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.