Old Motorcycle Parts and Passion


Honda CB400T Hawk
A great bike with classic flair, a Honda CB400T Hawk should be easy to keep on the road — if you can find the parts.

Working on a friend’s recent “vintage” Japanese purchase got me wondering if “true” classics like the Norton Commando and Triumph Bonneville are easier to own than we acknowledge. No question they can have their share of mechanical gremlins and dodgy electrics, but compared to the array of more “advanced” machines that followed in their wake, mostly from Japan, they might just be the easiest classic bikes to keep on the road. Or at least to buy parts for.

The problem is, because of their value we tend to relegate them to weekend warrior status, prized jewels we haul out for group rides or a Sunday run to the local pub. If you’re new to the classic scene you might not be ready to pound down $7,500 to $10,000 — or more — to get one of these recognized classics, and then there’s that maintenance thing; they definitely ask more of the owner than the average Honda or BMW.

Regular readers might recall Jean Denney’s article back in the September/October 2019 issue recounting her experience as a new rider taking the basic rider’s course. With her license secured and following some real-world street time on my trusty ’76 Suzuki GT185, Denney, group editor of sister publications Mother Earth Living and Fermentation, made the plunge into motorcycle ownership. Immersed by association into the classic bike scene, she was looking for something with classic flair, but daily usability. If you’ve tried to navigate that same road you know that it’s easier said than done, so when Denney lucked onto a nicely preserved 1978 Honda CB400T Hawk, she jumped at it. An affordable, easy-to-ride standard, the Hawk is a great bike, and this one, garage-kept with just more than 6,300 miles on the clock and a $1,000 price tag, seemed like a bargain.

And it was. Cosmetically it’s maybe a 7 or 8, and mechanically it’s close to perfect. The engine lights up readily and spins freely, the 360-degree crank providing nice torque characteristics even if the little twin produces only something like 36 horsepower. The transmission is smooth and snatch free, the brakes are perfectly adequate, and the suspension, despite being short on travel and a bit soft — like just about every Japanese bike of the era — works well enough. It’s mostly a winning combination, and one that saw Honda produce tens of thousands of the little twins up through the early ’80s, by which time the 395cc twin was bored to 447cc for just a bit more oomph.

It’s pretty much an ideal everyday classic, except for a snag that makes finding parts for it, most recently a replacement exhaust cross-over pipe and mufflers, something of a challenge; the Hawk’s lack of enthusiast appeal.

11/21/2020 8:32:07 PM

Another, and on-going problem with classic/vintage motorcycle ownership goes beyond parts. You need to be a rather competent mechanic to keep them going. My brother and I own 6 vintage Brits between us. Neither one of us has the "mechanic knack/gene". Consequently, a BSA 441 Victor, 2 Norton Commando Mark IIIs, and one Triumph 100c now languish in our garages for lack of someone to fix them. Skilled mechanics are VERY thin on the ground, and non-existent in some areas (like western NY, where we are). It's very frustrating to have these wonderful motorcycles, disabled, with no one to fix them.

11/20/2020 12:45:24 PM

RE: CB450T Comstar wheels, these made a little splash when introduced on the CX500, having designed flex and no spoke maintenance. Were they successful in racing?

6/11/2020 10:46:35 PM

A big part of the reason why parts for old British bikes are still available is that Britons actually ride there old tarts DAILY, making spares essential and profitable. Except for certain models, the Japanese expect you to buy new after a few years. The British also used many standard parts across many makes and models. Not only is this economy for manufacturers it also makes sense for aftermarket suppliers to invest in making these parts. For example, all the major British marques used the same turn signals. I can't even find a lens for the signals on my '92 BMW K100RS! I remember when I worked at a repair shop the difficulty of ordering a simple TS flasher relay for a Japanese bike. You had to specify make, model, year, maybe even month of manufacture to get the correct unit. Get a LIFE! There is absolutely NO reason to not use the same unit across your product range and several years!

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