A new series where Classic-Motorbikes.net looks back at the machines enjoyed by those of us now in our 50s. What made them memorable and why we loathed or lusted after them?
Strange as it may seem, Honda released a full-page advert in 1979 featuring a 400N above the banner heading ‘Wake up to the Super Dream’. At eighteen and a follower of the 2-stroke faith this Dream was considered rather ‘wet’ by many but were we missing something? 70k left UK showrooms over eight years and many were still being abused in the City of London a decade later. Whilst I took the obvious choice of Honda’s ‘Plastic Maggot’ to deliver my packages, the smart money went round the clock with half the cubic capacity on a parallel twin that just simply couldn’t be ignored; or broken!
It was a period of ‘Euro-styling’ and Comstar wheels, bright leathers or bold stripes on your plastic ‘all in one’. Day-glow boots and square full-face lids completed the look. The Honda range was publicised as friendly and they had plenty of models on offer but the Super Dream had a lineage going back to 1960 and the CB72 Dream. At the time Honda didn’t officially import to the UK but German manufacturer Maico were negotiating to supply three models to British riders. At £238 the CB72 offered a parallel twin of 247cc with OHC and twin Keihin carbs through four speed gearbox, wet clutch and 12 volt electrics. As reported in The Motor Cycle it was good for 90mph and could travel the full length of the M1 motorway at 70-75mph. The CB77 increased capacity to 305cc but retained the basic format plus electric start in 1963 and with these machines the dye was set for Honda’s middleweight class.
The CB250T Dream arrived in 1978 but would only be available for 18 months, along with its 400cc stablemate they enjoyed five gears, front disc and all new Comstar wheels. The 250 hoped to attract the learner legal brigade whilst the 400 looked more toward the touring rider; it seems they rarely achieved either. Their short sales period was as a lead up to the Euro-styled Super Dream of 1978 after heavy input from Honda’s European importers influenced the Japanese factory. The CB250N would also offer a ‘deluxe’ option and these bikes were still favoured by the ‘commuter’ biker two decades later.
Honda made some bold claims about the Super Dream range and the brochure announced this model was straight off the International race circuit. The Euro-sports styling offered forward motion with every angle and curve, whilst the parallel twin produced overwhelming performance, especially at the higher end of the power band. The large bore and ultra-short stroke ensured safe but high piston speed. The 2 into 2 exhaust was one of the quietest around whilst the Comstar wheels were of 24 hour Endurance racing quality and the suspension could handle 39 degrees lean angle, even on a bumpy surface. The gearbox had a ratio for every occasion and the 14 litre fuel tank looked sleeker than any predecessor.
Road Testers View
MCN Quote: A proper bike, only slower. Short and sweet certainly but the in-depth appreciation from ‘Which Bike’ in October 1978 (price 50p) is far more enlightening. Writer Rick Kemp pointed out that the Super Dream offered many advantages over its short-lived predecessor the Dream. Top end power broadened and increased due to improved porting and notably the 400N enjoyed a 2.2 lbs diet to its crankshaft resulting in a better engine response. With a beefed-up swing-arm and lightened Comstars (alloy rims and spokes) they expected better handling from both, thus the magazine road tested the 250 and 400 back to back.
The highlights from this comprehensive trial confirm the most neutral of handling with slight understeer when pushed. Unable to get the pegs to ground is no surprise but the verdict of a smoother ride on the 400 compared to its smaller stablemate was. Speed test results were 86mph with a standing quarter of 17.04 seconds on the 250 whilst the 400 achieved an impressive 104mph and reached its marker in 14.88 seconds. In general, the testers were pleased with the looks, stopping short of using the phrase ‘Super’ but complained the fuel cap arrangement was ugly and it held water that immediately headed for the riders’ crutch on pull away. They concluded the 400 was the ‘right’ one to own, whilst the 250 was under powered…pretty much what was reiterated for years after but at the time Honda’s pricing seemed pretty high in comparison with the competition. This extra would only be justified if the Super Dream offered the longevity and reliability; this it would achieve in spades.
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…the Honda Super Dream…Commuter machine for the future car buyer before they succumb to four wheels. The 250 was a mid-range C90 whilst the 400 never really worked in the UK with our 17-year-old licencing laws. Rode a few, never owned one and never really wanted too!!
By the mid-eighties the writing was on the wall for new Super Dream’s but with so many still doing their daily duties one could have been fooled into thinking the dealerships were bulging with them. The learner laws had been through Parliament back in 1981 and the 125cc became the L plate hanger, making most 250cc machines redundant in the UK. The two-part test arrived in 82 and the following year any young biker found themselves restricted on engine size and new noise limits. Even so the ‘SD’ would still be in the shops in 1986 but Honda complimented the range with the VT 250 and Stateside CB 250/450 Nighthawk but this may have proved too ‘custom’ for us Brits. The two-stroke brigade got the CBR250, whilst the four stroke single CB250RS also took customers away from the parallel twin. Ample choice now confronted the quarter litre rider and it was just as bountiful in the 400 light touring bracket.
The 400N now looked dated against the VF and then the XBR 500 arrived with its thumper of a single in 85 and that was considered a great machine that never really took off. The everlasting CX and very impressive CBX550 both took sales from the aging ‘SD’ which by now enjoyed the reputation of being ‘really wet’, an opinion considered unfair by its supporters but if Honda looked to update so did the competition. The other Jap big three had gone a different route in the 250 class and were hit hard in the UK when the learner laws lost most of their testosterone fuel custom; but these really weren’t competing against the trusty ‘SD’. The mid-range was moving on and the 600 would prove to be the eventual winner, heavily contested, dozens of variants appeared with everything from 305 to 450 but unless you were one of London’s package carriers they just came and went; as did the Dream, but in its own unique way, actually almost Super; they can’t have been that bad as we are still talking about them today.
The 250/400N project broke away from tradition when Honda in the UK recognised that European bikers weren’t happy to settle for styling aimed towards the American market. Gerald Davidson was a Director for Honda at the time and travelled between the UK and Honda Japan regularly. In Richard Skelton’s book Motorcycling in the 70s, Davidson explained the ‘Eurostyle’ was centred around the 250/400N models and the development began on his kitchen table in Surbiton. With the help of marketing man Ian Catford they drew out the design that flowed from front to back; the ‘Eurostyle’ had arrived but when the first chassis arrived in the UK their ‘Surbiton Dream’ was minus any decals.
Whilst the 250 was considered underpowered, Cheshire bike dealer Bill Smith took a 400 to the Isle of Man. He would win the F3 race of the TT in 1.35.5 which averages out a 99.47mph; definitely not slow. This boosted sales, as did the Which Bike article in 1978 that complimented the all new ‘Euro’ styling but the ‘SD’ came with a label that screamed commuter and that stuck. The main legacy this model cemented into the motorbike psyche was reliability and longevity. Ignored by collectors and minus any classic status the only appreciation came courtesy of couriers who neglected maintenance and abused their machines all day and every day. Now their numbers are in serious decline, the DVLA website ‘How Many Are Left’ declares less than 100 remain in the 250 version whilst its bigger brother boasts a mere 80 still frequenting our roads. Surely there are many more survivors than these numbers suggest, perhaps they are all in hiding to avoid the adverse publicity the ‘Super Dream’ has endured for nearly 40 years!
Technical 250N Price £799.00-1978 400N Price £899-1978
Length: 83.3in 83.3in
Width: 28.7in 28.7in
Height: 43.5in 43.5in
Wheel Base: 54.9in 54.7in
Seat Height: 31.3in 31.3in
Ground Clearance: 6.5in 6.5in
Weight: 367lbs 377lbs
Brakes Front: Single disc Double disc
Rear Brakes: Internal Expanding Shoes
Fuel Capacity: 3.1 Imperial Gallons
Fuel Reserve: 0.77 Imperial Gallons
Type: Air cooled OHC 3 valves per cylinder
Cylinders: Parallel Twin
Bore & Stroke: 2.441 x 1.630 2.776 x 1.992
Displacement: 249cc 395cc
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1 9.3:1
Carbs: Twin CV. 28mm Twin CV. 32mm
Max Power: 27ps @ 10000 rpm 43ps @ 9500prm
Torque: 14.7 lbs @ 8500rpm 24.5 lbs @ 8000rpm
Clutch: Wet multi-plate type
Transmission: 6 speed constant mesh
Drive Sprocket: 15T 16T
Driven Sprocket: 41T 36T
Starting System: Electric motor
Battery: 12 Volt
Headlight: 40/45W 55/60 watt Halogen