This story was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Rider Magazine.
This was a minor marvel of motorcycling when the original version was unveiled in 1978 as a 1979 model, more than 40 years ago. Six cylinders, six carburetors, 24 valves, two overhead camshafts and more than 100 crankshaft horsepower—the CBX Super Sport was going to dominate the sport bike scene. Unfortunately, it did not. For the first two years it was stripped down, then transformed into a sport tourer for its last two. The focus of this little write-up is on its touring pretensions.
Begin at the beginning, which was in October of 1977, when Honda discreetly snuck some test bikes into California and had a few American journalists come and try them out. Honda had introduced the original UJM back in the fall of 1968, the 1969 CB750, with four cylinders, eight valves, overhead camshaft and 67 horsepower, weighing some 500 pounds. Now it had something entirely new insofar as the engine was concerned, far more powerful and far heavier—600 pounds. And the competition was ferocious from the other three Japanese competitors, with the Kawasaki KZ1000, Suzuki GS1000 and Yamaha XS1100. These were all four-cylinder bikes, and Honda presumed the addition of two cylinders would bring in the buyers. The company had also experimented with a 1,000cc four-banger, which put out only five horses less than the six, but decided to go with the six.
The first CBX Super Sport models did not appear on the showroom floors until mid-1978, and small changes were made over the next two years, both in engine tuning and chassis. A lean spot in the carburetion was cured, bigger oil cooler, air-adjustable front fork, better shock absorbers, etc.
Then Germany announced that only motorcycles with less than 100 crankshaft horsepower could be imported, which notion might spread to
the entire European Union. More mods were made, and for 1980 the CBX’s crankshaft herd was reduced to 98 ponies, pretty much putting the bike on a power par with the other bikes. The 1980 CBX cost $4,200, Kawasaki’s Z1R, $3,700, Suzuki’s GS1100E, $3,700, and Yamaha’s XS1100G, $3,700. That 500 bucks would buy a lot of gas. Sales were weak. And a recession was on the horizon.
What did Honda do? It decided to revamp the CBX into a sport-touring machine. Curious that Honda never redesignated the bike, to focus on the touring aspect rather than the Super Sport—which was still writ large on the fairing. Engine changes were minimal; essentially two new camshafts to alter the power curve, giving a little more mid-range, less top end. And the profiles were redesigned in order to reduce tappet noise, no small matter when the noise is inside the fairing.
The fairing was originally a half fairing, with good aerodynamics except for some buffeting of a tall rider’s head. The leg protectors had been added on—rather crudely and still leaving the rider’s legs open to a lot of wind; since the bike could easily hit two miles a minute, that was a real possibility. Rather small removable panniers were affixed to each side, limited to 20 pounds each. Honda was worried about handling at high speed and kept the width of the bike at the luggage quite narrow.
Which meant the two shocks on the old CBX were gone and a new Pro-Link single shock arrangement had been installed. Granted, the linkage was particular to the CBX, and not like the motocross version, but it was a rising-rate suspension system. The shock was set up to work with air pressure, but there was also a coil spring—just in case the shock sprang a leak. A three-position knob could adjust rebound settings.
The front end was also drastically changed, with the fork tubes enlarged from 35mm to 39mm—which meant enlarging the steering head. The air-adjustable fork came with a little pump, and a crossover balance tube made adjustments even easier. It also increased the rake from 27.5 to 29.5 degrees, but kept the trail at 4.7 inches, enhancing straight-line stability. And wheel width, both front and back, was slightly increased to allow for larger tires.
The frame was a three-tube backbone truss, with the engine being a stressed member. The six cylinders were fed through six 28mm Keihin CV carburetors and fuel economy was usually less than 40 mpg, and could go under 30 on a rambunctious ride. Fortunately, the gas tank held 5.8 gallons, with a vacuum-operated petcock having a reserve position for the last 0.8-gallon. Exhaust was a six-into-two arrangement, with a crossover pipe in front of the rear wheel equalizing pressure.
Of major note were the new front brakes, which were almost an inch larger in diameter than the previous model’s, and were radially vented—which means that each stainless alloy disc was really two discs with lots of ventilation in between. The very competent calipers used two pistons to push the long, narrow pads against the rotor. The rear brake was the standard single disc, and also benefited from the twin-piston caliper.
But since this was now a sport-touring machine, at a pricey $5,600, what was Honda selling as a pure sportbike? For 1981 and 1982 the company brought in the excellent CB900F, originally aimed at the European market, powered by an air-cooled, in-line DOHC 16-valve 901cc four with some 90 horses, costing $3,350. After a mere two years the CB900F became the bored-out 1,062cc CB1100F—at a competitive price of $3,700. With more than 95 rear wheel ponies and well more than 100 at the crank, Honda was not looking at the German market with this model, just out-horsing the competition.
And the CBX? Vanished. And leftovers were quickly discounted.
Retrospective: 1981-1982 Honda CBX 1000 Super Sport Gallery:
Remember UJMs? If you were a motorcyclist in the ’70s, or have a soft spot for bikes from that era, then you remember them well. Honda kicked it off in 1969 with its groundbreaking CB750, the first mass-produced motorcycle with a transverse in-line four-cylinder engine and an overhead camshaft. It was an air-cooled four-stroke with a five-speed transmission, a front disc brake, an electric starter and an upright seating position.
Honda created the formula and other Japanese manufacturers followed it. Kawasaki launched the mighty 903cc Z1 for 1973, Suzuki introduced the GS750 for 1976 and, late to the party but the biggest reveler in the room, Yamaha brought out the XS1100 for 1978. Similarities among these and other Japanese models of varying displacements led “Cycle” magazine, in its November 1976 test of the Kawasaki KZ650, to coin what became a widely used term: “In the hard world of commerce, achievers get imitated and the imitators get imitated. There is developing, after all, a kind of Universal Japanese Motorcycle…conceived in sameness, executed with precision, and produced by the thousands.”
Those UJMs, and the standards of performance and reliability they established, revolutionized the world of motorcycling. Decades later, descendants of those progenitors carry their DNA into the modern era. To see how well the formula holds up in the 21st century, we gathered examples from Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki for a neo-retro comparo. (As much as we would have loved to include Yamaha for a proper battle of the Big Four, its contemporary XSR900 is powered by an in-line triple that colors too far outside the lines of the UJM formula.)
Honda’s CB1000R, like its granddaddy, has a transverse in-line four, but it’s a more highly evolved one featuring liquid cooling and dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder — a configuration shared by all three bikes in this comparison. Derived from the pre-2008 CBR1000RR sportbike, the CB’s 998cc engine has been tuned for low- to midrange power and its 6-speed transmission has an assist-and-slipper clutch. Like the others, the CB1000R’s standard equipment includes ABS and traction control, but it’s the only one here with throttle-by-wire and riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain and customizable User), which adjust throttle response, engine braking and traction control.
A round headlight and an exposed engine are about the only styling traits shared by the “Neo-Sports Café” CB1000R and the CB750. Kawasaki’s Z900RS, on the other hand, is a spitting image of its forebear. Round mirrors on long stalks, bullet-shaped analog gauges, a teardrop tank, a bench seat, a sculpted tail and gorgeous Candytone Green paint with yellow stripes are all inspired by the original Z1. Even the flat spokes of its cast wheels are designed to look like spoked wheels of yore. Derived from the Z900 streetfighter, the Kawasaki’s 948cc DOHC in-line four has revised cam profiles, lower compression, a heavier flywheel, a second gear-driven balancer and narrower exhaust headers for a mellower feel, and its stainless steel 4-into-1 exhaust has been tuned to deliver an old-school four-banger growl.
Jenny’s Gear Helmet: Shoei RF-1200 Jacket: AGV Sport Helen Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego Boots: Sidi Gavia Gore-Tex Tail Bag: Nelson-Rigg
Suzuki’s entry in this contest is the new-for-2020 Katana, a modern interpretation of the iconic 1981 GSX1100S Katana, which revolutionized motorcycle design by treating the bike as a whole rather than a collection of parts. Originally conceived by Hans Muth and reimagined by Rodolfo Frascoli, the Katana has a small fairing and windscreen, and, like the CB1000R, a stubby tail section. Based on the GSX-S1000 naked sportbike, the Katana is powered by a 999cc DOHC in-line four derived from the 2005-2008 GSX-R1000, tuned for street duty with milder cam profiles and valve timing, steel rather than titanium valves, lighter pistons, a stainless steel exhaust and a 6-speed transmission with an assist-and-slipper clutch.
Three bikes, three editors, two days. Before hitting the road, we strapped on soft luggage. None have centerstands, and only the Kawasaki has a steel gas tank that accommodates a magnetic tank bag, which carried our tools, flat repair kit and air pump. Its long, wide bench seat also has room for a good-sized tail bag. With their short tails and small pillions, the Honda and Suzuki only have space for small tail bags. Because the Suzuki’s bodywork is more stylish than functional, the Honda and Kawasaki are completely nude and none have hand guards or heated grips, we were exposed to the elements. We bundled up in layers for our mid-January test and pointed our wheels north, taking freeways and back roads up California’s Central Coast.
With their refined, Swiss watch-like in-line fours, these modern-day UJMs are impeccably smooth. Snicking their transmissions into sixth gear and cruising at a steady speed is a sublime experience, with minimal vibration or unwanted perturbations. None have cruise control, but with fuel capacities ranging from 3.2 gallons on the Suzuki to 4.5 gallons on the Kawasaki and as-tested fuel ranges between 130 and 173 miles, the need for gas will likely precede the need for wrist relief. Upright seating positions and windblast on the chest keep weight off the wrists on all three, but there are notable differences in legroom. The Honda and Suzuki have the tallest seat heights (32.7 and 32.5 inches, respectively) as well as the highest footpegs, putting much more bend in the knees — especially on the Honda — than the comparatively spacious Kawasaki. Even though the Kawi has the lowest seat height (31.5 inches) and lowest pegs, on none of these bikes did we find ourselves dragging pegs in tight corners.
It’s in those tight corners that these bikes further distinguish themselves. With only 10 pounds separating their curb weights and modest differences in chassis geometry, their engine performance, brakes and suspension are what set these bikes apart. In terms of outright horsepower and torque, the Honda and Suzuki, both of which have sportbike-derived engines, come out on top. The Suzuki is the strongest, churning out 142.1 rear-wheel horsepower at 10,300 rpm and 75.9 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 rpm on Jett Tuning’s dyno, though its advantage over the others is mostly above 8,500 rpm. The Honda peaks at 125.5 horsepower at 9,800 rpm and 70.6 lb-ft at 8,300 rpm, but it’s much weaker than the Suzuki and Kawasaki below 7,500 rpm, a deficiency that’s obvious on corner exits and roll-on passes. Although the Kawasaki generates only 100.1 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 67.5 lb-ft at 8,500 rpm, in the midrange it gives the Suzuki a run for its money and leaves the Honda in the dust.
With their more compact cockpits and high-revving power, the Honda and Suzuki lean more toward the sport end of the sport standard spectrum. Their smoothness makes them sneaky fast, and their stock suspension settings are firmer than the Kawasaki’s. All of these bikes have fully adjustable upside-down forks and preload- and rebound-adjustable single rear shocks (KYB on the Kawasaki and Suzuki, Showa on the Honda), but the Honda’s suspension, especially its Separate Function-Big Piston fork, is the most compliant. Sportbike-caliber front brakes, with pairs of radial-mount monoblock 4-piston opposed calipers clamping large discs, deliver serious stopping power across the board, but the Honda has a slight edge in feel. Adding to a sense of confidence on the Honda are its Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21 radials, which have noticeably more grip (but likely less mileage in the long run) than the Dunlop radials on the Kawasaki and Suzuki.
Despite being down on peak power and more softly sprung, the Kawasaki is by no means a boat anchor or a couch on wheels. It’s plenty fast, but its mission is clearly different than that of the Honda and Suzuki. The Z900RS stokes the flames of nostalgia while providing a more spacious, relaxed and comfortable riding experience, with every potentially rough edge sanded smooth. The Katana, on the other hand, is essentially a GSX-S1000 with plastic bodywork and a more upright riding position. In isolation there’s little to complain about when riding the Suzuki, but compared to the Honda and Kawasaki, it feels less refined, with more driveline lash and less precision during gear changes.
UJMs were the first motorcycles to be called “superbikes,” a name that came to be more appropriately applied to the racer replicas that proliferated in the late ’80s. These modern-day UJMs fall into the more mundane-sounding “sport standard” category, but there’s nothing mundane about 100-plus rear-wheel horsepower, high-spec brakes and suspension, standard ABS and TC, and a level of capability that’s truly impressive. For sheer power and sporting prowess, the Suzuki gets top marks, but its small 3.2-gallon gas tank and high price ($13,499) make it a tough sell. Priced a bit lower at $12,999, the ultra-smooth Honda has a strong top end as well as throttle-by-wire, riding modes and the best suspension and tires, but its weak midrange and high footpegs limit its overall appeal. A relative bargain at $11,199, the Kawasaki won us over with its throwback styling, spacious and comfortable seating, strong midrange, seductive sound and decent fuel range. If you do what we did — strap on some luggage and explore some of your favorite roads for a couple of days — you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Isn’t that why we ride?
This darn coronavirus is just mucking everything up. Virtual unveilings and press releases just don’t have quite the same impact as dramatically pulling a sleek black sheet off a new model, bright lights and flashbulbs popping off the paint, at an international auto or motorcycle show. Honda had originally planned to unveil its CB-F Concept, a CB1000R-based homage to “Fast” Freddie Spencer’s ’80s superbike, at the 36th Osaka Motorcycle Show and 47th Tokyo Motorcycle Show, both of which have been canceled.
Don’t fret, Honda, we still think this is a gorgeous machine, and we hope it becomes more than just a concept bike. Continuing the CB’s 60th anniversary theme, the CB-F Concept hearkens back to the classic air-cooled inline four CB900F and CB750F (famously raced by Freddie Spencer), complete with a cool white, silver and blue livery that should look familiar to anyone who remembers Freddie’s Daytona race bike.
Of course, this isn’t an old-fashioned tubular steel-framed, carbureted, air-cooled machine; it’s based around the potent CB1000R, with its 998cc DOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder inline-four, high-tensile steel mono-backbone frame, single-sided aluminum swingarm and inverted fork.
What do you think? Should Honda turn this CB-F Concept into a production bike? Let us know in the comments below.
This is not an April Fools joke…. American Honda has announced that the ADV150 “adventure scooter” will be coming to the U.S. market as early as June 2020, as a 2021 model year machine. The unique scooter has a rugged look, with Showa suspension, aggressive tires, an adjustable windscreen, under-seat storage and a Smart-Key system with built-in theft deterrents. U.S. retail pricing is $4,299.
To quote Chris Cox, American Honda’s Manager of Experiential Marketing/Public Relations, “What do you get when you combine an Africa Twin and a PCX150? We weren’t sure, but we knew it sounded like fun!”
We agree, Chris. We could use a little fun right now, and we can’t wait to get a ride on one.
Three riders walk into a dealership…. (I know it sounds like the start of a bad joke but bear with me.) All three are in the market for a new middleweight motorcycle, and each has a unique style and riding experience in mind. They’re in luck — thanks to a challenging economy, increasing growth in female ridership and a need to attract younger riders, manufacturers are doubling down on the small- and midsize-displacement market, meaning there’s a middleweight machine out there for just about anyone. We gathered three of the newest for an unorthodox Comparo Review; rather than pitting them against each other in a head-to-head battle, we thought instead we’d focus on each one’s unique personality. So here we are, the door just swung closed behind us, and our first rider already seems to know exactly what he wants.
We find him standing next to the Honda CB650R, where he’s admiring the waterfall of header pipes cascading from its 649cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC in-line four. The replacement for the stale CB650F, this fresh CB650R rounds out Honda’s Neo-Sports Café lineup, slotting in between the CB300R and CB1000R released for the 2018 model year.
Honda gave the middleweight CB more than just a facelift, with new wheels, an updated steel frame and a new, smaller fuel tank that combine to drop a claimed 9.2 pounds (11.6 pounds on the ABS version), a new inverted 41mm Showa fork with adjustable preload, a slightly more aggressive riding position and a redesigned airbox. The engine got a few tweaks as well, with new pistons and valve timing and a redline that’s been bumped up 1,000 rpm to 13,000. Also new this year is optional HSTC (traction control), which is only available on the ABS-equipped model and can be switched on and off on the fly.
The result is a seriously sporty machine that will pluck at the heartstrings of any rider yearning for the howl of a rev-happy in-line four in an affordable, fun-to-go-fast package. This is a bike that’s happiest when wound up, with the real action not kicking in until about 6,000 rpm. Per the Jett Tuning dyno, the CB650R spins out a respectable 83 horsepower at 11,000 rpm, with torque topping out at 43 lb-ft at 8,200. “Go fast or go home,” says our rider as he swings a leg over the nearly 32-inch seat.
Footpegs are just a tad higher and farther back than before and the wide, flat handlebar is lower and more forward, but the riding position is still relatively comfortable, especially when compared to the drop-down sport position of our other two comparo bikes. With suspension front and rear being preload-adjustable, it’s easier to find a happy medium for sporting canyon runs and bombing around town, and powerful radial-mount, 4-piston front brakes pinching big 320mm discs provide more than enough stopping power. As someone unaccustomed to an in-line four with less engine braking than a twin, I was happy for the peace of mind those brakes offered when winding things up on a twisty road. While the CB could be a good first bike (Honda says 25% of its 650cc bikes are bought by first-timers), it’s got enough juice to keep an experienced rider happily entertained.
“And,” smiles our first rider as we wander away, “it’s the right color: red.”
It might be fair to say that rider number two is the polar opposite; he’s drawn to the Kawasaki W800 Cafe, a new model (in the U.S. and Canada) for 2019 that evokes the look and spirit of the original 1966 W1. For him, sheer performance numbers aren’t a priority, but rather classic good looks and a timeless sense of style — although a few modern conveniences like a bright LED headlight, ABS and fuel injection don’t hurt.
With the possible exception of the paint, which is a polarizing metal-flake-brown and silver combo (I happen to like it), the W800 checks all the retro-loving riders’ boxes in the appearance department. Central to that is the 773cc air-cooled, SOHC vertical twin, with its distinctive bevel gear shaft-driven cam and 360-degree firing interval. Despite its balance shaft the engine vibrates significantly at idle and throughout most of the powerband, but the wide-ratio 5-speed gearbox shifts smoothly (thanks in part to the assist-and-slipper clutch) and the chrome peashooter mufflers burble modestly. “It’s got character,” shrugs our rider.
That character extends outward from the engine, with the old school double-cradle frame that was designed using Kawasaki’s advanced dynamic analysis software for new school handling, 18-inch spoked wheels rolling on tube-type Dunlop K300 GP rubber, dual rear preload-adjustable shocks, a 41mm gaitered fork and a classic clubman drop-down handlebar. The 31-inch two-tone seat is comfortable enough for about an hour at a time, and the riding position is sporty yet civilized.
Mid-mount footpegs will drag early, the vertical twin generates a middling 46.7 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 44 lb-ft torque at 4,600, and the two brake discs, one front and one rear, both with 2-piston calipers and standard ABS, aren’t up to true sport riding levels, but that’s not what the W800 is all about. Cruising city streets and weekend jaunts into the countryside are what it was made to do, and you’re almost guaranteed to draw some admiring eyeballs when you get to your destination.
Now where did our third rider go? Ah, she discovered the Suzuki SV650X, which mixes the best of both worlds — sporty and retro — and also happens to be a time-tested, proven platform that’s been pasting smiles on faces since 1999, the year the original SV650 launched. In the intervening 20 years there have been S models with clip-ons and half fairings, but in my opinion this new-for-2019 café-racer X variation is the most true to the SV650’s spirit.
The bones haven’t changed: it’s still powered by the same 645cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree V-twin that pulls strongly from idle to its peak of 69.3 horsepower at 8,700 rpm and 43.3 lb-ft of torque at 8,100, wrapped in a familiar steel trellis frame. Dual 290mm discs with 2-piston calipers up front and a single 240mm/1-piston combo at the rear work well, and ABS is standard. It’s shod with the best tires of the trio, grippy Dunlop Roadsmart IIIs.
The SV650X also continues to be one of the most user-friendly middleweights out there; nearly everything about it is approachable, from its one-touch Easy Start feature and Low RPM Assist that automatically raises engine speed when releasing the clutch, to its 31-inch seat, narrow waist, predictable powerband and no-frills, easy to read, comprehensive LCD gauge.
It’s responsive and stable, cool as a cucumber, never demanding too much of its rider even when the road gets twisty, and with some suspension work it could be a great track day warrior. Best of all, it doesn’t need to be wrung out in order to have fun, and is equally happy munching through traffic or carving up canyons — though not for hours on end. The fairly long reach to the clip-ons requires a strong core, lest too much weight is placed on the hands, and the low seat and tallish footpegs create an aching need to stretch out cramped-up knees. That said, if you’re young enough, fit enough and/or willing to rest often enough, the SV650X is a cool ride that looks, feels and sounds great.
So which one am I? The Kawasaki looks the part, but its annoying vibration, squishy suspension, uninspiring power and high price tag are turnoffs. The quick, flickable Honda is a hoot to ride, but my personal preference is for low-end grunt over a high-strung in-line four. I don’t have a long commute and we have plenty of more appropriate touring bikes in the Rider garage, so for cruising around town and half-day blasts up the local canyons, the cool-as-a-cucumber Suzuki best matched my personality. Wait…does that make me the “cool kid”?
The motorcycling world looked upon this machine in absolute amazement — a cruiser putting out more than 100 horsepower. Unheard of! Sure, sportbikes like Honda’s CB1100R were knocking out that many ponies, but those were for riders who liked leaning into corners at insane speeds. But a cruiser with feet-forward pegs and wide handlebars — and a shaft drive no less? This was nutso!
If this bike could be put in a category, it would be Power Cruiser. Harleys were the standard cruisers of the day, and they were lucky to get 55 horses to the rear wheel, using a pushrod V-twin that had been around for the better part of half a century. Whereas this bruiser was a V-4 with two overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. And liquid cooling to boot, so no worries about overheating when cruising down Main Street on a crowded Saturday evening. Except for that mildly unaesthetic radiator up front.
What was Honda thinking? The company had a whole bunch of bikes in the showrooms that year, 40 different models covering all the bases, from shopping-friendly Passports to huge Gold Wing touring platforms. Even a V-twin cruiser, the 750 Shadow. And a second V-4, the 750 V45 Magna, introduced the year before.
This all began with Soichiro Honda’s wanting to again be celebrated for putting an entirely new machine on the market. The world remembers (although this may be news to some of the younger generation) when he introduced the overhead camshaft, in-line four back in 1969, beginning the evolution of the UJM — Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Now the V-4 would do it again…he hoped.
But the backroom boys wanted to create a jaw-dropper, knock the American public back on its heels, as they used to say. The 750cc V45 was just a starting point for creating a machine the likes of which the motorcycle crowd had never seen. The V65’s majorly oversquare engine, with a 79.5mm bore and 55.3mm stroke, would cheerfully rev to 10 grand, with maximum rear-wheel power of 105 horses coming on at 9,500, redline at 10,000. A lot could go wrong with 16 valves popping up and down 10,000 times a minute, but Honda’s engineers made sure nothing untoward would happen.
These horses came from using some appropriate fiddling inside the head, with the four valves having a rather narrow 38-degree included angle. This and the shape of the combustion chamber effectively put the fuel as close to the spark plug as possible, compressed 10.5 times. Bang, bang, bang, bang — and the crankshaft spins.
Four constant-vacuum 36mm carbs, by Keihin, were accessible by lifting the gas tank. These had an easily changeable paper air cleaner. Fuel consumption was less than 40 mpg, but range was no problem as most riders wanted to get off after an hour or so. And at the time the U.S. was blessed (cursed?) with the 55-mph speed limit, so highway riders on the V65 had an excuse for not going very fast. With the V65 ergonomics city traffic was preferable to the interstates.
Power ran via straight-cut gears back to a hydraulically operated clutch. This had a diaphragm spring as an essential part of the device, which the engineers knew would be much abused, with the single diaphragm offering more consistent control than a multi-spring unit.
The gearbox had five speeds plus an overdrive sixth. If the bike could have pulled 10 grand in sixth gear, its top speed would be better than 170 mph. A more practical (!!) top speed was 140 in fifth. If the rider could hang on!
A full-cradle frame, with double downtubes, held this unit-construction herd semi-firmly in place, as rubber mounts were used to keep any vibrations hidden away. Which were few as the 90 degrees between the two pairs of cylinders presumed good balance, enhanced by that short 55mm stroke. A shaft final drive went out the left side, so those Levi’s would be nice and clean on cruise night, not having to put up with an oily chain. An air-adjustable 41mm fork suspended the front end, with an anti-dive unit. Rake was a pretty lazy 30.5 degrees with more than four inches of trail, and while this was OK in town, it was best not to get too optimistic out on the twisties. At the back a pair of shock absorbers had all the adjustments: spring preload, rebound and compression damping. The fork had almost six inches of travel, the swingarm a little more than four inches. Axle to axle measurement was just shy of 63 inches.
Cast wheels were 18 inches at the front and 16 at the back, with two discs at the front and a single at the back, all three squeezed by twin-piston calipers.
This power cruiser was designed by the Los Angeles boys for the American market, because the rest of the motorcycling world was not much interested in cruiser styling, preferring standard or sport. Honda hoped that the numbers would blow the Harley riders into the weeds.
Which they did. Quarter-mile times? Don’t even think about them. The 1,338cc Harley was in the 14-second category, and couldn’t break 100 mph. While the 1,098cc V65? In the 10s!! At 125 mph! More numbers? At $4,000 this V65 was at least three grand less expensive than a Harley.
What Honda had failed to realize was that in the cruising world of the 1980s, style was far more important than performance. Power cruisers would be a passing fancy, whereas Honda’s Fury model of today is a V-twin.
One final note: apparently somebody in the 1980s was selling a supercharger kit for the V65 Magna. Boggles the mind!
When Honda introduced a pair of radically new Gold Wings for 2018, its strategy was quite clear. After 17 model years, everyone who wanted a luxotourer like the previous GL1800 model already had one, and at 900-plus pounds, it was hardly a good starting point for adding modern features like an electric windscreen, computer-controlled adjustable suspension or an automatic dual-clutch transmission (DCT). No, to get the attention of riders across the board (not just younger ones), the new Wing had to start from a lighter, more compact place with a clean sheet of paper, and then add the latest electronic and digital features that contemporary riders expect. The result is a pair of bikes so evolved from their predecessor that some marketing types at Honda didn’t even want to call them Gold Wings.
Job one was to put the bike on a serious diet with a new lighter aluminum frame and single-sided swingarm, shrink-wrapped, flat opposed 6-cylinder engine and sculpted, more aerodynamic bodywork, seats and luggage, all of which and more shaved off about 79 pounds and four inches of overall length from the Navi/ABS top-trunk equipped model. Now called the Gold Wing Tour, it weighs just 831 pounds wet with a manual transmission, and the new standard Gold Wing sans top trunk is even lighter at a claimed 787 pounds, or 808 pounds for the automatic DCT version tested here. Rider was among the first to ride the new Wings, from camouflaged pre-production units at Honda’s Twin Ring Motegi racetrack in Japan to a full two-up test and big-mile shootout with a BMW K 1600 GTL in the U.S. You can find our numerous ride reports and scads of technical details on the bikes in Rider’s 2018 issues and in our First U.S. Ride Review here.
AWOL in all of that coverage is a test of the new lighter, less expensive standard Gold Wing, in some ways the successor to Honda’s first flat-six Gold Wing bagger, the 2013 F6B. Like the new standard, the F6B had a shorty windscreen and a smooth cowl between the saddlebags instead of a top trunk, and styling changes like a gunfighter seat gave it some bagger influence. In retrospect Honda went a bit too far by stripping the F6B of cruise control, ABS, reverse, windscreen adjusters and more, which brought the weight and price down significantly but turned off touring riders who otherwise liked the idea of lighter Gold Wing. Cruise control was added two years later, but then it was only a short time before the new 2018 Wings sent the F6B packing.
In addition to offering more performance overall, the new standard rectifies every F6B slipup and then some by retaining the Tour model’s cruise control, powerful linked brakes with C-ABS, electric windscreen, four riding modes (Sport, Tour, Eco and Rain), complete infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, GPS navigation, heated grips and more. Yet our 2019 Gold Wing test bike — even with its optional automatic DCT gearbox — is still a few pounds lighter than the F6B. At 30 liters each versus the F6B’s 22, the standard’s saddlebags are slightly larger, too, though they are inefficient side loaders and the interiors are quite small and convoluted — plan on getting the optional rear carrier or even the Tour’s 50-liter top trunk (it can be retrofitted) for two-up tours.
Besides the shorter electric windscreen and absent top trunk on the standard, some important differences between it and the Tour jump out on the first ride, most notably in the suspension. Although the standard has remotely adjustable rear spring preload, neither the spring strut in the dual-wishbone front end nor the rear shock offer adjustable damping, and both the spring and damping rates are quite stiff. While this helps the lighter, more responsive bike hustle down a twisty, bumpy road like a sport tourer, it beats up the rider around town and commuting in a very un-Gold-Wing-like way, enough to make me seriously miss the front/rear Electric Damping Adjust keyed to the riding modes on the Tour. Changing riding modes still affects throttle response, ABS and the shift points of the DCT (if equipped), but there’s no softening or stiffening of the suspension when going from Sport to Tour/Eco/Rain mode or vice versa. Moreover, the location of the remote knob makes it very difficult to change the preload setting.
DCT is a handy feature at times since there’s no clutch lever or foot shifter to deal with (although you can have the latter if desired), and the latest version in the Wings upshifts automatically or manually quite smoothly and has seven speeds. I can’t say I’m a big fan though, because I frequently use a manual clutch lever during low-speed maneuvers (particularly when riding two-up) to feather the power delivery and match revs when downshifting. Regardless of riding mode, with DCT the power “tip-in” starting out from a stop is too abrupt, especially when you have to turn tightly as well, and downshifting automatically the DCT doesn’t fully match revs — it feels a bit like a novice rider just learning how to change down. It would seem an easy choice to save the $1,200 and get the base bike with 6-speed manual transmission, but then you also lose the DCT’s reverse and forward “Walking” modes, which are game changers on a bike that weighs around 800 pounds. Both are activated with the up/down DCT thumb shifters on the left handlebar and help greatly with parking maneuvers.
Several nice-to-have features found on the Tour are optional on the standard, like a centerstand, rear speakers, top box and taller windscreen. Other Tour goodies aren’t available for it, like Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC, or traction control), and Honda’s factory heated seats. A CB radio is not on the standard’s accessory list either (partly because the antenna installs in the Tour’s top trunk). With Eco and Rain modes available to soften the power delivery, however, I can’t say I missed HSTC, and the aftermarket can provide that other stuff.
Riding the standard Gold Wing feels a lot like taking off a heavy backpack after a hike. With 44 pounds less weight than a Tour to schlep around (and more than 100 pounds less than a 2017 Navi/ABS model!), the standard Wing accelerates more briskly with a deep growl from its smoother, broader powerband, and there’s no tail trunk wagging the dog in corners, so it handles more fluidly as well. I still find the new front end heavy and vague at low speeds, particularly on loose surfaces, but the bike’s stability on the highway and in corners fast and slow is unparalleled. Braking is linear and impressively forceful, the engine is silky smooth at all times and seating comfort and wind protection are excellent, even with the shorter windscreen. It’s easiest to hear the infotainment system with the screen in the highest position, and easier still with a Bluetooth wireless headset, which is required to enable Apple CarPlay along with an iPhone.
Although the Wing’s basic phone, GPS and music setup is comprehensive, easy to use and compatible with Android or Apple phones, the large TFT display is not a touchscreen, and much of the system is frustratingly locked-out when the bike is in motion. If you have an iPhone, Apple CarPlay fixes all of that by bringing a headset(s) and Siri voice commands to bear, and though the handlebar controls have a bit of a learning curve, once you figure them out there’s very little you can’t do with the phone, GPS or audio, even in motion. CarPlay also seems to have better fidelity than the base system, too.
Honda didn’t call the new standard Gold Wing the “Sport” because it might alienate the bagger crowd, but that’s the nickname it has earned around here. If you regularly ride two-up, think twice, as the hard-to-adjust stiff suspension and lack of luggage capacity are issues. But a solo rider who likes the sheer presence of the Wing and the standard’s sleek looks can rack up the miles and have a lot of fun on this bike.
2019 Honda Gold Wing DCT Specs
Base Price: $23,800 Price As Tested: $25,000 (DCT model) Warranty: 3 yrs., unltd. miles, transferable Website:powersports.honda.com
Type: Liquid-cooled, longitudinal opposed flat six Displacement: 1,833cc Bore x Stroke: 73.0 x 73.0mm Compression Ratio: 10.5:1 Valve Train: SOHC, 4 valves per cyl. Valve Adj. Interval: 24,000 miles Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ 50mm throttle body Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.9-qt. cap. Transmission: 7-speed automatic/manual DCT w/ Walking mode & reverse (as tested) Final Drive: Shaft, 1.795:1
The subtle HRC logo and the SP appended to the end of its name are clues to this all-new Fireblade’s mission: to bring a true MotoGP influence to the masses and dominate the track. Will it make you as fast as Mark Marquez? Maybe not, but it sure looks like fun.
Introduced as a 2021 model year bike (examples of this limited-production machine will start to hit dealerships in June 2020), the CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP is Honda’s way of throwing down the gauntlet at the feet of those who have complained in recent years that its CBR1000RR has gotten too “soft.” Too…dare we say?…comfortable.
The CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP is completely new, not just a revised CBR1000RR (which will return in Honda’s U.S. street lineup for 2020). It features an all-new 1000cc inline-four with the same bore and stroke as the RCV213V MotoGP race bike.
Honda says the engine is more compact and more powerful than the standard RR’s, with improved cooling and reduced friction. Its new valve train features finger-follower rocker arms, DLC coating on the camshafts and a semi-cam gear train for durability under high revs, and the intake efficiency has been improved with an all-new 52mm throttle body. The addition of a keyless ignition also allowed Honda to create a more direct path to the airbox from the gaping intake in the nose of the fairing, further improving airflow.
The SP has different geometry than the standard RR as well, with a longer wheelbase (57.3 inches vs. 55.3), a longer rake and trail (24 degrees and 4.01 inches vs. 23 degrees and 3.77 inches), an engine placed 33mm farther forward and 16mm higher, and a longer, MotoGP-style swingarm. Its aluminum chassis with tube-type aluminum rear subframe is also all-new.
Suspension is by Ohlins, with an NPX fork up front with 2nd-generation Ohlins Smart EC with OBTi (Object Based Tuning interface) and the ability to set and store multiple modes. Brakes are Brembo (including the master cylinder), with Stylema front calipers, 330mm front discs that are 5mm thicker than before and the same rear caliper as the RCV213V-S.
A comprehensive electronics package powered by a Bosch 6-axis IMU includes five power modes, three engine braking modes, 9-level Honda Selectable Torque Control with a new slip rate control, 3-level wheelie control, switchable ABS with Sport and Track modes and a quickshifter.
Everything about the Fireblade SP was built for the track, and Honda claims it has the lowest coefficient of drag in its class, with MotoGP-inspired winglets for reduced lift and increased braking stability. Its riding position is very aggressive — this ain’t the CBR1000RR you see on weekend canyon runs.
A “base model” CBR1000RR-R Fireblade (without the SP) will be available in Europe but not the U.S. Pricing is TBD, but we’re certain to get more information in the coming months.
Two and a half years after Honda made its totally redesigned Rebel the coolest little cruiser in town, it has announced that the 2020 Rebel lineup, both the 300 and 500, will benefit from some needed updates.
First up is a reshaped and repositioned LED headlight, which on its own totally transforms the Rebel into a darker, more up-to-date cruiser. The four LED bulbs are set in a black housing, with the top two lighting up for low beam and the bottom two coming on as well for the high beam.
A smaller, less boxy taillight and small round turn signals also get the LED treatment, with the signals also getting a cool “halo” effect running light.
Suspension has been updated front and rear, and the already light-pull clutch is now an assist-and-slipper. While looking the new model over at Honda North America’s private museum in Torrance, California, just south of Los Angeles, I was able to pull the clutch lever in easily with just one finger.
The other big news is a new LCD gauge, which now includes both a gear indicator and fuel gauge. Hooray for Honda’s design team listening to rider feedback!
Rounding out the changes for 2020 is a slightly revised seat, with firmer padding and a wider rear end for a more comfortable ride.
There is a wide range of Honda accessories available for the Rebel as well, including diamond quilted seats, saddle bags, fork gaiters and a headlight cowl.
The 2020 Honda Rebel will be available in dealerships in March 2020. The Rebel 500 and 500 ABS will be available in Matte Armored Silver, Graphite Black and Matte Blue Jeans Metallic. The Rebel 300 and 300 ABS will be available in Matte Fresco Brown, Graphite Black Metallic and Matte Blue Jeans Metallic. Pricing is TBD.
Honda has announced the colors and pricing of the 2020 Gold Wing family, which will be available in January. In addition to the new colors, some new features and refinements have been added to the 2020 models:
Fog lights standard on Tour models, for improved visibility in varying conditions
On Tour models, reshaped rear-seat grab handles provide improved ergonomics for passengers of all body types
Saddlebag-mounted USB charger on all models (previously standard only on Airbag model) joins dash-mounted charger for increased charging options
Updated front and rear suspension settings
Revised button on center storage pocket features improved action
Minor software updates on navigation system
Blacked-out engine, frame and wheels now available on Pearl Glare White Tour and Tour DCT
All-new black with anodized surfaces available on Gold Wing and Gold Wing DCT