When myself, Dutch and Gareth clapped eyes on Honda’s CB1100RS at EICMA a couple of years ago all three of us were genuinely excited, and frustrated at the same time. It looked like a burly yet refined CB750. How could it possibly take a manufacturer so long to jump on the retro bandwagon? Well, we now understand a little more about the rigours of homologation and testing so I can cut Honda a little slack, but not too much. There could have been some wonderful custom builds using this simple twin-shocked, air-cooled four-banger as a base.
So what is the CB1100 actually like? Club Moto London have both models, the more tricked-out RS and the basic, classically styled EX version on their fleet, so I borrowed one for the evening to find out. Perks of the job eh!
I prefer the look of the RS, not just because of the better suspension, radially mounted brakes and black paint but because it’s not too laden with reminiscent chrome bits. Indicators for instance are modern and the headlight is LED powered but if you removed the number plate most passers by would still struggle to date it. The EX shares the same 1140cc inline four but it suspended on less beefy and lower tech components. Full specs of both models can be found here.
This isn’t supposed to be a full review as if I’d been galavanting somewhere warm on a press launch, more of a nudge to go and try one for yourself. Either with CML or at your local Honda dealer. As you can see I’ve literally pulled over in a field and whipped out my phone to snap some photos.
As you’d expect from a Honda everything feels proper on the CB, the fit and finish is exemplary. It needs to be, there might not be 176 rider modes and a TFT dash but the sticker price is still rather punchy considering “it’s a brand new 20 year old bike” as CML’s founder Nigel put it. Despite the nostalgic styling the overall feel is definitely premium and well thought out. This sounds stupid but the side stand is one of my favourite parts of the bike. It’s exactly where your heel naturally reaches and it clunks into position with an incredibly short throw and satisfying thud of good engineering.
The engine is big to look at but isn’t bursting with power, just 80 ponies are corralled inside thanks to EU regs limiting the fun. But that does mean dollops of lovely torque and smooth, perfectly fuelled delivery. A few vibes are noticeable around 3500 rpm but to be honest that adds character, a critical component that Honda could have engineered-out but thankfully chose not to. The throttle operates actual cables, two of them, and feels reassuringly stiff compared to today’s ride-by-wire gadgetry. A reminder that this is a bike aimed at those who remember the good old days, but appreciate some the benefits of the right here and now.
Through town the quarter ton heft is noticeable but at no point does the CB feel awkward or clumsy. The clutch is light and at low revs the engine mildly mannered, very useful for scything through rush hour. My ride home is an ideal test route. 10 minutes of traffic, 10 minutes of weaving around the North Circular, five minutes of the M11 and five minutes of country lanes – my takeaway from this limited time? Supreme comfort and ergonomics, I loved how the tank splayed my knees just the right amount and the sidepanels and subframe seemed perfectly moulded to my inside leg. It reminded me of horse riding – a Shire. The CB was a pleasure in all scenarios but I did feel it needed a proper seeing-to so I headed further afield and opened the taps properly.
I’m not much of a four cylinder guy so allowing the CB to rev hard feels unsympathetic but the rewards are there. Despite it’s mass, heavy inputs are not required and the brakes are surprisingly capable. I’d imagine the EX version wouldn’t hold up quite so well in direct comparison but that would be missing the whole point of the CB1100, in either trim. This is a bike that will start every single morning, stick two fingers up at Sadiq’s preposterous ULEZ, will never breakdown yet has the lineage and style that so many of us wistfully lust after.