Digest - November '99
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
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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
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
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
do you think? Comment
about this review in the message forums.