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