Bikes we love

What I want: Honda CB1100 EX

The other day, on the way back from riding out to the Fleece Inn, I took a detour to the Cwmbran location of Thunder Road, the official Honda dealership here in South Wales. I have an unsteady history with Thunder Road, having visited their Bridgend location several times and never really coming away with a positive feeling. To their credit, they once tried to make good on a negative experience by calling and apologising to me in person but on consecutive visits I still found myself being wholly ignored.

But, you know, I still love all motorcycles and the Cwmbran location was more or less on my route home, so I dropped in to stare at a few things. And, of course, it was an experience that served to remind me of that old truth that one does not equal all. Separated by more than 30 miles, Thunder Road’s two different locations are, you know, different.
A saleswoman, Mel, started chatting with me (not in a pushy way) soon after I wandered in. We talked about the new CTX1300, which looks so much better in person than in pictures. She let me sit on the bike and I’ll admit that I cooed for the thing. The seating position is car-like comfortable and the exhaust pipes make it look pretty bad ass. It’s £15,000 price tag deflates my enthusiasm (a) but if someone were to give me a CTX1300 for free I would be very thankful.
But, also there’s the fact that I tend to go for a certain aesthetic: cruisers and standard/retro machines, or what my wife refers to as real motorcycles. I fear that makes me somewhat old and busted, that I have allowed myself to be duped into overvaluing the past, but I can’t help it. That’s what I like. So talk soon turned to the CB1100 and its newly revamped guise, the CB1100 EX. 
“I don’t see one out on the floor here,” I said. “Are they not out yet?”

“We just got one in yesterday,” Mel said. “Some of it’s still wrapped in plastic, and it has a bit of that Saharan dust (b), but come on back and have a look.”

So, back we wandered into a part of the service department that was neatly crowded with tools and wires and countless parts for countless bikes. And there, sitting on a pedestal, was a dusty CB1100 EX. I couldn’t help feeling this was the way it should be displayed. I imagined that the Saharan dust had been earned –– that the bike had been ridden all the way from Japan rather than shipped in a crate.

Because it has that essence to it. It looks really well built. The fenders are metal, everything is solid. There is nothing extraneous, nothing unnecessary. It looks like a bike to be ridden. And ridden. And ridden. Amid all the motorcycle bits of Thunder Road’s service department, the CB1100 EX felt timeless, as if it had existed before all those parts and would exist still long after they had worn out.

But, of course, it is a modern machine. Equipped with two discs on the front and one on the rear, the brakes are anti-lock. It’s 1,145-cc inline four-cylinder engine is oil and air cooled, and produces 88 bhp and 67 pound feet of torque through a six-speed gearbox. Cleverly hidden within its analogue-style dials are all kinds of things that would be missing on the classic machines being emulated here, such as a gear indicator, trip computers and so on.

The CB1100 was introduced only a year or so ago, but the EX, in my opinion is a superior version. The tank and seat are a little less angular and the wheels are now wire spokes. It has the look of a bike that can be ridden forever but also has a lot of style. Trust me on that. As is the case with the CTX1300, it looks infinitely better in person than in pictures.

Mel told me that Honda would be holding an event at Thunder Road in June, and may have a CB1100 EX that I can test ride. That is dangerous information. The chance to actually get on the bike may tip me over the edge. Because it strikes me as a serious contender for The Bike For Me. It has a classic look but the kind of brakes and performance that are so ridiculously important to me.

That price, though. Here in the UK, the standard CB1100 EX will set you back £10,000 (US $16,790). Putting that money together would be an extreme challenge for me and inherently begs the question of long-term value. I suppose, in terms of the quality I saw in the bike and the reputation of Honda’s reliability, that is a sort of fair price. There is the unhappy knowledge, however, that if you end up selling it a few years down the road you’ll get only a third of that if you’re lucky.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is just a bike you never sell. Famously, Robert Pirsig still has the 1964 Honda CB77 that he road across the United States. The CB1100 EX recalls the spirit of that sort of machine. Maybe it is something you aren’t ever supposed to let go…

(a) If I’m going to pay that much for a bagger, I’ll get a Victory Cross Country.

(b) Britain had been recently hit with a particularly bad spell of pollution that was exacerbated by the presence of dust that had kicked up from storms in the Sahara and drifted all the way here.