Honda initially led the charge in building multi-cylinder sportbikes, but by the late 1970s they’d lost the top spot. They needed a front-running litreclass four, so they created the CB1100R proddie racer. Nolan Woodbury is familiar with the F models, and
Honda initially led the charge in building multi-cylinder sportbikes, but by the late 1970s they’d lost the top spot. They needed a front-running litre-class four, so they created the CB1100R proddie racer. Nolan Woodbury is familiar with the F models, and now he meets an R for the first time…
The logic that says success is easier to gain than it is to maintain underscores the outrageous achievement of Honda’s twin-cam CB1100R four. It’s said that Soichiro Honda and co took the lead in two-wheel development sometime in the mid-1960s. The CB750 changed motorcycling forever, but even Japan’s driving wedge of innovation suffered through many a setback before and after its meteoric rise to the top. And if you claim to be the best then people will always take aim at you. ‘I’ve always been drawn to the brand,’ says Honda ace Steve McIntyre. ‘The biggest always wears the bullseye.’
Honda’s ascension began in 1959 with fast GP four-strokes equipped with various numbers of pistons, and the wins they earned stockpiled into prestigious world championships. This status was put to good use in Honda’s otherwise apple pie, homespun marketing scheme, but the company’s ability to meet demand proved to be key in leading the Hamamatsu firm to sales dominance. In 1967, after the CB450 was deemed not big enough, the works racing was halted so funds could be directed towards the sohc four. It didn’t take long for Honda’s competitors to react and the resulting stampede towards huge horsepower heralded perhaps the greatest decade of road bikes in history. Busy popping out camp generators, traillies and foldups, Honda didn’t seem interested in the litre-plus market until the CBX six entered the fight in 1978.
If you take things at face value then an initial estimate of the tall, clean-cut McIntyre perfectly matches the typical Honda‘nicest people’ rider profile. Closer acquaintance exposes a mad scientist in action behind the doors of his workshop. One such project escaped to land on the cover of RC way back when, a custom CB750F that Steve rode off the lot new in 1976. Stepping inside the mad scientist’s lab reveals an unused, as-new 500 Interceptor; custom 550 fours; a 250cc Honda / Yamaha hybrid, and a pair of CB1100Fs in off-set blue and white. There’s even a Honda V-Four bolted to the floor of his carpetcleaning rig, providing ‘Steamin’ Steve’ with enough suction to not just lift stains, but clear the drains too.
‘I didn’t know what an 1100R was until
1995 or so, when I spotted a beautiful third-series CB1100RD while on holiday in Australia. Soon after, this surfaced locally when a friend placed an advert looking to buy 1100Fs. I was a bit disappointed seeing it for the first time… it wasn’t nearly as pretty as the bike I’d seen in Sydney. The CB1100Rs generally look the same in photographs, but Honda changed them every year.’
During the second half of the 1970s, change couldn’t come soon enough for Honda fans weary of the company’s conservative approach. One tantalising diversion was the double cam, 16-valve RCB works racer developed from the 750,
but followers of The Four could only watch
its Japanese rivals (and a number of open class Eurobikes) soar past the production CB and keep going. Honda’s return to GP in 1977 was news but, even if the oval piston NR500 had worked, it wouldn’t generate the press gained by Australia’s Castrol Six Hour endurance winner. Under watchful eyes and strict rules, only street legal motorcycles were allowed, divided by displacement but focused on the unlimited class. With massive crowds came television coverage and the star of the show was obvious; racing which followed European road practice with plenty of brand loyalty and popular riders. Prepped for 1978, the six-cylinder 1000cc CBX was
fast but a handful, and while the following RCB-inspired 900 Bol d’Or maintained its composure under power, it didn’t make enough bhp for it to win.
Running north along Arizona’s State Highway 77 from Winkelman to Globe, the tarmac’s roller-coaster of sweepers proved the ideal location for my introduction to Steve’s 1982 CB1100R. No stranger to the brand, I long ago fell under the Honda spell and have owned two bike of the marque; a twin-cam 750F in 1980 and the 1100cc version three years later. Had I paid attention at the time then I might have been frustrated that the 1100R wasn’t sold here in the USA, but the Super Sport’s sweeping scoops and
protrusions demonstrates that I was drawn to Bol d’Or style before knowing what it was.
Interior details are often glossed over, yet I considered it time well spent studying the 1100R’s tidy yet well-appointed cockpit. The large black and orange dials are easy to read, and while you’re admiring the moulded-in oil temp gauge, function lights and tailored fuse cover it’s easy to miss the three-way adjustable bars. Bright red, the upper fairing brackets attach with plated hardware and quick release fasteners hold the lowers.
My familiarity with the Honda’s customary switches and controls ended after thumbing the 1062cc four to life and dropping the hammer. There’s much more to the 1100R, compared to a 900 Bol d’Or, than a couple of hundred ccs. At speed the 1100 engine’s solid mounting is felt through the grips, but once the road begins to climb it is all forgotten in favour of the four’s unflappable poise and neutral steering. Despite our short acquaintance, pulling off for lunch was the only disappointment. I wasn’t ready to stop, yet.
This improved roadholding can be credited to the extra attention which Honda’s technicians lavished on the 1100R’s chassis. It’s nearly identical in layout to the 900F but beefed up for the bigger engine’s increased output. Compare the 1100R to a French market 900 and it’s soon obvious that the smaller machine has a swinging arm 6mm smaller in diameter than the burly unit on Steve’s 1100R, and that theme continues throughout. Inches were shaved relocating the steering head with shorter tubes, and the 900’s bolted lower frame rail was welded in. Control was enhanced with 39mm air forks and gas-charged FVQ shocks. Some ancillaries are similar to items used on the CX500 Turbo – so the Comstars, Honda’s patented TRAC mechanical anti-dive and other parts look like cross-over items, save for the 1100’s 18-inch wheels.
The brakes were uprated with twin-piston calipers, and then upscale vented rotors arrived for 1982 and the set measures equally at 295mm. Tapered roller bearings are fitted to the front end but the swinging arm rides on bushings. That’s surprising, given the good press earned by the 1980s all-bearing CBX. The rear-sets, clip-ons and largecapacity alloy petrol tank were exclusive to the homologated 1100R, but several components were offered in a kit sold by dealers to fit the other Super Sport models.
For those keeping track, the first version of the 1100R set the mechanical specification for the subsequent B/C/D editions manufactured from 1981. The chassis and body were revised in 1982, and again in 1983. Keeping the 900’s 69mm throw, Honda’s plan to open the bores by 5.5mm required a new cylinder block with no cooling gaps. I’ve been told the RCB’s 28/24mm inlet and exhaust valves carried through to the 900/1100 cylinder heads, but it’s needle in a haystack stuff with Honda. Know for certain that the chain-driven dual camshafts had more lift and duration, the search for power led to higher compression forged pistons and larger gudgeon pins hooked to stronger conrods. A larger oil cooler was added, and larger 34VB Keihin carbs in 1982.
Left: Big Honda still cuts it in the Making A Statement Stakes Right: Fitted with an oil cooler as standard, the CB1100R engine output 120bhp at 9000rpm, good enough for a top speed which came close to 150mphp It might’ve been ‘based around’ the...
Under here lives an engine. It is a big engine, and produces plenty of power Above: Initially Honda planned on building just 1100 CB1100Rs to homologate the production racer for competition. It was so sought-after that eventually more than 4000 were...
Monoshock rear suspension was all the rage at the cutting edge of the early 1980s but Honda felt a traditional twin-shock set-up would be more rigid and durable. The tubular swinging arm was replaced by a box-section item for the final year of production
The first editions were equipped with 37mm airadjustable spring preload forks. Honda’s TRAC system arrived with 39mm tubes for the 1981/82 season
Above: A CB900F on steroids, the CB1100R carried a price tag to match. While the standard streetbike 900 sold for £1999, the proddie racer 1100R went on sale for almost twice as much at £3700 in November 1980
Ventilated discs were a rare sight on a motorcycle when this appeared