Once in a lifetime, everyone happens on something they know is absolutely perfect for them. What that is differs from person to person, but for me, it was my 1984 Honda 500 Interceptor. Since that day, I have not, even once, encountered a machine so close to perfection as that little bike. Really, the Interceptor was poetry in motion and I regret to this day not keeping it.I consider the Honda V-4 motors the best motorcycle engines ever, bar none. They were light, narrow and compact. The design gave a very low centre of gravity. The engines produced unheard of torque for the era. There was little need to shift gears much on any Honda V-4, so good was the power band. The first V-4s arrived with the 1982 V-45 Sabre. In many ways, the Sabre revolutionised motorcycles; it was easy to ride, had loads of torque, was narrow, relatively light but there was one huge innovation that often gets left out: light touch controls. All the levers and controls were very easy to use on all these Honda bikes, making them much easier to ride than their competition. These were great bikes and there are still loads of them around they are so tough. I recently saw a very nice V-65 Sabre with the Honda Line sport fairing and 20,000 km. Sabres were seriously underrated.
The Sabre 750 cc V-4 made it into the 1983 V-45 Interceptor and this is when the trouble began. The Japanese Yen was still Y360 to a US dollar. This meant that really high performance bikes were dirt cheap for the average Joe. The torque of the V-4 motors meant that you could troll around on the things at less than 2000 rpm; however, doing so meant that not enough oil got pumped onto the cams, of which there were a total of four. After about a year, many engines came in with cam problems; Honda replaced all the motors with improved models, but the damage was done. The Honda V-4 was as good as dead, and that is a terrible shame. The 500 engine never had this problem; early editions had big end bearing problems and Honda replaced all the motors free of charge. Mine was a very late 1984 model, made after the update.
I liked the 750 Interceptor but when the 500 came out, all the bike magazines raved about it. The theme was, “Less is More,” and that sums up the 500. It was not a downsized 750; rather it was a slightly upsized VF400F from Japan. The actual size of the bike was the same (more on that later) but it had a couple of innovations that were really special: the most obvious was the box section tube perimeter frame. T he V-4 made it possible to do this without the bike being too wide and I hate wide bikes. This frame, along with truly racing-class suspension made the 500 a truly awesome sport bike. Added to this was a aluminum swing arm and the controversial 16” front wheel. The bike received rave reviews for overall balance. Naturally, I had to have one.
In the fall of 1984, the Reagan administration was making all kinds of noises about how they felt the Yen was undervalued. The upshot of this was the Yen went from 360 to the US dollar to 150 within the space of a few months. I saw the writing on the wall and went looking for a 500 Interceptor. The local Honda dealership had one left and I put a deposit on it. The price I still remember was $3448, taxes in. That is $6918 in today’s money. A 2012 CBR600RR, for comparison, comes out at $11,880 taxes in and this is after a huge price cut last year. Any wonder we don’t see many people riding anymore?
The deal was done and I had to wait for my baby, since it was November and not worth riding in our wet, rainy winter. I chomped at the bit and finally got the bike delivered in February. It was still cold but not freezing and what the heck, I was young. Being flush with cash at the time, I immediately ditched the stock tires and replaced them with Pirelli Phantoms, the highest performance rubber of the time. The 500 was unlike anything I had ever ridden. That wonderful V-4 made good torque right off the line but the real fun was from 8000-12,500 rpm; the bike just screamed at those speeds and have a really generous powerband to work with. It meant that you didn’t have to shift on really twisty roads. All you had to do is dial in throttle. The power was the perfect balance: not too much to overwhelm the chassis and plenty to keep anyone entertained. Coupled to this brilliant engine was the best shifting six speed transmission I have ever experienced. Honda had designed a planetary gear shift mechanism for the 500 and it was fantastic; never a missed shift, very low effort (like all the controls) and easy to find neutral. No clunking or banging, either, just an excellent piece of engineering.
What I loved about the 500 was its approach to performance. Wet weight was only 432 lbs on this bike, the centre of gravity was low and the 16” front wheel gave instant response. This bike was, heads and above, the best handling bike I have ever ridden. It was obscenely easy to ride at absurd speeds and it always wanted to go faster. It as the kind of bike you went out of your way to find the long way home. Added to that great motor and chassis were superb brakes. For the twisty, windy roads of rural Vancouver Island, the Interceptor was magic. It was the ideal combination of everything, power, handling and speed. Riding this bike fast took zero grunt; it steered at tracked with telepathy, the only bike I have ever known that would do this. You simply looked at where you want to go and the bike magically followed your thoughts; it was amazingly easy to ride fast. All the controls were light, convenient and easy to use. The clutch was hydraulic and, like the front brake, took only two fingers to use. The instrument panel was also perfect; really, the bike was a beautiful design.
All things have downsides and the 500 had one major flaw: it was scaled to the average dwarf. The bike was tiny and anyone over 5’9” would be seriously uncomfortable in an hour or two. I am six feet tall and when my feet were on the pegs, my legs were folded almost double. Since I was young this was not a big problem but these days I don’t think I could do it. The other problem as maintenance costs; the O-ring chain lasted the whole time I had the bike but servicing the complicated engine was not cheap. Dealer visits ran $300 a crack at the time and I was doing the oil myself. Not cheap at all. Two-up riding was practically impossible on the 500 and that made my girlfriend feel rather left out; however, at that age, my priorities were simple. She stayed home while I rode!
I had the 500 for two years and we went on many trips. The best one was in the summer of 1985, when my buddy and I rode all the way to San Diego, via US 101. The best part was through the redwood forest on northern California, which was hours of twisty, windy roads, on which the 500 thrived. Even today, all those years later, shiver when I think about it. The trip back on I-5 was not nearly as much fun but at that age, the body can recover pretty quickly. The 500 was flawless on that trip and I really had a lot of fun.
Like I have stated before, I cannot stand success but I also like riding for cheap. The 1985 500 Interceptor listed at $6800 and sales in Canada practically stopped. By 1986, I was gearing up for another stint in university and I couldn’t afford both my Jetta and the 500. The bike actually cost a lot more to run that the car, since it needed plenty of $300 valve adjustments and carb syncs to keep it in top trim. It had 24,000 km on it and it still looked like new. I bit the bullet and put it in the paper. It took all of three days to sell it and the transaction price was $3100. It had cost me $348 in depreciation over two years. Not bad at all if I do say so myself.
I truly regret selling that bike since I have not since that day ridden a bike that was so good. Everything was just so perfectly balanced in the 500 Interceptor. It was just so fun to ride and looked so cool. It was also as reliable as fence post and very easy to live with because the V-4 was so good in traffic. I probably couldn’t ride in comfortably at my age but it sure is fun to reminisce. This bike was a Honda product and in the entire time I had it, the bike was flawless. That is the reason I still buy Honda products today.