But this pursuit of forward-looking technology overshadows the rich legacy of Hondaís history. So, while several other manufacturers exploit nostalgic-minded riders with models such as the Triumph Bonneville, Sport Classic Ducatis, the updated Moto Guzzi V7s and most Harleys, Honda has basically ignored the retro market.
But that changes with the introduction of the 2013 CB1100, an homage to Hondaís class-leading multi-cylinder offerings from the 1970s and early í80s. The new CB features several design cues from that era, including its tank shape, chrome fenders, round headlight, instruments with chrome bezels and, most importantly, a beautiful air-cooled four-cylinder powerplant Ė just like a UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) from 30-odd years ago.
American Honda took an innovative step in giving us a short sample ride on the CB1100 a few days before its 2013 models were even announced. Although our ride was admittedly short, we got a fairly good idea of how the CB performs in a variety of environments.
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The CB feels much smaller than its considerable 1140cc displacement would lead you to believe. Its 31.3 inch seat height and narrow midsection makes it feel like it could be a 750cc-sized roadster even though it scales in with a 540-pound curb weight (549 with optional ABS). The ergonomic layout is a bit foreign to riders accustomed only to modern bikes. The low seat and its flattish layout allow plenty of fore/aft room to suit riders of all sizes. The one-piece handlebar is set at an angle that requires just a slight bend forward. Modestly rear-set pegs are located comfortably below a riderís butt.
Instrumentation is provided by traditional twin dials for the analog speedo and tach that bookend a small LCD info screen containing two trip meters and a clock but no gear-position indicator. Both hand levers feature adjustable spans. Optional accessories include heated grips, a luggage rack and a chrome headlight bucket.
The CB proves to be easy to ride from the first turn of its wheels. Clutch pull is fairly light, and the low-strung motor pulls smoothly at revs barely into the quad digits. In fact, the CB can pull away from a stop with only clutch modulation Ė the engineís low-end response means thereís no need for throttle input if so desired.
With a much less oversquare bore and stroke than contemporary sporting machines (73.5 x 67.2mm), itís able to tug cleanly from just 2000 rpm and ramps up quite strongly just 1000 revs later. Peak torque of 67.9 ft-lb (factory crankshaft rating) arrives at 5000 rpm, so thereís ample thrust without having to search the tachometer for it. Despite the CBís modern double-overhead cam and 4-valves-per-cylinder architecture, horsepower crests with a rather modest 85.3 at 7500 revs. Its maximum acceleration feels like about 75 rear-wheel horses.
While its peak power might be a little underwhelming, the engine never strains to provide good thrust and throttle response is smooth yet deliberate. Its 5-speed gearbox is crisp and sure. Vibration can be felt above 5000 rpm, but higher revs are almost never required. Its rev limit is hit at 9000 rpm. The moaning sound from the airbox between the knees brings back memories of vintage CBs, but the exhaust is a little too subdued for our tastes. Is Kerker still in businessÖ?
Would we appreciate more power from an engine this large? Certainly, but consider this: Ray Blank, the recently retired Senior VP of motorcycles for American Honda, put on 4000 miles of the 6000 logged on the Japanese-spec CB1100ís odometer used for internal evaluation. Since Blank is known to be quite a horsepower junkie, thatís speaking volumes.
Conservative steering geometry (27.0-degree rake, 114mm trail) suggests ponderous handling qualities, but the CB1100 proves to be very easy to manage, whether flipping a U-turn in a parking lot or cutting up commuter traffic. Credit its relatively skinny tires (110/80/-18, 140/70-18) for the CBís exceedingly linear and intuitive steering response. To borrow an expression from the Brits, itís a doddle to maneuver.
The CBís suspension looks like something out of the early-Ď80s, with a conventional right-side-up fork and dual rear shocks. However, they perform much better than period components. Its 41mm fork is much beefier than anything from the í70s and has preload adjustability for its 4.7 inches of travel. The shocks also are adjustable for preload, although rear travel is just 3.5 inches. The CBís suspension compliance is exemplary, providing a smooth ride even over nasty road surfaces.
Brakes are another huge upgrade over the CBís progenitors, using a pair of 296mm rotors and four-piston calipers up front that offer way more bite than anything from the 20th century. The front brake rotor mounts directly to the wheel like some BMWs and Hondaís own NC700. Out back, a fairly large 256mm rotor and single-piston caliper aid speed retardation without fuss. An ABS system is a $1,000 upgrade over the $9,999 standard model.
The CB1100 is a surprising breath of fresh air considering its inspiration drawn from Hondaís musty past. Similar in ways to the Triumph Scrambler we recently reviewed, the retro CB stands apart from anything resembling a rival. Its throwback design with the benefits of modern engineering proves the timeless quality of the historic CB series, even in the context of contemporary motorcycles.
The Big Four Japanese manufacturers rarely look back at their past to inspire something modern, but Honda has demonstrated that it could be convincingly achieved. Now all thatís left is to find out if thereís a market in America for riders looking for a nostalgic Japanese ride.
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