1988 Honda Bros

Part one of a modern classic tale from Bros-Rider. He starts with a confession and ends with burnt fingers. When will he, will he be famous?..

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My name is Owen (Bros-Rider), and I ride a Honda Bros…

Sorry… wrong night. Ahem…

Anyway, My name is Owen, and I do ride a Honda Bros. Which as many of you will know, is Nearly New in as much as it of 1988 vintage.

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Now for the history lesson

It is a 400cc V twin using a detuned, mucked about with version of the engine which graces the Much Newer 750 Trans-Alp trail bike, and has roots in the VFR, VTR and also the NTV and Revere shaft drive bikes of the late 80’s – which live on into the Deauville (Dullville?) of today. It shares a lot of its engine components with this stack of bikes, but getting parts is not as easy as it should be!

Chassis wise the Bros has a slimmed down version of the VFR 400 frame and shares much of its geometry with the nsr250 race bikes – which makes it, turn on a thought! It also shares the exotic, and much-copied-but-never-bettered ELF (yes the French oil people) designed single sided swing arm that graced the RVF endurance racers and later on the VFR road bike.

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The Honda was originally produced from 1988 to 1993 as a 400cc Japanese home market motorcycle called the Bros (No-One knows where the name came from). It had a 650 incarnation, which also stayed in Japan, called the Bros Product 2, but also found its way into the states with the model name Hawk. Honda acknowledged the importance of this bike in two telling ways. Despite being sold as an all purpose commuter sort of bike it had an ‘RC’ model designation – something usually reserved for Honda’s direct racing derived efforts – and the fact that the beast of a bike which is the firestorm in UK is designated the ‘Super Hawk’ in the US, with more than a passing nod to the Bros/Hawk of years previously.

The problem with the Bros, as with so many other bikes, is that it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. It is not sufficiently quick to be truly sporty, yet it handles much like a sports bike, and it is much too crouched and ‘leany-forwards’ to be truly comfortable. It has nowhere to put any luggage bar a tank bag and throw-overs, and despite SWMBO doing a quick jaunt to deepest Cornwall for a week it is not a touring bike.

Around town however it shows its true colours. The V twin engine is torquey and tractable, pulling from no revs to all the revs without drama and will deal with lazy riders who forget to change gear without grumbling… or stalling. And that chassis, despite being sprung softly (a situation which does not improve with age), turns like a fast thing on a fast day and makes very short work of traffic jams with it’s narrow width. The widest part of the bike is the bars and they are only about 18″ across, total – the indicators on my Revere stuck out further! That chassis, sorry to go on about it, but you really have to have a go to discover just how good it is, will also make a mockery of most inline 4 sports bikes on heavily twisty A and B roads. As SWMBO put it recently “Would you slow down please, remember I’m not riding an exocet” This is Very Good, considering she is riding a CBR600 plastic fantastic with about half a gazillion horsepower.
A ZZR250 yesterday.

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The story of My Bros started with an unfortunate occurrence. SWMBO was knocked off of her ZZR250 by some old guy who couldn’t see over his steering wheel, and would probably not have stopped if it weren’t for the biker sitting on his bonnet. SWMBO needed sound, reliable and cheap transport to get to work and to college 30 miles away.

We pressed eBay into service and found a 400 bros, which I recommended because I have a 600 revere; itself bullet proof and generally very nice. Miracle of miracles she listened to me and we won the auction for around the £700 mark. We press-ganged a van for the next day and went to get it from Windsor. When we got there it became obvious that whilst it was essentially a sound machine it had been sat for ‘A While’. The back brake was useless and the front brake was feeble, not quite the ‘buy it on Sunday ride it on Monday’ job that we had been expecting. Anyway, the seller accepted a bit less than the bid price and we took it away.

When we got the bike back I started walking round it and making lists, which got longer and longer, but were largely of superficial problems. The front brake was cured by simply replacing the fluid, but the back brake was seized SOLID and took A Lot of Work to free off, and in the end needed a new piston and seals. With a new piston, seals and pads however all was well in the stopping department.

I set about replacing the chain and sprockets as the front was so badly hooked it resembled a ninja death star. All was well until I tried to get the chain to fit. The enormous (and enormously expensive to replace) eccentric adjuster in the swing arm was also seized totally solid, and at its maximum length adjustment as well.

The only thing for it was to strip down the hub, which is all held together with a Big Nut. A Very Big Nut, which is done up Very Tight. I managed to procure a set of 1″ drive sockets and a 2′ breaker bar from a truck workshop and with a 6′ scaffolding pole on the breaker bar and me stood on the end exerting about 8 tonnes of force on it, the Big Nut gave way and we were in business.

The chain adjuster had not been treated as the nice people at Elf had intended and had large chunks chiselled away making adjustment very difficult. Once I had removed it, the only thing I could do was to build the teeth back up by welding and then cutting them back to shape. Which would have been easy had the adjuster been steel, but it is best Japanese aluminium and was very hard to build up with just a mini-mig equipped with aluminium wire and argon. Many big lumps, wasted welding wire and grinding discs later I had something that resembled that which the maker intended, I lubed it with Coppaslip, put it back in, and it is still in and fine to this day!

Now the bike had ‘go’ and ‘stop’ sorted we took it for an MOT, which was a surprisingly painless procedure, but highlighted some small problems. Firstly the bike would not idle for toffee and secondly the temperature gauge seemed to rise more or less with the revs – but didn’t go back down with them. So after the 2 miles to the MOT station and back it was at boiling point, so we flushed the carbs through with Tesco’s finest 98octane super unleaded and hoped for the best, which against all probability occurred and cured the dodgy idle, and then set about the cooling.

Cooling systems are a black art to me. Electrics I can do, mechanics I can do but fluids are scary things. By blindly following the instructions in the manual for the Revere I completed a successful purge, flush and refill of the cooling system which left the bike with the same adequate, but not brilliant cooling as my Revere. I left it at that!

Random Bros Stuff on eBay.co.uk

Shortly after we got the Bros to happy state of play I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to go and visit a friend of mine who lived around Chichester, a round trip of about 150 miles. So I went, as usual, on my long suffering Revere and SWMBO went on the bros, which behaved impeccably until just after we left on the way back. It rattled; backfired and machine-gunned the baffles out of the exhaust never to be seen again. This left the bike revving much more freely but horribly short of backpressure. A slow journey back was followed by me welding a plate over the gaping end of the exhaust to create some backpressure and fix the deafening noise when the bike was opened up. It also ran very lean and was down on power, for obvious reasons.


Due to various circumstances beyond my control I was unable to do a whole lot with the bike after that and as soon as her 2 year 33bhp restriction was over SWMBO bought the plastic fantastic CBR and the Bros was left in the drive covered with a plastic sheet for 8 months. Occasionally it was wheeled out, had fluids and brakes checked and given a quick go up the road, but that was all. We tried to sell it, but after 3 months of “I have seen your very much nice ‘400 bros ideal 33bhp bike’ I am liking to buy it please give me your bank account” we gave up and it sat for a bit longer until I broke the gearbox in the revere. Well, I never actually broke it, but it went clunk, clunk ominously in time with the revs of the back wheel and nothing I tried fixed it. So I gave up, but I will fix it soon. Magical eBay has provided another engine and transmission!

It's all the rebuilt ZZR's fault...I tried an NTV 650 in the mean time, but it was far too civilised, too upright, and I didn’t like it, so I sold it and had; AAAAAGGGHHHH 6 months without riding.

I felt sorry for the Bros, it was a sweet little bike and it deserved better than its plastic sheet so I wangled and wheedled until SWMBO gave in and let me have it without any beer vouchers actually changing hands. The whole deal was worked on the promise of writing off some cash she owed me for rebuilding the ZZR that started the whole thing, and on the further promise that I would buy a new floor for the kitchen!

I rode it as it was for about 3 months, but it was a poorly bike, it overheated again, it was very, very short of power and had a flat spot the size of Holland at about 5.5k revs which nearly got me collected by someone coming up from behind me. A quick inspection of the plugs told me it was short of power because it was very, very lean and was nearly frying the plugs. Intuition told me the flat spot was caused by the lean condition and pure hope told me that the overheating was to do with being lean as well, as I desperately didn’t want to go near the cooling system again (some people are scared of spiders, I’m petrified of cooling systems, leave me alone!!)

It was Time For Action.

Is that a look of concentration, conternation, or confusion?So…

I found a set of carbs of the same sort in The Shed from a 600 engine, which has bigger (138 front – 142 rear main jets, as opposed to 130 front 132 rear in the 400) jets, and I just whacked them on wholesale.

Would it start? Well, kind of but only after a big jump starter and some ezee start down the bell mouths

I checked The Book (the Honda one), which says that the 400s have 35 pilot jets and the 600s have 38 or 39. So out came the carbs again and in went the pilot jets from the original carbs – methinks it started ok on them before but had a flat spot, I have bigger main jets and the original pilots in now so it should all be well, so working on this thought I put the lot back together.

Would it start? Would it hell!

And then I noticed the mixture screws. The Honda book says “these will be set by the factory – do not modify settings” but being me I thought ‘lets alter them and see what happens.’ (I’m scared of cooling systems but I have excellent levels of bravado when it comes to mixture settings) So I looked on the original carbs and sure enough the screws were set at totally different positions, so I roughly screwed the screws on the new carbs into the same sort of position.

Would it start? Yes!

Would it idle? Would it hell!

I then found out the bit of the book I’d been looking at covered models for countries with strict emissions laws (and California), I then found the bit in the book about the set of carbs I really had!

The Book says “screw in mixture screws gently until they seat, then screw them clockwise to the following setting: 2 turns 600, 1 3/4 turns 650”

AAAAGGGHHHHH on two counts:

1) Where’s the settings for the 400 gone all of a sudden

2) I’ve just screwed the screw clockwise to get it to seat, turning it ANTI clockwise is all I can do!

So, I made it up as I went along, I screwed the screws anti clockwise 1 1/2 turns on both cylinders.

The book says, “start the engine and set the idle with the throttle stop”

Will it start? Will it hell!

Judicious application of ezee start and it went, I set the idle with the throttle stop.

The book says “screw idle screw slowly clockwise (anti clockwise) until engine begins to falter.” Note to Honda here: Have any of you actually tried this? The Engine does not ‘begin to falter’ the engine ‘runs, then engine stops dead’ as soon as I touch the screw, so now I screwed the screws out a bit more (to roughly where I had them to start with)

Then I hit the button…

Would it start? Yes!

Would it idle? Kind of.

Cue three quarters of an hour of starter button (thank god for starter motors) abuse mixed with miniscule adjustments the screws and the burning of my knuckles.

Does it start? Yes!

Does it idle? Yes!

Does it go properly? Don’t know yet for sure but it seems to!

Oh, and I’ve thrown away the evil federal regulation air filter and stuck two little carb stub air filter on – it sounds like a free breathing V twin instead of one with its tie done up too tight in an attempt to sound civilised!

Lessons learnt:

  • 1) If it looks right it probably is right.
  • 2) Don’t trust The Book implicitly
  • 3) Buy a bike with one air filter and a bigger frame next time
  • 3) Teach SWMBO more mechanical sympathy so it doesn’t happen in the first place.
  • 4) My vocabulary of 4 letter words is much wider than I thought
  • 5) Engines get very hot, even hotter when running off song. This burns your fingers.

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