The Honda CB1100 had heritage to burn. So why did it fail miserably when they tried to bring it back in 2010?
The CB1100 can trace its family tree right back to the CB92 of 1959, taking in the ground-breaking CB750 Four of 1969 and many air-cooled, across the frame four-cylinder offerings that have come subsequently.
The new bike may have looked like it came from another time, but it was unfailingly Honda. And, on this occasion, that phrase was not a positive.
It wasn’t timing that saw the CB take off like a cast iron hang glider. A steel twin-cradle frame, old-school, large taillight, twin shock rear end, and, (Honda might have got a little carried away here) a double horn under the round headlight, all served to place it smack-bang at the heart of the neo-retro movement, which was taking hold big style at the time.
There’s no doubt that it was well-built, and the whole deal seemed to be aimed at making the bike as non-threatening and easy to use as possible, but the word ‘bland’ popped up more than once.
In fact, the words ‘stultifying boring’ might have smacked the nail on the noggin more squarely. The damned thing made you yawn before you’d even climbed on it.
Honda people must have shaken their heads in disbelief. ‘What should we do, build them with inherent problems?’, they must have thought to themselves.
You see, Honda’s immense reputation for build-quality is hugely deserved, but it has created a section of the motorcycling community that wouldn’t be seen dead on one. It’s unwarranted, but it’s there.
Well, the CB was not going to bring any of that odd brotherhood into the Big H’s market share graphs with any rush. It was utilitarian, simple as that. Like a mattock.
The engine was an 1140cc air-cooled, fuel-injected, 16-valve DOHC inline four cylinder, good for 65kW at 7500rpm and 92Nm at 5000rpm, coupled to a five-speed box with chain final drive.
There was a non-adjustable 41mm fork and a preload adjustable Showa twin shock rear end.
Stoppers were twin 296mm discs with Nissin four-spot calipers at the front, and a single 256mm disc with single-piston Nissin caliper at the stern. This setup was nicely up to the task, with stopping power very good and lovely lever feel and control. So, it wasn’t dynamics that caught the dear thing out.
The seat height was very low at 775mm achieved by ‘sculpting’ of the rider’s section. Rounded to allow the thighs to be kept close to the bike, therefore giving better purchase for the shorter rider, there was little padding. Sore dates were talked about. Pain is excusable when thrills abound. Not here.
The seating position was decidedly snug for anyone of average height or above. It all seemed to be aimed at the rider stepping up from a smaller capacity. Honda thought that would change the word ‘bland’ to the term ‘user-friendly’. Cue fail-buzzer sound here.
There was very standard, clear analogue instrumentation and Honda’s much-acclaimed HISS system.
Lovely chrome sidecovers added a touch of bling, but nowhere near enough, and the bike was very much in proportion.
It was quite a handsome motorcycle, and, importantly, for all its ‘ordinariness’, left you in no doubt it was a Honda from first glance. Again, that should have offered some drawing power in the showroom. Instead, it was crickets.
The bike delivered a very linear power delivery, gathering a decent turn of speed, but there was not a great deal from the bottom of the rev range. An engine map that made for a little more torque would probably have transformed the bike. Missed by that much. Yawn.
Handling was good, very stable and easy flicked from lean to lean. In the twistier going, the bike could be stirred along at a good pace, minimising fuss in that ‘oh-so-Honda’ manner.
You could order a nice chrome rack for luggage, which complemented the whole deal while adding a degree of utility into the bargain. ‘Utility’. Not a sexy word.
For people given to understated looks, but with a handle on the theory of Honda class, there was a bit to like. It just came off a little like dancing with your sister; everything’s there, except the possibility of a pleasant surprise at the end of the night.
The CB1100 was very much in the ilk of seventies air-cooled bikes that built Honda’s deserved reputation for rock-solid build and superb reliability.
But the Aussie market can be a fickle beast. And, they reckoned the CB was an abject bucket o’ shite, and it was forgotten in sharp fashion.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 26 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.