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.
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.
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.
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.