Most motorcycle manufacturers have a market niche they’re trying to fill. Suzuki builds affordable motorcycles; Kawasaki builds fast-looking motorcycles; Yamaha builds machines with an emphasis on reliability; and Honda builds motorcycles for car drivers.
Now before all you Honda fans jump from your seats and start hurling insults and garbage at me, hear me out: How else can you explain Honda’s decades-long obsession with clutchless-shifting motorcycles? And how else can you explain a motorcycle like the Honda Pacific Coast 800?
An American idea
When the Pacific Coast came to the US market for 1989, it was initially conceived by Honda’s American arm, who had its own R&D department focusing on bikes for that market. Things have changed in the time since. These days, developing markets are more important to the Japanese manufacturers’ bottom line than satisfying oddball niches of the North American market. Lucrative US sales made it worthwhile back then, though, in the heady, high-rolling days before 2008 took the economy down.
When the American R&D team laid out the Pacific Coast project, they set out to make a motorcycle to tempt people away from cars. And why do people often prefer cars to motorcycles? Aside from safety concerns, there are two big reasons: Luggage capacity, and weather protection.
That’s what they built into the Pacific Coast, aka the PC800. The massive fairing blocked a lot of wind, which kept the rider warm(er) and dry(er) than other bikes, even many touring-oriented machines. And on the back of the bike, there was a massive… trunk? Unlike other touring bikes, which have individual panniers mounted to each side of the machine, the PC800 had a large wraparound trunk that opened from the top, just like a car trunk.
However, even though it was highly unconventional, it did work. Motorcycle.com’s 1998 review of the bike put it this way:
The trunk rules. It can comfortably carry four plastic bags full of groceries, along with a small bag of dog food. It can fit two full-sized helmets and two medium-sized gym bags. It’s watertight. We rode the PC 800 thru two pre-El Nino Southern California monsoons without any water leaking into the trunk. And unlike side bags, stuff doesn’t want to fall out when you open it.
Maybe Honda was on to something, then!
There were other similarities to cars, including an instrument panel that actually looked like a car dashboard, with plastic cladding covering the handlebars. Perhaps this was to make the PC800’s bars look more like a steering wheel?
The plastic bodywork covered the entire bike, hiding any mechanical sights. No peek at the engine, rear suspension, anything, just like a car. Honda built the rear signal lights right into the corners of that bloated bodywork, looking suspiciously like something you’d see on an ’80s import car.
Although this all was considered very revolutionary in the late 1980s, I do think it should be pointed out that this had been tried before. If you look at a photo of an old Vincent Black Prince from the mid-1950s, you’ll see… a motorcycle with a V-twin engine and a lot of bodywork. The fiberglass fairings were intended to make the bike more commuter-friendly, and attract buyers away from cars. Phil Vincent himself called the Black Prince a “two-wheeled Bentley.” So, Honda was definitely thinking outside the box in 1989, but this was actually an old idea.
And like that Vincent Black Prince, the Honda PC800 did not achieve the results its designers wanted.
Like many of Honda’s outside-the-box ideas, the PC800 wasn’t a smash success (see also: DN01, NM4, etc.). But it wasn’t an abject failure, either; it lasted in the US lineup from 1989 through 1998, and in the years either, it has gained a cult following. Many hardcore bike enthusiasts will confess they’d like to try one. That’s hardly the market that Honda was trying to capture originally, but that’s often the way things work out. If it’s weird, only the weirdos will like it, no matter how you were trying to appeal to the normies.
Those weirdos include a few ADVers. You can see a thread on the forum here, with reviews from owners and former owners. And Justin Hughes, an inmate who also writes for the front page of the site, had his own video review. See below:
Look around YouTube at other reviews, or read enough ride reviews, and you generally get two impressions: First, the engine in the PC800 was not exactly a thriller. The 45-degree V-twin was very similar to the engine Honda used for the ACE 750 cruisers of that era. Not terrible, but it was pushing about 620 pounds of bike (all that extra plastic added up!).
Second, many riders noticed this bike actually felt a lot like a car. Of course, that was intentional; Honda had made sure to include things like shaft drive and self-adjusting valves and camchain, so users could exercise the same lack of concern towards maintenance that they would with a car. The actual riding experienced was smooth, with that vibey engine carefully isolated with rubber mounts, so the bike wouldn’t rattle and shake.
Want to buy one?
If you decide you must have one of these oddball bikes for yourself, you’re in luck. Dallas Honda has one for sale… for $5,999. Wait, what? It’s a ’98 model, with 51,000 miles on the odometer, and $6k sounds a bit pricey. But look at the pictures—this machine is super-clean. If you’re looking to burn a bunch of money, I suppose there are worst ways. The ad does say Make An Offer, so chances are you’ll get it for a few C-notes less, if you show up with cash in hand.