This is something for which I’ve been asked a few times, both on this forum and elsewhere, but for a variety of reasons I’ve been too lazy to write it up. As some of you know, I bought a leftover 2014 Honda CB1100 Standard in July and have since put about 2,700 miles on it despite the various inconveniences of travel and tibia fractures.
The CB1100, like the Volkswagen Phaeton, was a home-market smash brought to the United States to the annoyance of a dealer body that didn’t want it and wasn’t sure how to sell it. It was sold here for two model years — 2013 and 2014 — and in two trim levels — Standard and Deluxe. The Standard was $10,399 and the Deluxe was $11,899. For reasons that I don’t fully understand, the chromed-out Deluxe sold pretty well but the all-black 2014 Standard was a tough sell. Which is how I picked mine up at a thirty-percent discount this year.
Long-time readers of my various websites and blogs may remember that I owned a cafe-racer-style ’75 CB550 for a while before the turn of the century and that I bought another ’75 CB550, this one almost entirely stock, in the spring of 2012. So how does this all-new Universal Japanese Motorcycle compare with one of the originals?
I should start with a note in defense of the CB550. Although the conventional mythology of the UJM has the CB750 as both the original and best of the inline-four standards, contemporaneous reviewers often preferred the CB550 and its predecessor, the 1971-73 CB500, to its bigger brother. The difference in speed was just half a second in the quarter mile and the CB550 had a stronger, stiffer frame.
Used as a commuter in the year 2015, the CB550 can still keep up with freeway traffic, cutting and thrusting with the best of them up to its practical top speed of 90mph or so. The single front disc is noisy but adequate. Peter Egan had his CB550 dyno-tested and it turned out 36 horsepower at 9,000 rpm. By way of comparison, today’s CB500F standard usually dynos at about 44. The power-to-weight ratio with me aboard is somewhat better than that of a modern four-cylinder Accord.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a forty-one-year-old motorcycle, holding up only slightly better than its forty-four-year-old owner. Enter, therefore, the CB1100. It’s actually an 1140, fuel-injected, and it’s the first all-new air-cooled passenger-vehicle engine from Honda in decades. Like the Eighties CB750F, CB900F and CB1100F, this is a twincam, but unlike those square-tank standards it’s tuned for flexibility rather than power. Dyno numbers are a problem, because the bike still has a Japanese 112mph limiter and therefore won’t redline in fourth gear, but the consensus is that it’s capable of putting about ninety horses to the rear wheel. It hits the limiter in the quarter mile; without that it might run to 120 or so before the lights.
Not that anybody buys an air-cooled retro-bike for raw speed. Still, the substantial torque available on the left side of the tach makes this a very rapid vehicle in the real world. There’s simply no situation where the engine feels inadequate to the task. Do you want to roll through downtown traffic at 30mph in fourth gear? Not a problem, and you won’t need to shift before sprinting for the next gap.
My CB1100 is a six-speed, but the truth is that it could do pretty well with four gears, or possibly three. After two decades of riding 600cc sportbikes and the like, there’s something surreal about this big motor; there’s no problem with leaving it in fourth gear and treating it like an automatic. It’s not a ZX-14 or a Hayabusa, but nothing on four wheels short of a Huracan is going to trouble it around town. The VFR800 I bought earlier in the year, which is nominally slightly faster according to the magazines, feels limp-wristed by contrast, particularly when the VTEC isn’t operating.
Thanks to big dual discs up front, the CB1100 stops as well as it accelerates. I’ve locked the front up a couple of times but it requires a real panic grab to make it happen. You know — those biker stories that start with “There was a Lexus RX350 in the lane next to me.” As far as handling goes, I don’t consider myself a skilled motorcyclist but I can attest that the big CB leans down to the pegs easily and without fuss. It’s a hundred pounds heavier than my CB550 but it’s far easier to ride at all speeds. The frame feels sportbike-stiff. You can make more pace on this bike than you really should on a public road. In my first few weeks of ownership, before I decided to settle down a bit, it was cutting ten minutes out of my thirty-five minute commute home in the afternoons, mostly because I was effortlessly running at 90-105 between gaps in traffic. Above that, there’s the limiter but there’s also nontrivial resistance from the wind.
I’m 6’2″ with a 32-inch inseam and a 36-inch sleeve, and the bike is in no way cramped for me. It does fit a bit tighter than the 550, mostly due to a lower seat. The stock seat is nothing to write home about but it’s not miserable. Passenger comfort is acceptable over moderate distances and of course this engine doesn’t really notice the weight of a second person over the rear wheel. I’ve put a lot of two-up miles on my 550 and I always felt like I was abusing the machine. Not so with its pumped-up descendant.
As a 2014 Standard model, this bike has the digital gear indicator of the 2013 Deluxe but not its larger fuel tank. As a consequence, it’s not a good idea to plan for more than about 120 miles between stops. Average mileage as reported by the dashboard and roughly confirmed by fillups is about 40 mpg regardless of use. Keep in mind that I ride with a bit more aggression than the average middle-aged cruiser operator; some of the people on the CB1100 are reporting a consistent 50 miles to the gallon, which would stretch the range to 150 or so.
As you’d expect from a Japanese-built Honda aimed at an affluent audience, fit and finish is peerless throughout. There’s no flashing on the plastic, no wave in the metal, no bad beads on the welds. The four-into-one exhaust is mildly discoloring around the catalytic converter but I don’t worry about stuff like that. When some drunken vagrant deliberately shoved it over in its downtown parking spot, back in September, the only damage was a snapped-off brake lever end and some scratching to the bar end, the right-side engine cover, and the speedometer body.
So far, the bike has never failed to start. It runs smoothly at all ambient temperatures from the low nineties down to freezing. It doesn’t appear to be sensitive to fuel quality. The headlight is bright and clear.
Would I buy this bike again? Without question. What complaints do I have? No legitimate ones. It looks like a proper Honda CB, it starts and runs flawlessly, and it’s a joy to operate in all conditions. I expect that it will last forty years or longer, the same as its Seventies ancestors. There was some griping upon its introduction than an 1140cc engine really isn’t in keeping with the original CB tradition, but if you think about the engine size of a base Porsche 911 back then (2.2 liters) and now (3.6 liters) you’ll see that Honda is just trying to keep things in proportion.
Which leads me to my illegitimate complaint: power. The CB1100 has more than enough power for any situation you might possibly encounter, but I want more than more than enough. For the last ten years or so I’ve looked enviously at the Euro-market big-bore standards like the Yamaha XJR1300 and Honda CB1300. I know that we’ve had the ZRX1100/1200 and the Suzuki B-King here, but as a long-term ownership proposition I’d really rather have a Honda or Yamaha. As it is, I’m willing to accept the CB1100’s lack of pace compared to the Kawasaki ZRX1200 in exchange for the higher quality of materials and engineering (IN MY OPINION, I should say) but what I really want is to have 120 or more horsepower at the rear wheel, not ninety.
It’s possible to get another twenty horses out of this bike with the usual intake/exhaust/PowerCommander tweaks, but I’d prefer to keep it stock for reasons of durability. When I eventually heed the siren song of the ten-second motorcycle, it will be by adding a fourth bike to the fleet, not by fussing with this one. And as fate would have it, there’s a fourth bike entering the garage this afternoon. But it’s not for me. More on that later, but in the meantime let me close by giving the CB1100 a solid Recommended. If you are still captivated by the concept of the Universal Japanese Motorcycle, forty-six years after the first one, this is now your best option.