Why The Honda NX650 Dominator Was A Huge Failure In The U.S.

Dual-sport motorcycles are a bit of a Swiss army knife when it comes to the motorcycle world. On the one hand, a dual-sport bike can act as a dirt bike and be perfectly content hopping dunes and ripping through the woods all day. On the other hand, it can serve as a commuter bike for short distances as long as you don't mind aggressive styling and some mud on the fenders. After all, commuting is what headlights, turn signals, and license plates are for. 

Honda has a long history of making dual sports and off-road vehicles of all kinds dating back to the 1970s with bikes like the MT250 Elsinore. Honda's current dual-sport, the CRF300L has been compared to a humble and useful pack animal in reviews due to its reliability and ability to meet any challenge head-on. But between the classic Elsinore and the current dual-sport offerings, Honda released a bike that wasn't quite as popular in the States as its forebearers, that bike is the NX650, also called the "Dominator." 

Not quite a Dominator in sales

In the late 1980s, Honda seemingly loaded several motorcycles into a cannon and shot them over to the United States in an effort for something to catch on. One such bike was the 1988 NX650 Dominator. It had a 644cc engine that was similar in architecture to Honda's previous XR600R (via Rider Magazine). On paper, the specifications weren't particularly egregious and were not the cause of the NX650's failure in the States. The Dominator failed to live up to its aggressive namesake because it could not quite figure out what it was. It couldn't fulfill the "dual" part of the dual-sport segment. On the outside, it had all the prerequisites of a street bike in that it had a big headlight in the front fairing, mirrors, turn signals, and places for mounting bags. It was also tall, looked mean, and had all the ground clearance of a serious dirt machine. 

According to Rider Magazine, the bike was fine for riding on the street and was adequate enough for a cameo appearance on the dirt, but the bike fell flat on its face (sometimes literally) on any rough terrain. For starters, the suspension could not be adjusted easily without an entire Snap-On catalog's worth of tools. Plus, the stock tires were too tame for anything rougher than a gravel driveway or a grocery store parking lot. The bike was only around for two years in the States before Honda pulled the plug after poor sales. 

The NX650's life abroad

Despite the NX650's unsure nature off-road, some reviewers were fond of the bike and held it in high regard when the bike was new in the late 1980s. Cycle World, in a test from 1988 found that the NX650 was capable of performing on the trail, provided the bike was prepped accordingly and the rider had the prerequisite amount of skill.

While the NX650 was a complete flop in the United States, it enjoyed a long and healthy life in Europe where it was produced until 2003. To this day, it remains an incredibly popular bike to modify and tinker with. According to Cycle World, European markets couldn't get enough dual-sport bikes in the 1980s and Honda was happy to supply them. 

Well over 30 years later, the NX650 has become a bit of an oddball collector piece among riders who know how scarce it is Stateside. The bikes occasionally go up for auction online and can be attained for relatively reasonable prices given their rarity.