Skills Rider Training - Date: N/A
school I used to work for bought a number of low mileage Honda CB-1s
at the beginning of 1997 as Direct Access training bikes, so I got
the chance to put a few miles on them. I was interested to compare
them with my old air-cooled 70's CB400F, and to see how some twenty
years of development had changed the original concept.
The first thing
I noticed was the size of the bike. The later models of the CB-1
(there are at least two) are designed to look like the CB1000 "Big
One" and is considerably bigger than either the old 400-F or
the earlier monoshock CB-1 model it replaced. It also feels a lot
heavier. The footrests are nicely positioned rearwards, although
the nice easy lean to the bars of the old 400-F has been replaced
more a more upright, "weight on bum" stance.
are all clear - quality written all over them. Unfortunately the
speedo is marked off in kph, and at the moment no-one does a conversion
to mph - we ended up with nasty little stickers pointing at 30,
50 and 70! OK for experienced riders but pretty tricky for riders
trying to pass the test! Some of the twin shock models have a fuel
gauge as well, a luxury the old bike never had, as well as warning
lights and an idiot cut-out for the side stand, something I could
have used on a number of occasions twenty years ago! The controls
and the switchgear are smooth, the clutch a lot lighter and easier
to use, and everything up front feels reassuringly solid.
Start it up
and the motor spins into life with barely a rustle of its gear-driven
cams - definitely an improvement over the old bike with its notoriously
dodgy camchain tensioner! Into gear and the bike can be eased away
on tickover - very user friendly, just like its ancestor. Round
the slow speed exercises in the yard, the disadvantage of the extra
weight is cancelled out by the smoothness of the engine - most of
the training exercises can be done without the clutch (not that
we teach or encourage that - they may buy a Ducati).]
onto the road, there is a slight tendency to oversteer into corners
but its very predictable and never more than a minor irritation.
The suspension is reasonably well controlled over bumps and fairly
comfortable, but the handling begins to get a little vague as you
get towards top speed - hanging on to wide, relatively high bars
doesn't help, and the old bike seemed a bit more stable on smooth
surfaces, even on the old Mk 1 Roadrunners, in my rosy memories,
but overall twenty years of suspension development can be felt!
throttle is like tugging an elastic band. Regardless of where the
revs are or what gear the bike is in, after a moment's delay it
starts to gather speed. Accelerate is the wrong word for this bike.
Accompanied by an increasingly frenzied but very muted howl from
the 4:1 pipe, the rev counter winds across the dial till it is time
to change gear well into 5 figures... Eventually the bike will see
over 110mph - it doesn't really make any difference if you short
shift, or hang onto the red line, it doesn't get where it's going
much faster and it's all without any real drama or thrill. The old
air-cooled CB used to let you know that it was working with a buzz
through the bars and pegs, and plenty of mechanical noise, not to
mention a satisfying howl from the airbox and exhaust, although
the top two ratios were over-geared so that a comfortable 60mph
could be maintained with a little under 5000rpm on the clock.
This is where
things don't quite add up - the claimed figure for the CB-1 is over
50hp, the old 400-F had a mere 37hp to call on, but wasn't that
much slower according to the speedo, with a genuine top speed around
105mph, although it is well down on acceleration - the new bike
runs a standing quarter in around 14 seconds, the old one around
2 seconds slower. Maybe it's the extra frontal area of the taller
and wider CB-1 but it doesn't seem as though it would go much faster
with higher gearing. Compared to some other current models, it is
probably a bit quicker than a GS500 but a GPz500 or a Honda Dominator
would leave it for dead out of a corner.
for top speed to arrive, the gearbox clunks and bangs and surges
just like a CBR600. Not one of the best even though it rarely skips
out of gear. It just sounds like it's going to! Definitely a backward
step, the old box was smooth and positive, even though a worn primary
chain could lead to some slop.
One area of
very definite improvement since the good old days is obvious when
you feel the need to stop again. The brakes are good - twin discs
up front with lots of power and feel, and another disc at the rear,
bring the CB-1 to as rapid a halt as you want. With the old 400
on its original wooden pads it was a case of squeeze hard and pray,
especially in the rain when the dreaded lag added a couple of seconds
to any braking distance.
build is excellent, something Honda have always had a reputation
for, with thick lustrous paint, although one of the bikes had suffered
badly in the chrome department before its arrival at the school.
Where the CB-1
falls down is servicing costs and availability of spares. As mentioned
there are at least two versions of the twin shock bike, plus the
earlier monoshock. That means there are a lot of differences in
parts between models, which cannot help availability. They need
smaller than standard plugs which are easy enough to obtain but
very expensive - £25 for four. Lots of valves too, though
the old bike loses marks for having old fashioned points and needing
a service every 1200 miles! One of the bikes was crashed (not by
me, honest!) at walking pace. The casualty list included the front
mudguard, headlight and shell, front indicator, the speedo, the
ignition switch and astonishingly the fork yokes and one fork leg!
The bill came to well in excess of £800 and took almost a
year for the parts to be sourced! So much for the promises of the
parallel importers. Another one was dropped at a standstill and
bent the radiator and cracked the side panel - we ignored it! By
comparison, the GS500's which had been dropped at similar speeds
survived almost unscathed usually just needing a new lever and sometimes
an indicator lens - pretty much the same as my old 400-F when that
There are a
fair number on offer as grey import second hand bikes, at prices
ranging from very good to ludicrously overpriced. If you're looking
for a smooth, easy to ride bike that looks bigger than it is and
is capable of going reasonable distances, and want a four, it's
worth a look, but they aren't cheap to buy or run, and in the long
run could prove a bit of a liability!
do you think? Comment
about this review in the message forums.