I've been doing some messing around and thought I'd share what I've discovered here, in case it can help.
I've been doing all kinds of uninstalling and re-installing of various programs, and am now running node from the base installation from nodejs.org rather then through brew package manager. Although I don't think that has anything to do with the error i was running into as I still run into this error under a certain condition.
So when I first installed nodebb, I've realized that was the master github branch, and npm install runs just fine on it. So after that I decided to branch v0.9.x again and see if npm install worked, and it did not work. Same kind of timed out errors as above. So after that i went ahead and branched v0.9.2 and npm install works on v0.9.2.
So, this error seems to be directly related to the latest v0.9.x branch. I tried upgrading my 0.9.2 nodebb version up to the v0.9.x branch, and i can't, it gets stuck on this step:
1. Bringing base dependencies up to date...
I also created a test directory for v0.9.x and tried replacing its package.json with the package.json of the master build just to see if it could bypass the time out errors. I know doing that isn't recommended as it could possibly break the software overall, just wanted to see if it could pass the timed out errors, but it still didn't.