DOT COTTON IS A SEX goddess. Norman Lamont is a gifted political economist.
Wimbledon are a credit to the Premier League. Madonna is mellowing with age. The
CB Two Fifty is a thrilling motorcycle.
It's far too easy to joke about Honda's new commuter...
"Doctor, doctor, I ride a CB Two Fifty and everyone's ignoring me..." "Next."
...but when the marque that produced the FireBlade turns out a 250 that's so
overwhelmingly insipid, so soft you almost need to scrape it off your shoe, it's
very easy to criticise it for just that - and damn difficult to remember the
poor thing's good points. So I made a list.
Point 1. The CB Two Fifty is not a motorcycle. It is transport.
Motorcycling as a leisure pursuit, as a fun thang, is not what the CB is
about. Ten minutes into my first ride I yawned, literally. After a couple of
days I decided there wasn't a lot of difference between the CB and my
hack-a-bout Fiesta Pop Plus ('cept my Fiesta is littered with Marlboro packets,
has two more wheels, an all-weather cabin, Simon Mayo first thing and... is
faster). The following week I found myself having to use ALL the CB's gears to
overtake a blee-din' tractor. Exciting it is not.
But as simple, across town transport the CB has few peers. The soft engine
combined with idiot-proof controls, low, narrow seat and an ability to do 360°
turns in your living room, make it the perfect learner tool — and so what if
it's a 250. It's as easy to ride as a Honda Express and has a dexterity which
makes it a joy through the urban sprawl. Here, commuter queues, traffic lights
and constant stop-starting is fun. Wiggle here, squeeze through there, see you
It's also so light, so low, so manageable it becomes almost a plaything: a
doddle to bump over kerbs; a toy to aim through bollards; a reassuring ease to
swerve past grandad. Almost the only time you need put your feet down is when
you get off. Virtually the only thing you need worry about is someone
recognising you aboard what is, effectively, an overgrown CG125. But then, if
you were bothered too much about image, you wouldn't be interested in the CB in
the first place.
Point 2. The CB Two Fifty doesn't have performance - it has ECONOMY.
The best I ever saw on the CB's speedo was 75mph — downhill, tucked
in, being twotty. The worst I ever got from a tankful was well over 200
miles at an average 75mpg. And this coming from someone who canes everything to
the extent of once managing to drain Kawasaki's Zephyr 750 in a paltry 70 miles.
(Heh heh heh).
Both these facts are simply astonishing.
Put it another way. The CB Two Fifty is outperformed in terms of acceleration
and top speed not just by bikes with engines half its size, but by restricted
engines of half its size. But it also has a touring tank range the equal of
the ST1100 Pan European. This, unsurprisingly, led me to to some bizarre
On most bikes, having to fill up at petrol stations is an irritating chore -
unless it's the middle of winter on the M6 and you welcome the chance to
defrost. Mosdy you want to stay out there, on the road, having a whazz, enjoying
your bike, being 'a man', all that twaddle. But on the CB, fife was so dull I
actually looked forward to filling the damn thing up — yet never really
had to. I only refuelled four times during the best part of a thousand miles.
And this, I found, immensely annoying. Trust Honda to give the first bike you
actually want to stop at garages on, the ability to go to Mars and back
on half a teaspoonful of unleaded.
The reason, of course, is that perhaps more than any other bike, the CB's
engine has been tuned, or should that be de-tuned, for economy. One theory
currently doing the rounds is that its engine doesn't actually combust at all.
Instead, a cunning Honda-style plan has enabled simply the weight of the
fuel mixture on the piston crown to drive the crank without recourse to all
those messy explosions, exhaust fumes and consumption of the world's valuable
resources. This would explain the CB's virtually unique economy and lack of
performance were it true. But in fact it's complete rhubarb.
Instead what we have is a massively understressed, basic old air-cooled twin
fed by a single, pathetic little 26-mil carb. It's not surprising then, that the
CB burns so little fuel — 'cos the carb hardly gives it any. Nor should anyone
be mystified by its piffling 20bhp at 8500rpm and 14.71b.ft at 4500rpm. This
engine, like all good fuel-efficient commuters, does the bare minimum required
and nothing more. In short, it is the dampest squib that was ever wheeled out of
Sometimes, of course, slow, is good. Good when you're sitting on a licence
with nine points. Good when you blat along a country lane, round a corner at
what you thought was a fair old lick, and find a horse and pretty rider giving
you a 'thankyou for riding so considerately' wave before you'd even had a chance
to throttle off.
So once you appreciate all that, there's little point complaining about
anything else. The five-speed box has five very low speeds in it which are
reasonably easy to swap between. The engine prefers life around the pleasing
rumble, bumble 5-6000rpm area, after which it starts resemble an overstressed
blender. The chassis is unencumbered with any of the last decade's technological
developments, but then its performance doesn't really demand anything that would
require them anyway. The telescopic forks have the dimensions and damping of a
ball point pen. And the brakes, tiny little disc up front and drum rear, again
are, let me see, 'adequate', for stopping well in advance of Mrs Miggins at
As I said earlier, the CB doesn't have conventional 'performance' in any
shape or form. But then it's not meant to have and probably doesn't need them
either. It's well built, solid, sturdy and, by my calculations, burns virtually
no petrol at all.
Point 3. The name CB Two Fifty N, might remind of the old, redoubtable CB250N
Superdream (ahem), but in truth the two bikes have about as much in common as
Frank Bough has with the Pope.
In fact it's not really a Superdream at all (not that we'll let that stop us
calling it one). The CB engine is pure Benly. The bike overall is smaller,
lighter, lower, more lithesome than the old Dream. That was a substantial bike.
It wore 19in rubber, weighed over 701b more and its proportions at least (if not
much else) were credible. By comparison, the CB is a silly lightweight. In other
words, the CB Two Fifty isn't a CB — it's a CD, a Benly.
Time for a little bit of history. "Over the years Honda's range of downmarket
twin-cylinder Benlys have become regarded as the definitive ride-to-work hacks
for the non-fashion conscious. The first CD 175 appeared in the late 1960s and
Benlys have been around ever since with remarkably few changes." Roland Brown,
BIKE CB125 Benly test, October 1984.
Confusing styling updates apart, the same holds true for the CB Two- Fifty.
It's an efficient round-town (or maybe a little bit further, but I wouldn't
fancy it much) runabout that's been lavished with a hefty wodge of Honda-style
and Honda build-quality ..But for all that is still, essentially, as dull as a
rainy day in Coventry.
And because of that, and because of the £2600 price tag that pays for things
like the unnecessary but neat faired-in tail light, I have absolutely no idea
who is going to buy a CB Two Fifty. This is the invisible bike, the Hyundai
Stellar of motorcycling, basic transport. A comparableJawa costs about a third
of the price. Will the CB last three times as long? The CB's more economical
but not enough to make up for the difference in price, surely? And the CB may be
more pleasing, better built, possibly more reliable. But really, that's all it
Fifteen years ago those reasons were enough for people to buy Superdreams as
basic ride-to-work transport. In those days the choice wasn't between your bike
or your car — your bike was your car. And though the CB Two Fifty doesn't
represent much of a change, times have. People don't buy bikes, at least not
bikes as expensive as this, solely as transport anymore. And maybe the world
would be a better place if they did. □