Honda Dominator Problems: 4 Known Issues (Explained)

The Honda NX650 Dominator was a dual-sport motorcycle produced between 1988 and 2003, and it was one of the first of its kind.

Its 644cc motor pushes 44 horsepower at 6,000 RPMs and flattens its big-cylinder vibration. It employed an industry-leading, gear-driven counterbalancing system.

As state-of-the-art as the Dominator was, no bike is perfect, and we thought we’d share the most common complaints NX650 owners experienced and how they dominated them. 

1. Rough Shifting/Tough Gearbox

One of the common problems we heard mentioned by the Honda Dominator owners was its rough shifting.

According to some NX650 riders, the Honda Dominator has a tough gearbox to shift through. Starting at the shift from neutral to first, one rider described shifting as crunching through the gears even after he adjusted his clutch cable.

While multiple mentions corroborate rough shifting as a common problem with the NX650, most of the cases we found were de-escalated with a little bit of routine maintenance.

It could just be a matter of your clutch dragging. 

To diagnose if you have a dragging clutch on a Honda NX650 Dominator:

  1. Warm the engine by idling the motorcycle for a few minutes.
  2. Put the bike on a lift or jack it up, so the back wheel is in the air.
  3. While a helper pulls in the clutch, hand spin your back wheel. It should spin easily. If there’s resistance coming from the gearbox, you may have a dragging clutch.

Potential Causes

If you have a bad habit of slipping your clutch, you may have warped your plates—warped plates can cause a Honda Dominator’s clutch to drag.

Maybe you’re a more responsible rider who doesn’t slip their clutch, but maybe you haven’t ridden your NX650 in a while. If that’s the case, your clutch plates could just be sticking.

If you’re a rough rider who stomps on their Honda Dominator’s shifter, like they’re stomping out a fire (no judgments, I for sure used to be that guy), you may have romped some grooves into your clutch basket. 

A grooved clutch basket is another rider-caused culprit for rough shifting on a Honda NX650 Dominator.

Shifting can also be made rough by worn and torn gear dogs, while a noticeable increase in friction between first and second gear could indicate too much chain slack.

In other cases, Dominator riders discovered the problem was that their idle was set too high.

So what’s the most common cause of rough shifting on a Honda Dominator?

Sticking plates on a Honda NX650 Dominator that’s been sitting unused for years can cause tough shifting. Often, owners of used NX650s clean them up and sell them without soaking their sticking clutch plates in oil.

If you buy a used Honda Dominator:

  • Ask about the clutch and gearbox condition.
  • Ask how often the bike was ridden vs. how long it sat for.
  • Ride it gracefully for a while and feel for any rough shifting or plate sticking in the gearbox. 
  • If you experience a sticking plate, dismantle your clutch, soak it in quality engine oil, and reassemble it for some butter-smooth shifting. 

Okay, so it was user error and sitting Dominators who are to blame for NX650s’ rough gearbox reputation; why is the Honda Dominator known for its tough shifting?

The first Honda NX650 Dominator dropped in 1988, but it was based on the pre-existing Honda XR and XL 600s, both prone to shifting issues. 

Those pre-86 Dominator predecessors had carrier bearings on the left side of their main shaft that would escape the case, hitting the second gear drove cog with enough pressure to make shifting noticeably rough. 

This process would degenerate the thrust washer and stall the teeth until they fell off, and you’d notice hazardous metal shavings in your oil throughout this process of your gears breaking. 

The solution on these early models was to open up the case and upgrade the thrush washer, gear, and bearing, fitting the new bearing with Loctite. 

Honda rectified this issue back in 1986, two years before the launch of the NX650 Dominator; despite the rumors circulating the forums, the Honda Dominator never had this problem.

Related: 4 Most-Common Problems With Honda CB1000

2. Seat Uncomfortable For Long Rides

This is more of a common customer complaint than an issue, but the Honda Dominator is known to have an uncomfortable seat.

The Dominator is what’s called a dual-sport motorcycle. A dual-sport motorcycle is a bike intended for roasting trails and off-roading as much as it’s intended for ripping up the street.

Nowadays, people love to repurpose these old dual-sports for touring since you can’t trail rip on a conventional bagger. 

In theory, using these vintage dual sports as modern adventure bikes sounds fun, but they weren’t intended for long trips. Therefore, the seat on the Dominator was designed for short bursts of aerodynamic and aggressive trail/street riding.

One of the highest selling points for Honda is their cross-utilization of components, meaning that aftermarket components are available for more recent Honda models that still fit the old schoolers and founding fathers. 

The Dominator is a major influencer of contemporary adventure bikes and is still sought after today.

Due to its iconic influence and popularity, there are still after-market seat upgrades available for the Dominator. If you aim to turn a used Dominator into a touring adventurer, we suggest exploring the options for a more comfortable seat.

3. Insufficient Fuel Tank

Yet another taste issue, many riders think that the 3.4 gallon-sized fuel tank on older-generation Dominators is inadequate for long hauls.

As mentioned in the above section, the NX650 Dominator is built to hit the trails and ride. 

Since the days when the Dominator dominated the dual market, adventure bikes have been developed to scratch the itch of cross-country dual-sport riding that developed in the Dominator’s wake. 

At the time, though, dirt riding was little more than a hobby, and trail riding wasn’t a mainstream motorcycle discussion yet. The size of the Dominator’s tank leads me to believe that it was intended for quick rips up some backcountry with a camp nearby for re-filling rendezvous, not for aggressive backcountry moto-camping for days on end.

That said, aftermarket tank upgrades are available that fit the Honda NX650 Dominator that provides a fuel-capacity increase of close to 50%. If the tank is the only thing stopping you from riding one of the most influential bikes of dual-sport history, slap an upgrade on there and rip on up that mountain.

Related: 3 Most-Common Problems With Honda VT 1100 Spirit Shadow

4. Stock Rear Suspension Too Soft for Street Riding

We’ve encountered more than a few owners of Honda NX650 Dominators who claim that their stock rear suspension was too soft once they go from dirt to road.

As we’ve mentioned a few times now, the Dominator was a pioneer dual-sport motorcycle intended for use on the road and the trails.

Because of its dedicated function, Honda equipped the Dominator with a suspension just hard enough for the road while soft enough to roll over rocks and mounds without launching you from your seat.

Some of the complaints about the soft stock suspension could be due to the age of the suspension, and some Dominators on the road are over 30 years old.

Still, other riders unimpressed with the NX650’s offroad-abled suspension package find themselves ripping paved roads more often than jumping dirt trails; they want a rear suspension package that leans more towards the harder, street side.

Either way, there’s a common solution, swap out the shocks with a pair of aftermarkets more suited for street fighting. 

How to Change the Rear Suspension on a Honda NX650 Dominator:

Follow these steps to change your NX650 Dominator’s rear suspension:

  1. Uninstall the side panels, seat, and fuel tank. 
  2. Unscrew your airbox bolts and loosen the airbox carb clamp.
  3. Pull the airbox as far back as you can and unscrew the upper shock eye. 
  4. The bottom bolt that attaches the NX shock fork to the linkage is a threaded M10-70 and can be replaced by an M10-80 with the corresponding washers and nuts.
  5. Fasten a strap over the rear luggage rack to hold the rear wheel in place and keep the assembly from falling.
  6. Remove the dogbone bolt.
  7. Swap out your springs.
  8. Reassemble your airbox carb clamp and bolts in the reverse order you took them out.
  9. Re-install your side panels, seat, and fuel tank.

Related: 3 Most-Common Problems With Honda CBR 929RR Fireblade

Pros and Cons of Honda NX650 Dominator

Here are advantages and disadvantages of the Honda Dominator:


The Honda NX650 Dominator is equipped with a gear-driven counterbalance system that smooths out the engine-power impact on the ride. 

Dominating was the name of the game with the NX650—a four-valve motor with a compression ratio of 8.3: 1 gets pushed against by dual chain-driven camshafts. 

The intake utilized an efficient and effective Keihin carb, 40mm, constant-velocity. 

It blew through dual-headers that slide down the right engine-side and blasted out two separate mufflers.

The Dominator’s power train was a straight-cut-geared-primary and a wet clutch in a 5-speed transmission that cranked the back wheel via a #520 chain.

Honda bolted this full-package onto a steel frame with a steel swingarm. With attention to the dual-sport, off-road function, the motor was dry-sump, and the oil supply was tucked into the frame’s spine. 

The Dominator’s fork was a robust, 41mm tube to give 8.5 inches of travel with a 4.5-inch trail and a rake of 28.5 degrees. A fork brace attached the fork to the fender, which rolled a 21-inch spoked front wheel and a 90/90 tire. The wheel was regulated by a single, twin-pistoned calipered brake disc.


  • Rough Shifting/Tough Gearbox
  • Seat Uncomfortable For Long Rides
  • Insufficient Fuel Tank
  • Stock Rear Suspension Too Soft For Street Riding

What Do the Reviews Say?

Street work was great, and the passenger seat was even tolerable for a while—presuming the rider was not too tall and pushed the passenger back onto the fender. Handling was good; power came on smoothly, brakes worked fine. On good dirt roads, no problem, as long as the rider remembered to use the brakes gently. On single-track stuff, not so good. Especially when it came to things like uphill 90-degree turns. The Bridgestone Trail Wings were too street-oriented to get a good grip, but a light hand on the clutch could work minor wonders.

The NX650 sold, but not in numbers that American Honda had projected, and when a bike doesn’t meet expectations, away it goes. The NX650 was off the market after two short years, while the European version, called the Dominator 650, sold well all the way through 2001. Today you can buy the same engine in the $6,700 XR650L.


What’s the Resale Value on a Honda NX650 Dominator?

Year Miles Price
1988 5,000 $2,850
1988 2,225 $3,499
1993 26,200 $2,967
1996 21,745 $2,173
2001 31,068 $2,584


Retrospective: Honda NX650: 1988-1989 |

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ⓘ  The information in this article is based on data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall reports, consumer complaints submitted to the NHTSA, reliability ratings from J.D. Power, auto review and rating sites such as Edmunds, specialist forums, etc. We analyzed this data to provide insights into the best and worst years for these vehicle models.