Photography by Kevin Wing...
There is, they say, no substitute for cubic inches. That is, except for efficiency. Let an engine breathe, spin it hard and make it efficient, and who needs all those bulky cubic inches?
Thats the story of Honda's 750 Magna. Each of the liquid-cooled, 748cc V-4 engine's cylinders breathes through its own 34mm carb and four valves operated by overhead cams. It revs to 9700 rpm, which is screaming for a cruiser-style motorcycle, though unspectacular by sportbike standards. (Some current sportbikes turn as much as 15,000 rpm.) Combine that sort of engine intensity with the Magna's modest 538-pound wet weight, and you get a 750 that's capable of outrunning not only big twins but even Honda's big six, the Valkyrie. The Magna's low-12-second quarter-mile times confirm this is a genuine musclebike.
The Magna makes its power with rpm. Although it will run and accelerate smoothly with as few as 1500 rpm, it isn't as strong as one of the 800-class V-twins down at that speed and does not have as much flywheel mass, either. But as soon as the revs begin to build, the Magna leaps ahead of those other middleweight cruisers and will quickly vanish up the road if it becomes an all-out race. It is geared a bit lower than other 800s, which means it has plenty of power in hand on the highway, allowing quick passes even if you don't downshift. If you do, it jumps past laggardly four-wheelers. Around town it rewards those willing to stir the five-speed gearbox, which is nicely staged and shifts positively. However, even those who are gearshift-adverse will have no trouble scooting ahead of traffic.
Honda obviously takes the...
Honda obviously takes the time to get the spring and damping rates right. Although it includes no special features, the fork of the Magna offers a comfortable ride and controlled handling for those who like to rush through corners. The tubeless tires provide respectable traction for such antics.
Making hard launches requires plenty of rpm and a trained clutch hand. Fortunately, the Magna clutch is willing and able to tolerate extended slipping off the line. Unlike early Magnas, the current version has chain final drive, which transfers power efficiently and has fewer quirks (such as chassis jacking and potential lash) than shaft final drive. However, it also requires more clean-up and adjustment and makes a bit more noise.
Although the 90-degree V-4 has some narrow ranges of buzziness at higher rpm, it is smooth at normal speeds and even at most abnormal rpm as well. The riding position is close to that of a standard-style motorcycle, with a slightly low, forward handlebar bend and the footpegs farther rearward than most conventional cruisers. The saddle is wide, well-padded and flat. The suspension is compliant yet well-damped and effectively subdues most bumps and ripples. Factor in the long roominess provided by the 65.0-inch wheelbase, and the Magna is comfortable for most riders, even on daylong rides. Longer-legged owners frequently fit forward footpegs and controls, but shorter-legged enthusiasts find it's harder to reach the ground because of the 28-inch saddle height and the width of the frame. Passengers will be squirming around sooner than riders, because the detachable rear section of the saddle is not quite as nicely padded nor as roomy as the front section.
Even short passengers were...
Even short passengers were cramped and uncomfortable. You can unbolt the passenger seat though, and enjoy the good rider accommodations.
You can feel that middleweight stature in the Magna's handling, however. The steering is light, steady and precise; more responsive than what is found on V-twins. The well-sorted suspension and chassis also make Honda's V-4 cruiser steady, whether heeled over in a bumpy corner or cutting through truck wakes on the interstate. Like the suspension, the tires also offer better performance than those found on most cruisers, during braking and cornering. However, that long, low profile does mean the Magna is easier to drag in corners than the other two musclebikes tested in this issue.
The brakes -- a double-piston-caliper, single disc unit up front and a drum on the 15-inch cast rear wheel -- provide acceptable power and control, although the last Magna we sampled was a bit stronger. They are backed up by tires with good braking traction.
We liked the instrument location...
We liked the instrument location and the inclusion of a tachometer.
The tachometer is a necessity and adds to the performance-cruiser character of the Magna. So do the four mufflers, two on each side of the bike, a feature that puts it in the company of those rare cruisers that look equally good from either side. We are less impressed with the phony airboxes alongside the powerplant. A few extra hoses also cluttered the engine bay. The appearance of the engine itself is the result of bolt-on fins and cosmetic chrome covers across the top of each bank.
The rest of the bike is a feast for the senses, with clean, purposeful lines, smooth paint and just enough chrome to entice the eyes. Ours was finished in basic black, which carries a $7499 price tag, add $300 for two-tone colors. The final sensory pleasure is a muted but unmistakably aggressive exhaust note.
Although its engine is a bit more high-strung, the Magna shares that balanced quality of the Valkyrie, with less bulk, more classic lines and a friendlier price. It will cooperate with any street-riding plan you can devise, whether it's commuting, touring, cruising the strip, chasing down a mountain road or facing off against big twins in impromptu drags. And don't forget, it was also quicker than the Valkyrie, so it can challenge Honda's six if those twins are too easy.
High Points: Plenty of punch, comfortable, impressive handling.
Low Points: Somewhat peaky power; chain drive is messy.
First Changes: More fade-resistant brakes.
Cherney: It had been quite awhile since I had straddled a Magna, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Let me just say -- for an old-timer, the Magna can sure hold its own. True to its musclebike moniker, the Magna still smokes most any challenger off the line (and I do mean "smokes"). It's amazing how immediate the throttle response is.
The fins and polished-chrome...
The fins and polished-chrome "cam boxes" are actually just cosmetic covers.
What's more amazing is how much power is packed into a frame that seems better suited for a 600cc bike. But I do think it's time for Honda to do something about those feeble brakes, and the hard parts dragging in the corners certainly don't help matters. Sure, power is paramount in this group but I didn't see much of the widely publicized attitude I expected from this musclebike. It struck me as surpirsingly amenable to real-world riding, from the narrow bar and light steering to the kick-ass acceleration and low seat height.
Hang on for dear life when you crack the throttle, but when you simply want to relax and ride, the Magna is still a great riding companion.
Brasfield: If I only had five seconds to choose which power cruiser I'd want to own, I'd hesitate for about four-and-a-half seconds and then pick the Magna. While I could find a way to get arrested on each of these hooligan machines, the Magna fits into more of my varied riding moods than the others.
Yes, I love the baseball-bat-in-the-stomach power of the Yamaha V-Max but there's more to life than just acceleration. (If Art asks me about this, I'll deny that I wrote it.) Yes, the Valkyrie goes around corners better than any other musclebike, but sometimes the big six feels like too much bike for the riding I want to do at that moment. However, after a little reflection (all four-and-a-half second's worth), I'd say the Magna fulfills more of my needs.
With two pipes on each side,...
With two pipes on each side, the Magna is alluring going either way.
Want to commute in comfort, zipping through traffic like a cockroach between cereal boxes? How about a big, smoky burnout? Would you like to educate the guy inching his Porsche forward in the right-turn lane, thinking he can cut in front of you when the light turns green? Do you enjoy the juvenile behavior of leaving a big darkie on the pavement on your shift from first to second? In addition to all this brazen allure, the Magna offers a comfortable riding position, easy low-speed maneuverability and good looks -- even in basic black. Besides, the 750 V-four is a good platform for customizing. (My first trip to the aftermarket would be for better brakes, though.) And -- as with all of the musclebikes -- the Magna is quite different from the herd of V-twins out there.
Friedman: It lacks a little bit of the killer attitude that makes the V-Max so much fun, but the Magna is a great motorcycle. It will do anything well and looks great. It's a better everyday motorcycle than the other performance cruisers. For the money, you'd be hard pressed to do better.
1999 Honda Magna 750
Suggested base price: $7499
Standard colors: Black, red
Extra cost colors: Black/orange, add $300
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 8000 miles
Owner's group: www.magnariders.com
The 2003 Magna, shown here,...
The 2003 Magna, shown here, was virtually the same as our '99 test bike.
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-4
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 2 intake valves, 2 exhaust valves; adjusting shims under buckets
Displacement, bore x stroke: 748cc, 70 x 49mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Carburetion: 4, 34mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.0 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: No. 530 chain, 40/16
Wet weight: 538 lb
GVWR: 942 lb
Wheelbase: 65.0 in.
Overall length: 93.0 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 5.2 in.
Wheels: Cast-alloy, 17 x 3.0 in. front, 15 x 3.5 in. rear
Front tire: 120/80-17 Dunlop K555F, tubeless
Rear tire: 150/80-17 Dunlop K555, tubeless
Front brake: Single-action caliper, 12.4-in disc
Rear brake: Rod-operated, single leading shoe drum
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 3.9 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 3.6 gal (.8 gal reserve) Seat height: 28.0 in.
Handlebar width: 31.5 in.
ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 374 watts
Battery: 12v, 10AH
Forward lighting: 5.5-in. headlight; position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer, odometer, tripmeter; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, coolant temperature, sidestand
Fuel mileage: 31 to 44 mpg, 38.1 mpg average
Average range: 137 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 3980
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 74.3 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.76 sec., 102.8 mph
For more articles on how to customize, maintain and modify your motorcycle, see the Tech & Custom section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.