- April '89
More of What
a 400 Four is For
Photo: Rich Cox/Slide Action
undercurrent of change is flowing through the Japanese motorcycle
industry. It's a movement to provide alternatives to single-talent
motorcycles, to build machines that are competent in many areas,
motorcycles that utilize Japanese high tech while retaining the
do-it-all nature of the much-heralded Universal Japanese Motorcycle
of the 70's.
Of the Big
Four, Honda is clearly the trend's most ardent supporter. The Hawk
GT, introduced last season, made an excellent, case for the high-tech,
all-around motorcycle, offering buyers an aesthetically pleasing,
fine-handling, quick and comfortable package. Though the Hawk sales
have been less than spectacular, Honda feels the high-tech standard
motorcycle is an odd-on future favorite. The CB-1 is the latest
standard-spec machine to emerge from Honda's factories. It differs
considerably from the Hawk in a mechanical sense, but there's no
arguing that the two are conceptual siblings.
the Hawk, Honda designed the CB-1 to be multi-talented. It had to
be nimble and ridable enough for an across-town commute, comfortable
enough for an occasional cross- state trek and, perhaps most important,
had to offer power and handling nearly equal to its lone competitor
in the 400cc four-cylinder class, Yamaha's agile FZR400. After all
Honda calls the CB-1 "the best all around bike in its class,"
and to wrestle that title away from Yamaha, it had to provide more
than simple comfort.
engine for the bike was relatively easy. The CB-1 utilizes the same
basic in-line engine found in Honda's Japanese-spec CBR400RR, currently
the best selling 400cc sporter in Japan. Though it makes impressive
power, the CBR RR engine makes the bulk of its oomph at ultrahigh
rpm levels, a characteristic that Honda wanted to very much avoid
with the CB-1. A remedy was close at hand, though; Honda engineers
simply altered cam timing, carburation, ignition and exhaust to
shift the engine's peak power toward the middle of the rev range.
The CB-1 displaces
399cc via 55.0 and 42.0 mm bore and stroke numbers, using liquid-
cooling to keep temperatures in check. It spins its double overhead
cams with gears, rather than the chain system used in the FZR. Though
expensive, gear-driven cam drive offers more consistent cam timing
and is theoretically more durable at stratospheric rpm levels, though
cam-chain failures these days are extremely rare. The cams push
the CB-1's 16 valves through a direct shim-under-bucket setup that's
bulletproof but somewhat time- consuming come valve-adjustment time.
Compression is on the high side at 11.3:1, six speeds reside within
the gearbox, a trouble-free digital ignition provides sparking power,
and the clutch is cable-operated in the interest of simplicity and
With its cylinder
bank inclined forward at 30 degrees, the engine design allows nearly
arrow-straight intake ports. A quartet of downdraft 32.5mm Keihin
CVs breathing through a smallish 5.5-liter airbox provide intake
charge, while a quiet, nicely tucked-in , one-piece exhaust system
disposes of burned gasses. Honda's dynamometer pegs the CB-1's crankshaft
horsepower at 57 at 10,500 rpm, only 2 horsepower less than the
Japanese- spec CBR400RR engine.
the dragstrip our bike ran a corrected quarter-mile time of 13.26
seconds at 99.1 mph. That's roughly .4 seconds and a couple of mph
slower than the 49 state FZR400, but the CB-1 does offer more mid-range
power. The FZR's best roll-on was 68.2 mph; the CB-1 grunted through
the traps at 71.6 mph. The efforts to re-focus the engine's power
delivery without shriveling high-rpm power obviously worked well.
was able to utilize an existing design for the CB-1's engine, the
frame came straight from the CAD/CAM screens at Honda's Asaka R&D
center. Like the Hawk and any number of current sport bikes, the
CB-1 utilizes a twin-beam-type frame that links steering head with
swingarm pivot almost directly. But instead of expensive rectangularly
shaped beams formed from welded aluminum or steel stampings, the
CB-1 main beams are 42.7mm-OD round steel tubing. The round tube
sections are practically as strong as similarly arrayed box-section
beams, and though slightly heavier, they're easier - and subsequently
cheaper - to produce.
acts as a stressed member and is hung from a pair of abbreviated,
removable downtubes that anchor to engine mounts at the base of
the cylinders. A fixed rear frame section supports the rider and
the tailpiece-fender assembly, and the swingarm is fashioned from
steel stampings. Though the CB-1's wheelbase is 30mm shorter than
the FZR400's, the burly nonadjustable 41mm fork is angled at 25
degrees, a full degree more than Yamaha's 36mm tubes. The CB-1 front
end also carries 9mm more trail than the Yamaha.
back, a nonprogressive linkage and single damper handle suspension
duties, and as on the Hawk and CBR600, the shock lies at a 45-degree
angle. Like the FZR, the CB-1 uses big-league-size, three-spoke
aluminum wheels, a 3-incher up front and a 4-incher in back. Bridgestone
Excedras are mounted, a 110/70-17 front along with a 140/60-17 rear
skin. The front binder is similarly hefty, though only one disc
is used; the unit uses a 310mm floating rotor and a dual-piston,
single-action caliper. To the rear, a single-piston caliper works
a 240mm disc.
making the CB-1 comfortable, Honda designers blessed the bike with
real-world ergonomics. The seat-peg-bar relationship is much like
the Hawk's and strikes a fine balance between a sporting crouch
and a sit-up posture. Honda's placement of the clip-ons above the
top triple clamp ensures that the rider's wrists don't carry too
much weight, and seat-to-peg distance seems plentiful. Even our
tallest (6-foot-four) staffer found the bike's riding position only
is light and positive-typical Honda. The instruments, a pair of
round pods, are simple and easy to read. A coolant-temperature gauge
hides on the tachometer's face, and a row of easy-to-notice turn-signal
and idiot lights lie just beneath the speedo and tach.
particular test bike was a California model and a hesitant starter.
On cold mornings our CB-1 needed two or three minutes of warm-up
before it could be ridden away without the bar-mounted enricher.
Warmer days were less of a problem; 49 state machines might be better
off. Once warm, however, the CB-1 carburets and runs well. Throttle
response is crisp, and we could detect only a slight amount of off-idle
the CB-1 is instantly familiar. Its relatively light weight (424
pounds wet), low seat height, light, neutral steering, superb control
feel and progressive clutch engagement allow simple getaways, even
for beginners. Surprisingly positive, smooth shifting and adequate
low-end and midrange power propel the bike up to speed fairly quickly.
The seats of our pants tell us the CB-1 has more low-end than the
FZR, and for around-town riding, that's great.
The CB-1 offers
a surprisingly comfortable ride at speed. A CBR1000 it's not, but
for an unfaired 400cc motorcycle, the ride is pleasant. Though the
engine is solidly mounted and has no internal balancer, vibration
is well muted at lower rpm levels. Not until the tach reaches the
8000 to 9000 rpm zone does buzzinness begin to creep into the pegs,
bars and seat, and even then it doesn't spoil the ride. The CB-1
is smooth compared to the buzzy FZR.
sprung, compliant suspension bits help, too. The stout Showa-built
41mm fork and damper assembly do a fine job of isolating pavement
irregularities, and though they lack sufficient damping for all-out
back-road assaults, the ride they provide on the freeway and during
less aggressive rides is superb. The seat is also well above average.
Much like the Hawk saddle, the CB-1's seat is well shaped and fairly
flat, and while it slopes forward into the tank slightly, there's
enough room on board to move around and get comfortable. Weekend
trips, even two-up, aren't out of the question on the CB-1, though
the bike's smallish fuel capacity will force frequent stops.
Over and above
the bike's relatively short gearing (the tach registers a frantic
7500 rpm at an indicated 65 mph), its lack of fairing is most detrimental
to its road manners. There's little problem at slower speeds, but
you may wish for some wind protection on the freeway or during a
fast blast down your favorite back road.
boredom settles in and the need to corner turns urgent, the CB-1
is up to the task. Not unlike a 600 Ninja,, steering is light and
quick at speed, and a jab of clip-on pressure initiates roll response
immediately. The softly sprung suspension is short on rebound damping
and takes a second or two to settle into cornering mode, but unless
the pavement is severely rutted or the rider is rough with the throttle
and barking inputs, the bike remains largely unruffled. The Bridgestones
stick adequately, and though they don't offer the confidence or
feedback of premium rubber, they're well worth using until they
wear thin. Even with the bike's semilow footpegs and handy centerstand
(hooraaaay!), cornering clearance is plentiful.
of the bike's back-road ability stems from its engine. As you'd
expect, the majority of power isn't available until the tach reaches
skyward, though unlike the FZR, which is unwilling until roughly
10,000 rpm, the CB-1 begins making decent power at around 7 grand.
From there power is constant up to the 12,000-rpm point, where it
seems to level off as it approaches the 13,500-rpm redline.
handling problems, however, which show up clearly at the limit.
The CB-1's short wheelbase, soft suspension and quick steering manners
conspire to produce a somewhat unstable cornering platform at higher
velocities. The lone disc up front is highly effective, providing
plenty of power and lever feel, though it tends to upset chassis
equilibrium when used aggressively because of the short wheelbase
and soft fork. A strong lever squeeze results in instant weight
transfer to the front end, and the fork springs just can't handle
the load. The front bottoms, the rear gets light, and the hobbyhorse
effect blows stability right out the window. Mid-corner bumps are
also a problem, since the suspension parts already have their hands
full dealing with the cornering loads.
overly critical of the CB-1's performance at the limit is neither
realistic nor fair. Honda built the CB-1 to be an all-around sporting
machine, and the fact that it's capable at eight-tenths in the twisties
is high praise considering its all-round abilities.
staff gave the CB-1 high marks for aesthetics. The minimal bodywork
lends the bike an understated, mechanical look, and the metallic-gray
chassis and engine contrast nicely with the CB-1's electric-blue
tank, fender and tail section. The headlight, bar assembly and other
details are finished with a glossy black paint that blends well
with the gray
and blue paint screen.
are similarly well thought-out. Bar switches are ergonomically superb,
the helmet lock is simple to use, reaching the rear-shock preload
collar and fuel petcock is easy. The mirrors, conversely, vibrate
slightly and aren't quite wide enough, and the horn is typically
somewhat high price tag, expected to be in the neighborhood of $4500,
Honda has produced a winner. The CB-1 is comfortable enough for
casual touring, nimble and user-friendly enough for commuting and
plenty capable for sporting use. Yamaha's FZR400 will undoubtedly
lead Honda through a set of corners, but the CB-1 outperforms it
in traffic, the open road and sheer versatility. Honda's claim that
the CB-1 is the "best all- around bike in its class" is
right on target.
must have the blueprint for my personal pleasure sensors.
As scary as it sounds, I've been tickled by all the latest
trio of small Honda's that we've tested. The Hawk GT, GB500
and now the CB-1 fit my 5-foot 10-inch frame, cater to riders
with a penchant for cornering and come in packages pleasing
to the eye. The CB-1 steers wonderfully, relying on its light
weight to keep the steering effort equal to the strength needed
to fluff a pillow. The power is doled out in a much different
way than the Hawk GT's delivery, but the two bikes run bar
to bar in most situations and provide enough urge to keep
my interest on all but the fastest roads.
I've questioned Honda's pricing in the past, and still believe
the GB500 is overpriced. At roughly $4500, the CB-1 offers
more performance and versatility (it has two seats) than Honda's
nostalgic thumper, placing this 400 ahead of the 500 in my
book. In the final tally, Honda's middleweights may be expensive,
but they're also very good motorcycles.
- Nick Ienatsch
I must like this thing-it helped me get my first traffic ticket
in years. It doesn't really fit my motorcycling image,
though; a big guy like myself on a 400cc street bike is about
like Divine shopping in the junior petite section.
it sure works. I rode the CB-1 over to Mitch "The Butcher"
Boehm's this morning, and traded it for a Suzuki 600 Katana.
As I rode away on the Suzook, I found myself thinking: "What
a huge tank this thing is." Now a 600 Katana is a quick,
nifty little machine in the grand scheme of things, but that
slick little CB-1 made it feel like a Venture Royale.
may think you like bigger, faster motorcycles. But before
you decide for sure, you owe it to yourself to climb on a
- Dexter Ford
a 400 for the rest of us. So the CB-1 doesn't quite
stop, go or steer with the light- saber precision of Yamaha's
little FZR. So what? Admittedly a bit less capable in all-out
attack mode or on the racetrack, the CB with its survivable
ergonomics, punchier midrange and compliant suspension makes
a better sporting street weapon for the masses. Some simpering
motojournalistic milque toads will whine about the lack of
a fairing, but this is a motorcycle, sports fans, not the
Beverly Hilton. Give me the CB-1 with some sticky premium
rubber and the afternoon off, and all will be well with the
- Tim Carrithers
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