By Justin Dawes, Digital Media Producer

More to offer than just nostalgia

Some months ago, MotoUSA was able to get a short first ride on the 2013 Honda CB1100, and it left us wanting more time in the saddle to really get a feel for the bike. We praised it for its throwback looks paired with modern brakes, tires and electronics, but would the nostalgia wear off? To find out, we spent several long days in the saddle with the CB getting to know the retro Honda in just about every situation that Southern California has to offer.

As a child of the late eighties, I didn’t get interested in street motorcycles until the first Gulf War had kicked off and MC Hammer was jumping around in parachute pants. And by the time I was able to get my motorcycle license on May 18, 1992, at 8 a.m., the last of the classic CBs were relics. The styling, the engine and the performance did nothing for me as I lusted for CBR900RR and FZR600 replica-racers. I couldn’t be bothered with some air-cooled boxy lump of old tech.

Twenty-one years on and my tastes have matured, and I can appreciate the Honda’s reboot of the CB. The squarish tank, the 18-inch Comstar-style wheels, the bread loaf seat and simple round headlight all look the part yet have a slightly better fit and finish. Retro is what’s hot right now; my peers are buying up late '70s and early '80s Japanese fours to tinker with. I’d rather ride, and that’s where the 2013 CB1100 really does the most for me. I get the looks, the sounds, similar engine performance and better handling, all with zero time scouring eBay, Craigslist, and forums for parts.

The CB1100’s air- and oil-cooled engine is fueled by a bank of 32mm FI throttle bodies and fires up with a touch of the starter button. The throttle is calibrated nicely and the engine responds with a usable spread of torque that is present almost right off of idle and carries through the mid-range. On top, the CB’s peak 84.02 horsepower at 7,300 rpm isn’t staggering, but simply fun. The broad power character allows for easy modulation of the throttle, and ham-fisted shenanigans are just shrugged off. Overall, the CB1100 is fast enough to be fun without being overwhelming for anyone. It’s mellow in the city and will put a smile on your face in the mountains.

Clutch feel and shifting is as retro as the looks. Pull on the lever is light but does not have especially great modulation. Upshifts are slick until the revs approach redline. Then a bit more throttle chop and clutch work is necessary, particularly when stretching the CB’s legs between corners. Downshifts can also take a little more effort on the lever than would be expected. None of this detracts from the riding experience, however, and might actually add to it.

Comfort from the CB1100 is much better than would be expected from its twin-shock rear suspension and conventional steel tube frame. Even with only preload adjustment available on both the 41mm front fork and rear shocks, the suspension is settled and damped well. Rough patches don’t upset the chassis as you might expect, and only when riding hard in bumpy corners will you wish for any sort of compression or rebound adjustability. For 95% of street duty, the Honda is spot on.

Handling is light yet stable at the same time. The skinny by modern standard 18-inch tires dip into corners with a predicable ease. As one test rider summed the corning ability of the CB1100 – it just does. Getting the red retro Honda through a turn doesn’t take much thought; it's just natural, like riding a bicycle as a kid.

Part of the neutral feel of the CB stems from the relaxed riding position. The reach to the bars allows for an upright torso with comfortable bend at the knees to slightly sporty peg position. This puts your body weight up high and helps initiate corners with a dip of the shoulders. In a straight line on the highway, the long cushy seat is capable of all-day rides without numbness or discomfort to your backside. Of course, without a windshield and an upright seating position, air pressure at speeds over 80 mph can getting a bit tiring. Just slow down and enjoy the ride for once.

The one bit of the CB1100 that is light years ahead of its ancestors is its braking. Dual 296mm full-floating front brakes offer up modern performance with excellent feel and power. Out back the rear brake is a tad mushy in comparison to the front, but still more than capable of assisting your right index finger in hauling the Honda down from speed. The Combined Anti-Lock brakes on our test machine made panic stops and hard braking even easier with the confidence that all is sorted with a stomp and handful of binders. At times I wanted to cut some skids and act a fool, but it was difficult with the combined brakes. Personally I’d go for the $9,999 model that forgoes the $1000 ABS option, but to be honest that is only for the fact that I like to screw around and ruin tires – a totally irrational viewpoint for sure. If I were recommending this bike to a friend, I’d tell them to get the C-ABS.

After a couple days on the 2013 Honda CB1100, the nostalgia did wear off, but it didn’t make the machine any less appealing. In fact, that goes to show how good the CB really is. The neutral handling, pleasant engine character and comfortable ride make the CB1100 a winner. The nostalgic cool is just icing on a very delicious cake.