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

Real Classic - - Contents - Pho­tos by Nolan Wood­bury, Wout van Veld­huizen

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

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