Honda’s new four hails the past

It’s like deja vu all over again with the new CB1100, says Paul Owen

Central Otago Mirror - - MOTORING -

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.

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