1983 Honda V65 Magna — The First Power Cruiser

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A 1983 Honda V65 Magna, the first power cruiser.
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The Suzuki GV1200GL Madura was styled along more cruiserly lines than the Honda Magna.
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The Yamaha VMX12N V-Max may be the most successful of the Eighties power cruisers.

Honda V65 Magna
Claimed power:
116hp @ 9,500rpm
Top speed: 137mph (period test)
Engine: 1,098cc liquid-cooled DOHC 90-degree V4
Weight: 618lb (wet)
Price then/now: $3,898/$2,000-$4,000

Landmark. Watershed. Call it what you will, Honda’s 1983 V65 Magna marked a major departure in motorcycle design. For the first time, a Japanese motorcycle maker’s fastest, most powerful motorcycle had pull-back handlebars and its footpegs well in front of the seat. The Power Cruiser had been born.

Sure, Harley-Davidson had been making foot-forward cruisers just about forever, and Yamaha had introduced the “special” stepped-seat, beach-bar look in the late Seventies, but it was Big Red that put serious power in the picture. The Honda V65 Magna was built around a 65ci double overhead cam V4 that delivered more than 100 horsepower to the back wheel, propelling the muscular missile to sub-11-second standing quarters at nearly 125mph.

Not every pilot could pull off that party-piece, though. A 45/55 front-to-rear weight bias and laid-back riding position meant keeping the front wheel down was a challenge. And if the road threw you a curve, the lazy 30-degree rake, 63-inch wheelbase and light front end meant vague steering and a tendency to run wide. With the rider’s weight mainly butt-supported, road imperfections could jar the spine, while dialing back the fully adjustable twin shocks invited jacking from the shaft final drive. And although the thrust of the big V4 was seductive, it wasn’t all plain sailing: In city riding, Cycle magazine’s March 1983 test found a combination of too much driveline lash and under-damped CV carbs made for a “low-speed, jerk and lurch routine.” Even so, Cycle said it was the engine that was by far “the V65’s best feature, and motorcyclists who buy the V65 on looks will quickly find themselves enchanted by the 1100’s performance.”

The source of this excitement was a 1,098cc liquid-cooled, 90-degree V4 with four overhead camshafts. Each pair of camshafts was driven from the center of the four-main-bearing crank by its own chain, opening four valves per cylinder at a narrow (for the time) 38-degree included angle via screw-adjustable rockers. Primary drive was by straight-cut gears using a split gear on the crankshaft to reduce lash and gear noise and a semi-slipper, diaphragm-spring clutch that allowed half of the plates to release during over-aggressive downshifting. A 6-speed gearbox (five plus overdrive, said Honda) drove the back wheel via two bevel gears and a shaft.

The powerhouse breathed through four 36mm Keihin CV carbs drawing from an airbox set in a recess cut into the gas tank. This compromised fuel space, requiring a second tank hidden under the seat and fed by an electric pump. Not surprisingly, perhaps, all this performance and complexity came at a price: Ridden enthusiastically, the Magna’s fuel consumption could drop into the low 30s, and with just 4.5 gallons of fuel in both tanks (and no fuel gauge or reserve tap — just a low-fuel warning light) an unprepared rider could get caught short — including Cycle World‘s April 1983 tester, who found out the hard way and had to push the big brute home.

Otherwise, the Honda V65 Magna was well equipped: ComCast alloy wheels, TRAC anti-dive fork, self-cancelling turn signals, gear position indicator, taillight failure warning light and Honda’s Fiber Optic Integrated Lock anti-theft system (FOIL). If cut, a fiber optic core in the plug-in steel cable lock operated a self-powered alarm.

All of the above led Cycle World to conclude that the Magna was something of a contradiction: The bike’s performance orientation made it uncomfortable as a cruiser, yet its cruiser stance made it almost unworkable as a performance machine. But that didn’t seem to matter as Honda couldn’t make them fast enough, and the Magna comfortably outsold the sportier V65 Sabre and VF1000F that joined it in 1984-1985. So is the V65 Magna a classic? That’s a matter of opinion, but it created a class of ground-pounding power cruisers that continues to this day, and that makes it important.

Contenders: Power cruiser rivals to the Honda V65 Magna

Suzuki GV1200GL Madura
Claimed power:
89hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 140mph (period test)
Engine: 1,165cc liquid-cooled DOHC 82-degree V4
Weight: 592lb (wet)
Price then/now: $4,499/$1,500-$2,500

Ergonomically and philosophically, the Madura was more cruiserly than the Magna, with a more laid-back riding position, softer suspension and more capacious seating. In a straight line, though, the Madura was the Magna’s equal. But it wouldn’t do it for more than 100 miles before the 3.2 gallon gas tank needed refilling, as ridden hard the Madura’s fuel consumption could drop below 30mpg.

Cycle Guide complained the Suzuki GV1200GL Madura was difficult to ride smoothly at low speeds in the city thanks to abrupt carburetion, and said handling in the twisties was compromised by lack of cornering ground clearance and slow steering. Then again, the Madura was never meant to be a canyon carver.

Suzuki used a narrower 82-degree V4 in the Madura to allow the engine to sit upright, but the less-than-perfect primary balance meant the engine had to be rubber-mounted. Other interesting touches included camshafts driven by a jackshaft, itself driven off the right end of the crank for a narrow, three-main bearing engine; maintenance-free hydraulic lifters; and helical gears for the primary drive. The rest of the drivetrain was remarkably like the V65, including its five-plus-overdrive tranny and shaft drive. Cycle parts included a rising-rate monoshock rear and flat-spoked wheels with triple disc brakes. Overall, the Madura seemed more Milwaukee than Hamamatsu — though with an extra helping of horsepower. As such, it was perhaps closer to our modern concept of a power cruiser.

“If King Kong rode a cruiser, this would be the one,” Suzuki said — although the Tuning Fork folks might also have invoked the Big Ape …

Yamaha VMX12N V-Max
Claimed power:
119hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 144mph (period test)
Engine: 1,198cc liquid-cooled DOHC 70-degree V4
Weight: 618lb (wet)
Price then/now: $5,299/$4,000-$8,000

As the sole survivor of the mid-Eighties power cruiser klatch, was Mr. Max the only one that got the formula right? It was certainly the fastest and the most powerful — as well as the most complex — and was aimed squarely at the stop sign drag strip. Specifically designed to unseat the Honda V65 Magna as the king of power cruisers — which it did handily — it set a new standard for creatively outrageous styling.

Power came from a counter-balanced 70-degree V4 borrowed from the Venture but pumped up with performance-enhancing internals, especially in the cam and carb departments. What really set it apart was Yamaha’s ingenious V-Boost system, which progressively opened crossover butterflies in the intake tracts between 6,000-8,000rpm, effectively allowing each cylinder to breathe through two carbs while optimizing combustion chamber filling by increasing mean gas velocity.

Call it a passive supercharger if you will, but it worked, enabling the V-Max to produce a measured 119 horsepower on the Cycle dyno. The result was a powerhouse drag bike that would have recorded even better numbers than Cycle‘s May 1985 time of 10.99 seconds at 124mph if the rear tire hadn’t lit up every time the V-Boost cut in!

Although it was docile at low speeds, almost nobody rode a V-Max slowly. It was designed, Yamaha said, for “the motorcycle rider who wants to be the most intimidating figure on the road.”

Heavy, thirsty and brutally fast, the first V-Max unleashed the legend that’s still being made today. You can’t say that about the Magna or the Madura. MC

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