Forgotten Middleweight: 1988-1991 Honda NT650 Hawk GT

Best bets on tomorrow’s classics: 1988-1991 Honda NT650 Hawk GT.

| July/August 2014

As Honda’s current NC700 demonstrates — the NC700’s radically inclined liquid-cooled 670cc parallel twin is tilted 62 degrees forward — Honda has never shrunk from innovation as a way to kickstart sales. So it was during Big Red’s late 1980s doldrums that four mold-breaking bikes arrived in the U.S.: the screaming gear-drive double overhead cam 400cc CB-1 four; the practical but unlovely 800cc liquid-cooled PC800 Pacific Coast V-twin; the charming retro GB500 air/oil-cooled single; and the revolutionary liquid-cooled 650cc V-twin Hawk GT. But was the Hawk any good, or was it just originality for its own sake?

As a midsize V-twin naked sport-standard, the Hawk anticipated Ducati’s M900 by seven years and Suzuki’s SV650 by a decade. It incorporated a range of techie features like the RC30-style Pro-Am single-sided swingarm, Pro-Link single rear shock, cast alloy twin-beam chassis and stout (for the time) 41mm front forks with alloy triple trees.

Somewhat at odds with this racy specification was the engine, a bored-and-stroked version of the mild-mannered 1983 VT500 Ascot mill. This was a 52-degree, 3-valve, liquid-cooled V-twin with offset crankpins, a straight-cut gear primary and 5-speed transmission — though the Hawk used chain final drive instead of the Ascot’s shaft. Also new for the Hawk was digital ignition and dual-plug cylinder heads. But producing just 37.5 horsepower and 31ft/lb of torque at the rear wheel on Cycle magazine’s dyno, was the Hawk’s hi-tech spec wasted on a weedy powerplant?

Not so, said Cycle World, finding the Hawk’s powerplant very satisfying “if you like riding a bike with immediate throttle response…if you want a 650 that pulls from low rpm like a 750.” Cycle agreed: “The torquey, flat power spread of this engine coupled with a slick-shifting gearbox and light clutch makes the Hawk a cinch to ride...a crack of the throttle will zap highway traffic.” Cycle also recorded an impressive sub-13-second standing quarter at almost 100mph, thanks in part to the Hawk’s full-tank curb weight of just 411 pounds.

Cycle also liked the Hawk’s handling: “... the 650 GT has those qualities that encourage a brisk riding pace: light weight, nimble neutral steering, unshakable stability, lots of corner clearance ... balanced, responsive suspension and accessible power.” Cycle World praised the Hawk’s handling, too, noting that “with quick geometry and fat tires on wide 17-inch wheels, it responds immediately and positively to the rider’s every input.”

It seems what Honda had actually produced was an outstanding all-around motorcycle “that is as much at home on city streets as it is on back roads,” Cycle World said, noting a few negatives like a slightly short fuel range, a thinly padded seat and heat from the headers, all of which compromised its long-haul touring capability. Another area where Honda had perhaps cut corners was in the suspension. The front fork was non-adjustable, and Cycle World said it was “a little soft, diving under braking.” Likewise, the rear suspension — adjustable for spring preload only — “tends to feel mushy at speed,” Cycle World’s editor’s opined. Cycle’s tester also found the Hawk’s riding position “rather cramped” and the entire motorcycle “small and better suited for smaller riders.” On the plus side, Cycle World appreciated the inclusion of a centerstand and thoughtfully positioned bungee cord hooks for occasional luggage.

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