Sunday, 16 October 2016

Honda CBR1000

I have to be honest, before we go any further, by stating that I am a great fan of the Honda CBR1000. I bought a nearly new one in late 1987, with just running in miles on the clock, having done about 80000 miles in six years. In fact, it's the first bike I've kept for more than eighteen months. Part of my dedication to the brute is that it's extraordinarily fast even by the standards of 90s bikes. I am not sure of the ultimate top speed, putting 150mph on the clock was quite enough to burn my brain. More importantly, it'll cruise at 125mph for hours on end as if it was its sole function in life. The excess in speed is not compromised by finicky slow speed work, the bike able to hum along at 35mph in top.

This is just as well, as the CBR has to serve as my sole means of transport all year round. It certainly feels heavy at sub 30mph speeds but over the first few months I adapted to this. The main restraint on fast town work is the width of the plastic bodywork, itself a function of its across the frame four cylinder engine. For town work I much prefer third gear to first or second, as the these gears highlight a surprising amount of driveline lash that was present when I bought the machine.

The gearbox is the worst bit of design in the bike. It was never what could be called smooth or precise, age doing nothing for its action. It has now degenerated to a level that an owner of an old CZ125 could appreciate. As with most things in life, a bit of practise makes perfect. It took me about two months to adapt to the CBR's gearbox and I have managed to keep up with the ravages of time and high mileage. I miss a change, usually to second or third, about once a week. I once spun the engine to 12000 revs when finding a false neutral, to no ill effects.

The clutch is original but has become heavy and grabby. There's no discernible slip even when rewed into the red in the lower gears, but the first engagement of a gear every day is accompanied by chronic drag. The clutch troubles have made finding neutral very difficult, which leads to the old Honda malaise at junctions when the bike creeps forwards in first gear with the clutch pulled in. Sometimes bad enough to stall the engine.

The DOHC unit has been generally reliable with the exception of another old Honda malady, the dreaded camchain and tensioner. It's nowhere near as bad as a CBX550 or CX500, the chain beginning to rattle slightly after about 25000 miles, which I take as a strong hint as replacement time. To ignore it would be a false economy, as a broken camchain could quite easily lead to a totalled top end. I've had three new camchains fitted at about a hundred notes a time.

There have been no on the road failures of the motor. The only time I was inconvenienced was when one spark plug went west. I feared something serious, the clock had 54000 miles on it and I was in the middle of the German countryside. The Honda was still quite rapid as a 750cc triple, but the way the fourth cylinder could cut in suddenly proved less than amusing.

The one downside of the full plastic enclosure is that changing a set of spark plugs takes hours. Not so long ago, anyone who designed a bike with such a feature would've been a laughing stock. Nowadays, spark plug technology is so advanced that you can usually get away with tens of thousands of miles. l was more relieved than annoyed that the solution was so simple.

Servicing was similarly tedious, but needed so infrequently that it could be forgiven such horrors. The plastic didn't even fit back on easily, quite effortless to break off the prongs (Superglue repairs them effectively). The valves settled down quite nicely, not needing attention for around 15000 miles. The carbs would last for 5000 miles before going off so far as to increase the vibes. This was the mileage at which I changed the oil filter, but being an old Jap bike hand I did the oil changes every 1000 miles. The rest was either electronic or automatic.

Basically, owning the CBR turned out to be relatively free of worry or trauma. It was, and still is, the kind of bike you could leap on to and do 5000 miles around the continent without becoming a paranoid wreck. My previous mount. a CBX550, always had me on edge whenever I tried for large mileages, its mechanical problems always threatening to turn a tour into a disaster.

I've lost count of the number of times I've leapt on to the Honda, without even checking the oil level let alone changing it, and gone off on a whim to see some part of Europe I would not have otherwise dreamt of visiting. All it would take was a couple of paragraphs in one of the Sundays on some obscure city to make me blast off on a long weekend of speeding and self-indulgence. Not once, did the Honda fail to deliver the goods in a spectacular manner.

I usually went on these excursions on my own, but often joined up with some other rider en route. After a high speed race to introduce ourselves, we would swap tales. Our combined knowledge would often lead to a change in destination or a joining up of forces. On many occasions I ended up staying with complete strangers and being given an insider's guide to the town. All through a common interest in motorcycles.

The one area where the CBR was at a loss as a serious tourer was its consumption of consumables. Tyres rarely lasted for more than 5000 miles a set, fuel hovered around the 35mpg mark (threatening to hit 30mpg under serious abuse) and the rear chain, if of a cheap variety, could be reduced to a pathetic rubber band in less than 4000 miles. High quality 0ring chains would last over 10000 miles but I often couldn't afford that kind of monetary indulgence.

Overall, though, the lack of serious engine problems more than offset the high cost of running the beast. Surprisingly the CBR is still on the original exhaust (if rusty), calipers (if renovated occasionally) and paint (if polished up once a month). Even most of the frame paint and engine alloy is still intact.

I will admit to sneaking in a few mods to the suspension. A back street mechanic, who's also a friend, rebuilt the rear shock with a stiffer spring and modified damper and also added HD springs to the front forks. When I first had the bike handling was more than acceptable, but by 26000 miles there was a lot of jumping about in corners. The mods tightened up the bike to a better than new standard. There have been no failures in the chassis bearings, which compared to some UMG accounts is very good going.

The Honda tracks well around smooth corners even at high speeds. Bumps will upset its poise when banked over, although straight line stability over rough going can be quite remarkable for such a hefty machine, the Honda sitting on the road as if on rails.

Wet weather riding can be a bit traumatic if too much power is let loose. A tall gear and very restrained right wrist are called for to avoid wild, lurid slides. Falling off under such circumstances could not be easier, but I have surprised myself by not dropping the Honda -  a feat which further endears the bike to me. I was initially rather worried about the cost of replacing the plastic after a crash but now I've become almost blase.

Even with 80000 miles done, none of the engine's performance appears to have dropped off and there is no smoke out at the exhaust. The starter has become very rattly but still turns the mill into lite after a few seconds, although from cold it has always been very lean running, needing a good ten minutes to get up to the correct operating temperature. With the crude clutch it's dead easy to stall a motor first thing in the morning.

There are now more sophisticated bikes than my CBR1000, but they don't offer enough extra by way of performance (I have more than enough, anyway) or handling to entice me into parting with a large wedge. Even if the Honda's engine gives out soon, which it shows no sign of doing, I can still pick up a newish motor for a lot less than I'd have to pay for a newer motorcycle of similar or better performance.

Al Grange

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