Classic rides of the Pre-Pensioner
Back with another series where Classic-Motorbikes.net looks at the machines once enjoyed by those of us now in our 50s. What made them memorable and why we loathed or lusted after them?
Its purpose was to propel Honda back into the winner’s circle, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere with the Castrol Six-Hour endurance events in Australia and New Zealand the targeted priorities. By the early 70’s your average biker looked to production-based series for an insight as to any future two-wheel investment. Honda had failed on the GP circuits during the decade leaving MV, Yamaha and Suzuki to scoop up all the major glory but they kept ‘chipping’ away at the endurance format. At the time the Six Hours was the event to win for their global market and they had tasted success back in Australia with the CB750 in 1971, also enjoying podium positions (70/72) until the arrival of the Z1 in 1973. Later in the decade Honda entered both the CB900FZ and the mighty CBX into the endurance ‘ring’ but with limited success, so as the new decade dawned the time was right for Honda’s first ‘production homologation special’. It would also be the bike to create a sales explosion of plastic model kits; the nearest most mere mortals would get to own one.
The first Japanese manufacturer to produce enough ‘road’ versions of their race bike to stay within the rules, Honda had dominated the European scene with factory backing of their RCB100 from 1976. A CB900 on steroids that cleaned up in the Coupe d’Endurance series until 1980 but was primarily competing against privateer teams who lacked the resources to ‘mix it’ with a factory backed outfit. Their latest version the CB900 racer the RSC1000 was at prototype stage for the 1980 season when the Japanese headquarters offered Honda Australia’s team rider Dennis Neill a chance to develop and test the all new CB1100R. Honda rushed to build and register 100 chassis, allowing entry for the 1980 Castrol 6 hours, this first batch were ‘un-faired’ and given the factory designation of RB1. Honda planned to upgrade their new CB11 targeting sales where race wins were achieved, in Europe, New Zealand and South Africa plus the market in Australia where initially the ‘un-faired’ version would be supplied; all other markets enjoyed the half-faired CB1100RB-2.
Dennis Neill was heavily backed to take victory in the 1980 six-hour race at Amaroo Park having tested the new bike both in Japan and on his home turf; he duly put the new Honda on pole. Eight teams had chosen the CB1100R whilst seven opted for Suzuki’s GSX 1100 known as the ‘six-hour special’. Race day arrived and so did the rain, with 10 turns in 1.21 miles this highly technical track was tough going as the elements conspired to upset the results. Ron Haslam was brought in from Honda Britain on the second official entry, he would partner six-hour veteran Ken Blake whilst polesitter Neill was joined by Roger Heyes. Privateer team Mentor Motorcycles had acquired a new CB1100R and young guns Andrew Johnson and Wayne Gardner would stun the racing world with a fantastic victory. Gardner was supreme in the wet and displayed a style that would lead to world championship glory in future years. The favourite Neill/Heyes CB would take third, the Honda’s split by Neil Chivas/John Pace GSX1100 whilst Ron Haslam’s long journey ended with a bent frame and 23rd place after a heavy crash early on. Not the result Honda expected but the CB1100R had arrived and would enjoy endurance success for the next couple of years. Back in the UK and the following month Honda persuaded Barbara Windsor to climb aboard the half faired CB11 at Earls Court; with just 100 bikes available the promotion wasn’t needed to shift stock.
Utilising the every popular CB900 as its base, the CB11 benefited from much more than window dressing and they started by increasing the bore size from 64.5 to 70mm; achieving 1062cc. Honda took the 900’s best bits and improved, stronger gearing and beefed up clutch springs plus larger 33mm carbs and a double width oil cooler. The detachable lower tube on the frame was no longer, one piece and strengthened plus a larger steering head diameter. Multi-adjustable clip-ons fitted to 37mm forks that enjoyed a balance bar between them, whilst to aid ground clearance a small generator was installed with chamfered casings offering additional levels of lean. Three versions of the CB110R were built and Honda made the fairing components unique to each and not interchangeable. Budget restraints must have been few and far between as the engineers created a unique, if not rather ‘niche’ machine. Honda commented very little about their race bike for the road back in the early 80s and even the production figures have been disputed. One Australian website claims to have the official factory numbers from Japan and they read … CB1100RB1 – unfaired (Australia only) 121 / RB2 ½ fairing 950/ RC fully faired 1500/ RD fully faired (final production 1983) 1500.
Road testers View
From a UK point of view the CB1100R was never going to be a big seller, around 100 RB’s officially arrived in 1981 and at £4000 it was the most expensive Honda to enter our marketplace. Motor Cycle Weekly complained loudly at the time that Honda UK failed to provide a test bike whilst the counter argument was that one of Britain’s dealers would miss out should the importer keep a CB1100RB back for the press. This forced the publication to contact Honda across the Channel who obliged with a bike that the tester was tasked with collecting and returning to Paris and the headquarters of Honda France. The writer quickly put matters into perspective when he explained ‘the Honda is not a howling, peaky, un-rideable monster that only operates above 100mph. It is sane, tractable, smooth, typically efficient and overall easy to ride.’ Saying that, it was not all perfect, The CB11 didn’t cope too well with potholes and Honda issued a warning as stated in the owner’s manual insisting the engine had to be warmed before use. With the engine requiring 40 grade oil, the pressure switch had a high setting meaning the seals could be blown should a cold engine be revved excessively before it was up to temperature. The road tester continued ‘as the revs climb with remarkable ease there are a few short bursts of vibration and at tick over the engine sounds gravelly.’ During acceleration tests the CB11 achieved 70mph in 4 seconds and 108 in 9.6 whilst cruising at around the ton was described as a ‘doddle’. The figure of 40mpg was almost impossible to achieve and the tester concluded with ‘What I particularly liked about this machine was not so much its massive performance or exclusiveness, but the fact it was built around the rider for one purpose; racing. There you might expect it to be uncompromising, yet it is a far more practical street machine than many so called roadsters’.
Looking Back – Riders View
70s tearaway Gary James, bike shop worker in-period, either owned, borrowed or blagged all of the era’s two wheelers…He always shares an opinion, whether we like it or not! He thinks… an ill-judged way of trying to cash in on their racing heritage that they did not address until the Fireblade; dressed up, limited-edition semi-road bikes. A shame really because in the real world the bike was every bit as good as the GPZ1100 of the time, but Kawasaki did not try to put a party dress on their weightlifter that cost a fraction of the price.
The organisers of the Castrol six-hour race nearly forced an early end to the CB1100R, announcing after the 1980 victory the Honda could not be considered for the following year as it had no pillion seat and thus could not be considered a production/street machine. Honda retaliated by with-drawing from 1981 but had already devised the CB1100RC with detachable rear seat section and footrests plus a full fairing to take on the challenge of the all new Katana from Suzuki. Instead they headed to Manfield in New Zealand for the alternate Castrol 6 hours where Malcolm Campbell with Mike Cole took another win on the ‘eleven’. In 1982 they returned to Amaroo Park and cemented the CB1100R’s dominance with the two Wayne’s (Gardner & Clarke) on the Mentor Motorcycles entry, taking victory by just four seconds plus the first four positions were reserved for the CB, all finishing on the same lap. For 1983 the regulations changed again with a max capacity of 1000cc, the CB1100R would not enjoy six-hour racing again. Even so, Honda would continue production for another year with the RD version; arriving late in 82 a limited production run would cease within 12 months; one of which was speed tested at 148.21mph.
Old before its time, the CB11 was yesterday’s news during its finest hour. This track biased superbike ended up leading Honda back to victory lane but at a price. Just four years after the final chassis left the factory the world changed again as the RC30 was here and made the CB look elderly. The smart money invested and ensured a CB11 lived in their garage, as time plus the exclusivity have made this Honda very desirable. In the UK, Ron Haslam won the Shell Oils/MCN British Streetbike Series 1981 on a CB1100R taking seven of eight rounds, the following year Wayne Gardner completed the double before the series ceased. The CB1100R burned brightly but briefly, a race bike that ventured on to the roads, when the opportunities arose it delivered on track, over short and long distances. Engine size may have limited its longevity as race series looked beneath the 1 litre category from the mid-80s, the CB11 is appreciated more now than it was just a decade after launch; overall around 400 entered the UK so the odds on seeing one at your local meet are limited. With Fast Freddie Spencer taking their first World Championship win for 15 years aboard the NS500 at Belgian in 1982, it could be considered the CB1100R was the bike that got Honda winning again; so, not a bad legacy
Honda CB1100R Technical Information;
- Engine: 1062cc /air-cooled/ DOHC, 16 valves
- Bore & stroke: 70 mm x 69 mm
- Compression Ratio: 10:1
- Carburetion: 4 – 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: Fr: 37mm telescopic fork/ anti-dive /adjustable spring.
- Rr: Twin shock/ adjustable spring / Compression rebound damping rear
- Wheels: 100/90 x 18, 130/90 x 18 Note: 19” front wheel on the RB model
- Brakes: Fr: twin 262mm disc twin-piston floating calipers.
- Rr: Single 262mm disc twin piston floating caliper.
- Wheelbase: 1475mm
- Weight: 235 kgs
- Fuel capacity: 27 litre
- Top speed: 145 mph
Recommended Video: A lap of Bathurst on-board with Dennis Neill CB1100R in 1981 https://youtu.be/kJSlro-47Ns