Honda CB1 CB400F

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Honda CB-1

A Modified Classic In Seattle

"What the heck is that?" asked a local seasoned motorcycle enthusiast when he gazed upon the red Honda. Upon a second look, and running through his rolodex of knowledge about bikes through the decades he started to stutter - "It's a... ahhhhh... C...CB...CB1?."  Bingo.

Probably the trickiest part of figuring it out had to do with the color. Red was never a color that this bike was produced in domestically.

Way back in 1975, Honda produced an air cooled in-line four to fit into its already popular CB series, the CB 400F. Much like the CB 750 and CB 500 series', the CB 400 sported similar styling with one slight change which lay in the steering and handle bar design. The CB 400F had more of a cafe racer look on the front end. But as often happens with some great Hondas, this one had a short lifespan and was gone before the end of the decade. Its original color? Red.

By the mid 80s, someone in Honda's R&D department felt the CB 400F was still a great bike, but could use a little updating to bring it back to market, so back on the drawing board it returned. The modern racing element was heavily weighed into the new machine and by the time it was re-designed it was more than ready for the track.

This time Honda had created an inline 400 four that was water-cooled and had an engine that was over the top in terms of 400 cc machines. And this time it was blue. Cycle World was so impressed they ran a feature on both the '75 and '89 models celebrating the return of the CB 400F (the final model brought to market was officially named the CB-1 in the US, NC27 in some international markets).

Again the bike failed with the market. Was it the blue color? Was it the low displacement in comparison to the overzealous horsepower that was driving the sport bike market? No one can say for sure, but again this bike had a short lifespan, only two years. By the end of 1990, the last models were sold and it became history as far as Honda was concerned.

One such bike was sold here in Seattle to a local rider. After a period of time the bike was crashed and fell into the hands of its second owner who took the bike entirely apart and sent the frame out for a powder coating, goodbye black, a silver coat was applied. The blue rims were sent out and powder coated into gold. And best of all, new body parts were ordered, and together with the original tank, were treated to a bathing in VFR red. Yummy!

And it makes you wonder when you look at the bike in red, just who had the bad idea to create this masterpiece in blue in the first place? It also makes you realize that this bike has the distinctive lines and stylings of another small sport bike to come along later - the Ducati Monster. In fact Honda somewhat resurrected many of the CB-1 stylings in 1994 when it brough a 600 Hawk model to market - in red of course. That bike shared some of the same parts of the CB-1, including the seat. No doubt some corporate bean counter was concerned about left over inventory on a bike that was now out of print.

It was the slight modifications that the second applied to the machine that set it apart from all the others created over its short two year run. Moving it to red gave it a much more attractive and distinctive look. He even refrained from decaling the machine in the original manner, and instead opted for adding a simple Honda wing logo on each side of the tank, and the brand name across the rear fender. 

The bike was then sold to it's third owner.

It's obvious from the 1/16 inch drillings in many of the front end bolts, and some left over wiring that the bike had been used for official racing at some point in its life. The other obvious giveaway the bike was raced was the extent of warpage on the front disc brake.  

Today, the bike has 15,000 miles on it and indeed carries many of the characteristics it's long been known for. Such as... 

Let's start with the obvious fact that the bike redlines at 13,500 rpm.  While most modern day sport bikes red line at 10,000 to 12,000 rpm this little monster just keeps giving with the slightest hesitation..  

A recent dyno test done at Max RPM in Bremerton clocked the bike in with a weenie 48 horsepower. Nothing special for a sport bike today , but how about the fact that the power plant and exhaust are stock and it's only an inline four. Not bad for its time when you think about it.

Next is the rpm range where it's most happy. Well, in our recent runs, that would be between 2,000 and 10,000 revs, depending on who you want to wake up. Yes, it can be putted around town at 2000-3,000 rpm and you won't wake the neighbors, but like the turbo on a CX 500, there's a kick in the power curve that occurs at 7,000 rpm and continues up beyond 10,000.  

More about those revs is that when you're cruising the interstate at 65 mph, you're cranking a mere 7,500 in sixth gear, but if you need to pass a slow vehicle, over time it doesn't take much to realize you could do that simply by down shifting to 5th, or even 4th for that matter, then crank your right hand back.

As you can see from the front end there is no fairing. So just how does that factor in at high speeds? Not as bad as you'd think. The design is such that an average height person simply postures their head ahead of their elbows which reduces the stress elements at the arms leaving things much more manageable from the upper limbs. In this position your chest transfers the wind resistance and management thereof to the lower body which you have firmly placed with a little lean onto the tank area.

Considering that this bike has been through five owners now and performs as well today as it did in 89', it is indeed a bike that just keeps on giving and has satisfied a number of people, from racers to street riders. Keep your eye's peeled for this sweet little thing, no one's going to be locking it up too soon, just too fun to ride.

Patrick Thomas/Summer 00

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