1981 Honda CB900F
Old school cool
Almost old when it was new, the Honda CB900F is still a blast and still fast.
Photo by Doug Mitchel
Years produced: 1981-1982
Claimed power: 89hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 129mph (period test)
Engine type: 902cc air-cooled, DOHC inline four
Weight (wet): 575lb (260kg)
Price then: $3,495
Price now: $1,500-$3,000
John Davy lives surrounded by motorcycles. During the day, he works as a motorcycle wholesaler, buying used bikes and selling them to dealerships. On evenings and weekends, he indulges his passion for collecting classics, especially classic Japanese motorcycles. One of John’s latest finds is this 1981 Honda CB900F.
“I got lucky,” John admits. “There are only a few nice CB900F’s around, and most are the silver and blue ones, not the black and orange. This one was all original, with 1,400 miles on it. It had been sitting in a garage for 10 or 15 years.”
Like Kawasaki triples and Yamaha SR500 singles, the Honda CB900F is something of a cult bike. Imported into the United States for only two years, it got pulled from the U.S. market not because it wasn’t a good bike, but thanks to political problems not of its own making. The power and good handling of this inline four, one of the first Japanese-built bikes whose handling matched its horsepower, has kept interest in the 900F high.
The Big Four
The modern Japanese motorcycle industry had its roots in the turbulent years after World War II, when dozens of small factories vied to provide the home market with cheap transportation. By the late 1970s, the four remaining Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki, had a lock on the world’s lightweight and middleweight motorcycle market, and a healthy percentage of the heavyweight market. The four companies, jousting for market share, saw America as critical to their success. Courting American motorcyclists was serious business.
Honda, slightly ahead of the rest of the pack, looked back over its shoulder and saw Yamaha gaining. Determined to keep their number one position, Honda executives reviewed their model lineup and detected a hole. Suzuki was manufacturing the powerful and good-handling GS series of inline fours. Honda decided it needed a motorcycle to go head-to-head with the Suzuki GS models.
The CB900F was derived from the double overhead cam 750cc 4-cylinder engine of the late Seventies, which, in turn, had its roots in Honda’s RCB endurance racers. It was introduced in Europe in the late Seventies, where it was known as the Bol D’Or, after a famous endurance race. At the time, Honda was campaigning its CBX transverse 6-cylinder as the ultimate performance machine for North America. However, many American riders panned the CBX for being too big and too heavy, and it didn’t do well at the track.
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