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Survival Skills Rider Training - Date: N/A

Honda CB-1

The training 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.

The instruments 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).]

Moving out 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!

Opening the 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.

Whilst waiting 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.

Quality of 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 fell over!

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!


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