A Honda bike with retro chic

Last updated 11:43 27/09/2013
Honda CB1100

HONDA CB1100: The style and proportions of the bike all come from the great CBs of the 60s and 70s.

Honda CB1100
Fairfax NZ
INSTRUMENTATION: Simple, but complete on the Honda CB1100.

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It was 60 years ago, almost to the day, that Sergeant Honda taught his band how to play. Time then, for a retrospective model to celebrate this historic milestone in the form of the new CB1100.

AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1140cc air-cooled, fuel- injected, dohc inline four, 66kW (95bhp) at 7500rpm, 93Nm at 5000rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, chain drive.
Chassis: Steel-tube, double- cradle frame with double-sided swingarm. Unadjustable, 41mm- telescopic front forks and twin rear shocks adjustable for spring preload.
Price: $17,995.
Hot: Coolest-looking retro bike ever to emerge from the land of the Rising Sun offers authentic powertrain and chassis performance with 21st century refinement.
Not: Handlebars could be lower, exhaust note could be more distinctive and 18-litre fuel tank could be larger. But don't change a thing, Honda, leave it to the customers.
Six years in the making, and designed to within an inch of its life, the newest CB is a celebration of all the models that wore the famous model prefix before it. Like Volkswagen's Beetle, Triumph's Bonneville, and Moto Guzzi's V7, the CB1100 instantly evokes memories of the 1970s, in the same way that listening to a classic hits FM station does.

This is probably the first Honda ever, where the company's designers were allowed near-total freedom of influence on the end product. You can imagine the howls of protest from the engineering department when the CB1100 was first being conceived. You seriously want to use an air- cooled engine? A double-cradle tubular steel frame? Chromed metal mudguards? Twin rear shock absorbers on a simple steel- tube swingarm? We might as well all go and work for Harley- Davidson.

This is the whole point, for it's clear that heritage sells. Harley's bike-building division takes in nearly $2 billion every quarter as it builds a range of 27 models using just five frames and three engines, all of which rely on design cues taken from the 1930s and 1950s for most of their appeal.

The simplistic V7 rescued Moto Guzzi from the road to ruin and easily accounts for half of the brand's sales. The window-to-the- past Bonneville range continues to be a huge success for Triumph, despite receiving little in the way of engineering updates. The building of a homage-Honda in the form of the CB1100 therefore wasn't just emotionally- motivated, it made perfect business sense. The surprise is just how emotionally stimulating the end result is, especially if, like me, you happen to be of an age that is most vulnerable to the CB11's time-warping spell.

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For I can clearly remember when the covers came off the CB750 four at the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show and the bike sent the entire British bike industry ducking for cover. Seat time aboard my own 1971 CB750F and 1974 CB400F were some of the best formative moments of my riding life. The CB1100 adds lots of rose- tinting to those memories just by looking at it. The air-cooled engine recalls the bottom-end of the 750 and the top-end of the double-cam CB900F, while the tank shape, side covers and kinked four-into-one exhaust hint of the 400; arguably the best-looking Japanese four ever.

Had those historic Hondas of my riding past been as refined as the CB1100, I'd probably still be riding them. For Honda's engineers have done some fine work within the narrowed parameters that the CB1100 offered to them. The new air- cooled four is as smooth as Honda's outrageous-in-1980 CBX1000 inline six, and offers similar top-end performance and a torque delivery that is just as flexible. It comes allied to a gearbox that swaps ratios with the same satisfying precision as a well-oiled rifle bolt.

There might only be five gears to play with on the new CB, but the bike hardly needs more given the muscular nature of the power delivery at basement engine speeds. The bike's designers might have specified that the overhead camshafts be positioned further apart than the current engineering wisdom would deem desirable, but the way the engine goes about its business without fuss or stress appears to be a bonus. It might not have the narrow valve angles that allow a zippy top-end rush, and the CB1100's 0-100kmh time of 4.5 seconds might appear ordinary, however there is much to appreciate about the unruffled, easy-going nature of the powertrain. It could be slightly more frugal with fuel and bark with a bit more authority, that's all.

At 245 kilograms when fully- fuelled up, the CB1100 is a relatively heavy bike thanks in part to the use of metal for parts where most other bikes use plastic. Despite this, it's an easy bike both to manoeuvre in and out of the garage, and to throw at an inviting corner. Skinny tyres on 18" wheels create an authentic 1970s dynamic along with the softy-sprung suspension, but not at the expense of either a lack of cornering grip or instability. Footpeg feelers that touch down a little earlier than those of current streetbikes, appear to be the only price that the handling of the CB1100 pays for the retro-style and basic chassis. As for the brakes, if only we had these stoppers in 1974. Just one of the 1100's front discs is possibly more powerful than the aftermarket twin-disc setup that I added to my CB750 way back then.

While the $17,995 CB1100's riding position is authentically upright and comfy, I'd be instantly fitting a Dunstall-like half-fairing and a set of lower bars if I bought one. This bike's ability to travel back into my past as well as down the road would then be complete.

Honda CB1100

- The Press

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