When I was a young boy, my father introduced me to the joys of motorcycling. Dad would take my brother and me on leisurely rides in the country aboard his Honda CB750 Four. In the late 1970s, I was too young to know or care about the significance of the CB750, that its transverse, in-line four cylinder engine with overhead camshaft would become one of the most popular engine configurations of the late 20th century, that its electric starter, hydraulic front disc brake and build quality were ahead of their time, and that the enormous profits from this model enabled Honda to launch its automotive division.
No, all I cared about was how exhilarating it felt to ride on that motorcycle, with my larger-than-life father at the controls.
Fast forward three decades. It’s 2009 and I’m the Road Test Editor for Rider, in Japan for the Tokyo Motor Show and the world press launch of the Honda VFR1200F. On display in the Honda booth is the CB1100, a modern interpretation of the legendary CB750. It stood apart—a throwback to another time in a sea of radical concept bikes. The CB1100 was released in Japan and Australia, but the rest of the world had to wait.
A week before American Honda announced that it would bring the CB1100 to the U.S. for 2013 and released details and pricing, I had a chance to ride one—the only U.S.-spec model currently on our shores. The ride was brief, no more than 30 miles and mostly on traffic-choked streets near Los Angeles, but it was enough to get my juices flowing.
Honda calls the CB1100’s styling “timeless,” which is another way of saying that the original CB750 still looks good and provides plenty of inspiration for an homage. Front and center is the 1,140cc air-/oil-cooled in-line four-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and four polished header pipes that converge into a single chrome muffler on the right side. Old-school touches abound, from the 18-inch mag wheels and wide, flat seat to the chrome on the fenders, handlebar, mirrors, turn signals and bezels around the round headlight and analog gauges. Even the blast-from-the-past dual rear shocks are finished in chrome.
Aside from styling, the CB1100 is very much a 21st century motorcycle. It features Programmed Fuel Injection with an automatic enrichment circuit, digital transistorized ignition with electronic advance, triple disc brakes of contemporary design with optional ABS and Bridgestone Battleax radial tires.
Sitting on the CB1100 took me straight back to my childhood. Dad sold his CB750 long before I was old enough to ride it myself, a regret rivaled only by the fact that my grandmother sold her red Oldsmobile 442 convertible before I got my driver’s license. I thumbed the starter and the in-line four fired up quickly, ran at fast idle for a few moments and then settled into a quiet hum. It clicked easily into the first of five gears with a moderate pull on the cable-actuated clutch lever.
Rolling out of Honda’s sprawling campus in Torrance, the power was smooth and linear. American Honda won’t divulge actual horsepower figures, but we’ve read reports of the high 80s from overseas. For a motorcycle with an 1,140cc engine and a 540-pound curb weight (claimed; 549 for the ABS model), it won’t blow your socks off, but it isn’t designed to do so. The CB750 may have been the first production superbike, but these days Honda’s CBR line handles those duties, thank you very much.
The CB1100 feels solid, and it provides the sort of relaxed comfort you’d expect from a re-imagined classic. The 31.3-inch seat height and well-placed mid-mount foot pegs offer plenty of leg room, and the reach to the handlebar is relaxed. There’s no windscreen or fairing to divert the wind around your body, but that’s part of the experience. Simple, elemental.
Climbing a winding road up to Palos Verdes, the CB1100’s steering was neutral and the steel double-cradle frame felt reassuringly stable. No hinge in the middle, no wallowing around. The brakes provided plenty of stopping power, but the suspension—adjustable only for spring preload—felt bouncy and underdamped.
Honda has nailed it with the CB1100. It pays respect to the motorcycle that put it on the map and continues the company’s long line of enthusiast models. Cue the nostalgic emotions of thousands of Baby Boomers who rode various CB models throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The CB1100’s 3.9-gallon fuel tank comes in Candy Red only, and the bike will be available in March 2013 for $9,999 ($10,999 for ABS).