(This Retrospective article appeared in the April 2006 issue of Rider Magazine.)
When this big Honda appeared in 1987, it swept through the motorcycle world like a Category 3 hurricane sweeps across Florida…sorry, could not resist.
With more horsepower, more speed than any previous liter bike, it ratcheted the whole performance concept up a notch.
Yes, 600s and 750s may have been important in the racing categories, but the 1000 class was the playground of the truly competent. The game was new, with 10,000 rpm, liquid-cooled engines and serious aerodynamics in the bodywork. Suzuki had opened play with its GSX-R1100, admittedly a little large at 1052.5cc, followed by the Kawasaki Ninja 1000R (997.8cc) and now the 998.4cc Honda, with Yamaha’s FZR1000 (989.6cc) being presented right after the Honda introduction. Note the constant R (for Race?) designation, the hot letter to have, even though these were not intended as track bikes.
Competition was awesome, but what impressed the go-fast motoring crowd was not just Honda’s dyno-tested 110 horsepower-plus at the rear wheel, nor the slickness of the fairing, but that the bike was so rideable. If you were going to put in a couple of hours at the racetrack, comfort be damned. But an all-day ride, that was something different.
A few words on the name. Back in the middle 1950s many British motorcycles had rather pallid names, or merely alpha-numeric designations, and American importers wanted more excitement. In 1957 the Matchless/AJS importer decided to rename the 600cc Scrambler Twins, virtually identical machines which were known rather cryptically as either a G11CS (Matchbox) or a Model 30CS (Ajay). And what should that name be? A Hurricane!
Soon the 600cc Scrambler single was a Typhoon, and the 250 version was a Tornado. Not to be outdone, Ariel renamed its 650 Huntmaster Twin the Cyclone. The Hurricane name disappeared a few years later as the British bike industry slowly imploded, remaining unused until 1973, when Craig Vetter labeled his delicious redesign of a BSA triple a Triumph X75 Hurricane. That brilliant exercise in styling did not last long, unfortunately.
The Honda company had been slow to denote its models with fancy names, but by 1980 the marketing office appreciated that motorcycling types, especially in the United States, liked to have slick monikers for their machines…like Interceptor. It should be noted that name was first used on a motorcycle in 1962, on a Royal Enfield 750 twin. The Interceptor concept, of fast fighter planes, took the public heart with its sense of speed. So why not the power of one of Mother Nature’s windstorms?
The Honda Hurricane 1000 came along in 1987, replacing the Interceptor 1000. One has to admire old Soichiro, a brilliant and forceful businessman. He would have been a heckuva poker player because, among his many virtues, he knew when to fold a hand. Like the V-4 Interceptor models. Yes, the name and V-4 still exist in the VFR800 Interceptor, but not like they were touted 20 years ago.
Mr. Honda had put the motorcycling world on its ear when he introduced the CB750 in 1969, an in-line four that was powerful, reliable and inexpensive. Then he decided to trump his own ace, so to speak, when he rolled his 750cc V-4 Sabre and Magna models onto the stage at Marysville, Ohio, late in 1981, followed by the Interceptor 750 a year later. These had twin overhead camshafts, four valves per and, lo and behold, liquid cooling. Soon 500 and 1000 Interceptors joined the fleet, and Honda was waiting for everybody else to copy him.
Except the Interceptors had teething problems, acquired a bad reputation, and were re-engineered to fit into the sport-touring category.
In 1987 the Hurricanes, both 600 and 1000, were the new bad boys on the block, using the liquid-cooled in-line four design that had debuted on Kawasaki’s Ninja 900 in 1984. Nothing radically new was presented in the 1000 Hurricane’s engine, just that in typical Honda fashion, a great deal of R&D effort went into its development. The new motor was a very compact, narrow design, smoothed out by a balance shaft running at twice crankshaft speed. With a 77mm bore and 53.6mm stroke it was the most oversquare of the Big Four’s liter engines of 1987, with big 38mm carbs feeding lots of gas through big valves into big combustion chambers.
The engine was essentially a stressed member of the chassis, being bolted securely at five points into the hefty box-style steel perimeter frame, minimizing the possibility of flex. By today’s standards, the suspension was not very sophisticated. The 41mm Showa front fork’s only adjustment was the air pressure, although it did have a hydraulic anti-dive mechanism. The single-shock rear, also Showa, had adjustable spring preload and rebound damping. All quite rudimentary by comparison to today’s CBR1000RR (with three Rs!). Six gears were in the transmission.
The most innovative aspect of the Hurricane was the visual—the fairing. No Japanese motorcycle had ever been covered up to this extent, and only the Ducati Paso was more prudish in its effort to con-ceal what lay beneath. But this was not for looks as much as performance, or, narrowing that down, for top speed. Being able to boast of having the highest top speed for a production motorcycle was considered important to the marketing types, and the aerodynamics of this fairing were excellent. Several testers managed to push the Hurricane over 160 mph—totally impractical for the average purchaser.
It was the comfort that the customers liked. The handlebars were neither too narrow nor too low, the seat was a pleasure to sit on, and the ergonomics as a whole were fit for a normal human being. Add a pair of throwover saddlebags and a tankbag, and a thousand-mile weekend was a pleasure.
However, the U.S. economy was a bit depressed, sales were lagging, and for 1989 the CBR1000F Hurricane was off the list. Only to reappear in 1990—without the Hurricane name. Rumor had it that with just an alpha-numeric such as CBR1000F the bike would be more insurable, but that a name like Hurricane denoted recklessness and immorality, and brought with it unaffordable rates.
Now you know what’s in a name.