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The K-Zone - July '04

Honda CB-1

Age: 7 years (G reg.)
Cost: about £3000
Insurance: about £300 p.a. TPFT
Economy: 50-68 miles/gallon
Good points: cheap to buy and fuel; light; manoeuvrable in traffic
Bad points: noisy and uncomfortable at speed; expensive spares

The CB1-400 (also known as NC27) is not officially imported into the UK by Honda, but is widely available by private sale and from dealers. Like all 'grey' imports, CB1s tend to have kilometre/hour speedometers, and I'm told that there are even some around with headlamps pointing the wrong way. Most enter the UK having done only a few thousand miles, even those five years old or more, so they are usually in sound running order.

The CB1 has a four cyclinder in-line, 400 cc engine which is claimed to make about 58 bhp. Being quite light (about 180 kg) this makes for a healthy power-to-weight ratio: about 10% higher than Honda's NTV650, and only 20% less than the TDM850. Of course, the CB1 does not make anywhere near as much torque as bikes with similar powers but larger engines, and this means that the rider's left foot is quite active when riding in slow-moving traffic. Acceleration up to 30 mph is pleasantly fast, certainly fast enough that I didn't have to worry about cars getting in the way while pulling away from traffic lights. However, when I rode the CB1 again after a few weeks on the VMax, it seemed unbelievably sluggish, like a car. This, I imagine, is to the credit of the VMax, not a criticism of the CB1.

To comply with Japanese home market regulations, the top speed is limited to about 112 mph, and I'm reliably informed that it can reach this speed, downhill and with a following wind. However, as there is no screen or fairing, the rider encounters the full impact of the wind-blast, and I doubt that there would be any chance of the speed limiter activating while the bike is carrying a lardy lump like me. Personally, I found the CB1 quite uncomfortable at even 50 mph, but I'm not sure this was because of wind-blast; I found the VMax much more comfortable at speed, and here the upright position makes the wind-blast worse. I suspect the problem was the cramped posture compounded by the loud, high-pitched engine noise: it is runnng at about 6,000 rpm at 50 mph (red-line is at about 13,000).

In town, it's a different story. Its narrowness and light weight make the CB1 very manoeuvrable; it is quite easy to squeeze it between rows of slow-moving cars, although the visibility is not as good as on the TDM850 or even the VMax. Motorcycle journalists seem to criticize the CB1 for its soft suspension, but I thought this was an advantage on the uneven, pot-holed roads I travel on. On the whole I found the CB1 pleasant and undemanding to ride in town, despite the all-to-frequent gear changes. But the best feature of the CB1 has to be its fuel economy. The 'official' figure is 48 mpg, but I found that it was nearly always better than this. The best figure I confirmed was an outstanding 68 mpg. Many 250 cc machines are less economical.

I kept my CB1 outside for a whole winter, and not only did it always start first time, even in the most atrocius weather, its appearance and condition did not deteriorate to any noticeable degree. Partly this is because the unpainted parts of the bike are gunmetal-grey alloy, but mainly it is the result of the overall high standard of finish. There are few shiny parts on a CB1, so it doesn't need a lot of cleaning and polishing.

Unofficial import status meant that it was more difficult to arrange insurance for the CB1 than for other bikes I have owned; it also means that parts are less easy to obtain and more expensive. Some bits are interchangeable with other, more widespread Hondas, but many are not. This I found to my cost when I had the bad luck to be run off the road by a Ford Fiesta last year. Even though the bike hit the ground at less than 20 mph, it suffered extensive damage. I was shocked by the expense of repair: £500 just to make the bike roadworthy again, and that's not counting the dents in the tank and silencer. It required a new brake cable, a second-hand throttle and switchgear assembly, forks and yokes straightening, and the headlamp bracket and engine cover repairing. I don't think the CB1 is especially flimsy, quite the contrary, so it must have been an unlucky fall.

In the end I decided that the CB1, although execllent in many respects, was just not big enough for a person of my size and shape. I found also that the high-revving engine was an annoyance on journeys that involved any reasonable speed for more than about 20 miles. I sold it to a man who is about 5'8'' tall, and he is chuffed to bits with it.

 

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