The late 70s and early 80s were a difficult period for the mighty Honda, they had led the two-wheeled world as the 60s died away and then sat out the next ten years or so watching the rest, not only catch up, but pass by, and tear away too. Outside of the endurance-racing world Honda didn’t have a significant presence on track, and needed to make a mark, quickly. They needed technological advancement and race wins as well, all while staying loyal to the four-stroke ethos. There was a few ideas that were making their way from the back burner on to the grid, but even Honda knew the chances of getting a 500cc four stroke to beat the latest GP stroker was a tall order that MV Agusta had given up on half a decade earlier.
Hondas saviour came in the form of street bike racing, road legal machines with few mods, raced by pro riders for big bucks, the Australian Castrol six hours was the start, the Avon production series here in the UK was the basic formula and the result was the MCN Street bike series. Of course while others simply produced stunning road machine the mighty H saw the rule book merely as the starting point, a reason to take things to the maximum, and as such the CB1100R isn’t an affordable road going race machine, it is a hand built, track refined tool built for one reason only, winning.
Honda had a great machine upon which to base their latest effort, the well sorted, and often under rated, CB900F providing much of the basic architecture for the 1100R, meaning it started off life with a bit of a head start.
The CB1100R is a big bike by anybody’s standards. Weighing in around 500lbs, the four-cylinder race bike should take some humping around when anything other than a straight road is encountered. Thankfully the big Honda doesn’t ever let its size become an issue, the slightest of bar nudges has the bike dropping into corners with consummate ease. Changing line mid corner, or any other sort of ham-fisted manoeuvre, yields nothing but compliant, efficient and submissive behaviour. The big four just gets better the harder and faster you go with great feedback from the chassis and engine alike. The ride is as delicate as would be expected from a machine many times smaller with the suspension working well beneath you, keeping the rubber in contact with the tarmac and holding the plot firmly in place. Only full lean and getting the engine casings down, (they are heavily chamfered just in case) will interrupt this process. There is a down side to this near perfect behaviour however; the mighty CB consumes tyres at an alarming rate. Something has to yield to the forces of a large and heavy machine going around corners like it was half the mass, and it is the poor old rubber that pays the price.
This machine is true to its racing intentions, consumables are exactly that, the chain and sprockets, being the interface between the engine and the rear wheel, take quite a hammering too, as do the brake pads. Fuel consumption is another aspect that gets heavier with every mile per hour added to the speedo dial, the contents of the aluminium fuel tank can disappear in no time if the journey is a heated one.
Being the first Honda to get twin piston calipers, you would expect the brakes to have some bite and they don’t disappoint. Even better than the initial grab they take on the steel discs, the sustained way the stoppers do exactly that is impressive, as well as controlled. The twin discs don’t just scrub off speed they dump it overboard like a lorry losing its load. Diving down hard on the anchors, does not un settle the big Honda; the air assisted forks are perfectly designed for normal riding while the, brake actuated, anti-dive kicks in to support the front end further still, and to great effect. You can brake deep into apex’s, or at any point in the cornering sequence should the need arise without the bike losing its composure, or wishing to change line, it really is that good.
The CB1100R is greater than the sum of its parts, from the fibreglass fairings down to the strengthened, semi forged pistons and other such engine internals. Carburetion is flawless and could easily be a well-sorted, modern-day, injection set up, such is the feel and relation between the throttle and the road. Compared to the smaller CB the engine spins up way faster, partly due to the accurate fuelling and partly to do with the extensive lightening of various reciprocating components. You completely forget what is at the end of the throttle cable and get on with other matters. Of course it isn’t hard forgetting such things as how and why the bike is doing what it is doing. Corners approach and pass so quickly there is little time to spare a thought of anything but staying on the grey and off the green. The seating position with its sumptuous seat, rear-set footrests and large tank means you immediately sink into a semi race crouch. The fact that the rider is comfortably spread over a large area within the confines of the chassis only adds to the stability and all round good handling.
Honda had been late developing a true Superbike for the 70’s and early 80’s. This was quite surprising, especially as, with the CB750, they had, all but, invented the class back in 1968. Following the initial surge of technology, Honda had sat back on their laurels and let the others get on with the job of surpassing that great machine with nothing similar emerging from them for the next ten years. On the road, the good old single camshaft CB had been dressed up a time or two, the Phil Read replica being one such attempt at gaining extra sales, but nothing could ever make the old girl compete with the latest tackle from Kawasaki and Suzuki. Honda, unlike Suzuki and Yamaha with their two-stroke racers, had also experienced a tough time in the racing game over the previous two decades. Despite great success in the smaller classes, they had failed to take the 500cc world title in the mid 60’s, while the ridiculously complicated, and fatally flawed, V4 four- stroke NR500 of the late 70’s was a total failure. There were some successes to be had however, and the hotly contested endurance-racing scene had been virtually dominated by the experimental RCB Honda bikes.
With the lessons learned from the RCB machines we saw the launch of the CB900FZ of 1979. This machine began life as a full 1000cc prototype, developed alongside the six-cylinder CBX. The decision was made at the eleventh hour to reduce the capacity to 900cc so as not to detract from the impact of the CBX. The CB900FZ slipped by almost unnoticed; in reality it was a quantum leap for Honda. The 900 featured a strong and willing engine wrapped up in a fine handling chassis, an attribute rare in machinery from the land of the rising sun. It was a superb machine and provided a top level starting point for what was required next.
The CB1100R was built for just one purpose, thus making it the first Japanese road machine ever to be created this way. One thing is for certain; it wasn’t the last, with countless machines following on in the racer replica mode. Honda needed a powerhouse machine, with a capacity far greater than any current model, with which to tackle the prestigious Australian Castrol 6-hour race. This was an event for homologated road machinery only, past winners had reaped the rewards of increased sales and credibility in the southern hemisphere, making the race a very important one for the manufacturers. The machines had to be absolutely standard to be eligible, but it was worth the effort. In 1980, the CB1100RB was raced for the first time by Wayne Gardner, the future 500cc World champion took victory in the Castrol six-hour race with a flag to flag win. The Aussies responded by banning the machine the following year for not having a pillion seat, the scrutineers were notorious for outlawing winning machines for one reason or another and they found fault with Hondas dream musclebike. Honda came back in 1982 with the RC, equipped with a removable seat hump, to take the win yet again, but the bike was deemed to be on the very limits of legality due to its front fairing passing the centre line of the front wheel spindle. This was rectified the following year with a shorter fairing on the RD series.
Honda CB1100RC Specifications
- Engine: air-cooled, four-cylinder, four-stroke, DOHC, 16 valves
- Capacity: 1062cc
- Bore & stroke: 70 mm x 69 mm
- Compression Ratio: 10:1
- Carburetion: four 33mm Keihin CV
- Max Power: 115 bhp @ 9000rpm
- Torque: 72.5 ft-lb @ 7500 rpm
- Ignition: CDI
- Transmission: five-speed, wet clutch
- Frame: steel tube double cradle
- Suspension: 37mm telescopic fork, anti dive, air damped, adjustable spring. Twin shock, remote reservoir, adjustable spring and Compression/rebound damping rear
- Wheels: 100/90 x 18, 130/90 x 18 (19” front wheel on the RB model)
- Brakes: twin 262mm disc twin-piston floating calipers front. Single 262mm disc twin piston floating caliper rear
- Wheelbase: 1475mm
- Weight: 235 kgs
- Fuel capacity: 27 litre
- Top speed: 145 mph
Honda CB1100R Timeline
1980 Honda CB1100RB (SC05)
First seen during the latter part of 1980, 1050 were made for the worldwide market, with 150 officially imported to the UK, handmade fibreglass ¾ fairing based upon the CB900F2B model, there is also an unfaired Australian version.
1982 Honda CB1100RC (SC08)
New for the 1982 season, 1500 were produced, full-faired version introduced to cure the high-speed handling. Removable seat hump, new fairing saw the square headlight instead of the round on the RB while reversed “boomerang” Comstar wheels replaced the straight spoke type. 18-inch front wheel replaced the 19-incher on the B model and all new anti-dive forks were introduced.
1983 Honda CB1100RD (SC08) The last of the CB1100R’s, with, once again 1500 produced during 1983, metallic/pearlescent paint, shortened noise cone to comply with the latest race regulations, and square section rear swing arm.
Honda CB1100R Gallery