There wasn’t much wrong with the old CB1100 but they’ve fixed it anyway. And then some…
Honda’s in many ways astonishing retro roadster has, it must be said, been something of the ‘forgotten man’ in the current fashion for all things retro and café racer.While Japanese rivals grab the headlines with talk of the ‘Dark Side’, Ducati goes all la-la ‘Land of Joy’ with its fashion-victim Scramblers and Triumph re-invents the British twin with some nice but, let’s face it, Thai-built water-pumpers, the understated CB, as first launched in the UK in 2013, was arguably the most authentic and, in many ways, appealing of an ever-growing bunch, not that most of us were convinced.
While at a cursory glance the CB11 looks little different from before there’s actually a whole host of revisions, tweaks and additions throughout the bike.
First and most importantly, there’s now not ONE CB1100 – but TWO. For 2017, and in response to years of public clammour for a ‘performance CB1100’, two variants are now offered. These comprise the base, retro CB1100EX (the machine with the wire spoked wheels and silver forks in our pictures) plus the meaner, more aggressive CB1100RS (cast wheels, gold forks and red fuel tank), which is based on the EX but has higher spec suspension, brakes and wheels, more sporty riding position and a host of cosmetic mods – but we’ll come back to that later.
Instead let’s start with the standard CB1100EX which itself has sufficient improvements and changes to warrant being called a whole new bike.
First there’s that glorious engine. The need to comply with Euro4 prompted changes in itself but Honda has also taken the opportunity to enhance the character of the motor with revised valve timing on two of the four cylinders to produce a more ‘curdle-ly’ sensation – particularly at higher revs. This, combined with a new, shorter exhaust is intended to enhance the sound and feel of the CB. Or, as one senior Honda staffer told me ‘to turn up the CB volume’. This they’ve done. And with the switch to a six-speed gearbox a couple of years ago plus the new addition of a slipper clutch, the drivetrain has been significantly improved all round.
Simply put, the new CB1100EX’s saddle is a classy, pleasing, majestic and enjoyable place to be.
Second, there’s the overall style and look of the CB11 which has been markedly improved, too. A new, more curvaceous, 16.8-litre, ‘seamless’ fuel tank complete with flush filler immediately provides more stature and practicality while also reminding of predecessors like the Super Four and CB1000 ‘Big One’. The ribbed seat is more authentic, as are the new, brushed aluminium side panels. A new die-cast alloy top yoke (complete with pleasingly retro chrome top nut) is a classy touch, as are the alloy wire rims with zinc-plated spokes. While other improvements include: new 41mm Showa ‘Dual Bending Valve’ forks; new LED headlight and classic ‘Lucas-style’ taillight; chromed seat rails, improved chain and rear mudguard and even a more efficient sidestand. The list goes on.
The result, in the metal, in front of you, right now, can’t fail but simply smack you in the teeth. There’s no getting away from it: the CB1100 is a seriously classy motorcycle that puts most other so called retros to shame. This is a bike with not only a correct, purpose-built, air-cooled motor, it’s one that doesn’t scrimp on details or quality touches at all. Both levers are span-adjustable; the instruments comprise a classy collection of twin analogue chrome dials with a comprehensive LCD digital display for everything from fuel to gear indicator in-between. Everywhere that needs chrome has it, shocks, headlamp bowl and indicators included. While everything that looks like metal – is, mudguards, side panels and mirrors included. I’m sorry, but next to the CB11, some retros I could mention look simply fake and cheap.
But best of all is how the new CB1100EX goes. I must admit, having ridden the 2013 original at its world launch, I became a fan but also commented on its failings, I wasn’t expecting much to be different. How wrong was I. From the outset, the impeccable ergonomics and easy manageability were familiar but what was a revelation was the now stirring, characterful and evocative soundtrack and sensation from its reworked four and the improved ride and blissful, rolling steering from the uprated chassis.
It’s been a while coming but, on this showing, maybe, just maybe, the Honda’s CB1100 has at last come of age. There’s a number of reasons for this.
First, the host of cosmetic and quality improvements and additions now, for my money, mark the CB1100 out as far and away the classiest, most authentic, most tactile and pleasing of all the retro roadsters – and in that I’m not just talking about budget Bonnevilles or novice-targetted Scramblers, I’m even including bikes like BMW’s superb R-NineT.
Second, the riding experience is now as it should be: classy, cultured and evocative. The engine changes add much needed character, the chassis tweaks take away the doubts and, though no rocketship or performance bike (even in RS guise) the CB now is truly a cultured, evocative ride that can’t fail to please.
And third, and perhaps best of all, there’s now TWO CB’s to choose from – both much better than before. The EX is the definitive retro with every box ticked, enough so to shame most rivals, while the RS, although unchanged performance-wise (and, yes, a Triumph Thruxton R will still leave it for dead), has enough handling and aplomb to start conjuring images of Freddie Spencer. And if that isn’t ‘mission accomplished’, I don’t know what is.
And the cherry on top? At £10,765 for the EX and £11,139 for the RS I reckon both now represent excellent value as well. At that price, the EX is a helluva lot of bike for not much more than the base and basic ‘Pure’ version of BM’s R-NineT, and I know which I’d rather have. As for the RS, well, with maybe a pipe and some sticky rubber, the Honda’s finally shaping up to be the retro café racer we always hoped it would be.
|TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS: Honda CB1100EX (RS)|
|Engine type||air-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, 16v four|
|Bore x stroke||73.5 mm x 67.2 mm|
|Compression ratio||9.5: 1|
|Maximum power||88bhp @ 7500rpm|
|Maximum torque||67ft-lb @ 5500rpm|
|Lubrication system||Wet sump|
|Clutch type||Wet, Multiple Disc|
|Fuel system||Fuel Injection|
|Transmission system||Constant Mesh, 6-speed|
|Frame||Tubular steel double cradle|
|Front suspension system||Telescopic forks, Ø 41 mm (43mm) adjustable for rebound damping|
|Caster angle||27º (26º)|
|Rear suspension system||Box-section aluminium swingarm, preload adjustable twin shocks (remote reservoir)|
|Front brake||2 x 296mm (310mm) twin discs, four-piston Nissin (four-piston radially-mounted Tokico) calipers, ABS|
|Rear brake||single disc, two-piston caliper, ABS|
|Front tyre||110/80 x 18 (120/70 x 17)|
|Rear tyre||140/70 x 18 (180/55 x 17)|
|Overall length||2,200 mm (2180 mm)|
|Overall width||830 mm (800 mm)|
|Overall height||1130 mm (1100 mm)|
|Seat height||790 mm (795 mm)|
|Wheel base||1490 mm (1485 mm)|
|Minimum ground clearance||135 mm (130 mm)|
|Kerb weight||255 kg (252 kg)|
|Fuel tank capacity||16.8 litres|
|Oil tank capacity||4.9 litres|