This one hits home for me, personally, as the Honda 750 Magna was the very first motorcycle I had ever ridden — and I was a passenger. Sure I had seen and sat on other bikes, but this was the first one to actually transport me somewhere. Both physically and mentally. I eventually gravitated towards sport(y) bikes, but it seems fitting the Magna gave me my start, considering its blending of both sporty and cruiser attributes. It was the safer choice of motorcycle for those who maybe couldn’t decide which spectrum of motorcycling they wanted to play in. The Magna has a cult following among its loyal fans, and hearing Associate Editor, Billy Bartels, talk about his first ride aboard the bike in 1997, it’s easy to see why, after a few modifications, the bike is still popular today.

First Impression: 1997 Honda 750 Magna

Don’t Call It a Cruiser

By Billy Bartels, Associate Editor Feb. 20, 1997
Photos by Tom Fortune and Gord Mounce

Honda Magna rear ridingSupposedly, 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.

Honda Magna left profileToday’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.

Honda Magna exhaustWhen 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.

Honda Magna front wheelNext, 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.

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.

Honda Magna engineWhile 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.

Honda Magna cockpitThe 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.

Honda Magna front ridingAnd 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.

Honda Magna attitudeSpecifications:

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.