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The Riders Digest - November '99

Note: This article in a Courier magazine pitted a CB-1 against a 400 Bros (a Japanese market, 400cc version of the Honda Hawk) and a VFR400K

Beauty, The Beast and the Ugly Duckling

The advent of the Grey bike has had quite an effect on the courier industry in the last few years. Where the most popular despatch bikes have tended towards heavier, shaft driven bikes with engines of 500cc or above, smaller bikes have been considered less suitable except for in town work. Then, almost overnight, something happened to change all that.

CB-1, Bros 400 and VFR400K The bike hire companies started offering a bike called a BROS 400. Riders who had been used to taller, porkier models found they didn't need to spend the day trying to muscle an ageing CX500 round town on worn suspension and middle-of-the-road tyres. Now they could revel in the light, flickable chassis and surprisingly versatile motor of the BROS. Riders who were starting to become jaded found themselves "riding" again.

Of course, much should be said of the fact that these "Grey" bikes were in far better condition than almost anything comparable found in this country and although being, on average, ten years old, rode like something out of the showroom (almost).

Having found a bike that seemed to suit the rigours of despatch riding, riders and hire companies started to search out other Grey models that might also work well on the circuit and came up with a surprising number. Mind you, the list from which to choose is awesome. Out of this list the three that came up trumps were the BROS, the CB- I and the VFR (in a number of its various guises). We took these bikes out for a ride to see which one, if any, could claim the title of King of the Despatch 400s.

The CB-1

The CB-1 is a different beast to the BROS but closer to the VFR. For a start it's an inline four and revs accordingly. Like many 400cc fours, it can take a bit of wrist action to get flying but once it does, the howling engine and insane rush as the speed gathers makes it worthwhile. However, as most of a courier's miles are done within a 30mph speed limit (supposedly!) this speed stuff is far less relevant.

Yet another incarnation of the famed CBR400 engine, the CB-1 makes 54hhp, most of that being found beyond the heady heights of 12,000 rpm. That can be a problem in town especially if you get town especially if you get caught in the wrong gear. 400-4s don't like pulling from too low and to keep a good pace you need to be constantly shifting through the gears to keep the rev needle somewhere where there's some power. That isn't to say that the CB-1 can't cut it in town - far from it. In the right gear, the acceleration is most satisfactory and carving through heavier traffic quite fun. If you are hustling through town, watch the brakes. Adam, (whose bike it is) says that the single disc with two-pot calliper isn't exactly the best and although it starts out OK, will fade badly after excessive heavy use.

Second Opinion
The first bike I tried was VFR400K. We had been told before hand that "it's not the best" but even with that warning, my first impression from five minutes of riding from one workshop to another was "what a horrid bike!" I hated it! The mirrors were crap, everything felt rough, and I had to open the throttle wide to get the bike moving from a standstill. Yet I stayed on it to give it a fair crack, and after a few more minutes riding, I felt I was getting used to the bike. Once I was happier mentally it didn't seem so bad after all, and going through town on it was no problem.

Still, I was glad to switch to the BROS. From being in an upright position on the VFR, I suddenly felt as if I was curled up in a ball sitting on the BROS. But everything was so much smoother, from the gear changing to braking, to picking up speed. I've ridden the BROS before and found it a very nifty bike; absolutely perfect for town work. I also found that the way I was tucked up around the engine kept my bum, crotch and legs extremely warm, just what you want during those long, cold winters. The ride along the M25 was a different story. It was extremely windy and I found myself getting blown about. It was a relief to get to the services and switch bikes again.

At last the CB-1. Certainly the best looking bike of the three, and it was the only bike that day that split my face from ear to ear in a big grin. It was gorgeous. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!!! An extremely smooth ride and I loved every second of it. Unfortunately, the speedo wasn't working. So with me being a fairly law-abiding citizen when it comes to speed limits, l couldn't open it up but I could feel the potential power within just waiting for me to twist that throttle. For any sort of distance work the CB-1 was a clear winner of the three bikes. Her owner and I also both found the bike extremely comfy, and he's a tall guy while I'm a Miss Average in height.

If I ever had to return to despatching and l had to pick from these three bikes, the CB-l would be my first choice followed by the BROS and the VFR third. Though to be fair to the VFR, it might have been a different story altogether simply if I'd had a different VFR with different handlebars and slightly less miles on the clock.



Well, as was to be expected, there was no clear winner. Each of these bikes can be used as a working bike with confidence. They all have good reliability records and more than enough power to cope with both in-town and distance riding. The CB-1 is the "riders" bike without a doubt. The VFR is the long term option from a servicing point of view and the BROS the sensible cheap workhorse.

When it comes to my choice, I'd have to choose the VFR mostly because of the engine but I'd have to do something about the thin seat, height of handlebars and mirrors.



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