First ride review: 2013 Honda CB1100

Retro ride channels the soul of its legendary ancestor

NOSTALGIA is great. You can look back on your first school/bike/love with those rose-tinted glasses and forget all about the bullying/breakdowns/cheating and so on. Why live in complicated times with the 'kids these days' when you can hark back to a simpler past? It's for this reason that retro is and always will be popular, but can the new 'retro' CB1100 shape up to the original superbike that inspired it?

The Beatles were at No.1 in the charts when Honda released the CB750 back in '69. The Japanese bike led the way for mainstream motorcycles, with the inline four-powered bike featuring technology such as overhead cams and a front brake disc. The large engine capacity was designed to be attractive to the US market and compete with the likes of Triumph, Harley and BMW. It certainly made a good job of that, selling hundreds of thousands and helping to end Britain's dominant motorcycle industry along the way.

If you were one of those people who originally lusted after the original CB when it arrived at the end of the sixties and seventies, Honda is hoping that you might get to have a second bite at the apple now. 

The new 2013 Honda CB1100 looks great in the flesh. Waiting at one of the launch photo shoots I could see the bike silhouetted from a distance for the first time and it certainly had a timeless quality about it. Sitting on the bike it immediately feels like an old friend, with a comfy and natural seating position. The European spec bike has the wide bars set about an inch higher than the Japanese version and the seat height is also slightly taller at 795mm. The result is anything but intimidating.

Up close there's no denying the attention to detail. The easy to read clocks have the same dark green colour as the original CB750, and the chrome fenders look classy. The rear light suits the bike, no LEDs found here thank you very much. A Honda logo printed on the back of the seat lets those following you know what you're riding (but doesn't go as far to guarantee you're the nicest person). Tall mirrors offer a good rear view and the deliberately slimmed tank (available in red, white or black) allows you to glance down and admire the engine whilst on the move.

Sat in the CB1100’s 'modern' double cradle steel frame is the 1140cc in-line 4 engine. Rather than use a liquid-cooled design, Honda has built their first multi-cylinder air-cooled engine for over 20 years. Chief Designer Mitsuyoshi Kohama commented "there is something about an air-cooled engine – a feeling you simply can't get from the liquid-cooled engine in a high-performance bike". Those 2mm cooling fins look the part and enhance that satisfying 'tink-tink' sound of an engine cooling down after a ride.

The air-cooled engine was one of the key points in the development of this bike. Whilst the CB1100 is not designed for high performance figures anymore (the 89bhp motor will top out around 125mph) the engine's main characteristic is torque, with 68.5 lb-ft on tap at 5,000 rpm. Low-down grunt allows the bike to pull away easily in any gear from around 1,000rpm with a linear delivery all the way up to 7,000rpm (it tops out at 9,000rpm). It pulls strongly even in top gear and several times during the day's riding I went to grab another gear only to find I was already in 5th. Not a bad sign at all. 

Whilst the bike gets a good score on looks alone, the sound could certainly be improved. It's just not loud enough. Apparently journalists loved the sound of the original 750 when it was launched, with many recording the roar of the bike. But despite the CB1100’s valve timings being tweaked to deliver a little bit of a growl it sounded more pussycat than lion. 

If you’re returning to biking then don’t think that the 1100cc engine or wet weight of 245kg is daunting. The CB1100 carries its weight well and is not something you notice when on the move. A compact chassis and wheelbase of 1490mm result in a balanced ride at low speeds with the engine great for town riding. 

Rather than stick a wide tyre on the back Honda opted for a 140-section rear to remain close to the original CB. Single radius tyres are fitted as standard and more than up to the job, providing easy turn-in and a smooth progressive response. Keeping the retro design flowing sees Comstar styled 18" wheels which all help to give the bike its classic look.

The 41mm Showa forks were well sprung and did a great job of dealing with potholes, speed bumps and changing road conditions. The suspension provided a smooth ride on faster stretches of road and dealt with the day's riding without fault. Both front and back units are adjustable for preload. It’s certainly comfy enough to ride around all day but with no wind protection you don’t want to be travelling too fast for too long.

While you can’t describe the ride as exciting, it’s very easy to enjoy the bike for what it is. A modern take on a classic that’s more for taking in the scenery, the occasional reflection and enjoying the journey rather than timing it. 

Stopping the CB1100 is a combined ABS system with a pair of 296mm discs up front. They certainly did a great job of slowing the bike during some twisty road riding. With the design and styling of the bike such an important factor, the design team created Honda's first floating hub-less brake. That shows the attention to detail given to this model, but more importantly helps show off those perfectly suited Comstar wheels.

Honda’s president Mr Ito obviously believes in the bike: he uses a CB1100 for his commute to work, although I wonder if he makes use of the D-lock space in the office car park. If the boss of the company thinks this bike’s good enough for him to use, then that can’t be a bad starting sign, can it? If Honda can get a slice of the 400,000 units that the CB750 sold during its life span I’m sure they’ll be happy with the results. 

The majority of owners will inevitably be older riders who can finally afford a bike that has attributes of the CB they lusted after in their youth or those wanted something in addition to their existing commuter. But there will certainly be some younger owners who appreciate the bike's classic aesthetics and I’d be interested to see if any CBs are quickly given clip-ons and the café racer treatment. 

Anything retro cannot be groundbreaking by definition. But owners of the CB1100 won’t care about that. Along with the heritage, they’ll purchase it for it’s styling, reliability, ease of living with and the simple ride it delivers. I’d just like to make a bit more noise doing it. 

In fact that's the only change I would make to the bike: to make it a bit louder. A 4-into-1 exhaust system looks nice enough but how much cooler and ‘retro’ would two separate pipes each side of the bike look and sound? They would surely make a more interesting official aftermarket part than the carbon fibre tank pad or coloured fork adjuster bolts and dash cover.

The 2013 Honda CB1100 is priced at £8,950, with fuel consumption claimed at 51.4mpg. It’s due in dealerships from late February to early March.