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Performance Bikes - January '94

Naked Lunchbox

This was my chance - the chance to prove that journalists were nothing but a bunch of fakes and tarts. I was gonna go out and lean this CB-1 over so far the balls on the ends of the levers would wear away. Kenny Roberts would see the pictures, sign me up immediately and next year I'd be World Champ. And I'd buzz the PB office in my helicopter blowing raspberries out the window and and and....

"Pete can do that." It had to happen eventually. I'd been volunteered into a bike test. I felt as if I was standing against the school sports hall being picked for football. You know the scene - the captains take it in turn to choose players until only you and the pasty faced spectacled kid with the leather briefcase are left. Still, I only had to ride to Scotland on a tiny, high revving, 400cc, unfaired grey import with crap tyres. It's not that I'm bitter or anything.

There's no question that this is a pretty bike. Almost everyone who voiced an opinion liked the look of the CB-1, mainly for the aggressive stance of the engine, and the retina popping cyan blue paint. The first question was usually, "How big's the engine mate?" followed by, "400? That's a girlie size!" In fact the detuned CBR400 lump is by far the CB's best asset.

All the journalists who rode the CB praised the crisp, precise throttle response - better than any other 400's they said. From low down it makes ZXRs and FZRs feel small and weedy, then developes amazing midrange power that starts at 6,500 rpm and keeps coming until 11,000. From then it starts to flatten out, but by 12,5000 in top the speedo needle is going off the end of its 115 mph scale and starting round again.

You can't keep this sort of speed up for long, the engine begging you 13,000 times a minute to slow down. That, along with the lack of a fairing, soon slows you down to a realistic 70-80, which is where the CB-1 can easily cruise: the seat and pegs lean you forward onto the bars while wind blast takes the weight off your wrists.

The front brake easily copes with this sort of performance. The single disc is powerful enough to pull you up with the lightest pressure on the lever and with an amazing amount of feel, letting you really screw the front tyre into the tarmac. To be honest I can't tell you about the rear because with a front this good you never have to use it much. But it worked, anyway.

Even being 6'4" I didn't find the bike that uncomfortable. Compared with the RF600 I rode to Scotland 4 months ago, the CB is absolute luxury because the footpegs are a decent distance from the seat. Compared with my CX500 Maggot it's hopeless. Compared with any other unfaired bike up to 600cc it's about average. The seat's a bit narrow for my immense arse, so after 30 miles it was the usual aerobics on the move.

The finish is well impressive, especially the sexy stainless plate on the right crank cover. Clocks, controls and idiot lights are perfection, though the headlight's powerful but narrow beam made it difficult to see round Scotland's windy, tree-lined roads.

The only duff bits of design are the footpegs; they fold back about an inch then stop, so when you're cornering hard they dig in and lift the tyre. That really puts the frightners up ya, but Honda hasn't exactly put handling at the top of the list anyway.

The ultra-light steering tips the CB into corners effortlessly but once cranked over the Honda carries on wanting to change direction, making it hard to hold a precise line. Ridden hard it always corners nervously, unable to make up its mind which way to go - so much so that you end up tip-toeing round, unable to use anything like as much of the engine as you should.

This characteristic resulted in a verbal slagging for the Honda from Mark Forsyth when he rode it round Knockhill. For my level of riding it wasn't too much of a problem since I knew where all the bumps were and when to compensate for the ensuing wobbles. But following a speed-crazed Simon, Rupert and Kevin Smith on the road I was always being taken by surprise (ooer), making fast country lanes a terrifying, white-knuckle ride

Trevor noticed the fork stanchions were poking about 8mm above the clip-ons and suggested that if we moved them down flush it would make the steering angle shallower and increase trail and wheelbase slightly, possibly improving stability. It made a slight improvement; changing to softer compound, lighter construction tyres would help even more (the standard US spec Dunlops would only soften with a blowtorch) but more serious modifications would have to be made if you wanted to keep up with your nutter mates on their FZRs.

This instability isn't a problem with other naked bikes; the heavier steering 550 Zepher is fine. So for that matter, is the CBR400 from which the CB-1 was developed.

This CB-1 is one of many initially destined for the American market. But out on the prairie there just ain't no room for no cotton pickin' pussy 400s, so they found their way to Europe where corners occur more than once every 300 miles (so that's why it doesn't handle!) which is where Moto Vecchia import them from. Servicing any grey import is more hassle than a genuine one but most bike shops will be able to do a basic service, mainly thanks to the CBR400 derivative engine.

At £3,500 it competes with the GPZ500S (£3,495), Zepher 550 (£3,690) and, at £400 less, Suzuki's GS500 (£3,099). The CB-1's power unit and build quality trounces all opposition in this price bracket; the handling doesn't.

Pete Baker

 

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