They say: “A whole new generation will like it.”
We say: “The previous generation, too.”
I never really liked the term UJM—for Universal Japanese Motorcycle—because it was used disparagingly, and I appreciated the motorcycles it defined. They were simple and straightforward, unspecialized.
Air-cooling was the only way to go for this all-new engine, but the thin, 2mm fins require
The prototype UJM was the Honda CB750, introduced for 1969. Honda’s inline-four was such a tour de force that it became the engine to beat. Today’s CB1100 is meant to recapture that glory and infatuate experienced riders like me. After more than 40 years of attending new-model introductions, I’m pretty jaded. I see a few bikes that I want to ride, but I rarely see something that I’d actually like to own. The CB1100 immediately had me wondering how I was going to arrange my budget to get one.
I was also looking forward to showing it to my fellow old farts, whom I expected to share my enthusiasm. But within 15 minutes of first dropping into the saddle, I realized that I’d greatly underestimated the scope of the CB1100’s appeal. Every time I stopped, I was accosted by another 20-something kid. A few had seen pictures, a couple hadn’t, and all were amazed to hear that it was a current-production motorcycle.
Don’t let appearances fool you. The CB11 is totally new. You might not believe that Honda started with a clean sheet to build an air-cooled inline-four, but it did. Designer Mitsuyoshi Kohama recognized that a liquid-cooled engine with fins just wouldn’t resonate the same way as real air cooling. Although it follows the pattern of the last generation of Honda fours—four valves per cylinder with dual overhead cams driven by a center chain—the engine shares no parts with them.
Even the dark-green dial faces from the original CB750 series made it to the new bike. Sma
Its most visible technical advance is fuel injection with 32mm throttle bodies, which brings simple starts and crisp throttle response. Honda configured the engine for broad, responsive power. It pulls well from below 2000 rpm right to the 9500-rpm redline. There is not a tremendous amount of power on tap—79.2 bhp at 6800 rpm—and my sense is that this bike doesn’t punch nearly as hard as the CB1100 we tested 30 years ago. Honda claimed 108 bhp for the ’83 bike, probably 92 at the rear wheel. Of course, that bike was competing for the 1983 performance crown; this bike has no such aspirations.
Where performance is concerned, the CB’s engine is completely modern. But in matters of feel, it’s faithful to the inline-fours of old, with the murmur of chains and gears ringing (subtly) off the cooling fins and a fair bit of high-frequency vibration. Some riders might be bothered by the buzz, but I had no complaints—just part of the UJM charm.
So, too, are the ergonomics, which suited my 5-foot-10 frame fine. The riding position cants my body forward just enough to keep from having to fight wind pressure at highway speeds. The saddle was my biggest gripe—the only one, actually. The rider’s portion is narrowed and tapered, and doesn’t offer enough support. I began to squirm after a couple of hours, and after a couple of back-to-back 7-hour days, I was a bit tender. On the other hand, my 5-foot-5 daughter was thrilled to discover that she could stand flat-footed while straddling the bike.
I was stunned to learn that the CB1100 offers less suspension travel than my old CB750F. However, the suspension on this bike is worlds better in every situation than the 750’s: more supple, better controlled, and better able to soak up the really nasty bumps. You can’t credit that performance to some swell new technology because the CB1100 uses utterly conventional components with nothing more exotic than preload adjusters.
The rest of the chassis is equally unpretentious and effective. Steering is quick and precise. This CB1100 is 45 pounds lighter than the old CB1100F of ’83. From the saddle, the weight difference feels greater, and riding fast on the new bike is much easier. This isn’t likely to be a bike purchased for its sporting prowess, but it’s nice to know it’ll get around corners in a modern way.
While an ABS version will be available, the tester I sampled was not so equipped. Still, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt with the brakes. That’s mostly due to the very confident control they offer in addition to considerable power. In fact, the brakes were probably my favorite functional component of the motorcycle. But I’d still spend the extra $1000 for ABS.
Most will see the CB1100 as an elegant tribute to our UJM roots—beautiful components carefully integrated into a heart-tugging whole. I find it exceptionally pleasing that it’s even more inspiring to ride than it looks.