Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From the Cycle Guide Archives: 1980 Honda CBX


My Ride-It-Up/Ride-It-Back Record was actually a sidebar feature to the road test of our 1980 Honda CBX. We had a lot of fun putting that issue together because we spent a lot of time aboard that six-pack bike. There was the usual accumulation of road miles, each of us racing to grab the keys to the CBX every day at closing time.

“It was natural for us to run the 1980 CBX at Bonneville. Not just as something special, an added-on test, but as an integral part of the complete test of the bike. After all, no other motorcycle on Earth asks to be judged by the speed-freak’s standards quite like the Honda CBX. Not only because of the bike’s technical profile—its six air-cooled cylinders, 24 valves, dual Hy-Vo cam chains, CB carbs, accelerator pumps, CDI, jackshaft-driven electrics and details like the I-beam handlebars—but also because of its reputation. And if the salt at Bonneville tells you anything, it’s whether or not a machine’s reputation is deserved.” –Cycle Guide, December 1979

We also trotted Honda’s flagship model out to Willow Springs Raceway to see how well—or how evil—it handled. And we were pleasantly surprised by the improvements that Honda’s engineers had made to the otherwise wobbly chassis. Slightly larger fork tubes (36mm vs. 35mm for the 1979 model), air adjustment, and two rather than one stiction rings helped plant the Big X’s 3.50V-19 Dunlop Gold Seal F11 tire firmly on the pavement. FVQ shocks (fully adjustable as on the 1980 CB750F that we touted as the World’s Best Handling Motorcycle) helped to further steady the ride through the corners. And wobbling was minimized even further thanks to a larger-diameter swingarm bolt (16mm vs. 14mm) that worked in unison with needle bearings on the drive side and ball bearings on the right side.

Even so, the CBX felt like the 555-pound bike it was, and we had to be attentive to its meandering ways through Willow’s nine turns. As Michael Jordan (no, not that Michael Jordan, but the Michael Jordan who was CG’s Executive Editor at the time) wrote in his road test:

“In general, the CBX doesn’t have the hair-trigger responses of the CB750F. The F-model responds to the rider’s every body movement and steering input, while the CBX is much slower in dropping into a cornering line or raising out of it.”

The 1980 model also stumbled ever so slightly at Orange County International Raceway where I took the bike through the quarter-mile. Engine modifications (less cam timing, leaner carburetor jetting) to conform to the EPA’s tightening emissions laws slowed the ’80 model’s quarter-mile time from 11.66 seconds/117.6 mph to 11.86 seconds/114.5 mph. We anticipated the weaker quarter-mile numbers, yet we were pleasantly surprised by how responsive the big bike was compared to its 1979 forerunner. These and a few other events led us to send me to Bonneville to see how fast the bike would perform at the high-altitude Great White Dyno. As Jordan wrote:

“Which brings us back to Bonneville. The fastest street bike there in 1978 was a CBX, so we figured running ours on the salt was absolutely necessary. It turned out that the experience itself was worth it, but the facts of life at 5000 feet, and the EPA’s rules, slowed our test bike to 130 mph and some change.”

All in all, we enjoyed our time with the CBX during the late summer of 1979. The 1980 model was certainly an improvement in terms of ride and handling over the first CBX that debuted in 1979, and it’s unique styling still caused heads to turn wherever we rode it. But perhaps my Ride Review summed it up best for all of us. So, with that, we’ll close our Flashback chapter on this bike with my impressions that accompanied the road test:

“The CBX should not be my kind of motorcycle. The slow steering and that huge engine make it feel clumsy at slow speeds. And once you crank up the revs, the Six corners with awkwardness of a hook-and-ladder fire truck answering a three-alarm summons, the front and back ends dueling for control.

“But after I rap the throttle open and the six cylinders and 24 valves rocket to the redline, I admit I feel guilty. How can I complain about a motorcycle that brings back the sensations of GP racing of 12 years ago when the Honda 250 Six clobbered the world? My objections are chewed up and spat out the exhaust pipe by 99 of the most thrilling horsepower you can buy.

“I just can’t help but like this motorcycle. When I hear the bone-chilling shriek the Six broadcasts at redline, my emotions boil over.” –Dain Gingerelli

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