Honda’s new four hails the past
It’s like deja vu all over again with the new CB1100, says Paul Owen
Six years in the making, and designed to within an inch of its life, Honda’s newest CB1100 is a celebration of all the models that wore the famous model prefix before it. Like BMW’s Mini, 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. It’s therefore hard to resist the urge to don an embroidered denim jacket, a mullet wig, and a pair of outrageously-flared jeans before riding it. This is probably the first Honda where the company’s designers were allowed near-total freedom of influence on the end product. It’s clear that heritage sells. Harley’s bike-building division takes in nearly two billion bucks 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 window-to-the-past Bonneville range continues to be a huge success for Triumph despite receiving little in the way of engineering updates. The build- ing of a homage-Honda in the form of the CB1100 therefore wasn’t just emotionallymotivated, 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 timewarping spell. The air-cooled engine recalls the bottom end of the 750 and the topend of the double-cam CB900F, while the tank shape, side covers, and kinked four-into-one exhaust hint of the 400, arguably the bestlooking Japanese four ever. 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. 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 0-100km/h 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 245kg 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. 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.
Retros style: The style and proportions of the bike all come from the great CBs of the 60s and 70s.