It took a bit of complaining, but popular demand finally brought the Honda CB900F to the United States in 1981.
Years produced: 1981-1982
Total production: N/A
Claimed power: 89hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 139mph (period test)
Engine type: 901cc, air-cooled four valve per cylinder inline four
Weight (w/ half-full tank): 256kg (568lb)
Price then: $3,495
Price now: $1,250-$3,000
Americans have their share of bad traits. The French have forever been labeled as rude, and the Irish aren’t exactly known as a quiet bunch. But here in the U.S., we can complain more effectively than few other groups out there. And what’s wrong with complaining, anyway? Well, in some cases, nothing at all. Case in point: the American arrival of the Honda CB900F in 1981.
Motorcycle manufacturers produce all kinds of bikes that never make it to U.S. shores. In recent years, Yamaha puzzled American enthusiasts by introducing the FJR1300 in 2001, then not making it available on our side of the pond. What happened? The collective two-wheeled “we” sent e-mails and whined to their local dealers until the suits at Yamaha headquarters buckled. At first you had to put down a deposit and special order an FJR, but eventually they made the bike available to anyone here with enough disposable income (or at least good credit). And while this doesn’t happen often with a foreign-spec bike many of us would love to have, it has happened before.
In March of 1979, Cycle World ran a story about the Honda CB900FZ, a 901cc bruiser that looked and rode like a faster, more powerful version of the then new DOHC Honda CB750F. “The argument against selling the CB900FZ in America is that the CBX six is the 1000cc big gun for Honda and a similar bike would fuzz its marketing,” said Cycle World. And yet, the CBX was available in Europe, where this new CB900FZ was being introduced, without worry of marketing issues, but those wanting the nine here were left waiting.
The funny thing going on was that the Honda CB750F that America received and the Honda CB900FZ that Europe received were developed alongside each other, but Europe didn’t get the CB750F and America didn’t get the CB900FZ. European Honda fans weren’t happy either, and complained for the Honda CB750F. Both sides, of course, thought the other was getting the best deal because they got more power or we got a better suspension.
Finally, when the 1981-model year rolled around, the Honda CB900F made its way to the U.S. Now, Americans aren’t the most patient folk either, but the fact that it took a few years for this bike to get here did have its advantages. When it arrived, we got a finished bike. This wasn’t a first-year design full of early-production bugs. This was a model that had already been thrashed on the curvy roads of Europe, and Honda had some of its early kinks worked out. It had more power, a better suspension and a less flexible chassis than the earlier European models.
The press of the day loved it, and for good reason. “If you are familiar with Honda’s CB750F, you’ll feel right at home on the 900,” said one mag, noting that dimensionally the two bikes could pass for twins. They also mentioned that it was readily apparent that the bikes were developed at the same time.
For its day, the 900F was a very serious piece of machinery. These were the days before liquid cooling and hiding everything under a plastic shell, and while the CBX had more power, it also had lots more bulk (40lb worth). And by the time of the 900’s debut, the big X was being dressed with a sport fairing and hard bags, and billed more as a GT or a sport-tourer. The 900 got to be the hot rod, and it was happy with its new duties.
Cycle called the 1982 model “one of the best performance buys on the market” and said it was a favorite due to its “broad, generous power, and accurate, inspiring handling.” For 1982, the 900Fs got graphics matching the CB750F model, a new petcock that incorporated a fuel strainer and new Bridgestone tires along with a few other minor upgrades.
While still a competent ride for its age, the CB900F is no longer the barn-burner (or bahn-burner, for that matter) that it once was. The 25-plus years since its introduction have brought forth a monsoon of technological advances, making the CB look and ride decidedly old-school. Still, what was hard-edged and mean that long ago now often translates as comfortable and competent. Its sit-up-and-beg riding position and lack of wind deflection leave you out in the elements at high speeds, but the wide bars give a good amount of leverage, and the seat’s relative flatness gives a variety of seating positions. The handling characteristics are straight out of the Superbike days, so expect it to feel a bit top-heavy and lacking in grip compared even to sportier models from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The CB900F’s heir today is the Honda 919, a bike known in Europe as the Hornet. Several years back when it was clear that “naked” bikes were going to be the next big thing, American Honda decided to import the new Hornet 900. It was an open-class naked sport bike designed primarily for the European market and based loosely on the concept of the Hornet 600, one of Europe’s best-selling street bikes, which, ironically, wasn’t available in the U.S. for some time after its debut. Sound familiar?
So remember this story next time you pick up your favorite new-bike magazine and see something being introduced in a non-U.S. market that you’d pay good money to own here. Write that e-mail and mention it to your local dealer. After all, if Americans are going to be known as whiners, we might as well have something to show for it.
Nice CB900Fs aren't impossible to find, but stock, well-kept ones aren't as plentiful as they have been in recent years. As many sport bikes go, a good number were thrashed, trashed and wrapped around trees years ago, and many remaining ones have numerous non-stock parts replacing those that were worn out, broken, or just trashed in place of aftermarket "upgrades" a long time ago. Still, from time to time good examples pop up, and normally at quite affordable prices.
A 900F (see Image Gallery) that Brad of Brad's Bikes sold not long ago is typical of what you'll find on the market. He rated it at 7.5 out of 10 cosmetically. With approximately 18,000 miles, it sold for $1,300 still in need of a rear tire. The bike was a strong runner, having just received a cleaning of its four carburetors, and was running on a brand new battery. A leaky shifter seal had also just been replaced. After factoring in an extra $100 for a new rear tire, the bike should have been ready for its new owner to ride just about anywhere. MC
Moto Guzzi Le Mans III
Claimed power: 80hp @ 7,300rpm/131mph (est.)
Engine type: Air-cooled, four- stroke 90-degree V-twin
Brakes: Dual-disc front, single-disc rear
Weight: 241kg (5311b) (wet)
MPG: 40-45 MPG
Price now: $3,000-$5,000
Looking for a big sporty bruiser that's thoroughly different from the norm? Moto Guzzi never fails at being different, and their sportiest option of the day didn't disappoint. It was 1983 before the "real" Le Mans returned to the United States, as the 850 Lemans II had disappeared for a few years after falling victim to stringent U.S. emissions regulations. Guzzi sent the CX 100 in the meantime, but it was expensive, and not nearly as competent as the earlier Le Mans II. Cycle World called the CX "a nice enough droner which felt about as vicious as a June moth." Thankfully, when the Le Mans Ill made it here, It had more of the feel of the old Le Mans II and less of the CX. Down on power when compared to the CB-F and Z 1-R, the Le Mans was quicker, quieter and cleaner than previous Guzzi models.
Claimed power: 90hp @ 8,000rpm/132mph
Engine type: Air-cooled, fourstroke inline four
Brakes: Dual-disc front, single disc rear
Weight: 251 kg (5521b) (dry)
MPG: 40-45 MPG
Price now: $1,600-$3,500
Cycle World noted the Z1-R as Kawasaki's response to the café trend. The engine was the same as the usual Z unit, except the Z1-R ran on 2mm-larger carburetors, a return to the 28mm units on the first Z-1. It also breathed through a 4-into-1 pipe.
Of course, Cycle had a different take, screaming, "Motorcycling's First 11-Second Quarter-Mile Stocker" on its cover. Theirs went 11.95sec at 110.25mph in the quarter-mile. Cycle World's test bike took 12.48sec to complete the same task. Weighing in several pounds heavier than a standard KZ, the R had had the black-out treatment on nearly everything, including its rear sprocket. It also featured triple discs and cast wheels that, for many, were far more pleasing to the eye than Honda's Comstar pattern. The Z 1-R wasn't that popular in its day, partially due to the bike’s small fuel tank. The front brakes weren't great then, and are downright lousy by today's standards.