a 70s vintage and one on a new one. These guys were doing what motorcycles are about, they took them for an adventure. And while the Alcan (Alaska Canadian Highway) is now generally paved, keep in mind, pavement up here is not pavement anywhere else. Lots of broken sections from frost heaves, damaged sections from rain, sections that are torn up for re-paving, and never ending stretches under construction.
HD has also recognized the corner they are in, and bought out Buel, done some great racing machines separate from their usual, and are working on others. The VROD is another huge move in that direction.
What they have done is come back from the brink of complete collapse (oblivion!), and carefully nurtured it into a huge success. And while others deride their caution, others are not in charge of taking the risks that are entailed in taking a one product image driven company, into a broader more successful enterprise. YOU live through the depression, and tell me it didn’t scar you (I have talked to enough people that did, and it does, no matter how good your latter life turns out.) HD lived through their own, and rightfully, are not forgetting the lessons.
I think what they did was carefully leverage what they felt they could, that includes all sorts of apparel and licensing of the HD label (I was given a can of Harley Davidson coffee!). They have a little known division that does small batch prototype casting for air cooled engines (lawnmowers, snow blower etc). That takes advantage of their facilities and expertise in that area.
So say what you want, they have been and continue to be successful, and its good to see an American motorcycle company (now 3, but the other two would not be on the road if not for HD making that segment live again), not to mention a plethora of Japanese look a likes. I have hung up my prejudices, there is something about the ride of a torquey V2 big CC machine that has a gut appeal, and while there are wanabes out there, there is a core that rides them for that real feeling, and do not underestimate it, those are the ones that establish what the others follow.
SPECIFICATIONS: CB700SC/ RC20 (If you want RC17 specs, go to their website, its great).
Engine: in line 4 cylinder 696 CC Bore: 67 Stroke: 49.4 Compression: 9.3-1 Valves: 4 per cylinders, hydraulic lifters HP: 80 ps (78.4 HP)
Torque; 45.2 ft lb 8,000
Oil: 84:……..3.8 qts 85 on: 4.1 QTS Front: 110/90-16 59H Rear: 130/90-16 67H
Dimensions: Dry Weight: 213kg/469.6 lb Length: 2155mm/84.8 inches Front brake swept area: 904 cm/140 sq in Rear brake swept area: 198 cm/31 sq in. Fuel Capacity TOTAL: 16ltr/4.2 US gal Reserve: 2.5lt/2.6 qts US Eng Weight: 82kg/161lb
Drive Train: Transmission: 6 speed (overdrive) Primary Reduction: 1.780 1st Gear Ration: 2.235 2nd Gear Ratio: 1.545 3rd Gear Ration 1.240 4th Gear Ratio: 1.037 5th Gear Ratio: .866 6th Gear Ratio: .750 Final Reduction: 4.037
Electrical: Ignition timing Mark (F); 10 deg BTDC
Full advance: 32 deg BTDC 3,150
Standard: NGK: DPR8EA-9
Extend high speed riding: NGK: DPR9EA-9
Ops below 5 Deg C: NGK: DPR7EA-9
GAP: .8 to .9mm/.031 to .035 in
Special Mention: I want to thank the Nighthawk S group I belong to (, Shawn’s Nighthawk S), Randy Os Nighthawk S page, RC17 fro letting me part of the group, CBX750 Page, as well as innumerable bits and pieces from a number of others, who make the sites out of a love of motorcycles.