Egan may have had a point in his July Leanings: It does take a while for nostalgia to kick in. We’ve seen bikes like the new CB1100 before. In the ’90s, Kawasaki Zephyrs never really flew off the shelves (though the ZRX1100 and 1200s did okay later on). Yamaha built cool XJR1200/1300s, but never imported them to the U.S. Honda made a half-hearted effort with its CB1000 “Big One” in the early ’90s, but that liquid-cooled beast (like the ZRXs) wasn’t really true to the original. Maybe it’s just as well: The ’90s and early aughts were golden times for sportbikes; we were busy going way too fast and had no time to sit on the porch reminiscing. But now that the world is all about rightsizing and economizing, Triumph, Ducati and Harley cash registers have been ca-chinging off the hook with retro-modern bikes and/or modern bikes that never quite left retro. Are we at last far enough removed to want new versions of motorcycles that were considered almost disposable when new? Though the original CB750 of 1969 turned the motorcycle world on its head with the first mass-produced four-cylinder, by 1983—when a new Harley XR1000 sold for $6995 and a BMW R100RS for $6590—you could drive a hard bargain on a $3698 CB1100F. Victims of their own success, a glut of Ubiquitous Japanese Fours led to a feeling that these machines were expendable. In 1983, Honda introduced nine new engines in 16 new motorcycles.
But that was 30 years ago, and now here Honda is with a bike intended not to recreate any CB in particular, but to pay homage to the CB in general. Somebody at Honda must’ve noticed all the hipsters resurrecting all those old CB350s lately and decided it might not be a bad idea to get involved. The new CB appears designed to encourage people to take it apart and play with it, like those toy cars that come with tools. Our loaner showed up with its fork slightly tweaked by our tiedowns, but it was easy to hoist it onto its (stock) centerstand and loosen the triple-clamps with one 12 and one 14mm box-end wrench. Eight shiny, easy-access 10mm flange bolts stand out against the polished aluminum cam cover and cry out for removal and investigation (shim adjusters! 16 valves!), and head bolts and head-pipe bolts appear equally vulnerable to assault with simple hand tools. Get in there and get to work. Fuel injection means you probably can’t screw things up too bad. Use your 14mm wrench again and a hex key to flip the rubber-mounted handlebar risers around! Adjustable ergonomics 101.
You can’t help thinking there should be a choke when you roll it out in the morning, but there isn’t one—and rolling it out is easy to do because the CB feels almost as small as the Guzzi V7 Sport we loved last year. It isn’t. The CB weighs 517 pounds without gas to the Guzzi’s 411, but the seat’s low and so is the crankshaft and the whole package feels much lighter than it is. The old air-cooled Four fires up instantly and easily, idling as quietly as four hummingbirds while you think up haikus using the word “petcock.”
It’s weird how immediately this engine reminded me of the old FJ1200’s, a dearly departed 16-valve air-cooled beast that left us nearly 20 years ago. At 1140cc, the new CB is almost as big as the 1188cc FJ was, but the Honda’s 82 horsepower is 23 down on the old FJ’s 105 hp (as measured on the old CW dyno in April, 1993). What you get instead of a lofty peak is a beautiful, wide plateau of useable power: 56 foot-pounds of torque is immediately available below 2000 rpm, and over 60 ft.-lb. from 3000 rpm to beyond the 82-hp peak at 7200 rpm. Once you’re in top gear and rolling, shifting is mostly optional. A little vibration in the grips and seat maxes out at about 5000 rpm and 90 mph, which is faster than you’ll want to go on this one until you find a windscreen or some lower bars; a limiter cuts in at 110 mph, anyway.
Meanwhile, you sit straight up and quite comfortably in control, on a nice old breadloaf seat, with your prostate and passenger equally happy on your way to a Hall & Oates concert. Very mellow, man. One of the changes American Honda made for the longer-legged U.S. market was to fit a 0.8-inch-thicker seat, but the 31.3-in. height is still great for short people.
MEMORY LANE IS PERFECTLY PAVED
The dual shocks serve up 3.5 in. of wheel travel out back, and you can adjust their preload if you can find a tool to do it; but the ride remains as retro as the rest of the bike. Overall it’s all quite nice and good in particular at soaking up small bumps, but big bumps and quick changes of direction remind you why single-shock rear ends with more travel and progressive linkages killed off the dinosaurs.
Be careful one of those bumps doesn’t cause your rose-colored glasses to slide down your nose and force you to look at the CB from a purely functional standpoint. At $9999, the CB is not inexpensive, and it can become precarious to contemplate why you wouldn’t pay a few dollars more for another spiritual descendant of the CB that’s just as authentic in its own way: The CB1000R. It’s lighter, way more powerful, much better suspended, more comfortable and fitted with many more upscale components. It’s a good reminder that the real message of the original CB was: Technical innovation and mass-produced progress for the masses are here to stay; say good-bye to all your nostalgic old heaps.
Alas, Mick Jagger will be 70 years old this July, and many in his cohort are in the market for a motorcycle that’s better at transporting them into a dim-yet-warmly remembered past than a bike that excels at hurtling them into the future. For that kind of sunny-day use with your significant other on back, this Honda is hard to beat, whatever your generation. The CB1100 is faster, sleeker, and more nicely turned out than a Bonneville (déjà vu all over again), way more mature than any Sportster, and many times more practical, reliable and low-maintenance than any Italian thing you have ever owned or cohabitated with (except maybe a nice Guzzi). If the CB1100 pushes your buttons, we can uncover no good reasons why you shouldn’t have one. Except self-restraint. Why start now?
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