Honda Nighthawk CB250

Well, now you get to see the MX-5‘s real replacement in my little stable of vehicles. The Volkswagen GTI that I bought on loan is a fun car, and it gets me to work and loads people an groceries just great, but it just doesn’t inspire the same passion for driving that the wee Mazda did ((More’s the pity)) . So when the poor beleaguered convertible sold via eBay, I held the cash specifically to buy myself a motorcycle. A few weeks of assiduous craigslist-ing later and I have myself a lovely little 250cc bike to have some fun with while I relearn how to ride.

I’ve put five hundred miles on this little guy now and I’m starting to feel comfortable voicing some opinions on it. Measure all of this, of course, by the fact that I haven’t spent any serious time on another bike ((As a rider)) . “Why review a used bike?” you might ask. Well to be fair, who is going to buy a 250cc bike new anyway? A used Nighthawk is a better example of a first bike then the shiny new CBR250Rs, TU250xs, Ninja 250Rs you can grab at the moment.

It’s important to keep in mind about the CB250 ((and it’s Cruiser sibling, the Rebel CMX250)) is that it is a bike from nearly two decades ago. Mine was built this millennium but you can swap parts between it and the bikes built in 1982 without noticing the difference. Furthermore, this was a budget bike in ’82, so there are absolutely no frills. Disc brakes? No. Tachometer? No. Fuel Injection? No. Windscreen? No. Digital instruments? No. Self canceling turn signals? Haha, no. ABS? Do I need to say? The CB250 is just a motorcycle, nothing else. If there is anything above the bare minimum you can think of, Honda left it off.

That I think, is the defining characteristic of this bike, for good and bad. On the negative: it lacks absolutely anything that would make it special, any sort of creature comfort or gee-whizzery. On the positive: it’s simple, bullet-proof, and undiluted. It’s hard to imagine a purer example of the breed.

Lack of features means there’s less to go wrong. Anything left off the drawing board is never going to fail and make your life more complicated, and for the new rider, less features means less distraction, less to mess with when you should be focusing on what is on the road ahead of you.

This is a little bike. The seat height is a third of an inch higher then my wife’s Honda Ruckus but because of its narrower profile, it’s actually even easier for a smaller rider to flat foot. At less then 300lbs, it’s a featherweight in the US market. This all combines to make an easy and forgiving little bike to handle and it’s painfully obvious why MSF schools stock these bikes for training fledgling riders on.

Here in ‘merica, we like to think of 250’s ((Disclosure: the CB250 is actually 234cc)) as minuscule little engines, but in the parts of the world where the motorcycle is actually the default mode of transport it’s actually the high end of the spectrum. In this light, the CB250 is not under-powered. There is enough there to work with and not one horsepower more. It has just enough t do highway speeds, and not just for exit and then off. This will pull you up to speed and keep you there but you won’t be in the passing lane. One thing to remember with this engine, especially if your ears are used to hearing car motors instead of bikes, is that it starts sounding pretty angry just as it’s hitting its power band. If you shift up then, you’ll think you’re running out of first gear at 12 mph and the engine will never feel as sprightly as it really is. To get the most out of this little engine, you need to rev the nuts off of it.

What falls far more short are the brakes. Drums were the peak of technology at one point, but even in the 80’s they were a budget choice. Perhaps there’s an argument to be made that the softer drum brakes make it harder for a new rider to panic and lock the front tire, but I remember having no trouble doing just that on a CMX250 during my MSF course oh so long ago. The drums on this bike just don’t inspire confidence and I find myself clipping more long yellow lights because I’d rather do that then try to bring this thing to a dignified halt. The brakes are probably the one area that I wish Honda had done more then just enough.

As for ergonomics, there’s not much to say. The seating position is neutral and upright, something I like. The cockpit doesn’t feel cramped, aided by the lack of a stepped seat which lets you sit farther forward or back depending on preference. The controls are all easy to reach and the instruments are nearly idiot-proof in their simplicity ((Possibly the only thing not immediately when sitting on the bike for the first time are the red-line markings on the speedometer, showing you when you absolutely must shift up for each gear)) .

And that is about all. A short review, which befits the simple nature of the bike, but that is probably its greatest asset and its greatest flaw. This is a simple, inexpensive, forgiving bike for anyone. It is efficient not only with gas but with itself. There’s nothing about it that is spare or overdone. But when I first started looking into this bike to purchase, I scoured online to try to find the community for it. Every other motorcycle I know of has a forum or site somewhere where people come together to swap information and talk about it. For the Nighthawk 250? There really isn’t one. This bike was made for more then two and a half decades, and because of its heavy use by MSF, a huge number of riders have had their butts on these. But there’s no soul. It’s the Ford Taurus of motorcycles; there is nothing really wrong with it, people would recommend it, but it never inspired anyone to ever feel anything for it. Any passion one feels for the Nighthawk 250 is a passion one would feel for any bike and no more.




Cars I have owned

Having just deposited the check from the sale of the most boring car in the world, I am now temporarily without a vehicle of my own. It seems temporally relevant to take a quick look at the vehicles of my life.

1989 Dodge Caravan “The Ravan”

So named because the “Ca” had fallen off the back, this was a hand-me-down from a parent who was upgrading. This car was eleven years old at this point, with well over one hundred thousand miles on the odometer. These weren’t easy miles either; this car was a daily driver for a woman with two kids. This was the vehicle that took my family on semi-annual road trips to the dusty wilds of New Mexico and it had been through more then its fair share of low speed and high speed accidents. The interior looked like a war zone, the exterior was trashed, a qualified mechanic declared that the engine was on is way out, and it was far and away my favorite car of my teen years.

Automotive writers will often let really bad cars get away with excellent reviews because of one factor: character. Normally I think this is bullocks but in the case of the Ravan, I understand. Although I had it the shortest time of any vehicle, this is the vehicle I talk about more then any other.

My parents, who by this point had obviously given up, tried to soften the blow of “here’s the pile of rust held together by soda stains we’re giving you” by allowing me to do pretty much anything I liked to it. There wasn’t much I could do about the busted grill or trashed upholstery, but with a couple of cans of latex housepaint I was able to give is a sporting matte green paintjob((something BMW has only recently caught up with)).

A couple of packets of glow-in-the-dark stars were applied to the place where the headliner once hung low and with the addition of an inverter and black light, they gave the interior a nice mood. Despite this lavish interior, this car did not see much “action”((a travesty of galactic proportions, I’m sure you all agree)).  Mostly this vehicle ended up carting me and my friends from place to place, as it had the lovely advantage of being able to fit just about anyone and everyone without resorting to people squatting on the roof.

The electrics were pretty shoddy. Leaving the headlights on would result in a dead battery in under an hour, and going out to turn these off got me stuck in a hailstorm once.

There was one area where the Ravan had things its own way: the engine. Exactly what caused Chrysler executives to OK a Turbo I4 option for the Caravan, I’ll never know, but I’m glad they did. The peppy little four banger put out a very respectable((for a van)) 150 horsepower((more then a base Camaro of the same year, not that that is saying much)). Pulling nearly 2 tons of van, that’s not all that much, but it was the surprise of finding it in a ratty old that made it fun. I never raced between the lights, but hitting a highway on ramp and feeling the turbo kick in was always a fun.

Only 9 months or so after I got it, the van was sold off for a few hundred dollars.

1990? Ford Taurus

Was this actually two cars? From my Junior year until starting university, I drove some number of Tauri. They/it was pretty forgettable, as is evidenced by my forgetting. This is the car I took dates on and the lack of a center console was bloody brilliant for front seat make-outs((I’ve never been so crass as to invite a girl into the back)).  It was during this time that I first coveted the SHO, a love has yet to die. I’d still like to hang the intake manifold from the original Yamaha engine on my wall.

When I moved off to university, parental concern about driving such and old and run down car back home every weekend to spend quality time with the woman who would be my wife((like any college kid goes home to see his family)) necessitated the replacement of this car.

1998 Ford Taurus LX “Casper”

So named because it was white and mostly never harmed anyone. This also had the tree-shifter/no center console, combination that made for good front seat make-outs. I have fond memories of this car, despite it’s they-say-youll-learn-to-love-it-but-you-never-will bubble inspired looks and so-anonymous-youll-never-find-it-in-a-parking-lot-no-not-even-if-you-wave-the-remote-around-and-push-the-button-like-mad white paint job. Getting this car sometime in 2002 meant it was only five model years out of date, a newness I have not exceeded with any subsequent car.

The Taurus of this generation was growing a bit, with its wheelbase spreading a few inches to accommodate the growing American waistline and its curb weight packing on a few hundred extra pounds. It handled- well- like a big the big family sedan it was. It was the roomiest and best maintained of the cars of my college friends, so it was the vehicle of choice for late night Jack in the Box runs and trips into civilization to buy video games.

Initially “totalled” by hail damage, we’d planned to pocket some of the insurance money and keep they car, but it judiciously decided to develop the mother of all coolant leaks before the final decision was made.

1999 Ford Taurus SE “The Green Lantern”

Named after the DC character by a friend of mine, who had subsequently dubbed another friend’s car “The Green Arrow”. I’m not sure why this Taurus got named such, exactly. I drove this vehicle longer then any other. It took me through four years of college, my first job, and when my wife and I were wed, this was the car decorated by our friends. I seem to recall hearing from my dad that he took the insurance money from the wreck of Casper and bought this car straight out, but that seems unlikely in retrospect.  Whether or not some additional fungible material was required for the transaction, The Green Lantern was a huge step up.

Moving from LX to SE stepped up the engine from the 3L Vulcan of old, to the new 24 valve Duratec V6, which grabs 55 hp and 30 lbs of torque with the same displacement((Uninteresting fact: This same engine is what you got if you spent 100 grand on a Noble M400, mind you, they’d tweaked and turbocharged it up to 400+ HP)). This still wasn’t the SHO I’d drooled over previously, but it was a huge step up.

The bubble styling of the third gen Taurus was helped out in the SE with the addition of a cosmetic only spoiler in the rear. They switched out the tree shifter for one mounted in the center console. This is an improvement in terms of driver comfort((the center console cup holders were also much better)) but does impede one if one is trying to lean over to kiss someone in the passenger seat. Luckily I was narrowing in on the apartment living phase of young adult life and this would prove to be less of an issue over time. The handling was still pretty boat-like, but having a V6 to wind up on freeway on ramps more then made up for it.

I won’t try to enumerate all of the memories I have in this car but there are some. Early in its life, a friend left an unopened can of Dr. Pepper in the heat of a Texas summer. The inevitable explosion sprayed sticky syrup all over the interior and it never really recovered. The Green Lantern was the car driven when my friend Zach and I drove two thousand miles round trip for me to eat deep dish pizza((delicious!)) and for him to not get laid((regretable)).

It lasted a good 7 years in my custody, but eventually the disinterested care I gave it, and the long highway miles I piled on it started to weigh heavily. If I have a regret about my own mechanical sympathy, it’s that I didn’t take better care of this car, after it’d done so much for me. Eventually, I sold it off in preparation of buy my first car on my own. I was, at the time, glad to have gotten twelve hundred dollars for it, but the eyes of nostalgia look back through rose tinted lenses.

2006 Honda Civic “The Most Boring Car in the World”

I named this car harshly, because I actually liked it quite a bit, but the act of buying it sealed into the future its own downfall. Have you noticed that my analysis of these cars is getting slightly more technical over time? I wasn’t always such a car buff. There was a time when the idea of buying a hybrid really appealed to me, when I honestly couldn’t imagine buying a car that didn’t have “practical” written all over it. This was a version of myself that surfaced between my mid-teens and mid-twenties, fueled by a total lack of encouragement for an enjoyment of fast internal combustion vehicles.

When purchasing the first car I’d ever hand over my own money for, my criteria were pretty much “efficient, reliable, comfortable” and the answer was obviously a Honda. I took a good hard look at the Insight, and was all ready to buy a Fit when the one I’d wanted got sold out from under me. I ended up with the Civic Coupe after much research and agony. I have never researched a purchase more in my entire life. It wasn’t a bad decision; in fact it was an excellent decision. Had I remained the same person with the same goals as the guy who first bought the car, all would be peachy.

But in doing so much research, I ended up rekindling an interesting in cars that had laid dormant since arguing Ford versus Chevrolet in my middle school drama class((Ford, btw, as if you cared)). Suddenly, I wanted a car that was actually fun to drive, one that I could tear up a bit and maybe do some work on. My “Mr. Reasonable” coupe was no longer living up.

It’s a good car, but if you want to actually drive it, you can’t have the automatic. There are good automatics out there, but the one they stick in the Civic feels like it doesn’t know how to work itself sometimes. The I4 engine is actually pretty good, especially when you rev the nuts off of it((vtec just kicked in,yo)) but the auto will almost never let you get the most out of it. In terms of handling and comforted, well you can have the former but good luck with the latter. This was the first car I drove regularly with ABS and four wheel disk brakes, and damn that will spoil you; stepping behind the wheel of my father’s truck, with rear drums, reminds what we used to put up with((savage times)). The suspension is grippy but hard, reducing your comfort level, and the lackluster sound proofing means a relatively high level of highway noise. As nearly every single drive in this car was a highway drive, I got tired of this fast.

So I sold it, only this morning in fact. I’m glad to see it go because it frees me up to get something more aligned with my new priorities, “fun, fast, cheap”. Looking back, I notice that every single inquiring customer for the car was either female, or a male looking to purchase it for a female((and the previous owner was female)). Does that make it girls car? Do I care? I am probably about to buy a Miata, after all.

1996 Mazda Miata “The Mistake”

I owned this car for all of two months. It was a real bag of crap. During that period I was unemployed, and still making payments every month on my Civic. I hatched the plan of “buy super cheap car, fix whatever needs fixing myself and save money”, which is just as smart as it sounds. To that end I scoured Craigslist and Autotrader, looking for a good deal. I found this one for less then two grand and having let a couple of other deals slip through my fingers, I pounced on it.

Ugh.

Let me start listing the things that were wrong with, but before I do let me reiterate that this car was less then two grand and I had budgeted out replacements for everything already. I knew what it would take to get the car back up to spec and I was ready to do that. Being out of work, the idea of having something else to fill my days beside worrying about imminent bankruptcy sounded good. Here we go:

  • The top was ruined: literally didn’t have a rear window. Not a hard replacement, can get a good one on ebay for cheap.
  • The interior was trashed: not a deal for me, I’m rough on interiors myself so it was going to end up trashed one way or another.
  • It didn’t have all the lug nuts: how expensive can a new set of lug nuts be, honestly?
  • The body panels/paint were wrecked: I wasn’t buying it to look pretty.
  • It was an automatic: I had wanted a manual, but was willing to live with this flaw((until I later learned that the engine was detuned for the auto. The Miata’s not overflowing with power in the best case and losing another 10+ to accommodate the shitty transmission is just an insult)
  • The front shocks were gone((Quite gone, it was like it was riding on cart springs, going over a bump would result in nearly 30 seconds of bouncing): I’d priced these out and was sure I could replace them myself, or would be willing to hire it done.

So, having carefully considered my options, I handed over cash and drove the thing home. Literally halfway back, the check engine light comes on and start feeling like I need to throw up. So I took it in to a semi-trusted mechanic to read the error code from the computer. The prognosis was enough to blow my budget completely apart. So, now my plan became “get out of this without loosing all my money”. When I got the car back, the mechanic had thankfully cleared the engine warning light. I put the thing up for sale, knocking off some cash to move it quickly and had is sold in a couple of weeks. The punter who bought it trailered it out, so at least he wouldn’t be getting an error code half way home

The Future

So I am without a car at the moment. I’ve got my eye on a couple and will be hitting up the dealers and private sellers this week to get it all straighten out. At the moment, things look like I’ll be buying another Miata, unless something really interesting falls into my lap ((I’m exactly stupid enough to buy an interesting old Muscle car if I could find one that ran for the right price)) . I’ll keep you updated.

Hands on repair.

I need to do a full post on the Civic at some point, but for now just know that it’s an extra-ordinarily boring car that does what it was intended to do beautifully.

Months ago as I inspected the car, I noticed some signs of impact at the rear driver’s side corner; the tail light assembly was missing a toenail sized sliver and part of the rear valence was poking out at an odd angle in one spot. Some individual had given my bumper a tap while trying to enter or exit a parking space next to me and had violated the social contract ((in my opinion at least)) by just driving off. Not a terrible amount of damage, but a mark on my car that is annoyingly obvious .

As the car is under a loan, it does have full coverage. However, the deductible on that policy is high enough that I could very well have ended up fielding the entire repair cost myself. I pulled the cracked light assembly out and investigated the other damage. Infuriatingly, what had busted was the clip that held the valence on the car ((of the same style that holds your battery cover on your remote control)). it was a tiny stress fracture, but would mean replacing a whole large section of plastic to fix. I put everything back together and went off for a number of weeks to muse on this and order a new light assembly.

Thank god for the internet, I must say. The replacement part was 60% cheaper then from the dealer. New shiny plastic in hand, this evening I tore the whole thing apart again ((Removing the tail light? Step one: remove the wheel)). Some putty style epoxy went around the damaged clip, shoring it up and hopefully giving it the strength to hold the valence flush against the car. I fit the new assembly in place and things when back together. All in all, only about an hour of work this evening and less then $60 in parts. Should put some value back on when I go to sell.

I really wish we were in a position to afford a place with a garage; working in the parking lot of an apartment complex is a pretty sad affair for anyone. Even this modest work did feel good, though. I used to spend a lot of time wrist deep in various computers, but getting electronics back up and running is hardly satisfying the way working on a car or similar. Despite the heat, despite the parking lot, despite the lack of tools, it feel worthwhile. It feels good.