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Old 02-10-2014, 11:49 AM   #1
JackHinds OP
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1980's Honda Nighthawk - 450 or 650?

Hey everyone! First post here, in preparation for my first motorcycle! I'm getting ready to take on a project bike, just to get to know how everything works and make sure I'm well-versed from a maintenance perspective before I actually get to riding the thing.

The bike I'd had in my head that I wanted was a 1980's Honda Nighthawk 450. My girlfriend's Uncle owns one and after he was kind enough to let me ride it, I was hooked.

They are, however, proving quite difficult to find. I've been looking since November and I haven't been able to find much that would work for what I want to do. My question to you fine folks is this: do you have any views on shaft-driven bikes versus chain driven bikes, when purchasing something that's a bit older and seen some use?

The Nighthawk 650 seems much more common, and I'm beginning to think that it's the only thing I'll ever find. Are there disadvantages, in the long run, to a shaft driven motorcycle? My common sense tells me that something that was designed to be "low-maintenance" typically turns into something that is very hard to maintain, as the years wear on.

Any thoughts? Once the rebuild starts happening, I'll start up a thread so you can see my misadventures
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Old 02-10-2014, 03:39 PM   #2
High Country Herb
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Shaft drive: Are you talking about the 80's Honda VT500 Ascot? Those look like sweet little bikes, and we tried to find one for my wife's first bike (she ended up getting a dual sport). They are sort of collector pieces now, so the prices are a bit higher than similar bikes without v-twin engines. I don't have first hand knowledge of their shaft drive, but didn't hear anyone complaining about them either. You might want to check if Honda still stocks wear parts for it though. I know they discontinued some key parts on other 80's bikes. There is also an FT500 that is similar, but without the v-twin, and it has chain drive.

The Nighthawk is far more common, so you could always find used parts if needed. I think either the 450 or 650 will be a good first bike. The 450 would be a little more appropriate for learning on, but whatever you find in good condition would be fine. The 650 will take longer to "outgrow".

You're in the right ballpark, now you just need to find an unmolested example.
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Old 02-10-2014, 03:56 PM   #3
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Thanks Herb. I actually saw an Ascot come up for sale here in December. It looked like it was in pretty rough shape, though.

The Hawk 650 was shaft drive, and that was kinda why I was wondering. Makes sense to check on the parts. I'll go about doing that before I go too far down the road.

Is shaft drive not that common anymore? I know there are a lot of belt driven bikes around nowadays, but the shaft drive made me raise my eyebrows a bit
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Old 02-10-2014, 04:11 PM   #4
High Country Herb
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Huh. I didn't realize the 650 was a shaft. The 450 and 750 are not.

There are lots of shaft drives around, but I think most are BMW. Just do a search on here for "final drive failure".

I doubt that applies to Honda, though. Every red bike I've owned was as trouble free as an anvil. I'm probably exaggerating there, but yeah, Hondas are reliable. Another key part to check on would be the intake manifold(s). They are just a hard rubber boot between the carb(s) and the cylinder, but a crack in one will keep the bike from running right.
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Old 02-10-2014, 04:30 PM   #5
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In 83 the 650 went to shaft drive, hyd valves, & 4 valve heads. The 83 550 Nighthawk also had hyd valves, 4 valves per head, but had chain final drive.

The 450 Nighthawk has always been a simple(if not underpowered), chain drive, 2 valve bike.

Do yourself a favor and find a 83+ 650 Nighthawk or 85+ Nighthawk S. They started making the Nighthawk S in 84, but have poorly design engine cases that would leak oil and required the cases to be split to replace the seal. Don't ask me how I know............

Never had an issue with a shaft drive bike new or old(never owned a BMW). In fact I wish they would return on smaller bikes.
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Old 02-10-2014, 06:11 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PAULIBIKER View Post
In 83 the 650 went to shaft drive, hyd valves, & 4 valve heads. The 83 550 Nighthawk also had hyd valves, 4 valves per head, but had chain final drive.

The 450 Nighthawk has always been a simple(if not underpowered), chain drive, 2 valve bike.

Do yourself a favor and find a 83+ 650 Nighthawk or 85+ Nighthawk S. They started making the Nighthawk S in 84, but have poorly design engine cases that would leak oil and required the cases to be split to replace the seal. Don't ask me how I know............

Never had an issue with a shaft drive bike new or old(never owned a BMW). In fact I wish they would return on smaller bikes.
+1 in all regards.

One of the benifits of a Nighthawk is that you can be absoultely sure that the valve lash is still in spec

Don't let shaft drive keep you from a bike that you like. The older shaft driven machines have very robust final drives. Failure of a final drive is a rare event, but do be sure to go over all maintainance points with the assumption that none of the regular work was ever done.
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Old 02-10-2014, 08:59 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PAULIBIKER View Post
The 450 Nighthawk has always been a simple(if not underpowered), chain drive, 2 valve bike.
A nit-picker would remind you that they're 3-valve bikes
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Old 02-10-2014, 09:20 PM   #8
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My '83 650 was a great bike. Unfortunately, the hydraulic valves don't care much for repeated full throttle launches at the dragstrip.
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Old 02-11-2014, 07:36 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by dpforth View Post
A nit-picker would remind you that they're 3-valve bikes

I stand corrected......
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Old 02-11-2014, 08:07 AM   #10
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Hi Jack ... I like your approach:

"just to get to know how everything works and make sure I'm well-versed from a maintenance perspective before I actually get to riding "

That makes good sense. Figured I'd chime in here, since a 450 Nighthawk was my very first bike, bought a new '82 when I turned 18 years old back in '83. Outstanding bike, I put 6600 miles on it that summer before hitting a deer with it.

Since then, hundreds of bikes have rolled thru my garage, but you never forget your first love. A few years back, I took a shabby 450 Nighthawk as partial trade toward the CLEANEST DR650 ON THE PLANET WHICH I WILL REGRET SELLING UNTIL THE DAY I DIE (sorry, rant over). Took it in trade mostly for sentimental reasons, but the darned thing was STILL entertaining. It's just a good, decent, honest, reliable, versatile bike - and sized for a full-sized adult.

One more has fallen in my lap since then, I started tearing it down a couple weeks ago, just took the frame off the motor the other night ... I'm treating it to a full frame-up cleaning/refurbishment, cleaning things up and replacing wear items as I go. Should be done in another month or so, and up for sale. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend the CB450SC, you really can't go wrong.

Robb in Milwaukee WI
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Old 02-11-2014, 04:56 PM   #11
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Thanks guys, all great pieces of advice! I'll definitely consider the 650. Nice to know what the mode of failure could be (even if it's super remote). I'm going to check out an '82 CB450T Hawk tomorrow. Not the Nighthawk, but same vein. And it seemed to be a well-favoured bike at the time it was built.

Thanks for all the encouragement! I'm excited to get this project going. My girlfriend is going to be moving to a more remote part of the province to finish her PHD, so I'm planning many outings for this bike.

I've seen the DR650 come up a lot in this forum (I lurk). I briefly considered looking at a dual sport bike, but I figured I'm allowed to adventure on whatever I want, right? Though I'm starting to think this pastime is a bit like mountain biking, in that I'll get convinced I've got money, time and space for another bike, and that I REALLY need it.
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Old 02-11-2014, 06:27 PM   #12
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I'd avoid the 550 Nighthawk. They seemed to be a bit troublesome compared to the others. Half-hearted cruiser styling didn't quite work either.
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Old 02-11-2014, 06:39 PM   #13
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I think the 650 had shaft drive, hydraulic valves, hydraulic clutch... Pretty low maintenance. Watch for knuckleheads who ran the piss out of them in the redline...you'll hear a cam chain rattle around 5000rpm. Maybe double check the alternator rotor is still charging as should (common for all dohc Hondas, $100 fix getting it rebuilt). Other than that, make sure everything is functional. I wouldn't pay more than $1500 or so for a nice one.

The 450 on the other hand was nothing more than a honda parallel twin with a nighthawk badge. Still not a bad bike, I would pay more than $1000 for a nice one.
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Old 02-11-2014, 08:52 PM   #14
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I can see! Those kinds of places are where I aspire to take this bike. My sister lives in New Brunswick, and I'd love to take the bike out to the East Coast for a month. I'm in Ontario, from Manitoulin Island originally.

Are there huge differences between the CB450SC and the CB450T? Honda's model hierarchy confuses the living daylights out of me. Near as I can figure, they use the same engine, yes? Any reason they carried both models in '82, then scrapped the CB450T?

We'll see where this all leads. Sounds like as long as the bike is in pretty good nick they're all good, reliable rides.
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Old 02-12-2014, 07:46 AM   #15
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"I briefly considered looking at a dual sport bike, but I figured I'm allowed to adventure on whatever I want, right?"

More great words of wisdom, right there ... and if memory serves, mine did quite a nice job of sliding around the rural gravel roads by my house :)

Anyone out there has some spare parts, I need some for my project ... could use a decent tank, an intact left sidecover, and a good seat ...
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