1980-1982 Honda CB900C — The Factory Custom

Best bets on tomorrow’s classics: 1980-1982 Honda CB900C.

| March/April 2013

Honda CB900C 
Claimed power: 83hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 132mph
Engine: 902cc air-cooled DOHC 16-valve inline four
Weight: 588lb (wet)
Price then/now: $3,349 (1980)/$1,500-$2,500 

The term Factory Custom may be an oxymoron, but the 1980 Honda CB900C was Honda’s early attempt at blending sporting performance with cruiser credibility and touring capability. Did it succeed? Or was it just trying to please all the people all the time?

Around 1980, the full-size motorcycle market began splintering into numerous niches, including the Factory Custom. Seats grew steps, bars pulled back, footpegs inched forward, and clean drive shafts replaced messy chains. No doubt mindful that its game-changing V4s were in the pipeline, Honda stretched its trusty 4-valve inline 750cc to 900cc, then laid back its ergonomics to take on Suzuki’s cruiser GS850/1100GL and Yamaha’s similarly-themed XS1100 Special.

Essentially, Honda hijacked the engine from its Euro-spec CB900F to power the CB900C. The air-cooled, 16-valve double overhead cam with pent-roof combustion chambers was fed by four 32mm Keihin carburetors. A single-piece forged crankshaft drove a jackshaft via a Hy-Vo chain, with gear drive from the jackshaft to the clutch and 5-speed tranny. Shaft drive was de rigueur in the custom class, so to keep development costs down Honda borrowed the final drive unit from the GL1100 to use on the 900C. There was, however, one minor problem using the GL unit: the CB900’s tranny output was on the bike’s left side, and the GL1100’s shaft was on the right.

Honda’s solution was a crossover shaft — actually, two shafts incorporating two pairs of gears. This gave the CB900C a 2-speed “Select Range” secondary transmission sitting in its own transfer case, complete with its own trochoidal oil pump for lubrication. And while it wasn’t as complicated as it sounds, it wasn’t exactly simple. Cycle magazine counted “20 gears, six shafts, a dozen bearings, three torque cushions, a U-joint and assorted couplings employed in making the crank/rear wheel connection.”

The 2-speed transfer case meant 10 forward gears, giving CB900C riders incredible flexibility in gearing. It also went a long way toward the bike’s reasonable fuel economy. Kept in “high” range, reports of 50mpg were common. That said, left in “low” range and ridden with a heavy right hand the CB900C would return as little as 30mpg.

bike on highway

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