1983 Honda CB1100F
Claimed power: 108hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 144mph (period test)
Engine type: 1,062cc DOHC 16-valve air-cooled transversely-mounted inline four
Weight (wet): 583.5lb
Price then / now: $3,698 / $2,000-$4,000
Between 1969 and 1982, Honda rolled out an amazing selection of four-cylinder bikes. The legendary Honda CB750 got the wheels rolling, inspiring everything from the little CB350 Four to the middleweight CB500/550. Yet as great as it was, by 1978 the CB750 was looking a little long in the tooth, a reality that eventually led to the development of the 1983 Honda CB1100F.
Rivals Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki were all producing more technically exciting machines, and Honda needed to catch up. To regain the market’s attention, Honda gave its legendary CB750 a comprehensive overhaul, equipping the 1979 CB750 with an up-to-date dual overhead cam engine with four valves per cylinder that improved the breed markedly.
Sales of the new DOHC models, available both in Super Sport and K variations, surged as buyers also appreciated the added power and smoothness of the new engine. The Super Sport was listed as the “F” model while the dressier version wore the “K” badge. Ergonomics on both flavors were improved over the previous iterations, and the new bikes came complete with a host of mechanical and cosmetic enhancements.
Yet the horsepower wars were in full fight, and the buying public, being what it is, soon viewed even the twin cam 750 as needing more power. New models from Suzuki and Kawasaki in particular, boasting more powerful engines and better quarter-mile times, also helped move Honda’s progress along. 1980 saw the introduction of Honda’s CB900C, a cruiser-style four that featured a five-speed, dual-range gearbox with a low range for boulevard cruising and a high range for stretching out, well, on the highway. Although using the engine developed from the then Euro-only Honda CB900F, which was itself a further development of the twin cam CB750, the “C” models were pitched to the Custom Crowd, offering a more comfortable perch and less sporty demeanor.
A harbinger of things to come appeared when Honda finally added the CB900F to the U.S. lineup for 1981. The enlarged Super Sport boasted more power than the CB750F and delivered an even sportier feel. The CB900F (as well as the 900C) returned for 1982 with few changes to the previous year’s model.
Meanwhile, the rest of Japan’s Big Four were keeping busy building ever larger and more powerful bikes. The Kawasaki GPz1100, Suzuki GS1100 and the Yamaha XS1100 were bigger, faster machines, and they were beginning to throw the CB900F into the shadows. Although many riders thought the CB900F was sexier, the 1100s were nearly a second faster in the quarter mile. Sexy or not, Honda had a decision to make about which path it would take to meet and beat the competition, which was eroding Honda’s performance image.
Several options were bandied around, but the engineers at Honda chose to bring a new bike to the fray without reinventing the wheel. Although based on the CB900F, the CB1100F featured enhancements that would make it an entirely different beast.
Enter the CB1100F
In the early 1980s, frame technology was still fairly limited. Most bikes used double-downtube steel crade frames of the type common for the previous 20 years or so. Full-perimeter, super-rigid extruded frames were still a few years away, yet those who rode them fast claimed the CB1100F didn’t flex or flinch when pressed hard. Thanks go to the CB1100F’s extra frame gusseting, revised frame geometry, and properly chosen components like larger forks, mag wheels and a box-section swingarm riding on needle bearings.
The 1100F’s 1,062cc mill was an orthodox design taking advantage of everything Honda had learned with the DOHC 750 and 900 that came before it. Free-breathing and surprisingly free-revving given its relatively long 69mm stroke, the five-speed and not especially lightweight CB1100F (580 pounds-plus with a full load of fuel) could reach 67mph in first gear, and you could grab 80 in second. In a three-way shootout between the CB1100F, Kawasaki GPz1100 and Suzuki GS1100ES, Cycle magazine whipped off a standing-start quarter mile in 11.03 seconds at 121.78mph aboard the Honda. That was slightly slower than the GPz1100 and GS1100ES (10.8 and 10.88 seconds, respectively), but the upside of the 1100F’s longish stroke was impressive low-end grunt for real-world riding.
The majority of the engine was draped in black, as was then fashionable, with a few spots of polished alloy to offset the darkness. Finished in an evil shade of gloss black chrome, the four-into-two exhaust was a nice touch on the 1100F’s red, white and blue (or if you preferred, red, white and black) paint scheme. A bank of four 33mm Keihin carbs meted out the fuel and air blend perfectly, rivaling some of today’s fuel-injected setups. Final drive came via chain, which remains the norm for sport bikes today. Shaft drive may be quieter and require less maintenance, but it also robs power, something Honda couldn’t allow with this bike. The five-speed gearbox was generally well regarded, although some riders complained of poor shift quality, and a few thought the clutch needed even stiffer clutch springs than it already had, borrowed as it was from the CB900F.
Holding it up
Suspension on the 1100 was a nice blend of form and function. The front forks were built around beefy (for the period) 39mm tubes and featured air-assist and three-way damping. Honda’s TRAC system (Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control) used anti-dive valving to give shorter stopping distances without the drama. The brake pads used on the front end had beveled edges to deliver smoother response to the anti-dive hardware.
Coil-over spring shocks kept the tail in line and were also adjustable for compression, spring preload and rebound damping. The CB1100F was often pressed into duty as a sport touring mount and the adjustable suspension, coupled with very cool adjustable handlebars, allowed the rider to adapt his CB to his preference when long days in the saddle arose.
Speaking of which, the saddle on the 1100 was a spacious perch, yet it sat almost half an inch closer to the tarmac due to the use of smaller hoops fore and aft. Supplanting the Comstar rims used on the CB900F, the CB1100F rolled on cast wheels, an 18-incher at the front and a 17-incher at the rear. Beefy Bridgestone Mag Mopus rubber stretched around both wheels, providing plenty of grip regardless of how hard you tried to mimic your favorite factory racer.
While more powerful than the 900 (up almost 20hp), it also weighed about eight pounds more fully fueled. It was, however, weight the CB1100F’s extra giddy-up quickly swallowed. Although the factory claimed 108 horsepower, Cycle magazine’s dyno pegged the 1100F at 95.79 real world horsepower; good for almost 145mph before the song was over.
On its own
Unique features of the one-year CB were the small fork-mounted sport fairing and the cluster of gauges nestled behind it. At speed the fairing would help to move some of the wind around the rider, but offered no real protection in inclement weather. The balance of the body work, including fuel tank, duck-tail spoiler and side covers, was fairly typical Honda fare when compared to the CBs that had come before. Color options were Pearl Shell White and Candy Pearl Maui Red with black accents, or the same Pearl White with Candy Pearl Capiolani Blue and red accents. Either choice was striking.
At the time of its release in the States, the CB1100F carried a price tag of only $3,698, which, when compared to the features, power and all around performance of the machine was deemed a great bargain by pundits of the day. The fact that it outperformed nearly every other liter machine in its class was only icing on the cake.
Honda continued to build motorcycles fitted with inline four engines, but the Honda CB1100F overshadowed all but a few in the years to follow. Each subsequent model borrowed something from those that came before, allowing Honda to constantly improve their product line without being forced to begin with a blank slate.
Although I’ve owned a number of earlier Honda inline fours, the CB1100F has so far escaped my personal grasp. Assuming I win the lottery, perhaps some day I can finally ride one home. I’ll be sure to leave an open space in the garage. MC
• Honda Restoration
Read more about the motorcycles mentioned in this article:
• Honda CB750 Four: A Classic for the Masses
• 1981 Honda CB900F
• Yamaha XS1100