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Performance Bikes - June '99

Note: This test appeared in the June 1999 issue of Performance Bikes. They set themselves a budget of around £2000 and tested a quartet of grey import 400s. Apart from the CB-1 the bikes were a Kawasaki ZX-4, a Suzuki GSX-R400 and a Yamaha FZR400R EXUP.

Grandad, we love you

You don't get much with the CB-1. Motor, steel tubular frame, a splattering of plastic and that's about it. Compared with the others you get very little metal for your molah. What you do get though, is far more important. Instant gratification. It's one of the main reasons we ride bikes in the first place. And for this reason fists flew for ownership of the Hondas' keys.

Strange really because the CB wasn't the most powerful, fastest or even the best handler. The reason for this popularity was it's manners. Gus: "Typical Honda, you can jump straight on and go mental. It reminds me of the Hornet because it's so forgiving. Sling it around, wheelie, stoppie, anything and you know it's not going to bite back." Almost makes it sound boring.

It's not even the lightest. At 183kg the Honda is 6kg heavier than the bulkier Kwak. Try slinging the ZX around like the CB-1 and you'll be needing a new arse in your leathers. Is it any wonder the Little -1 has become such a hit with despatchers everywhere?

Out of town the naked bike holds its own against the others. Even above 90mph, when most unfaired bikes are trying their hardest to tear your head off, the CB's still cutting a groove thanks to those big wind lifting clocks. But the Honda's wasted on long sweeping A roads. Lanes and back roads are where it makes sense.

Lightning quick steering and low-slung weight mean the CB-1 can be tossed into a bend like it's your last. A slight push through the pegs and it'll tighten its line further. Even the suspension has survived the last decade intact.

There were no shaking heads when it came to the motor. "There's really strong drive, even low down," raved Alex. "If I didn't know better I'd say there was another 100cc lurking in there somewhere." The motor's not all bottom end. There's a strong spread of power to 12,5000rpm. Not surprising really, because the motor first made its name pushing around the not at all bad CBR400 Aero (a smaller ally framed version of the original CBR600). It's still doing the rounds between the rails of the 400 Gull Arm.

While we're on the subject of new bikes, the CB-1 rides as if it has not been long off the production line. Everything from the throttle, brakes, suspension and motor feel as crisp and taut as the day they were bolted together. In this case the Honda's travelled less miles than the others, but it's still over ten years old and probably stood gathering dust for longer. Honda seems to build bikes to last and this is proof if ever it was needed.

The only signs of decay are slight pitting on the ally sidepanels and forks. There's a scratch on the silencer plus a couple of blemishes here and there, but hey, this is a used bike which has been shipped half way round the globe in a salt filled container. If you want more, spend more.

That's something you won't have to do with the Hondas' front brake. While the other bikes ranged between wooden and non-existent, the CB-1 dished out a full helping of feel, progression and power. Stop on a sixpence? Probably not. On a fiver, certainly

Despite the lack of a fairing, long trips are easier than on the FZR or GSX-R. The seat's good enough to see you through 100 miles before a stop - only nicotine withdrawal will see you in the services before then.

So what about the bad points? Only the ugly tail light and back end mark it down. There really isn't anything else that ruins the Honda, especially when you consider the price. If two large is still a touch on the steep side, fear not. Tatty, sold as seen CB-1s can be had for half the price if you're prepared to tackle the servicing yourself. A couple of years ago that sort of dosh would barely have mustered a dog-eared RG250. The CB's a safe bet if you don't get any warranty: the motor's unburstable, running gear's quality stuff and the extra cash would see you right for a paintjob, pipe and a complete chassis rebuild.

Only the Kawasaki ZX-4 comes close to the CB-1, but if you're looking at one of them it's unlikely you'll throw a glance at the unfaired Honda. Cheap bike don't come any better than this. Even a tightarse on a tight budget could afford to run a CB-1. Entertaining, affordable and if it were my money I'd find it hard to believe I was that rich.

Conclusion

There is no reason to pick the Suzuki. It looks old, feels old and really should be competing with tackle in the £1500 bracket. The FZR's got the potential to be a top little scratchier but suffers in standard trim thanks to its lifeless motor. If you can find one that's not too scarred and spruce it up....well, they're still worth a sniff.

Bargain of the bunch has to be the Kwak. It's a real motorbike. Ignore the styling and enjoy the motor because in the right situation, it's got the guts to humiliate even budget 600s.

The king of the skinflints though, is the CB-1. Nearly as much fun a 600 Hornet for less than half the price.

Jim Moore

 

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