Take a casual glance at the motorcycle in the picture and one might mistake it for Honda’s latest retro-bike, the CB1100. Nope, we’re going back 20 years to what Honda was advertising as a “standard”—a street bike without fairing, a.k.a. “naked.”
In 1993, Kawasaki and Suzuki had big, naked standards, the ZR1100 and GSX1100, with Yamaha offering the half-faired FJ1200; Honda had no model in that category. These nakeds were intended for the rider who liked a bit of wind in his face and was not interested in tearing around closed courses on track days.
While the CB1000, nicknamed “Project Big 1” by the factory, did not appear in the U.S. until 1994, the Japanese and the Europeans had it from 1992. Some enterprising engineer had made the suggestion that if the company was looking for new models, without spending too much money, why not detune the engine from the fully faired, very sporty CBR1000F and bolt it in a naked bike. And give it a retro look, like a 1980 superbike.
However, the American Honda sales people did not think that sales of this large standard would justify the expense of bringing it in. Importing any new model is an expensive proposition, having to go through a lot of DOT/EPA testing, as well as training mechanics and providing a goodly supply of spare parts.
Americans were mainly into image rather than practicality, the big divide being between cruisers and performance bikes, with Honda’s marketing department in Los Angeles figuring that the sporting clientele was much more important than the “standard” buyer. In the big H’s 1994 U.S. catalog was the new RC45, the 750cc V-4, properly homologated and appealing to the seriously competitive crowd, or at least that small part of it which had a lot of money ($27,000). For the more cash-conscious buyer who wanted to sport around the twisties on a fully faired machine, there was the $7,500 CBR1000F, with a claimed 130 horsepower at the crankshaft, about 20 less at the rear wheel. This was competing with the likes of the FZR1000, GSX-R1100 and ZX1100.
The naked CB1000 was ticketed at a pricey $7,000. This in-line 4-cylinder engine had debuted in 1987 in the 1,000cc Hurricane model after Honda dropped the VFR1000—since that V-4 was not selling worth a damn. The in-line four was very UJM, albeit with liquid cooling through an unobtrusive radiator. The one-piece head had four valves per cylinder operated by a pair of chain-driven overhead camshafts; the cams were new for the CB, as was the valve timing. Screw-type adjusters were on the tappets, a blessing for every home mechanic. Four 34mm constant-velocity Keihin carburetors fed the cylinders, a good deal smaller than the 38mm carbs on the CBR version. And the compression ratio was lowered, too, from 10.5:1 for the CBR to 10:1 for the CB. The mods changed this engine from a supersport to one with slightly less torque and a dozen fewer horsepower—but still with the race-bike breeding. The rear-wheel horses maxed at 97 at 8,200 rpm.
A gear-driven balance shaft was used to keep the vibes down, which was not a total success, as minor vibration did appear above 5,500 rpm. However, the factory felt that the CB buyer was going to spend 90 percent of his time below that level.
Straight-cut gears moved the power back to a wet clutch and a 5-speed gearbox. Sensibly, Honda left out a gear in the transmission, with the CB having five speeds as opposed to the CBR’s six. Sporty riders are always stirring the gearbox, whereas the CB was intended more for those who liked a bit less toe action.
All of this was bolted into a double-cradle steel frame, with a 43mm non-adjustable cartridge fork having a modest rake of 27 degrees, trail of 4.4 inches. Bolted onto the box-section swingarm was a pair of Showa shocks with preload adjustability and sexy remote reservoirs. Suspension travel at both ends was said to be 4.6 inches, enough to provide a pleasant ride. The rear wheel was an 18-incher with a 170/60 tire, the front, 18 inches and a 120/70.
For braking purposes, there were two discs on the front with 4-piston calipers, a single at the back, with a 2-piston squeezer. Wheelbase was 60.6 inches, 1.5 longer than the CBR, while the CB’s weight (520 pounds dry) was 30 pounds less than the CBR. All that fairing plastic and mounting hardware must have weighed a bit.
The seat was moderately stepped and almost 32 inches high. Short-legged folk learned to use the footpeg as an assist. The bars were flat, which gave comfortable ergonomics, while a set of risers could elevate the bars if desired. Analog instruments and idiot lights sat above the isolated headlight in this pre-digital era. The gas tank held a generous 5.8 gallons, and even with a heavy hand on the throttle the bike would go 200 miles with no problem.
Everybody liked it. However, the $500 difference between the CB and CBR, and the appeal of the super-sporty difference, seemed to doom sales. In two short years the CB was gone, while the CBR continued on to 1996. Apparently the marketing guys in Los Angeles had been right: Standards didn’t sell.
(This Retrospective article was published in the May 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)