Bike - July
for years in a vat of cryogen, the American market Honda CB400F
CB-1 has travelled through time and space to, er, Dorking....
shot Dunstall pipe and a trendy camchain rattle - the business was
a 1977 CB400F2. In fact it was a Fourhundredfour: small, naughty,
all-round and affordable (and Dad's, worst luck).
I'm not sure
what happened next. Honda seemed to go temporarily bonkers and everyone
who liked small, naughty, all-round and affordable motorcycles ended
up on a Yamaha two-stroke twin. The last one to hit the mark being
the RD350N YPVS. And that, so far as the UK was concerned, was that.
In 1989 Honda,
emerging from enclosed discs and other strangeness, did finally
re-invent the much missed CB400F, the CB-1 for short, especially
for the States. It was small, naughty, all-round and affordable
in the best tradition so clearly no-one there would even look at
It looked instead
tailor made for recession-torn Britain so Honda UK imported the
expensive VFR400. Last we heard crates of CB-1s were being hawked
round the planet looking for a market.
Moto Vecchia has found a source of old new ones, crated zero-milers
which for £3495 two whole grand less than a ZXR400 or FZR400
- will pretty much do it all, in a 1989-vintage kind of way. They
have old tyres, USofA spec 55-65-75mph speedos, and always-on headlights
but otherwise have survived both the years and the move to British
CB-1 is uncannily RD350N YPVS. The big head-light, beefy (and cheap)
steel tube perimeter frame, flat-top tank and raised clip-ons lend
a YPVS-look that leaves no doubt as to what Honda wanted from this
bike: four-stroke banditry that's useful for the shops. Everything
ironically that Suzuki failed to get from the 400 Bandit.
is a startling eyeful of polished crankcase covers and countersunk
cap heads - a compact, 16-valve dohc four and precursor to the brilliant
CBR400RR tested last month. Used as a stressed member it's another
399cc revver, with a 55 x 42mm bore and stroke, 11.3:1 compression
ratio and 13,500rpm redline (500rpm shorter than the RR). Moto Vecchia
quotes a peak 56bhp, which is 15 per cent down on the latest racer-rep
400s, and a very credible 29lb.ft at 9500rpm, which is not only
competitive with the newer bikes but has a distinctly early peak
for a 400 four.
is long (40mph at the redline), but the CB bustles happily from
2500rpm without clutch assistance into the meat of its midrange
urge. And in contrast to, say, the much more peaky ZXR400 it gives
far and away its best mid-tacho: short gearing, close ratios, a
tight, precise gearshift and that relatively sensible torque curve
making it a doddle to rush usefully about on. Alternatively - delinquently
- dip the cable clutch at 6000 and it wheelies with more aplomb
than did the YPVS. 100mph comes easily anytime.
There is an
annoying snatch hiding in the driveline, and the throttle action
is sloppy - exactly what you don't want on a bike with virtually
no flywheel effect - and, of course being a microbike it pays for
its midrange with top end fireworks. Where, at ll,000rpm, the previously
tepid ZXR is now setting off towards 140mph, the CB is irritatingly
buzzy and wheezing sadly to 115-ish. And the bigger and heavier
the rider, the slower and peakier and more cramped and unlovely
the CB-1 becomes.
no 140mph roads on my schedule, I (5ft 6in, ten stone) was right
into it from ride one. A low seat, semi-rearsets and raised clip-ons
successfully recreate the YPVS's thinking-hooligan attack position:
they tip you into the top-whack 115mph breeze - shoulders up, head
down - also give enough leverage and all-round comfort for extended
periods of normality. The motor rustles then sucks hard, barking
through an elegant (non EC 80dB) four-into-one exhaust (that gives
easy-peasy oil-filter access). The wide mirrors blur with revs while
bars and the pegs go live without being tingly. Nice.
though a generation younger than the YPVS, lacks the suspension,
stiffness and general integrity of newer ZXR/FZRs, but it is fun.
A short 1375mm wheel-base and fast-geometry (25.5degrees rake, 99mm
trail) make it a whole lot quicker to turn than an old stroker Yamaha.
The single 310mm disc and twin-piston front caliper are adequate,
nothing grounds out (though it might were the missing mainstand
installed), and so long as you don't go looking for extreme action
of the 1994 variety late-80s wallow and weave don't intrude on the
fun, too much. In fact, in the course of riding to work for a week
I only encountered handling problems at lower speeds. Seventeen-inch
wheels wear hardened old Dunlop K505s whose profiles seem to work
against each other. The non rising-rate cantilever rear suspension
(the matching blue shock is adjustable for preload only) is mushy
with most of its damping very late in the shock's stroke. And at
375lb dry the CB's 25lb too heavy for a 400 really, especially as
the engine is held high and rearward. Result: below 60mph the steering
wanders and understeers and sometimes, always when it's wet, goes
I got used to it. For me, the CB-1 is a reborn Fourhundredfour and,
in spirit at least, a latter day four-stroke YPVS. It goes well,
handles OK, pulls wheelies, flies in the face of what we're told
is good. It is sparse (pre-dating adjustable levers), gimmick-free
and flawed. Moto Vecchia's Jeremy Baker says: "Look, it is
a new bike with a low seat that is cheap to insure, has more useful
torque than most other 400s and costs a lot less too. In short,
this is the type of bike people actually want." Change the
rubber and I would actually want one too.
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