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First Ride: Honda CB1300

Remember the Big One, the Honda CB1000? Well this is the Even Bigger One, a bike that, like its rider(!), combines massive muscle with definitive retro appeal

Click to read: Honda CB1300 owners reviews, Honda CB1300 specs and to see the Honda CB1300 image gallery.

The trip to Sicily to test Honda's new naked bikes had more than a tinge of deja vu about it. In fact I've actually been there before on a Honda launch - the Honda Dominator just er, fifteen years before (I'm not old, I have a Tardis). We rode up to the top of Mount Etna on that occasion - not advisable today as only three months ago, the bugger erupted like Bertie after a balti. This time we based ourselves in Palermo where curry houses and hot lava are thin on the ground.

It was also all very familiar as the CB1300's forefather, The Big One (CB1000), was launched on another island in the Med, Ibiza, ten years ago. I was on that one too. So I've been wallowing in waves of nostalgia. Nostalgia is an appropriate emotion here as, if you're greying at the temples like I appear to be, your youth would've been spent wankering after bikes like the CBX1000 or CB900F which were top shelf material for me as a skint college kid. 25 years later, me and my contemporaries are financially grown up enough to reach the top shelf and, deep joy, our dream bike appears to be there still.

It fits into the Honda naked bike range on the face of it, uncomfortably close to the Hornet 900, which is the FireBlade-powered version of the 600cc best-seller. But they're clearly defined and different motorcycles with clearly defined and different customers. Honda is aiming at the slightly more psychotic client with the Hornet: it's aggressive, light, frenetic, quick steering and dances around beneath you. The CB1300 is solid; it works at a different pace, promoting less impulsive riding and in many ways is more satisfying to ride.

In style and in performance, this bike talks directly to its customers: macho, powerful, mature. Ah, my kinda bike. And who could fault its looks? It impresses everyone. The motor looks stunning, the lines of the bike flow beautifully and the finish and detail are highly refined. It looks like a lot of bike for your money. Which it should as it's the most expensive in class by a couple of hundred quid.

The CB1300 may be 'seventies retro, but technologically it's 21st Century. It's fuel injected, has the brake calipers of a FireBlade, adjustable suspension front and rear and has a multi-faceted digital readout which even tells you what the weather's like.

The greatest endowment 2003 has given the CB1300 is the motor. We're a bit beyond squeezing absolute horsepower out of engines  these days. It's too easy. The brief now is to make a bike rideable and for the delivery of the motor to match the style of the bike. And the style of this bike is totally self-evident. It's a mammoth. It feels hugely powerful. Yet it's got the same horsepower as a CBR600RR at over twice the engine capacity. Er, how does it manage that? Huge torque. It redlines at 8,750rpm - the CBR600RR redlines at 15,000rpm... So the CB1300 delivers its killer punch in a short breath-taking thump to the gut.

In torque, a better measure of its responsiveness and urge, the CB1300 makes a claimed 86ft-lb; compare it with the 600 which makes just 48ft-lb at its (11,000rpm!) peak. That might lead you to suppose your first day riding the CB1300 would end up in Casualty having your arms put back in their sockets. Well not quite. It's a big motorcycle - 224kg dry - and the engine has that to deal with that before it goes anywhere. But it is very powerful by any standards, pulling instantly and smoothly in any gear and at any engine speed. And that goes for 1,000rpm in top gear; no snatching or hesitation, with much credit going to the glitch-free fuel injection for that.

So I had no hesitation in seeing what I could make the clocks show. On a straight bit of autostrada the big Honda stomped straight up to an indicated 230km/h (143mph) with the tacho just about up to the redline. It got there so quickly I was both surprised - and a tad relieved. Well, if you've ever maxed a Hayabusa or Blackbird out it's sometimes a bit of a relief to get there and and roll off the throttle. No-one is without worry at 190mph on public roads and 140mph+ among post-prandial Sicilian drivers is plenty for your sphincter to think about believe me. Any bike owner has to max his bike out. If you haven't yet, well you're a pussy, sorry. The CB1300 owner will have no such troubles - you're up to it and back in a flash, butch as you like.

So, clear straight roads are great fun. So are bendy ones. On second thoughts, the greatest contribution of 21st Century bike technology to the CB1300 is demonstrated in its handling. Back in the 'seventies, the designers built a bike around the engine, pointed you in a straight line and ran away sniggering. When you came to a corner you realised why. Nothing handled well back then. Nothing handled well until they built the RC30 in the late 'eighties.

The CB1300's skeleton is an erstwhile obsolete traditional double cradle steel frame but with real rigidity. It has high quality suspension, brakes and wheels appended and is a well-balanced and highly reassuring package. It all works together and there are no nasty surprises from anywhere: brakes stop you, fast sweepers pass without incident, it flicks from side-to-side so easily that you walk away from it strutting like a body builder. Yes, it's heavy but it's a mass that gives you confidence. It felt much safer around corners than the Hornet 600 we tested the day before which I put down to a combination of more weight (well-balanced) and good tyres.

In Palermo rush hour, the huge Honda and I paddled through the Fiats as easy as I did the day before on the Hornet 600, so if you've a commute on your agenda, tick the box.

No matter how rose-tinted your bifocals, the last couple of paragraphs don't describe anything from the 'seventies. In 2003 and in the CB1300, we've got it all. So Honda's reincarnated Big One should find a place in the market this time round. In the UK the class is already quite busy but my feeling is that the CB1300 could well be the new class leader.

EVOLUTION
1992 Honda launches 'The Big One' renamed catchily, the CB1000 Super Four
as The Big One was a registered trade
mark of a US proprietary toilet cleaner. Anyway, it had a CBR1000 motor and
was an all-round fine motorcycle which failed to sell in the UK. Well, we were
all into FireBlades back then.
1998 Honda launch the CB1300 in Japan.
All exported on the grey market as no-one
in Japan could sit on it and touch the floor

RIVALS

Suzuki GSX1400 £6499. Big seller. Based on air-cooled motor from GSX-R1100 days. Despite that, motor very disappointing - flat. Good looker but a bit of a clumsy beast.

Yamaha XJR1300 £6249. The XJR looks stunning but the motor is dated - aircooled 5-speed, FJ1200 bored out. Good suspension but all round a bit of a lump in comparison.

Kawasaki ZRX1200 £6395 Uses ZZ-R1100 motor. Powerful but peaky and not as grunty as XJR. Handles OK but its looks let it down (but check out the Lawson Rep).

Honda CB1300 Specs

Price £6649
Engine capactity 1284cc
Power 116bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque 86lb.ft @ 6000rpm   
Weight 224kg   
Fuel capacity 21L
Top speed 145mph