Classic Review



Forgotten Hondas

It isn’t easy to admit the more I learn about Honda, the less I know. One of the few brands recognized worldwide, trying to digest the span of Honda’s vast reach gives one new appreciation for not just its mass appeal, but the company’s ability to adapt products for the unique regulations of different continents. That certainly had (has) been the practice applied to Honda’s street motorcycle line, where special models in specific trim were tailored to attract owners in those locations. For this writer, the problem is those pining riders located outside Honda’s Bol D’Or-inspired target zone. So while we know the mighty maker from Hamamatsu isn’t perfect, the company’s status as an elite builder fosters much forgiveness.

In this review, we travel back to the 1980s for a progressive look at Honda’s open-class demographic. From inline to Vee and back again, each with a distinctively different approach. Remembering the popularity and impact of Honda’s legendary 750 Four, CBX six, GL tourer and others to follow, it’s understandable that a few standouts might slip through the cracks of history. Not completely missing, each of these forgotten Hondas carried the corporate flag in their respective era of development. Only 1985’s VF1000F II sports tourer wasn’t sold in the USA, leaving the (stateside) CB1100F with its considerable changes to offset the world-market CBR1000F. Neo-classic or not, modern roads and speed present no challenge to this trio of open road blitzers, but with the youngest of these vintage fours over three-decades old, some challenges exist.

CB1100F: Super Bol D’Or
Reaching a maximum displacement of 1062cc, the CB1100 grew from previous 750 and 900cc versions, but was actually developed as a 1000cc in conjunction with the CBX six. Much development work had been done throughout the 1970s with Honda’s RCB 1000 endurance racing program; a machine based on the original SOHC four then modified with double overhead cams, gear primary, and years of experimental tuning. Much of the RCB project landed on the production file when the new 4v, DOHC line was introduced in 1979. Europe, the UK and other markets received the 900F Bol D’Or while in the US, a downsized 750cc. Homologated for racing, the potent CB1100R made its debut in 1981 and two-years later, Honda’s “Super Bol D’Or” which unequally mixed parts from both the 1100R and 900F. Retaining the 900’s body and isolated engine mounts, production of the Super Bol D’Or continued into 1984, but not for all markets. To the best of my knowledge, engine tuning remained consistent for all versions: US, UK, CAN, AUS and Europe.

Keeping the 900’s 69mm crank throw, Honda’s 5.5mm overbore required a new cylinder block with no cooling gaps. Cylinder head details include 28/24mm diameters for the inlet and exhaust valves, with intakes opening 9.0mm (intake) and exhaust 1.0mm more. Duration is listed as 230-degrees with 25-degrees overlap. Up 1.1 points, domed 9.7 compression pistons work with 33mm Keihin CV carbs and a black chrome 4-into-2 exhaust. Peak power was factory listed at 108-hp, and the handling was universally praised. As part of 1979’s remake, the 900’s chassis was revised for the 1100cc duty by relocating the steering head back 10mm and fixing the angle at 28.5-degrees. Now at 39mm diameter, the forks feature Honda’s TRAC anti-dive valving, and needle-bearings support a squared steel swingarm acting upon twin piggyback shocks. Wheel sizes dropped one-inch each, and the 1100’s 18” front, 17” rear lowered the seating. Euro, UK and Canadian imports fit the gold-anodized ComStar composite wheels, US versions feature cast alloy hoops, forward mount pegs and a handlebar upper clamp among other detail differences.

It is possible more riders know of Honda’s modern CB-Eleven than the original, yet it was the CB-F’s historical popularity behind the new model. That being the case, 1983’s CB1100F is hardly forgotten, but the lack of Bol D’Or marketing stateside makes it seem that way. Priced right the CB1100F sold out new, as many (correctly) sensed Honda’s phasing out of the air-cooled inline. Good used spares remain available. Among the most aesthetically balanced motorcycles ever made the CB/F’s body and graphics flow brilliantly. Narrow-waisted and striking, but not over finished. The quintessential Bol D’Or form. As a result the air-cooled 1100 still claims legions of followers, and aftermarket support is steady. “Other than the cam chain (PDF here) and clutch the 1100F is practically bulletproof,” says Honda ace ‘Steamin’ Steve McIntyre. “The US 1100F has many specific parts and spares aren’t always easy to find”. Every inch a classic superbike, Honda’s CB1100F Bol D’Or is a slam dunk collectible.

(Canadian market 1100F melds Euro/UK specs with US graphics. US import with instrument nacelle, Euro market Bol D’Or resplendent in red/white.)

VF1000F II: The New Bold D’Or
One critical element of Honda’s success has been its highly touted R&D branch. Heavily funded, the giant from Hamamatsu has repeatedly set out to prove its place as a leading manufacturer by introducing new designs powered by new engines, and sometimes, for new roles. Arguably motorcycling’s bravest production gambler, life at the spear’s point didn’t always work out for Honda, and 1982’s V4 illustrates this. You’ll hear many horror tales of chocolate cams and other teething issues directed at the early V4 engines (especially it seems, the VF500) but the reality is Shoichiro Irimajiri’s big-bore VF1000 was simply too big and heavy to compete on the ragged edge of open class performance. Here we find Honda doing its most impressive work to date – recognizing the design’s strengths and building upon that foundation to introduce a spectacular sports-grade model: the VF1000F2, Bol D’ Or.

Developed for the V45 Interceptor, Honda’s ‘side pipe’ box frame saw considerable bracing in preparation for the F2’s 4v, liquid-cooled DOHC V4. The youngest of three VF1000 models, it joins 1984’s V1000F and the racing 1000R – the latter with gear drive cams. Colorful in red, white and blue  neither of these first edition 1000s met the considerable expectations preceding them, but Honda knew it was onto something. Using V1000F tuning, output for the 998cc multi peaked at 116-HP using chain drive cams, transistor ignition and four 36mm Keihin CVs. Most of Honda’s changes are apparent in the F2’s unique cycle parts, with period testers crediting the Bol D’Or’s rehashed 18″/17″ wheel package for its increased stability. Quality components abound, starting with the braced 41mm airfork, TRAC antidive, 2-piston brakes and Pro-Link suspension. Both the alloy swingarm and monoshock linkage pivot on bearings. Note the porting vent at the screen’s base, reversed side ducts and the V4’s heavily rounded nose; all early results from Honda’s aerodynamic wind tunnel experiments. Bold, simple graphics boost the F2’s elegance.

(Frame design originated from the V45 Interceptor. Top radiator has twin fans to draw airflow. Instrument console includes pockets and air vents.)

As a rangy Bol D’Or speed tourer, Honda’s decision to focus on rider comfort and increased mechanical durability added some pounds to the F2, but the build was more than up for it. Using revised gearing, the close-ratio 5-speed transformed the 1000 F2’s sporting performance by allowing greater control than ever. Even two-up. Positioned in front of the engine, three radiators (two for coolant, one oil cooler) confidently control operating temperature over long stretches at high speed. Maybe that’s why Honda didn’t import the Bol D’Or to 55-mph USA? Lavishly appointed, the F2 owner enjoys easy hydraulic clutch action, two interior fairing vents and relocated pegs that work in conjunction with a wider, more densely padded saddle. Even Honda’s new shell-type mirrors offered new levels of performance, these being color matched in silver or deep red with matching black or silver accents. Inspiring a long production of award-winning VFRs to follow, history shows Honda found its way with the V1000F2. Truly a worthy alternative to the upscale BMW. Not cheap new but often cheap now, used 1000 F2s pop up in Europe or the UK on occasion. Experienced wrenches say the many plastic parts living in the hot engine bay suffer over time. Spares? Who cares. I want one.

CBR1000F: Hurricane Wind
One look at 1987’s CBR1000F demonstrates Honda’s incredible leap in engineering and technology during the decade. Slotted among several blockbuster models the 1000F lives in the 1100XX Blackbird’s shadow, yet it is wise to pause and recall the considerable merit earned by Honda’s first streamlined superbike. With the CBR, two main statements emerged: One, a dramatic return to the inline four design, two, heavy emphasis on aerodynamics and the production stradigies it offered. The CBR entered into an industry filled with formidable open-classers and soaring top speeds, from race-spec GSX-Rs to horsepower heavyweights like the 1000RX Kawasaki and Yamaha’s thundering FJ1200. European options list Moto Guzzi’s Le Mans 1000 (now with a close-ratio gearbox) the Laverda RGS and BMW’s K1000 Brick. Honda’s CBR bested all for top speed, matched most for 1/4-mile fury and did it all while offering arguably the best ergonomics of the group. Proof of the 1000F’s excellence is its 12-year production run, and despite assorted styling changes or other details to keep things modern, the CBR1000F remained largely unchanged.

Measuring 998cc the CBR’s liquid-cooled, 16v four featured the now customary DOHC, but kept narrow by stashing the alternator behind the cylinder bank. Twin 30/26.5mm intake/exhaust valves live in a combustion chamber where 10.5 pistons compress a mixture fed from a quartet of 38mm Keihin downdraft carbs. Fully in its scientific groove matching peak power and torque with gearing, Honda’s CR 6-speed optimized the CBR’s thrust, and it was considerable: 112-HP @10.000 on Cycle’s dyno and a blistering 10.8 ¼-mile. Taking top speed honors with a 161-mph clocking, period testers described the CBR as composed. Made of round and boxed section steel in a perimeter design, the engine is fixed as a stressed member. Suspension highlights include a fully adjustable 41mm Showa airfork, a matching monoshock with cantilever linkage, and new three-spoke wheels. The 1000F’a braking performance also scored well using twin 296mm front floaters (256mm rear) pinched by Nissin calipers. Late CBR1000Fs featured a linked braking system that was well received. Remarkably modern, Honda’s CBR1000F tips the scales at 585-lb wet.

(Yards of expertly finished ABS cover the Honda’s exterior, spiced with a clean dashboard and powerful lighting. ‘Busy’ crankshaft shows power-takeoffs for primary (gear), balance shaft, center cam chain, starter and linked coolent/oil pump. Service experience a plus. (Cycle photos)

Splashed across every major magazine cover, Honda’s new superbike didn’t redefine industry standards. The CBR did rewrite Honda’s production approach though, and frankly, not all for the better. Very fast, smooth and flawless, the 1000F’s rounded beak angles down and curves back, meeting a tank/seat section boldly drawn with an angled belt-line. Covered in glossy black/red or an elegant two-tone gray, one peek under the CBR’s skin might scare some away. Bunching a tight tangle of hoses, cables, bottles and electrical parts, the CBR’s complexity is something an owner will someday need to address. However, conducting an owner’s poll some years back it seems many CBR’s riders never did – sailing past the 100K mark untouched. Cam-chain/tensioner replacement every 12K is advised, and many reported quick front tire wear. “What the Hurricane’s numbers don’t tell you is what a joy the engine is to experience,” wrote the editors of Cycle Guide in 1987. “Despite its arm-stretching power the CBR is amazingly docile. There’s nary a dip in the powerband, and it revs freely with right-now throttle response. The CBR’s six-speed nips through the change-up like a 125cc motocrosser and the brakes are astonishing. Handling is linear and neutral, even at triple digit speeds.”

For this writer, the study of Honda (or any brand) brings far more than model recognition or recalling specs from memory. And that’s easier said than done. Honda’s title of world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer was earned by producing machines with broad appeal, yet, deep within those corporate walls were real, flesh and blood motorcycle enthusiasts. There’s no question these three bikes came from them. Nolan Woodbury


Honda CB1100F Super Bol D’Or
Engine: 1062cc, DOHC, 16v inline four
Compression: 9.7:1
Intake: Four x 33mm Keihin CV
Exhaust: Four-into-two
Transmission: Five-speed
Primary/ Final drive: HyVo chain / chain
Chassis: Steel tube double cradle
Suspensions: 37mm airfork, twin shocks
Brakes: Three 296mm disc
Weight: 535-lb
Top Speed: 144-mph

Honda VF1000FII Bol D’Or
Engine: 998cc, DOHC, 16v V4
Compression: 10.2:1
Intake: Four x 36mm Keihin CV
Exhaust: Four-into-two
Transmission: Close ratio five-speed
Primary / Final drive: Gear / chain
Chassis: Steel perimeter double cradle
Suspensions: 41mm airfork, Pro Link
Brakes: Three 276mm disc
Weight: 524-lb
Top Speed: 150-mph

Honda CBR1000F Hurricane
Engine: 998cc, DOHC, 16v inline four
Compression: 10.5:1
Intake: Four x 38mm Keihin CV
Exhaust: Four-into-two
Transmission: Close ratio six-speed
Primary / Final drive: Gear / chain
Chassis: Steel perimeter-stressed member
Suspensions: 41mm airfork. monoshock
Brakes: Two x 296mm (F) One 276mm (R)
Weight: 490-lb
Top Speed: 161-mph

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