First Impression: 1997 Honda 750 Magna

Don't Call It a Cruiser

story by Billy Bartels, Associate Editor , Photograph by Tom Fortune and Gord Mounce, Created Feb. 20, 1997
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Supposedly, there are only two types of motorcyclists -- those who like to cruise easy in comfort and those who like to make fast, regular trips to the chiropractor. However, Honda figured out a long time ago (1981 actually), that there were a select few that wanted to lounge in comfort and tear up the asphalt. For these hybrid riders Honda created the V45 Magna and, a year later, the V65 Magna.

Long and low, the Magna impresses with its 28-inch seat height.

The V65 went the way of the dodo bird a few years later, as reliability problems occurred with its larger, 1100cc motor (V65 refers to cubic inches). The V45 remains; however, its accouterments have changed over the years.

Today's Magna shares the designation of "power cruiser" alongside Yamaha's V-Max and Harley-Davidson's XL1200S Sportster Sport, although, with its V-4 sportbike engine dropped into a chassis designed to cruise, it has more in common with Kawasaki's Eliminator. Motorcycle styles have come and gone, and so has the Magna's. In the eighties its looks were typified by a tall, narrow profile. In the fashion-conscious nineties, the Magna has undergone an entire make-over, first with upswept pipes and a bikini fairing, and now with its long, low cruiser clothing.

"However, a word to the wise: Don't be fooled. It's no cruiser."

Four-into-four exhaust is cool, drum brakes are not. Today the Magna shares its four-cylinder engine with the VFR750F, a bike long honored by motojournalists (yes, us too) as the most livable sportbike ever made. Similarly hailed by motorcycle press everywhere as the best cruiser in the world, the Magna raised our expectations. We salivated at the thought of long rides into the sunset, with its new pipes and cam timing for even more torque and a cool, laid back feel.

When we took the Magna out for a 300 mile trip, we were disappointed for a number of reasons. First, its soft seat, while good for short jaunts around town, took its toll on the posterior, as your butt sinks into oblivion. Second, the bars were positioned at exactly the right angle to catch every single molecule of air that streams toward the pilot. The massive rectangular radiator sticks out like a sore thumb on the otherwise pretty front end.

Unless you have a steel grip, speeds of over 85mph are darn near impossible, and cruising over 75mph is very uncomfortable. We suggest purchasing Honda-line's $132 bikini fairing.

Next, just as your shoulders start to separate and your derriere is devoured by the seat, the engine starts to lose power and bog down. Darn, we were almost out of gas. After only about 110 miles on the open road (85 in the city), its time to refill.

On a more positive note, we did like the narrow ratio gearbox, it's solid and smooth, but is geared wrong for a cruiser. It has tall first and top gears that have you revving five to six large on the highway.


"We saw the engine's full potential as it rose past the buzzy 7-8 grand range and up into motorcycle nirvana."

Our next several jaunts on the Mag' were casual city commuting and boulevard cruising. Here the high, wide bars and the soft seat are right at home, but we discovered new concerns.

While not apparent on the highway, in the city we found midrange carburetion problems. Cruising between 4000 and 5000 rpm, the Magna tends to lean-surge, and pushing through this we felt a wide flat-spot that lasts until 7000 rpm (see dyno charts). However, at that point, you're probably feeling sorry for the poor engine and you'll want to shift soon.

The answer (obviously enough) is to lug the engine at lower rpm, but this leaves you with only about 25 horsepower to work with.

After its inauspicious beginning, things didn't look bright for the V-four. Fortunately, one day we got bored sitting around the office and went for a spin in the canyons. There we found the Magna's home. Hanging out with the relative slugs from our Middleweight Cruiser Test, the Magna dusted them. Its firm, compliant suspension soaked up the bumps and kept its composure through the turns.

The flat spot was still present, but the lean-surge wasn't a problem with constant rolling of the throttle and the ever-changing revs. The varied and aggressive environment of the twisties also gave us a chance to open up the throttle and scream, and we finally saw the engine's full potential as it rose past the buzzy 7-8 grand range and up into motorcycle nirvana.

Please email flames about the helmet here. Are we saying that the Magna is actually a sportbike in disguise? Not exactly. Do not attempt to hang with Ducatis and GSX-R750s in your local thrash zone, because unless they're ridden by total squids, you'll end up dusted or dead.

And while ground clearance is ample for a spirited cruise through the tight stuff, at a full sport pace either you will scrape parts off the bike or your body parts off the bottom of a ravine.

Thus, having glimpsed the potential of this bike, we'd like to offer a few suggestions to turn this slightly flawed bike into a truly great motorcycle. A few suggestions regarding the Magna we recently tested: A different cam for more bottom end. Clean up the carburetion. Lose the plastic. Clean up the components, radiator. Put a good seat on it ala ACE 750.

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Honda
Model: 1997 VF750C Magna
Price: $7499
Engine: dohc 4-valve 90-degree V-four
Bore x stroke: 70mm x 48.6mm
Displacement: 748cc
Carburetion: four 34mm CV
Transmission: 5-speed
Wheelbase: 65.0 in.
Seat height: 28.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.6 gal.
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