by Frank Melling

Honda CB1300A

There is always a danger in looking at memories too closely. A couple of months ago, I was shopping with my wife at the giant outlet mall we occasionally visit. Walking towards us was a lady who looked vaguely familiar. It was not so much her appearance being as I remembered it, but more that she had the styling cues of a girl I used to know, and lust after, at college.

Forty years ago, this young lady had a bottom which made any healthy young man go blind thinking certain thoughts and she habitually wore a skirt the length of which was best measured with a pair of Vernier calipers. Now, she had two grandchildren in hand and wore a thoroughly sensible, near ankle length dress.

My wife made a tentative introduction and the styling cue lady from my past looked just as disappointed as me. Who was this wrinkled bloke with a bald patch? Certainly not the long-haired hippie who told her jokes on the way to English lectures!

The Honda CB1300 has the potential to fall into the same trap of past memories being disappointing today. Even Honda admits that the 1300 is modeled directly on the iconic CBR1100R which was the all conquering production racer of its day. You can read the full story of the CBR1100R in an earlier edition of Memorable Motorcycles, but in essence it was the biggest, baddest, bare knuckle fighting road bike of its day. Even today, the “R” is a totally awesome, two-wheeled beast of a thing and is still one of the greatest motorcycles ever to leave Honda.

The problem is that the CBR1100R was a very exotic motorcycle with lots of race-orientated parts – and a pricetag to match. It not only had a limited production run, but an equally limited sales potential because, in the real world, there were relatively few customers who wanted, or who were able to pay, a premium price for a race-winning road bike.

However, there were a lot of potential customers who remembered Wayne Gardner and Ron Haslam sliding the CBR round the tracks with the rear wheel trying to pass the front. What these customers wanted was a tribute to the “R” – not a modern replica of the original.

There was another factor. Fans of the CBR1100R were not as young as they were in 1981, so “Big H” needed a bike which reflected this fact. The CB1300 had to be a tribute to its street brawling ancestor – but a well-behaved one. The new CB1300 was the little brother who did his homework and went to college – and only partied sensibly at weekends – rather than the older sibling who poured Jack Daniels on his breakfast cornflakes.

The heart of the original CBR was the stonkingly powerful motor and so it had to be with the CB1300. The passing of the years meant that an air-cooled engine fed by carburetors was simply not an option, so Honda came up with one of the very, very, very few water-cooled motors which actually looks visually attractive. It is a walloping great 1284cc, DOHC four, equipped with four 36mm fuel injectors, and is a seriously formidable power-plant. Making 85 lb-ft of torque at only 6000 rpm the CB1300 launches away from stop lights, or any other bit of the planet for that matter, like a ground to air missile. Hills are flattened and overtaking anything other than Nicky Hayden’s Desmosedici MotoGP bike is merely a case of opening the throttle and hanging on.

The CB1300 does come equipped with five ratios in the gearbox but, in truth, two would be ample. “Low” would take you from stopped to 20 mph and “High” would deal with every other situation up to 120 mph: the motor is that flexible. As it happens, the gearbox is one of the sweetest in the motorcycling world and the clutch is light and fuss free. For its intended purpose, Honda could not have done better.

The chassis is also absolute dead center in the target zone. Naturally, being a retro-classic there are twin shocks at the back and a massive, alloy, swinging arm. I really like the swinging arm because it looks as if it has been made in the garage of a really talented specials’ builder rather than being a production item.

The handling is surprisingly aggressive and modern in its feel and maybe this is where Honda just slightly lost the plot. For the customers who buy the CB1300, and the way they ride the bike, I think that more trail, giving neutral handling traits, would result in greater relaxation. As things are, the bike can be flicked – as much as anything weighing a shade under 550 lbs can be thrown about – into corners with total confidence.

There’s no argument that the CB1300 is not a lightweight machine – nor is it intended to be. There is a big, five-gallon fuel tank and lots of room for both rider and pillion passenger. This means that stopping could well be a challenge, but it isn’t. Those apparently innocuous Nissin four-pot calipers used to live on one of the earlier Fireblades and are well up to dealing with the CB1300’s weight and speed.

The brakes are also equipped with ABS and, to be wholly honest, I wouldn’t have known. I was braking seriously hard and there was no sign of the ABS kicking in, so I can only assume that it starts working just before the front wheel is about to leave you embarrassed, hurt and with a big repair bill. If this is how modern ABS performs, then I’ll take it.

And then we come to the looks. Maybe I should have started here because an awful lot of CB1300 owners buy the motorcycle for its show bike appearance. Hondas are generally well finished but the CB1300 really is at the top of the tree. The paint is lustrous and the polished alloy impeccable. Best of all, the red and white color scheme is a real tribute to the CBR1100R. Not a direct copy but clearly the efforts of an “R” fan in the styling department. Apparently Honda produces a black CB1300 too – and have probably sold three examples world wide to colorblind bikers.

My only regret about this test is that we did not have the half-faired version of the bike, which is even better looking than the naked bike. Apparently, it is also nicer to ride because the fairing removes the wind buffeting from the rider.

Now here is the really confusing part of the story. If ever a bike was designed for the American market it is the CB1300. It is powerful – in the style of a 5.7 liter Dodge Durango – looks gorgeous and is both ideal for Sunday riding in the canyons, vacation cruising on the freeways or a trip down to the shopping Mall. It also provides ample, luxury accommodation for Mr. and Mrs. America rather than having them both squeezed onto a sportbike. In fact, it ticks every box in terms of being the perfect recreational all-rounder for America. Regardless, a collection of suits in the Honda marketing department deemed it unsuitable for the US market.

So here’s the final question. Is it worth going to the trouble of personally importing a bike from Britain? In the case of the CB1300 the answer, currently at least, is definitely yes. The pound sterling is weak against the dollar so imports into the US are cheap. The CB1300 seems to meet all US emission regulations, so putting the bike on the highway legally should not be a problem and the speedometer is in mph. The only modification needed would be to exchange the left-hand dipping headlamp for a US bulb.

Cost of a new CB1300 is around $12,000 – but US customers can claim back the sales tax, so this falls to something in the region of $10,000. Better still, mint second hand CB1300s are selling in the $6,000 range.

Our thanks to Knutsford Honda for the loan of the test bike and hospitality.