This lightweight, mid-capacity trailie bike is a truly practical dual purpose machine. It’s brilliant on dry tracks, woodland trails and rural roadways, and easily controllable in tough traffic.
Rowena Hoseason looks back at one of Honda´s true all-purpose motorcycles.
The Dominator is not a comfortable long distance bike. The high, narrow saddle means you can leap about like mad thing when you´re hopping about the hillside, but it´s murder on the motorway. You get about 125 miles before hitting reserve and that´s as far as anyone would want to go without a roadside buttock massage.
First gear is really short (perfect for off-roading) which means you have to change up real quick when rattling away from the lights. The instrument panel is clearly visible when you´re standing up on the footpegs, but unless you´re a six-footer it´s angled all wrong when you´re sat down – the trip counter disappears from view!
Daft blats around Brands apart, the Dommi is far more trail than road oriented, and you have to be pretty determined to travel at speed. Details like the lockable tool kit inside the bash-plate under the engine, suggest that Honda had an adventurous sort of buyer in mind for this bike.
It can commute, but there are better choices than the Dommi for a daily 30 mile ride. If you´re near the legal speed limit then things can feel pretty loose; push it hard and the tread blocks on the chunky tyres start to distort. A shimmy begins at the back and pretty soon the front end goes light, the only thing to do here is keep on the power to stop the front flapping.
Dual-carriageways are a bore on this kind of bike, but it will chug along at eighty all day if you insist.
Irritatingly, the oil filler is located between the handlebars and the seat which makes it a pig to top-up without spillage. Finally, the footpegs come with an integral wee rubber strip which gets dead slippery when wet (a bit like some folk we know…), and that means your feet fall off at exactly the wrong moment. This is a nightmare on a trail bike and it´s none too clever on a roadbike, either, especially one which encourages you to carry a fair bit of your bodyweight through the pegs rather than plonked on your derriere. The obvious cure has to be to apply a Swiss Army knife to pegs and remove the offending rubber!
The NX650 Dominator was first introduced in 1988 when it weighed 152kg and carried both electric and kickstarters. Although obviously a fully functional off-road bike it also excelled as an urban hack so Honda slowly developed it over the years, keeping the Dommi within current emission controls without losing too much of its sparky single-pot performance.
In 1990 the NX gained a slight boost to its power output, bringing it up to 47bhp, and lost the kickstart. The electric hoof was always a good one, so no one missed the old appendage, anyway. For 1991 the gearbox was modified and the gearing changed, swapping to 47 teeth on the rear sprocket instead of 45.
In 1992 the first of the emission measures took hold and power fell to 43bhp. Other differences were mainly cosmetics (the Dommi´s logos, colour schemes and such have been frequently upgraded with each new year) .
The major changes came in 1995 when production of the NX was moved to Italy without incurring any major quality problems. But the bike was given a major overhaul and so many earlier parts don´t fit these later machines. Weight rose to 165kg, but that was counteracted by using a shorter inlet tract, for quicker throttle response, together with a larger airbox. The shock, tank, fairing, and exhaust mounts were all slightly different, and the discs were now drilled instead of being slotted.
For 1996 a slightly slimmer fairing arrived with the indicators on stalks rather than moulded into fairing. And it became obvious that more people were using the Dommi on the road rather than off it, and so the fork sliders and front disc lost their additional shields.
Then in 1998 the project went into reverse. The SLR had arrived to serve the roadgoing market and so the NX could revert to a purer form of trailbike. The seat height rose by 15mm to 880mm and ground clearance increased to 250mm. Weight was up again, slightly, to 167kg, but that was to allow for a better grade of rear spring and stiffer front suspension.
Trail bike suspension suffers most, closely followed by bodywork. Take your intended buy for a good test ride and then look to see if there are any weeps or leaks from the front forks or rear monoshock. Peel back the gaiters and inspect the fork legs by sight and touch; the gaiters are a mixed blessing as they can hide a multitude of sins and allow scunge to accumulate underneath them. Remember that it´s relatively fiddly but cheap to replace fork seals or swap oil and springs at the front end, and it´s always expensive to change a monoshock unit. Bargain accordingly, especially if the rear shocker fails to spring back from compression (it´s probably shagged, mate!)
Another important part of the Dommi´s suspension is easy to overlook: the wheels. The lightweight aluminium wheel rims have ‘tangentially located spokes´ which contribute to the bike´s shock-absorbing capabilities (not a new idea, but always a good one). When they´re in good nick this is great, but bent, snapped or rusted spokes spell trouble (or a full wheel rebuild). Wheels get damaged by hooligan nutters bouncing around on one wheel at a time – after all, that´s why you´re looking at a Dommi, isn´t it?
Likewise steering head bearings have a short life and so do wheel and swinging arm bearings and bushes. Check for any notchy steering characteristics, or undue slack or sway, and drop your price if you find any.
Look carefully and feel the bodywork; seek out cracks and repainted areas, or fasteners which don´t quite tighten properly. Bent panels are a pain, but not irreplaceable or unfixable (there are plenty of plasti-weld specialists around) so this is a bargaining point only.
Chains and sprockets are eaten pretty quickly by big singles, likewise rear tyres and brake pads, but replacements are not overly expensive on this bike. And other general service items are at the lower end of the price range, so you won´t spend a fortune on its running costs.
The Dominator has a reliably rugged air/oil-cooled motor which is pretty easy to maintain at home – so far, so good. But unlike more sophisticated liquid-cooled power plants which can run for 6000 miles between services, it need frequent oil changes. Swap the engine lube at 3000 miles on a young bike, and increase the frequency with age. 1000 mile oil changes and filter cleaning will help keep a big single happy, you don´t need to worry about using expensive synthetic oil, either. Just stick to the recommended grade and sling in any old supermarket brand. If you find one that´s been treated this way, snap it up.
The SLR650 was announced at the end of 1996 and was marketed as very cheap commuter wheels. It had no fairing, rev counter, or fork gaiters, but could be considered marginally more practical for road use than the Dommi thanks to its lower seat height of 845mm and a 19-inch front wheel which took road tyres.
The SLR was re-tuned for better mid-range, producing 37-or-so-bhp, but top speed suffers. It has less ground clearance (by 200mm) than the NX, but that´s still plenty for street bikers.
Built in Spain the SLR has been criticised for its quality of finish: fork seals blow, chrome rusts, exhaust rots and bodywork peels, but other careful owners report that regular cleaning keeps it in trim. You´ll get an SLR for about £700 less than the Dommi.
Then in 1999 the Vigor supplanted the SLR, now sprouting a rev-counter, cockpit fairing and a Hornet-style rear end. With a softer front end than the NX, using smaller 36mm diameter forks, bigger discs at both ends, and employing larger 42mm Mikunis to boost low speed / low rev response, the Vigor is a very pleasant town bike. It can be bought in 33bhp format and returns a cheery 40mpg – that´s 163mpg to the tankful.
A 1999 Vigor will cost you between £1500 and £2200, and an SLR of the same age is worth much the same.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda dominator.
Engine air cooled……….4-stroke, 4-valve SOHC single, cc 644cc
Claimed power (bhp) Power……….43bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque……….41ft/lb @ 5000rpm
Transmission……….5 speed, chain final drive
Tyres……….front 90/90-21, rear 120/90-17
Suspension……….front 41mm, leading-axle fork with 220mm axle travel, rear pro-link monoshock with 195mm axle travel
Brakes……….front dual-piston single 256mm disc, rear single 220mm disc
Seat height……….34in (865mm)
Fuel capacity consumption……….35-45mpg
Tank range……….145-165 miles inc reserve