This story was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Rider Magazine.
This was a minor marvel of motorcycling when the original version was unveiled in 1978 as a 1979 model, more than 40 years ago. Six cylinders, six carburetors, 24 valves, two overhead camshafts and more than 100 crankshaft horsepower—the CBX Super Sport was going to dominate the sport bike scene. Unfortunately, it did not. For the first two years it was stripped down, then transformed into a sport tourer for its last two. The focus of this little write-up is on its touring pretensions.
Begin at the beginning, which was in October of 1977, when Honda discreetly snuck some test bikes into California and had a few American journalists come and try them out. Honda had introduced the original UJM back in the fall of 1968, the 1969 CB750, with four cylinders, eight valves, overhead camshaft and 67 horsepower, weighing some 500 pounds. Now it had something entirely new insofar as the engine was concerned, far more powerful and far heavier—600 pounds. And the competition was ferocious from the other three Japanese competitors, with the Kawasaki KZ1000, Suzuki GS1000 and Yamaha XS1100. These were all four-cylinder bikes, and Honda presumed the addition of two cylinders would bring in the buyers. The company had also experimented with a 1,000cc four-banger, which put out only five horses less than the six, but decided to go with the six.
The first CBX Super Sport models did not appear on the showroom floors until mid-1978, and small changes were made over the next two years, both in engine tuning and chassis. A lean spot in the carburetion was cured, bigger oil cooler, air-adjustable front fork, better shock absorbers, etc.
Then Germany announced that only motorcycles with less than 100 crankshaft horsepower could be imported, which notion might spread to
the entire European Union. More mods were made, and for 1980 the CBX’s crankshaft herd was reduced to 98 ponies, pretty much putting the bike on a power par with the other bikes. The 1980 CBX cost $4,200, Kawasaki’s Z1R, $3,700, Suzuki’s GS1100E, $3,700, and Yamaha’s XS1100G, $3,700. That 500 bucks would buy a lot of gas. Sales were weak. And a recession was on the horizon.
What did Honda do? It decided to revamp the CBX into a sport-touring machine. Curious that Honda never redesignated the bike, to focus on the touring aspect rather than the Super Sport—which was still writ large on the fairing. Engine changes were minimal; essentially two new camshafts to alter the power curve, giving a little more mid-range, less top end. And the profiles were redesigned in order to reduce tappet noise, no small matter when the noise is inside the fairing.
The fairing was originally a half fairing, with good aerodynamics except for some buffeting of a tall rider’s head. The leg protectors had been added on—rather crudely and still leaving the rider’s legs open to a lot of wind; since the bike could easily hit two miles a minute, that was a real possibility. Rather small removable panniers were affixed to each side, limited to 20 pounds each. Honda was worried about handling at high speed and kept the width of the bike at the luggage quite narrow.
Which meant the two shocks on the old CBX were gone and a new Pro-Link single shock arrangement had been installed. Granted, the linkage was particular to the CBX, and not like the motocross version, but it was a rising-rate suspension system. The shock was set up to work with air pressure, but there was also a coil spring—just in case the shock sprang a leak. A three-position knob could adjust rebound settings.
The front end was also drastically changed, with the fork tubes enlarged from 35mm to 39mm—which meant enlarging the steering head. The air-adjustable fork came with a little pump, and a crossover balance tube made adjustments even easier. It also increased the rake from 27.5 to 29.5 degrees, but kept the trail at 4.7 inches, enhancing straight-line stability. And wheel width, both front and back, was slightly increased to allow for larger tires.
The frame was a three-tube backbone truss, with the engine being a stressed member. The six cylinders were fed through six 28mm Keihin CV carburetors and fuel economy was usually less than 40 mpg, and could go under 30 on a rambunctious ride. Fortunately, the gas tank held 5.8 gallons, with a vacuum-operated petcock having a reserve position for the last 0.8-gallon. Exhaust was a six-into-two arrangement, with a crossover pipe in front of the rear wheel equalizing pressure.
Of major note were the new front brakes, which were almost an inch larger in diameter than the previous model’s, and were radially vented—which means that each stainless alloy disc was really two discs with lots of ventilation in between. The very competent calipers used two pistons to push the long, narrow pads against the rotor. The rear brake was the standard single disc, and also benefited from the twin-piston caliper.
But since this was now a sport-touring machine, at a pricey $5,600, what was Honda selling as a pure sportbike? For 1981 and 1982 the company brought in the excellent CB900F, originally aimed at the European market, powered by an air-cooled, in-line DOHC 16-valve 901cc four with some 90 horses, costing $3,350. After a mere two years the CB900F became the bored-out 1,062cc CB1100F—at a competitive price of $3,700. With more than 95 rear wheel ponies and well more than 100 at the crank, Honda was not looking at the German market with this model, just out-horsing the competition.
And the CBX? Vanished. And leftovers were quickly discounted.
I loved my ’82 CB/X. It was a terrific bike. Still the best sounding motorcycle engine I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, life intervened and the CB/X got sold. It was the first bike that I loved unconditionally. Riding it fast, riding it slow, or just looking at it for hours. It was a beautiful bike.
It wasn’t perfect, especially in retrospect. The brakes were sad, with fade setting in quite quickly. First could have been shorter, and fifth could have been taller. Mine had a Corbin saddle and a Rifle windshield, so that fixed two of the common complaints about the bike.
My first two days riding the bike were 400+ miles, and 987 miles. It was a terrific long-range, high-speed traveler. I still miss it.
It was a real tour de force. I had an ’81 model nearly identical to the one pictured. It was, in my opinion, one of the most handsome motorcycles ever produced by any manufacturer. That bullet-train fairing was so sexy. Honda keep that fairing around as an option for both the V-45 and V-65 Sabre series. But it never looked as good as it did on the ’81-82 CBX. And in either SuperSport or sport tourer version it was that jewel of an engine that made it pop!
If Honda wants to get serious about a “heritage” model, the CBX is the platform from their past with which to build upon. Resurrect the famed six cylinder (w/fuel injection?) Upgrade the suspension (GL type fork?) and tweak the handling & braking. Add modern features such as abs & engine mapping. Concurrently offer both an SS and sport tourer version.
And I think Honda would have a World Beater! ~ General T
As much as I love the CBX, & would love to see it re-introduced, this is 2020, & real-world realities must be taken into account. With ever more stringent air pollution standards upon us, air cooled engines become more, & more difficult to pass. Honda has already tried the retro bike with the CB1100 and although I dearly love the look, my CB900f SS still looks better. So by the time Honda water cools, fuel injects,suspension brake & saddle upgrades/updates the CBX, guess what-you have a copy of the BMW 1600 six. Lets just say”Thank you Honda, for a truly, mind rushing, gear stirring, wonderful example of what great minds can do”….and for all the other great bikes you have brought to fruition over the years.
I bought my 1981 CBX new in 1982 for $5,600. It was incredibly beautiful, and hi-tech at the time.
I rode it on a group ride to the Miracle Mile flat track race (William’s Grove, PA) in 1982 or 1983.
It was dull riding with the pack, so after the race, I headed back to Maryland on my own so I could air the CBX out.
Got a ticket for 125 MPH just as I crossed the MD line
I took it to court, not that I wasn’t guilty, and the judge looked over the top of his glasses and asked me, “Mr. Kxxxx, were you trying to commit suicide?” I told him I was just trying to see what it would do. He let me off with a $600 ticket, which was a ton at the time, but better than losing your license.
To be noted – it was not Germany that limited bikes to 100hp, but France.
Germany did create a bracket under 100hp which cost less to insure, but never prohibited imports, sales or mods that would restrict engine power.
It was a marvelous super bike
I’ve had 4 1981 CBX’s. A demo bike from a Honda Dealer I worked at in 1982 and put 24k on that one in one year. Then I bought #2 brand new. Unfortunately it got hit while parked after 75k miles and insurance paid me $2500. #3 was a 12k bike out of Ft. Collins Colorado and I still have it, though parked since 2005 it has 135k miles shown. Enter #4 which had 30k on it in 2005 and now has 100k. No shocks have ever been replaced. No alternators have been replaced, no steering head bearings have been replaced. The head never come off #4 and the carbs have also NOT been touched. In short – NOTHING- has failed (right front turn signal bulb did fail). Rotors, sprockets, chains brake pads, tires, spark plugs and seat covers are the only thing done collectively after a total of 300k mikes. The front fork was pitted on #4 when I got it so I switched forks with #3. The exhaust on #3 was rotted cross-over when I got it and switched #2’s exhaust to #3 but #4 came with a 6 into 1 DG (I think) which made #4 run poorly and hits the ground when hard cornering so the exhaust from #2 got moved to #4 after being removed from #3. I’ve considered sending #3 to Tuscon and having Nils refresh it and start over but #4 feels tight, runs and handles fine so I’m not sure I will bother to invest in #3 and just see how far #4 will go. So I guess what does wrong with these is when the owner doesn’t use it enough.
Thank you for sharing!
“It’s a Honda!”
I have an 82 that we are just getting back on the road, I bought it new in 84, at a huge discount and it was in my Dad’s garage for many years. Dad probably put 3,000 miles on it.
Children and life just kept getting in the way.
She is running now. with less than 9,000 miles on the odometer.
I just purchased a 1981 CBX out of Scottsdale Arizona, a cople of months ago, and had it shipped to Colorado. I now have $7,900 invested in as of now. I took it over to Jim in Colo. Springs. Who specializes in all Hondas! He is rebuilding all of the carbs. replacing the right fork seal and oil change with a final tune. I’ve done a lot of research about a motorcycle that was way ahead of its time! Honda has always set the plat form for all others to follow and try to beat Honda at their own game. However, Honda’s seems to have a higher return on investment? I also had a couple of Honda z50’s built and are in my collection. I’ve always been that Harley guy! But I realized that there are more out there besides HD and I didn’t want to miss out on those experiences. I currently have an 06 VROD that I bought right off the show room floor and I put performance cams and all of the extra chrome that can be added, “of course”. But the CBX is going to be an experience that will be like no other! My opinion tho. But I now have something that carries a long history that has finally caught up to it’s self and is a GEM that sat quietly waiting for the lights to come on as it sat on stage waiting to be finally seen for its true beauty! For those whom had a chance to own one and for those who now posses one now are very lucky! Since the CBX’s are climbing in value big time! And Rightfully So! Peace
I have a 1981 cbx for sale now. Just like the foto but currently a naked bike. I also have the fairing and panniers. I have done all the work. Brakes carbs. Etc. Ready to go. Licensed in AZ and located in Tucson. Contact me if interested
Hi Roger, do you still have bike for sale?
Also, I am interested in the fairing and panniers.
I have an ‘82 for sale in Sacramento,CA. Pearl white with 25K miles. Excellent condition including original pipes. Corbin seat & original seat. Message me if interested; Kholmesnh1&gmail.com. Thanks, and ride safe!
Anyone with a 1980 1st series no fairing for sale contact me, looking at sourcing one for a buddy of mine who lives overseas. Bigbreak_2000@yahoo.com