HONDA REVAMPS ITS ‘PROPER MOTORBIKE’
‘NOW that’s a proper motorbike.’ It’s hard to argue with my father-inlaw’s verdict on Honda’s revamped CB1100RS. It has two wheels, a seat and handlebars. That’s it. There’s no fairing, no adventure-style beaks, no digital dash with a blizzard of settings to confuse the unwary rider. In short, the air-cooled four-cylinder Honda looks like almost every motorcycle did in the 1970s and into the 1980s. The difference is, of course, this retro, muscle bike, café racer-inspired machine promises to handle and stop as well as it goes. And that’s what I’m aiming to find out.
But let’s go back to the start of the day when I pick up the bike at Victor Devine. It’s raining – well, it is August in Scotland – and I have already felt the rear wheel on my Triumph Daytona sliding on a greasy Govan roundabout.
There are two versions of the CB1100. The EX comes with spoked wheels, higher handlebars and traditional Honda colours, including a version with a yellow tank that reminds me of the old 400x4. The top of the range RS has chunky upside Showa forks and remote reservoir twin rear shocks, radial Tokico brakes and 17-inch wheels in place of the EX’s 18. There are twin analogue chrome dials for the speedo and rev counter, with an understated LCD display for fuel and the gear indicator.
Both are splendid looking machines. Honda has pushed out the boat and everything about them whispers class. The lustrous paint and quality fasteners look like they’d repel the worst of the Scottish weather and the welds on the swing arm are almost works of art. The rear lights are chrome, with rubber seals – none of that plastic shiny junk that disfigures other some manufacturers’ retro machines.
Throwing a leg over the saddle, the first thing I notice is the seat height. At 795mm most people will be able to plant both feet firmly on the ground – which is just as well, as it’s not a light bike at 252kg.
I turn the key and the engine purrs into life with a pleasing rumble as I head off into the gloom, wary of Glasgow’s wet, diesel-soaked roads and the possibility of dropping this beauty. This is a Honda, however, and it takes care of me in the way only a Honda can. The big CB cuts through the city without any fuss. The engine, the first big air-cooled power plant produced by Honda in 20 years, is smooth and the fuelling is perfect. There are no nasty surprises or jerkiness. I filter through a traffic jam on the Erskine Bridge, the bike has plenty of road presence and the low seat height gives me confidence that I’ll be able to handle any sudden dramas if or when a dozy driver pulls out on me.
The road starts to dry as I hug Loch Lomond and I wind it up a bit. The power is turbine-like and, although the 1140cc ‘only’ produces 88bhp, it’s plenty for fast, safe overtakes. It has character, too, and is vibey around 4000rpm.
I take a right at Crianlarich and the road is mercifully free of tourist traffic and these sort of flowing A roads make the Honda happy. I want to try it out on a B road so take the B824 from Doune that runs past the statue to SAS founder David Stirling. It’s a twisty 10 miles or so and I’m surprised how easy to handle the big CB is there.
Then it’s on to the M9. I get a head and shoulders workout but it’s perfectly pleasant and it would be no hardship handling a few hours of this. Back in Glasgow, a van driver gives me the thumbs up. I reckon he thinks it’s a proper motorbike, too.
The revamped CB1100RS looks, feels and behaves like a Honda always should