In Love with the Honda CB400F
Honda's little four might be the best of the breed
1976 Honda CB400F.
Photo by Nick Cedar
1976 Honda CB400F
Claimed power: 32hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 95mph
Engine: 408cc air-cooled SOHC inline four
Weight (with half tank fuel): 393lb (179kg)
Price then: $1,470
Price now: $2,500 - $4,500
Shelli Bohrer was grief-stricken. Her beloved Honda CB400 Four, lovingly cared for during eight years of ownership, was lying in the middle of the street, its frame twisted beyond repair after a teenage driver had plowed into Shelli on her way to the gym. The pulled hamstring and bruises would soon mend, but her Honda was totaled.
“I poured a lot of love and some money into that bike,” Shelli says. “I learned how to navigate San Francisco traffic as well as get nods from the Alice’s crowd. I learned to do bike maintenance on it. It wasn’t perfectly cherry, it wasn’t perfectly stock, but it was clean, reliable and fun. And it was my baby.”
Luckily, the driver had insurance. While Shelli’s lawyer was negotiating a settlement, an acquaintance named Nancy came into the motorcycle shop where Shelli worked, mentioned she was selling her Honda CB400 Four, and asked Shelli to buy it because she knew Shelli would take care of it. Shelli was torn. “Did I want to have that much emotional investment in a bike again?” Her girlfriend talked her into it.
Enter the CB400F
After the success of four-cylinder Honda CB750, Honda decided to build a complete range of motorcycles designed along similar lines. Honda’s first try at a small-bore four appeared in 1972 in the shape of the CB350 Four, a 347cc overhead cam with four carburetors feeding four very small cylinders. Impressively engineered, it was also seriously underpowered for its weight, and was pulled from the Honda lineup after two short years.
The next iteration of a smaller four appeared in 1975 in the form of the slightly larger and more sporting Honda CB400F. Like its predecessor, it had a single overhead cam, a single disc up front and four carburetors. Four uniquely curved exhaust pipes fed into one quiet muffler, and a new cylinder head with larger intake and exhaust valves pumped up power, as did boring the cylinders to 51mm from the 350’s 47mm.
Contemporary American motojournalists found the Honda CB400F problematic. Most street riders in the U.S. in the 1970s were young men. While a vocal minority advocated sporty handling, a majority of them were interested in straight-line power. A quiet exhaust note, reliable functioning, good brakes and lack of vibration were not hot selling points for a motorcycle in this era. To a quarter-mile obsessed public, what mattered was that for all its sophistication, the CB400F was no better in the quarter mile than the Yamaha RD350 and the Kawasaki 400 triple, the bikes it was usually compared to.
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