Honda has cut its V-four two ways. The Magna is the New
four with an appearance bias; the Sabre The one faithful to function. The
Magna adheres to the shape that most of all
This is the motorcycle everybody else was afraid Honda might
build someday. Those who weren't worried should have been, and probably are now.
Honda would not have built this motorcycle do five years ago, nor given it a
proper name. Welcome to 1982.
Honda's new 750. or V45 it you prefer, proves
that the era oft the Universal Japanese Motorcycle, given formal definition in
this magazine years ago, is an era in passing. Honda could have built a third
generation UJM, a successor to the first CB750 series (1969-1978) and the second
(1979-to whenever), but did not. To be successful in the 1980s, a manufacturer
must produce something that is new and is perceived as new. Yamaha understood
this proposition first: designers dressed up an old motorcycle in new and
different clothes, the Yamaha XS650 twin, and finally created a new motorcycle
in different clothes, the 750 Virago.
Honda engineers started with empty drafting tables and blood in their
eye; the result is new, staggeringly new. You want a freshly minted engine, a
copy of nothing and similar to nothing before? Well, have this Vee-four with
four overhead camshafts, 16 valves, water cooling six speeds and shaft drive.
You'd have to be blind and deaf to miss the newness of this motorcycle. You want
a styling motif in cruiser mode, Milwaukee esque, something with a dense,
industrial look in the engine compartment, something that looks like it could
repel sledge-hammer blows?
At one time Honda might have blushed, hesitating
to pursue glitz and fashion and the vagaries thereof. Today Honda invites you to
try the route to the Midwest via Asaka, Japan. Now the Motorcycle Engineering
Company has even found a toughie-boy name for this mean-ish, Vee-four Mo'Sickle:
Magna It takes a hidden, auxiliary fuel tank and a fuel pump to have both
reasonable gas capacify and a main gas tank in the cruiser style and size. So be
it: then the Magna has two tanks and one fuel pump. Eeeek: Form dictating
function, right? Not entirely. Did anyone ever complain that the Gold Wing has a
fuel pump and tank buried in the "wrong" place, and a falsie-tank in front of
the saddle? The point is this: when the engineering department begins by tossing
out the UJM concept and designs a completely new engine and motorcycle, then
form becomes just another set of engineering issues that the department deals
The Magna is Honda's ultimate weapon in market warfare. Here's a
motorcycle that retails for $3298, barely more expensive than premium 550s.
Potentially these V45s~Magna and Sabre could cut a broad swath through
motorcycling, from the 550 level upward. The Sabre offers new with a
functional bias, and the Magna new with an appearance bias. If the functional
purist didn't have the Sabre option, he'd be tempted to buy a Magna for the
engine alone, and then remake the rest of the motorcycle to suit.
be difficult. Because, while Honda used the same engine/drive train package for
the Sabre and Magna, the motorcycles are very different machines. In the Magna,
the cruiser seating position benefits from the narrow engine, a bit more than 16
inches wide at the pegs. This means the footpegs can be moved far forward; and,
in fact, the Magna has the most radically forward-positioned pegs of any Honda.
With most transverse four-cylinder engines, the rider would have his feet
splayed out and his toes in the alternator cover. The Magna's rear-bank cylinder
head (9.0 inches across) allows the tank to stay narrow and still cover the
In both the Magna and Sabre, low saddle height was an important
objective. The V-fours' rear-bank cam covers come apart in two sections; this is
a consequence of dropping the upper frame rails as low as possible, running them
along the top of the engine. And in the V-four frames, the left-side
engine-cradles unbolt to permit side excavation of the engines.
With a saddle
height under 30 inches, the Magna is a real low-rider. In this, the twin-shock
rear suspension aids; a single shock positioned under the seat would, with the
inclusion of other components, require more seat elevation to get everything in
and under. Among these components is the under-saddle gas tank, which is the
second part of an interconnected fuel system. An electric fuel pump draws from
the bottom of the lower tank to feed the carburetors. Thus, styling
considerations (such as tank shape) and engineering objectives (such as low
saddle height) were served by building a twin-shocker.
From the broad, flat
seat, the rider reaches out to the handlebar, the grips of which angle back,
down and outward, positioning the rider's hands just forward of a vertical line
rising from the footpegs. Now that's forward pegs. The Magna gas tank appears
smaller and narrower than the Sabre's; smaller it is, because the air filter
must, unlike the Sabre's, live under the tank. But, curiously, the
Lower, 1-gallon fuel tank interconnects with main upper
tank. Fuel pump draws from lower tanks bottom. Fuel system has
straight on-off petcock: no reserve position. Under seat compactness
keeps seat height low.
Magna's air cleaner fits under the tank between the
frame tubes. Undressed bike shows all available space
Magna tank is wider and lower than the Sabre's at
The low saddle, forward pegs and erect riding position
allow short riders to get both feet planted flat on the ground at stops, where
their legs will be behind the pegs. That's terrific for stoplight trollers on
the avenue; the ergonomics are less splendid outside city limits.
pegs and the resulting riding position conspire to make the Magna a short-hop
motorcycle, regardless of how cushy the suspension might be. Fifty miles of
freeway riding is acceptable; 150 miles of varied riding in a single sitting
tested our riders' limits. One tester always wore his Gold Belt when he rode the
Magna. Peg location is the most objectionable single feature because it strains
the back by forcing the spine to support upper-body weight; arms, shoulders and
hands bear no stationary load at all. Wind speed aggravates the problem by
making the rider pull into the bar.
Because they are less ergonomically
successful than standard motorcycles, cruiser style bikes actually fit a narrow
range of riders. Parked in a showroom, at rest, they feel reasonably comfortable
to everyone. In actual road use, however, an individual rider's physical
characteristics explain much of his reaction to the motorcycle's comfort. Riders
who are large and overweight, or who are well over six feet tall, or who have
relatively long legs and short torsos, or who have back problems from age or
injury are, in general, not good candidates for the sit-straight school of
ergonomics. But shorter riders, riders with relatively long torsos and abort
legs and with backs in good condition show less sensitivity to the riding
position of motorcycles like the Magna. Bringing back real test rides (don't you
wish) would probably help an enormous number of riders decide whether a
particular motorcycle style is well suited to their physical characteristics and
Honda matched the Magna's suspension to its riding
position; compared with the Sabre's, both are mediocre. They're a match in
another way The sit-up riding position cries out for a soft rear suspension to
minimize road shocks administered to the rider's spine. That Honda has done, hut
the choices aren't easy here. There are trade-offs. The low saddle height means
that the rear suspension can't have much travel, and the ever-popular shaft
drive guarantees lots of rear wheel sprung weight, which is always difficult to
control; matters are complicated by a final-drive system that tries to extend
the suspension under power and settles down on trailing throttle. Makers have
therefore produced shaft-drive motorcycles that cluster around two poles. At one
pole are bikes with firm to harsh rear suspensions that behave well under hard
riding that tests handling; at the other pole are bikes that have soft, pleasant
rides on the freeway, and get unruly under backroad pressure.
seem to have concluded that the Magna should be boulevard and freeway cushy:
soft springs and light damping, and nothing further. The rear suspension units,
while trick-looking with their remote reservoirs, have no damping adjustment.
Five-position spring preload sums up the shock absorbers' adjustability.
rear suspension delivers a smooth and compliant ride around town with little
preload (one or two). On straight highways at speed, preload to the third or
fourth level is required to cancel out a floaty sensation over bumps,
reminiscent of traditional American luxury cars. Still, the soft. short-travel
rear suspension bottoms out over medium potholes, or by adding a passenger.
While it has reasonable ground clearance. the Magna resists sporty-type riding
over backroads. With little preload. the bike feels rubbery and vague in corners
over bumps and on trailing throttle: a lot of preload helps, but you're working
against the basic suspension decisions made in Japan, there's lust too little
spring, not much travel, not enough damping, and all that sprung weight. The
Magna needs less flash and more substance in the rear suspension units - Fully
adjustable damping, both rebound and compression, and maybe air-assisted
springing, would give owners some latitude to make their own suspension
The 37mm front fork is likewise calibrated to the Magna's cruiser
role. It's air-assisted fork caps have individual valves in them, and we
experimented with air pressures between 12 arid 22 psi. twelve pounds let the
fork soak up road imperfections; though it didn't quite intercept less severe
pavement irregularities such as slight pavement breaks as well as the fork on
our last test CB1100F. At 12 psi the fork could be bottomed on driveway
entrances. Increased air pressure obviated this bottoming problem without
disturbing the fork's compliance over lane-divider dots.
The Magna's built-in
fork brace should help keep the tubes from twisting under decisive input tram
hard riders at high speeds. making the steering feel very positive and
instantaneous. Both the Sabre and Magna have a greater distance between their
lower triple clamps and axles than the current motorcycle norm. If tying the
sliders together top and bottom reduces any flex-induced stiction, then Honda
has been successful be cause the front fork is very active. Furthermore, the
Magna and Sabre forks have their dual Syntallic bushings both located in the
sliders, rather than one on the tubes and one in the sliders. The new system
keeps the bushings the same distance apart and thus the fork may be a little
more responsive when operating at near full extension. Both bushings bear (and
slide) against steel tubing.
The front fork is TRAC-equipped, Honda's version
of anti-dive, explained in detail in the CB750 Nighthawk test (April, 1982).
Functionally, we like this system on two counts: Since it does nut work off the
master cylinder, the front brake lever never feels spongy: and TRAC produces
more anti-dive effect, we think, than in other contemporary systems.
diminished front-end dive encouraged our test riders to use the front double
disc brake harder than normal, thus provoking tire howl. You wouldn't want do
this unless the brakes were progressive and readable. Honda's are. The Magna
employs the now familiar Honda double-piston calipers, elongated pads and
slotted discs. On the Magna the non-adjustable front brake lever seemingly has
little tree play, causing small-handed riders to pull against master-cylinder
pressure with their fingertips, an annoying niggle when wearing winter riding
gloves. Actually the hand position on the Magna bar grip creates this impression
by putting the lever at a greater reach than standard bars do; the amount of
lever free play is just fine. In any event two or three fingers can howl the
wide-footprint 110-90 x 18 Dunlop Qualifier tire. The rear drum brake, built
into the cast rear wheel, is small but works fine. Motorcycling seems over its
compulsion to fit 10 inch discs to rear wheels.
Honda has kissed good-bye to
the composite wheels in favor of cast alloy- primarily a concession to styling
rather than engineering. As a style leader, the Magna must have state-of-fashion
cast wheels. The rim widths (2.50 front: 3.00 rear) indicate that the V-fours
have reached 1982 tire requirements and are prepared for future developments.
Indeed, rim width is a more significant advance here than wheel construction.
After nudging the choke lever
up, turn-lag the key and hitting
the starter button, you'll not question where the greatest technological leap
forward lies in the Magna: the engine. It has a throaty, gutsy flat sound,
something like two Honda 400T twins revving in unison. More amazing is the sheer
volume of this sound. Is it legal? Yes. Decibel meters can't distinguish between
exhaust notes and mechanical noise emanating from engine cases; human ears can.
Quiet the engine with water cooling, silent timing chains and anti-backlash
gears and, presto, you can step up the good sounds, which are clear and present
to the rider at stops, not at speed.
While the Sabre treats its rider to a display-panel light show, the
Magna has traditional dial face mechanical drive tachometer and speedometer,
indicator lights and a water-temperature gauge. These lights reside under dark
window panels, and indicators light up the appropriate leg ends marked on the
dark window panels. In shade, readability is fine; in strong, direct sunlight
the lights are almost invisible. A rider might miss the fuel level warning light
during a fast cruise on a sunny day. The light generally winks on at 110 to 120
miles, presumably when the main tank runs dry (2.6 gallons); but should you miss
it for 30 miles, you'll be about 10 miles away from pushing. The Magna has no
reserve tap, only an on off fuel valve located behind the right side-cover.
Another surprise; Filling the gas tank to the brim causes the cap to seep.
Magna, a hundred greenbacks cheaper than the Sabre, lacks two
important features of its mate. First, no self-canceling turn signals; second,
no fiber-optic safety cable. We didn't miss the self extinguishing signals; for
our tastes the Sabre signals cycled far too short a time and distance. On the
Magna, we would have preferred the turn-signal indicator lights at the top
rather than the bottom of the instrument panel.
By virtue of the Magna's
looks, we think it's more likely than the Sabre to be ripped off, but the Magna
has only the protection of an ignition key fork lock combination. The Sabre has
a key activated, self contained and independently powered alarm system, into
which plugs the male end of a sheathed cable, normally stowed in its place above
the tool kit. The cable has a closed loop-eye on one end; the rider can lasso a
lightpost and plug the male end into the receptacle beneath the left sidecover.
The sheathed cable has fiber-optic material in its center; if the cable is cut,
a piercing little beeper sounds. The system can't be circumvented. The anti
theft system is neat but the Magna doesn't have it. For Magna owners its an
accessory alarm, lock, and chain, garage or hard to hand combat
riding is no treat with the Magna or the Sabre. The front fenders are useless
for water protection; in all probability they are better than nothing. The
Magna's rear fender is so short if seemingly does little to keep the rear wheel
spray from being pulled up and forward. Our advice to Magna riders who see a
storm ahead, head for shelter.
Day or night, rain or shine, the effortless
way the Magna operates on the far distant side of Legal-Speed is a tribute to
the engine, its mounting system and the sixth overdrive gear. Since the V-four
has perfect primary balance, the only concern might he some secondary vibration
at high engine speeds. Yet this is inconsequential because the engine attaches
to the frame (both Magna and Sabre) with six rubber mounts. four on the
crankcases and two on the rear cylinder head; the mounting system is identical
to that on CB900F bikes, with two kinds of rubber in a collar, the first
controlling radial and the second lateral vibrations. In this way high-frequency
vibrations fail to penetrate to the rolling chassis and rider. Finally, the
engine turns about 4500 rpm at 55 mph in fifth, and sixth drops the revs below
an indicated 4000 rpm.
At the drag strip the Magna recorded an impressive
12.29-second quarter-mile, running through at 109.62 mph; the Sabre cut through
in 12.23 seconds at 108.56 mph. These V-fours surround the Kawasaki KZ750E3 (December 1981), which posted a 12.276-second, 109.22-mph pass at the drag
strip. To date, the Magna is the fastest 750 we've put on the strip, by about
0.4 mph, and the Sabre is the quickest arriving at the quarter's end a
0.046-second nano-blink sooner than the KZ750.
Normally, we'd bubble over
about the raw numbers; the V-fours, however, impress the rider in a completely
different way: the nonchalant almost detached way they make this performance. No
fuss, no busyness, just here's a 12.23 and it wasn't much of a bother --let's he
on our way.
We decided the V-four should he on its way to the dyno, despite
the difficulties created by mating a shaft drive motorcycle to the dyno. Because
the Honda V fours were so radically new and we were so curious about their power
output, we had a special fixture built at the dyno so the V-four could he put on
the pump. We knew that despite differences in the air cleaners and pipes, both V
fours had nearly identical outputs. The Sabre went to the dyno. With the rear
wheel removed, the Sabre's drive shaft turned a special rear axle carrying a
sprocket, which in turn linked to the dyno sprocket by means of a chain. Bear in
mind that the method introduces one more stage between engine and dyno. Though
not tentative, the figures reflect our first experience: only further experience
will demonstrate how completely numbers taken this way can he compared with
others from chain-driven bikes. The V-four's horsepower and torque figures may
he slightly higher than indicated by our charts. Although the Magna and Sabre
are about 20 and 30 pounds heavier, respectively, than the Kawasaki Kz750. the
dragstrip times for all three bikes were practically the same
makes a bit more peak horsepower than the K7750 (65.05 vs. 62.10), but it's the
VF750 power spread that's compelling. Where the Kawasaki makes more than 59
horsepower over a 1000-rpm hand, the V-four does so over a 2000-rpm spread.
Upstairs, there's more horsepower under the curve, which helps to explain why
the heavier V-fours could run with the Kawasaki at the strip. The Kawasaki,
however, has marginally better horsepower figures, in general, from 2500 rpm to
6000 rpm. The quickest and fastest Honda CH750F in our record books ran a 12.57
105.01 mph quarter mile, it made the same kind of upper end dyno power as the
V-four, was about as strong down-range, and weighed about 30 more pounds than
the Magna. Figures aside, the Magna and Sabre are strong. The V-four impresses
riders as having a broad, flat and high torque curve and a lot at pull-away
power in sixth gear.
That quality about the V tour makes one wonder whether
Honda has a touring Magna on the drawing boards. Look how the pegs, gearshift
linkage and brake pedal are laid out, and then think about it. Honda could
easily make an alternative tank, seat, bar and footpegs for the Magna, then
upgrade the rear suspension, and create an instant tourer.
The Magna's seat, a his and her split level number, corresponds to the
riding position and rear suspension. The riding position drives long-legged
riders back, putting their rumps against or on the rise pocket; it's better for
smaller people. The saddle is broad, flat and soft in the rider's pocket If
feels cushy enough, and with a short rear suspension travel the seat must assume
rider suspension duties. Yet after 100 miles or so, a rider feels as if he's
compressed the foam even though he hasn't; it's just that fatigue and bun-burn
make him aware of the saddle's flatness and the stepped ride. For any one rider,
the ergonomic relationships and the saddle construction dictate a single seating
position. From that pocket, the rider can get little fore-aft movement, and the
rear footpegs are too far rearward to give the rider any alternate positioning.
Like the Sabre, the Magna could use some more seat work for those riders who
want to ride more than a 100 miles in a stretch.
Again like the Sabre, the
Magna throws some heat back on the rider from the radiator. California winter
conditions were cool enough that we couldn't quite determine how objectionable
the heat throw-oft might be. A couple of 85 degree days indicated that the
outside temperature combined with radiator throw-off and radiant heat from the
rear cylinder head would warm the Sabre rider's legs and thighs to tolerable
limits. Clipping along on the Sabre on a 90-degree after noon might be
unpleasant. The Magna, with its wider gas tank and different riding position,
doesn't have the problem to the same degree as the Sabre In part, the rider's
legs are farther away from the engine; also, the Magna's riding position
encourages lower highway speeds.
We'd fake a fair amount of heat to get this
engine; it's that much a functional marvel in other ways. In functional terms
the Magna is compromised compared with the Sabre. Pure-blood sporting riders
will proceed directly to the Sabre without so much as a look at the Magna. But
guys who want that engine in a motorcycle with styling bias will gravitate to
the Magna. Honda figures the Magna customers will outnumber Sabre-types three or
four to one. These V-fours signal a giant step forward; they represent a
breath-stopping escalation of techno warfare in the motorcycle market; they
portend the arrival of a whole new generation of Honda street motorcycles; and
the Magna, especially, announces that in the future everyone will have to sell
style and super tech together.