Honda rang our heartstrings when it introduced its nostalgia-tinged CB1100. Hearkening back to the iconic air-cooled CBs of the 1970s, this reinvention of the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) screams “Standard” to our eyes.
And like early UJMs, the all-new CB1100 proves adept at nearly any task thrown at it. A fairly low seat (31.3 inches) and relaxed handlebar placement welcome a rider into the CB’s pleasant cockpit that’s comfortable for anyone. Excellent clutch modulation and a tuned-for-torque 1140cc inline-Four engine ensure smooth getaways, aided by a crisp-shifting 5-speed tranny. Its engine size and substantial 540-pound curb weight imply ponderousness, but the CB’s handling is anything but. Riding on relatively skinny tires, its steering response is extraordinarily intuitive and light – you’d swear, if you didn’t know better, it was a 750 instead of an 1140.
But it’s the CB1100’s immense curb appeal that mesmerizes riders who fondly remember the good old days of motorcycling. Its fuel tank looks like it just stepped out of a 1980 brochure, but its rich and deep paint is superior to anything from that era – indeed, superior to almost any factory paint job. Chrome fenders and a large brake lamp recall Honda’s heritage, as do the snaking CB400F-inspired four-into-one exhaust headers. “Elegant” is perhaps the best descriptor of the CB1100.
This homage to Honda’s past brings us back to a period before motorcycle categories became filleted into specialized products. The CB1100 is a simple and pure motorbike that’s exceedingly friendly and easy to ride. Admired males are sometimes described as being a man’s man. Honda’s CB1100 is a Standard’s Standard, and it deserves our praise as the best one of the year.
Best Standard Honorable Mention: Honda CB500F
When Honda pulled the wraps off its three-bike CB500 line during last winter’s International Motorcycle Shows tour, the reaction was almost unanimously positive. The impressive packages, powered by a 471cc parallel-Twin that is adequately speedy for nearly everyone, feature surprisingly low price tags and Honda’s stellar reputation for quality.
The CB500F is the bargain of the bunch, $500 cheaper than the fairing-equipped CBR500R, and its standard, upright riding position makes it preferable for around-town and commuting ease. Its handling is nimble and agile, and the fit and finish are typically Honda: that is to say, efficient and flawless.
But it was the CB’s feel and performance that left its biggest impression. Sure, it’s just a baby-step up from entry level, so we’re not talking about knuckle-whitening power here, but it easily outruns cagers in urban environments and also keeps pace with highway traffic without breaking a sweat. And while it boasts a commendably low 30.9-inch seat height, it feels less toy-like than its smaller-displacement competition and is a better fit for larger newbs.
The CB500F and its siblings sit in an unoccupied displacement segment, effectively eliminating much competition. Outgrowing a 250 or 300cc bike, the next step up the displacement chain are the twin-cylinder 650s, and that stair comes with a corresponding increase in price – Suzuki’s SFV650 retails for a full $2500 extra than the CB500F. It offers contemporary styling, nice instrumentation and enough power to keep ahead of traffic, plus a phenomenal 71-mpg mileage claim.
Well done, Honda. You’ve given those who clamor for a lightweight, affordable easy-to-ride standard something to aspire to – and swept the Standard category of our Motorcycles of the Year awards.