There are signs Honda is planning to make its CB4X Concept a reality, according to a number of moto websites. I’m definitely interested but it occurs to me that we’ve been here before.
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To bring you up to speed, the CB4X was something of an under-the-radar concept revealed by Honda’s Italy team at EICMA 2019 last autumn. I say it was “under the radar” simply because it didn’t seem to draw a tremendous amount of attention. But apparently there was enough piqued interest that Big Red has now filed patents with the European Intellectual Property Office for a bike that looks pretty much the same.
The CB4X is somewhat confusingly named because it is, in fact, built around the 650cc powerplant that drives the CB650R and CBR650R. The “4” in its name, of course, comes from the fact the engine is an inline four. In those guises, the engine produces ~94 horsepower at 12,000 rpm. This bike looks like it would have just a little bit more of an all-rounder flavor, however, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the engine detuned so riders won’t have to rev the nuts off the thing to get the best out of it. A lower tune would also help bring peak torque (currently 64 Nm) down from a rarely-hit-on-your-daily-commute 8500 rpm.
EICMA 2019 Recap
So, take a fun, tractable engine, put it in a chassis that delivers an upright and comfortable riding position, then add an element of all-rounder practicality by de-tuning the powerplant and adding half fairing. It’s not a bad idea. I can see the thing doing particularly well in Europe, where bikes like Yamaha’s Tracer 700 and Kawasaki’s Versys 650 have performed well, not to mention Suzuki’s stalwart V-Strom 650. Those bikes have more life and excitement than Honda’s current middleweight all-rounder, the NC750X. Building something around the CB650 engine would make for a more enjoyable machine. But, hmmm… I can’t help feeling Honda’s done something like this before…
Oh that’s right, it has: the CBF600S
I had one of those. The CBF600 was a detuned CB600F, aka Hornet, that Honda produced from 2004 to 2013. It was top heavy, aesthetically uninspired and only slightly more thrilling than watching old people swim. But it was easy to ride and reliable as hell. If Honda can keep those latter attributes while working on the former I think the CB4X could be a reasonable success – especially if the price is right.
Certainly Honda seems to be off to a good start. One of the biggest problems with the CBF600 was its looks. It was designed by Honda’s Germany team and had all the aesthetic vibrancy of a broken road sign. The CB4X, on the other hand, has a certain modernity. It doesn’t have the look of a bike that’s trying to be futuristic, but simply seems to be the progression of current styles. You can see the same kind of design language in the BMW F 900 XR.
Along with its aesthetics, the CBF600 had a feeling of being already out of date because its tech was pretty much non-existent. Clocks and trip meters were set by pushing buttons on the dash and there was no gear indicator or fuel gauge (at least not until after 2008), even though these features had existed on a number of other Honda bikes since the late ’80s. Here again, Honda seems to have learned from the past and the CB4X appears to be equipped with a TFT screen. It’s probably reasonable to assume that we’ll also get rider modes and traction control (along with EU-requisite ABS).
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I’ve written a few times about my belief that the motorcycling world is in for something of an upheaval this year and we may see “smaller,” more affordable bikes become the way of things – at least until global economic uncertainty levels out. If that’s the case, a bike like the CB4X could prove to be very popular. Indeed, there’s precedent for such a thing; despite its flaws the CBF600 was popular enough in Europe that it inspired the creation of the CBF1000 (2006-2013), which used a heavily detuned version of the 998cc inline four that drove the CBR10000RR Fireblade to create a bike that was lauded for torquey usability.
Every once in a while I think back on just how trouble-free my CBF600 was and wish that I now had something like that for regular commuting (a Triumph Bonneville T120 is sexy but it is not made for year-round use). So, if/when Honda does deliver the CB4X I suspect I’ll be toward the front of the queue in wanting a test ride.