BOAL: 1991 Honda Nighthawk – First Motorcycle

A couple of years ago I decided to teach myself how to ride a motorcycle. The smart and reasonable way to do this is to sign up for a course. Never one to be accused of doing things the easy way I bought a cheap motorbike to teach myself instead.

When I embarked on this journey I knew very little about motorbikes but I had strong feels on what I did not want rather than what I did. I had no desire for a large, loud, Harley-Davidson style bike. I had even less desire to have anything with the Harley-Davidson brand name on it as they seemed quite a bit more costly and had a certain vibe to them (fairly or not). I also had no interest in a crazy, ultra high performance sport bike. Looks wise and comfort wise there was a lot of appeal in more of a standard motorbike. A classic one would be ideal but I definitely did not want the maintenance commitment of a legitimate classic.

I figured a small displacement bike would be a decent idea for a self teaching beginner and better make it a cheap one in case motorcycles and I did not gel. I found this Honda Nighthawk with only five thousand some kilometers (three thousand-ish miles) on it locally. They must have been a hard five thousand some kilometers though. It was originally red in color but painted (poorly) flat black at some point in the past and while a little odd looking I figured it would make a good learning bike. I talked the seller into delivering it to me since I did not even have a helmet yet never mind the ability to ride it or a license.

The Nighthawk is powered by a 234CC air-cooled parallel twin backed by a five speed gearbox which was also used in the more common cruiser inspired Honda Rebel. Interestingly the engine is completely square with a bore and stroke of 53 mm × 53 mm (2.1 in × 2.1 in). The drive is via a chain.

The Nighthawk is a small bike ideal for learners and was often used by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training courses. The design came out in 1982 and did not change much over the run until it was discontinued in 2008. Slowly I taught myself to ride around the neighborhood before venturing out into the city. For those who have not ever ridden before there is a lot to coordinate together when first learning. First gear is down with your foot, then neutral is up with your toe followed by second to fifth. Clutch, throttle, turn indicators, and front brakes are handled by your hands. The rear brake is activated by your other foot. Juggle all of this while steering and trying not to drop the thing. Unlike many others I never had the opportunity to ride a dirt bike when growing up so this was all new to me.

There was no gas gauge on the Nighthawk but there is a reserve tank which you reached down and switched over to when running out of fuel in the main tank. As a beginner this a daunting task to contemplate while riding so I was careful to keep the tank topped up.

As my confidence grew I ventured out on the highway with the Nighthawk. It could just maintain highway speeds but felt very unstable in any kind of wind. Unfortunately southern Alberta is one of the more windy places in the world. Naturally we have plenty of electricity generating windmills around these parts.  Lightweight bikes are a handful in the wind at the best of times but a closer look at the fork seals revealed they were (well) past their best. The other problem was the brakes were both drums and not very effective at all. A bike that was fun, lively and tossable around town became a little too lively (and less fun) out on the open road.

The Nighthawk bodywork was a little strange looking as an updated standard and I had visions of turning into a cool cafe racer style custom. I even picked up a cheap classic tank which I later flipped when I figured I did not actually want to build a custom bike.

After a season with the Honda it was time to move on. I had learned the basics but felt I wanted something a bit more highway capable. I sold it onto to another fellow learning to ride and occasionally still see it around town.

My whole COAL series so far