FIRST TESTS New Honda CB1100RS & EX + KTM 125 & 390 Duke

Motorcycle News (UK) - - News - By Jon Urry MCN ROAD TESTER

There is a strange con­flict de­vel­op­ing in the mo­tor­cy­cle world. Retro is back in a big way and air-cooled en­gines wrapped up in 1960s café racer-styled bikes are all the rage. How­ever, modern riders don’t want their ret­ros to han­dle like ma­chines from yes­ter­year and so bikes are ap­pear­ing that blend the best of new and old. But where do you draw the line?

The new BMW R ninet Racer sticks to old-school con­ven­tional forks and brakes with an air-cooled mo­tor in a stripped-back chas­sis while the Thrux­ton R uses a thor­oughly modern ride-by-wire wa­ter-cooled en­gine with in­verted forks, ra­dial brakes and a host of elec­tronic as­sists. Yet it gets away with it by hid­ing it all away be­hind an achingly beau­ti­ful café racer. With the CB1100 RS, Honda has taken the safe mid­dle ground.

At the heart of the CB1100 RS is a good, old-school, air-cooled, 16-valve DOHC in­line four. It’s pretty much the same mo­tor as used in the CB1100 that made its Euro­pean de­but in 2013 af­ter huge de­mand for this pre­vi­ously Ja­pan-only model. This is then fixed into the CB’S steel chas­sis with very slightly al­tered ge­om­e­try and an alu­minium swingarm to up its sport­ing po­ten­tial. So far so retro. Then, to add a modern twist, Showa Dual Bend­ing Valve forks, To­kico ra­dial brakes and 17in wheels com­plete the trans­for­ma­tion from old-school CB1100 (which is now called the EX) to café racer CB1100 RS. But there is a bit of a prob­lem…

I was ex­pect­ing to be blown away by the RS, but af­ter rid­ing it I’m left a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed. I pre­ferred the far more tra­di­tional EX than the café racer RS. For me the is­sue is the RS’S han­dling, which lets the side down.

When I see 17in wheels and ra­dial brakes on a retro I ex­pect the bike to han­dle like a modern ma­chine, which is ex­actly what the R ninet and Thrux­ton do. In fact, they are re­ally im­pres­sive and gen­uinely sur­pris­ing ma­chines when the pace ups. But for me the RS

"the RS feels like itõs had its sport­ing side forced upon it, not en­gi­neered in"

feels like it is a bike that has had its sport­ing side forced upon it rather than en­gi­neered in and as such it slightly misses the mark.

Honda have taken one de­gree of rake off the EX’S chas­sis and 5mm off the wheel­base while the trail is also re­duced by 15mm, but I think they have played it too safe. When you en­ter a bend on the RS it re­quires ef­fort to force it into the turn, as if it has a slightly flat front tyre (it didn’t) and when lent over you need to hold it down to keep its line. It’s not as ag­ile or as sporty as I ex­pected and cer­tainly won’t match the com­pe­ti­tion in terms of han­dling.

The in­line-four en­gine is typ­i­cal Honda in some ways – it’s smooth, fu­els per­fectly but the top three gears are very widely spaced and feel like over­drives.

And yet in other ways it is won­der- fully un-honda. Its de­sign­ers have gone out of their way to in­ject some spirit into it and have ac­tu­ally en­gi­neered not only a lovely air-cooled ping­ing when it is cool­ing, but also a slightly off-beat note through al­tered valve tim­ing on cylin­ders 1 and 2 com­pared to 3 and 4 as well as a new ex­haust for 2017 purely to make it sound bet­ter. The new petrol tank is two litres big­ger and its seam­less de­sign stylish, the brushed alu­minium side pan­els are lovely and the en­gine even has an as­sist and slip­per clutch, giv­ing a light lever ac­tion. It should be so good, but Honda have pulled their punches when they could have gone all-in.

At over £11,000, the RS needs to fend off the £10,775 BMW R ninet Racer and £12,000 Tri­umph Thrux­ton R – which it doesn’t do. For a bike that prom­ises so much, this is a dis­ap­point­ment.

Sit­ting pretty on the RS with lots of lovely chrome and ba­sic-but-lovely clocks

PCP deal £149 A MONTH Honda CB1100RS for 36 months Cash price: £11,139 (OTR) De­posit: £1901.91 Fi­nal pay­ment: £5140.25

The plush and wide seat of­fers a comfy ride for pi­lot and pil­lion

As sub­tle as a brick – lovely!

Twin Showa shocks look the part

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