1991–2003 Honda Nighthawk 750 | Smart Money

By Jerry Smith, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

Submitting an idea to a focus group is usually the fastest way to dumb it down from a brilliant concept to a bland misfire. But even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then, as evidenced by the Honda Nighthawk 750, a bike built for, and with substantial input from, the masses. For some it epitomized the best argument against group-think, but for others it was a shining example of how good an honest, no-frills motorcycle could be.

The Nighthawk’s air-cooled, four-cylinder engine traces its ancestry back to the CB700SC, and, aside from regular oil changes and the occasional carb sync, asks little of owners in terms of maintenance. Hydraulic valve-lash and cam-chain adjusters mean most Nighthawks go their entire lives without ever having their valve covers removed. The often-maligned focus group asked for, and received, a wide powerband, as well as tall gearing that lets the Nighthawk lope on the highway but hampers its roll-on acceleration.

The Nighthawk’s original MSRP of just $3998 ruled out first-rate componentry. The steel, single-backbone, double-cradle frame looks like it could have come off of any UJM built since the original Honda CB750 rolled off the line in the late 1960s. The twin rear shocks are adjustable only for preload, and the fork doesn’t even offer that. The so-so single front disc brake is paired with an anemic drum in the rear. Settle into the roomy saddle and you can see where several expenses were spared. The dashboard is as stark as a bathroom in a gas station, with a speedo, a tach, anonymous switches poached from the parts bin, and the bare minimum of indicator lights.

But looks aren’t everything. The Nighthawk’s sit-up riding position is comfortable for most riders, and with soft luggage and a windscreen this bike is equally at home commuting during the workweek or touring on the weekends. So what if it’s not flashy? Neither is a Swiss Army Knife, but it’s a surprisingly versatile tool.

Without acres of plastic bodywork it’s hard to miss oil leaks on a used Nighthawk. You should still pump the forks a few times to see if the seller wiped the tubes clean before you arrived, and pay careful attention to the valve-cover gasket. If it shows signs of having been removed, find out why, because the hydraulic valve-lash adjusters make it unnecessary to open the engine for regular maintenance.

The four-into-two exhaust system is chromed except for a short length of the collector under the bike, which is coated with some kind of silvery material that’s prone to rust. Aftermarket exhausts for the Nighthawk are rare, so it’s worth getting dirty to check this. Honda made a few accessories like a luggage rack and a centerstand, and many Nighthawk buyers opted for both. They’re worth a few dollars more on the asking price.

The test ride should include a check for unusual ticking noises coming from the valve train. Hydraulic adjusters can become clogged when the oil’s isn’t changed often. If the bike has been sitting for a while, check the battery’s charge.

Low maintenance, cheap to own and run, stellar reliability. Man’s best friend, with wheels.

Sort of…bland. Focus-group origins mean it doesn’t stand out in any one area.

Watch For
Rusted exhaust systems, tappet noise, leaky fork seals, long-term storage issues.

A solid, reliable performer for riders who’ve outgrown the need to impress others.

1991 | $1780
1993 | $1905
1995 | $1930
1997 | $2020
1999 | $2140
2001 | $2385
2003 | $2385

Buying Smart
The Nighthawk lured many lapsed riders back to the sport. Not all of them stuck with it, instead pushing their bikes into the garage next to the leaf blower where they sat for years before going up for sale. “It ran when I parked it” is a phrase you never want to hear about a bike you’re looking at, so don’t be tempted by hibernating Nighthawks unless you really like the smell of carb cleaner, ancient gasoline, and elbow grease.

By Jerry Smith
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