Buy­ers’ guide: Honda CB250/400N

The un­der­rated and very de­cent 400 and the slightly less so 250

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Inside - WORDS ALAN SEE­LEY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BAUER AR­CHIVE & HONDA

BACK WHEN big bikes meant 500cc and up and lit­tle bikes meant 250cc and be­low, the mid­dleweight mar­ket was less clearly de­fined. You couldn’t re­ally go by ca­pac­ity alone given the per­for­mance dif­fer­ences be­tween two and four-stroke, and then there was the ques­tion of what they were ac­tu­ally for – par­tic­u­larly the four-strokes. Tour­ing? Com­mut­ing? The ca­pac­ity-driven sports rider viewed mid­dleweights with some de­ri­sion, while can­nier types with less racy pre­ten­sions knew they were on to a good thing – at least when it came to in­sur­ance and fuel bills.

Honda had made a bold state­ment with their 400/4, the stylish if un­der­whelm­ing and ex­pen­sive in­line-four. So as far as we were con­cerned here its re­place­ment, the 1978 CB400N Su­per­dream par­al­lel-twin, was an un­ex­pected change of di­rec­tion. You have to take a global view to re­alise what Honda were up to. The 400/4 was deemed un­suit­able to the cru­cial US mar­ket. Honda had to think in­ter­na­tion­ally for their key of­fer­ings – the 400/4 had been squarely aimed at the UK – and ca­ter­ing for the lo­cal tastes and quirks of smaller mar­kets made poor com­mer­cial sense.

First came the short-lived 1977 CB400T Dream (Hawk in the US) which lasted just six months in UK show­rooms. Styling was bul­bous and dated, though the en­gine had some­thing go­ing for it with twin bal­ancer shafts to smooth the ever-present bug­bear of the 360-de­gree par­al­lel-twin – vi­bra­tion. Three valves per com­bus­tion cham­ber (two in, one out) en­sured breath­ing ef­fi­ciency. The tech­nol­ogy came from, of all places, the Honda Civic car. A CB250T vari­ant was also of­fered for the UK learner mar­ket.

Then the CB400N Su­per­dream ar­rived in 1978 with its an­gu­lar ‘Euro’ styling and com­puter-age graph­ics. It was launched along­side the CB250N Su­per­dream, whose pur­pose was eas­ier to un­der­stand in the con­text of the pre-125cc re­stricted learner mar­ket. The Dream’s Com­star wheels were all al­loy where pre­vi­ously they had been steel and alu­minium, and the 400 ben­e­fit­ted from an ad­di­tional front disc. Both got six gears where the Dream had five. In­deed Honda claimed more than 50 tweaks to the en­gine over the Dream in­clud­ing port­ing and valve tim­ing, lift­ing peak power from a claimed 34 to 43bhp.

When it comes to the 400, it’s hard to be­lieve a twin could get the bet­ter of a four, but not only did the Su­per­dream of­fer a bet­ter level of com­fort through its phys­i­cal size than the 400/4, it was a good deal faster too. Where the 400/4 strug­gled to top the ton, tuck in on the Su­per­dream and a top speed close to 114mph was at­tain­able. That made it quicker than its four-stroke con­tem­po­raries too with han­dling that let the most be made of its per­for­mance.

Mean­while in the quar­ter-litre sec­tor, the CB250N was up against stiff com­pe­ti­tion in the four-stroke par­al­lel-twin mar­ket from the Yamaha XS250 and Kawasaki Z250A, and it could feel slug­gish in their com­pany. That did noth­ing to im­pede its pop­u­lar­ity though, with 17,000 sold in the UK in 1980 alone. The 400 was a suc­cess too, with com­bined sales over the 1979-’84 model run ex­ceed­ing 70,000 units just in Bri­tain.

It’s easy to make a case for own­ing one to­day, with ex­cel­lent spares avail­abil­ity and, in the case of the 400 par­tic­u­larly, a well-bal­anced mo­tor­cy­cle that will de­liver the goods as ca­pa­bly as it ever did.

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