Honda CB 400N
Honda CB 400N
Air cooled, parallel twin cylinder, four stroke, SOHC, 3
valves per cylinder, 360° crankshaft and twin balance-shafts
Bore x Stroke
70.5 x 50.6 mm
4x 32mm Keihin carb
Ignition / Starting
26.7 hp @ 7500 rpm
24.5 ft-lb @ 8000 rpm
Transmission / Drive
6 Speed / chain
Dual EVO dampers with 5-way spring preload adjustment.
2x 239mm disc
Braking 60 - 0 / 100 - 0
- / 38.1 m
In 1978, nine months after the 400T was launched, Honda
followed with a multitude of changes, mainly to the styling, which turned T to
N, Dream into Super Dream. 'Eurostyling' was the name given for the
new look, which chiefly entailed a longer, slimmer line for the tank, running
down to supportive rear-end treatment. Silencers of more gentle taper, but set
at a steeper angle, and new paintwork contributed to the appearance of what was
generally acknowledged to be a very handsome motorcycle.
Practical differences from the N series included twin 9.5in
front discs, a six-speed gearbox, heavier front-fork springs and improved
support for the rear-fork pivot. Modifications to valve timing and carburation
were claimed to give greater performance.
Funny places race tracks.
Real eye-openers, too, especially for people like you and I who get to ride
on them so infrequently, if at all Faults that might never show up on the
road can manifest themselves very quickly on the track, simply because you
can ride a bike so much closer to its limit away from normal road hazards.
Some excellent road machines become a real shambles on a racing circuit.
My first ride of any
consequence on the Honda CB400T was on the Nogaro Grand Prix circuit in
south¬west France last December, at the European launch of the CX500 The
little twin and the CB550 F2 were provided as yardsticks by which the merits
of the new V-twin could be assessed. The 550 four had always impressed me on
public roads, but at Nogaro it felt both slow and awkWard.
The CX500, of course, was
truly superb and has gone on to win widespread acclaim from Press and public
alike. But the overall excellence of the CB400T on that wet and twisty track
came as a biq surprise to me. The bike looked stodgy, but it proved to be
fast punchy, stable, and smooth, with good suspension, excellent
roadholding, and powerful brakes. It could be thrown around with gay abandon
and ridden right to the limit without any problems. A certain tester from a
rival magazine, not noted for a lack of riding ability, even managed to run
away from some of the new V-twins aboard the 400 The popular 400 four, it
seemed, had found a worthy successor.
Given that the original
package was so right, it seemed that when Honda introduced the CB400N Super
Dream in the spring of 1978 nobody could fail to be impressed The stocky,
stubby look had been replaced by new styling specially for the European
market; the saddle was a tad lower; twin discs like those fitted to the
CX500 now graced the front end; and a whole host of internal changes were
said to have further improved reliability and boost power.
The motorcycle Press
liked the new styling, the dealers fell over one another to place orders for
both the 250 and 400cc variants, and the only murmur of discontent came from
those riders who had just bought a new 400T which would now be obsolete,
despite having been launched only nine months earlier And, almost
inevitably, the new model cost £80 more than the twin it replaced.
What does the extra cash buy you assuming
that the Dream would have held its £869 price tag until now? The most
obvious difference is the new styling, which certainly loses the bulky
appearance of the first model and adds a touch of the 'hungry greyhound'
appeal of the CBX This is achieved by waisting the fuel tank where it meets
the dualseat, and • ending the tank into the snap-on plastic sidepanels,
which in turn merge with the matching seat base and tailpiece. This clever
design work gives the tank and seat combination an integrated look that is
far removed from the bulbous lines of the Dream.
The slimmer, racier appearance is
reinforced by the rakish tilt of the seat unit towards the rear, accentuated
by pmstriping. The whole ensemble is set off by some very striking paintwork
in silver, red, or a rather ..garish blue, with the Honda emblem emblazoned
in large white letters on a broad blue stripe that deepens its shade as it
moves from the front of the tank to the rear. It is certainly a machine that
stands out in a crowd' m fact, when I first saw the silver-version it struck
me as one of the most beautiful middleweights ever to grace British roads.
The blue paint scheme on our test machine tended to detract, in my opinion,
from the machine's inherent good looks.
Additional .styling alterations give the
new twin a narrower but deeper seat, a new integrated instrument pod, a
CBX-style filler cap to replace the awful flap tacked onto the older model,
new switehgear, rear-set footrests, and a double-disc front brake. The
indicators are now rectangular and their stems covered by soft plastic
The engine and its ancillaries have also
come in for their fair share of attention, with some 50 modifications
claimed by the factory. Honda has altered the valve timing, modified the
carburettor settings to give better breathing, and slotted in a six-speed
gearbox in place of the five ratios employed in the Dream. Longer silencers
are said to reduce noise slightly and produce better top-end power, and the
points are replaced by electronic ignition for a more reliable spark and
virtually no maintenance.
The basic engine formula remains
unaltered, with a very over-square twin-cylinder motor relying on
chain-driven counterweights to balance out most of the vibration inherent in
a four-stroke twin. Honda's three-valve-per-cylinder layout, pioneered on
the Civic car engine, is still retained, and the engine breathes through two
32mm Keihin constant vacuum carburettors to give a claimed 43bhp at 9,500rpm
and 24.5ft-lb of torque 1,500rpm lower down the scale. Straight-cut gears
transmit the power through a 14-plate clutch running in engine oil.
But why take a tried and tested popular
design and revamp it so extensively only nine months after its introduction?
Well, marketing obviously had a lot to do with it. After all, it is widely
believed that the main reason for producing marvels like the CBX is to
encourage people to go out and buy the affordable bikes in the range — like
the 400. It helps if the 400 looks even faintly similar to the flagship, and
the Super Dream fills this criterion more closely than the old Dream, fine
motorcycle though it was.
Nevertheless, there are more tangible
benefits. Take the riding position. It suited me fine on the Dream, but the
400N has been tailored more than ever before to suit European tastes. The
handlebars are 1.8in lower than before, seat height is down to 31.Sin from
32in, and the footrests are almost four inches further rearward. This all
adds up to a really comfortable riding position that encourages effortless
cruising or bend-swinging. I asked one Dream owner to try the Super Dream
and his immediate reaction was to praise the new layout.
What you gain in limb comfort you lose
through the seat of your pants, since the broad saddle on the Dream was far
more comfortable for long journeys than the deeper but narrower perch on the
400N. It rates as one of the least comfortable seats I've sat upon this
year, and after fairly short journeys of only 50 miles or so I was happy to
stretch my legs and massage my tender backside.
Comfort was not enhanced either by
vibration on the test model. The rider felt it most through the handlebars
and footrests, and it was at its worst at 70mph. After only 30 miles on one
trip at that speed I stopped to find my fingers and toes numb from the
high-frequency shakes. Now this I have to put down to a problem with our
particular test machine, because I recall no such complaint with either the
250T or 400T, and it is inconceivable that Honda has modified the bike
sufficiently to make it vibrate. Rather, I would imagine that chain tension
on the balancer drive was neglected at the previous service.
The passenger had no such problems; the
pillion position was most comfortable, and vibration conspicuous only by its
absence. Our test bike was obviously a rogue in other ways as well. Nobody
can convince me that Hondas leak oil, but ours had a weep from the cylinder
head/barrel joint that became progressively worse as the test continued. It
was more likely to be a faulty seal at an oil well than a leaking head
gasket. Either way, it is a very odd occurrence on any Honda and must not be
regarded as typical of the breed.
If the riding position encouraged
bend-swinging, the handling and braking virtually forced the rider to seek
out twisty roads. That is not to say the Super Dream did not like straight
roads; it behaved impeccably on them, being extremely stable for a machine
with such a comparatively short wheelbase at 54.7 in. But its tyres,
suspension, and general roadhoiding have been developed to such a high
degree that to ride the main highways was to learn only half the story. Show
the 400 a twisty road and it comes into its own.
Its handling is probably unsurpassed in the 400cc class, even by the
two-stroke Yamaha. The original Dream could be hustled through bends with
amazing elan as we proved at Nogaro, but the new model features detail
improvements to the suspension and running gear while retaining the same
single down-tube frame that uses the engine as a load-bearing member.
The 400N has slightly altered and uprated
front suspension with improved damping and slightly more movement at 5y2in.
The damper rod of the FVQ rear shock absorbers has had its diameter
increased from 9mm to 10mm, and that is the sort of small but obviously
significant change that typifies the Japanese approach to engineering. The
rear shocks have dual-phase damping with varying loads. Spring pre-load is
five-way adjustable, and I found the best results came with the fourth
To make the suspension more responsive to
road irregularities the unsprung weight has been reduced by changing to
all-alloy construction for the Comstar wheels — again a la CBX. How much of
this advantage is lost by fitting a second disc and caliper at the front end
is hard to say, but the net result is superb. Ground Clearance presents no
problems on public roads; in fact, a previous tester had worn away so much
of the right-hand footrest that I was unable to ground it no matter how hard
I tried. And the Yokohama tyres take advantage of the generous clearance by
providing first-class grip at all angles of lean on wet roads or dry. The
3.60 S19 front and 4.10 S18 rear covers have an abundance of tread climbing
up the sidewalls, providing all the traction a hard rider needs in any
Being lighter than some other 400s at a
claimed 377lb dry, the Super Dream can be flung into bends with great ease.
Laid right over for a fast corner, you see a badly filled trench running
right across your line where the council workmen have left a 2in deficit to
be made by the bike's suspension. The Honda sweeps over it without any
attempt to move off line, and the rear suspension barely transmits any
feeling of the hazard to the rider. In the same way, the bike sails over
bumps without any bucking, nodding, or weaving. The whole machine seems
finely balanced, and even the handlebars fail to twitch as the bike copes
with the worst excesses of our road menders.
Flicking from side to side through a
series of bends is no problem due to the low weight and the bike's agility,
and one of life's pleasures is picking the Honda up from a left-hand bend,
leaning hard into a right-hander and changing up through the gearbox. The
engine is strong enough to pull a high gear through most bends, but the top
three ratios in the six-speeder are close enough to make their efficient use
a source of real satisfaction. The gearbox itself is smooth and the ratios
fast and easy to select, with no risk of missing a change, but because of
the relatively modest power output of the engine you need to avail yourself
of the 'box' to get the best out of the machine.
Braking is superb at the front and pretty
awful at the rear. The twin front discs have their calipers behind the fork
legs in the current fashion, and the pads are similar to those fitted to the
CX500. One finger is all that is needed to produce tyre-howling stops,
although using four fingers gives more sensitive control. But the rear drum,
although rod-operated, offered no feel whatsoever on the test bike. Great
pressure was needed to achieve any retardation from the back brake, and
there was no telling at what point the wheel would lock up — which it would
do, often unexpectedly. The front discs deserve to be backed up by an
efficient rear drum. Wet braking caused no bothers.
The Honda's 395cc short-stroke engine
feels immensely strong and robust, and the test machine would whistle up to
80 or 85mph at any time and hold that speed indefinitely. Unfortunately, our
particular machine suffered one other sad fault: it would not pull more than
7,500rpm in sixth gear, even though maximum power is produced at 9,500rpm
and the redline begins at 10,000rpm. Every time I tried to sneak above this
figure the motor would die instantly on both pots, just as effectively as if
I had turned off the ignition or run completely out of fuel. Trying to
exceed 7,500rpm through the gears usually produced the same effect, or
occasionally would just cause a bad misfire on both cylinders.
The most obvious cause was spark plugs
breaking down at high revs, but it seemed unlikely that both would do so at
the same time. Since the otherwise comprehensive toolkit failed to yield a
plug spanner I was unable to investigate further. Another possibility is
that the electronic ignition system was faulty, but this is unlikely because
it performed so well at all other engine speeds. Or perhaps some strange
carburettor malady was to blame. In any event it put paid to any attempt to
find out the true top speed. Honda claims 108 mph, and from the general feel
of the motor at 7,500rpm I believe that a rider trying hard might achieve
Fuel consumption was remarkably
consistent at 53mpg and a best of 59mpg. About 65 or 70mpg should be well
within reach for the rider who does not ride everywhere at 75mph. The 3.1
gallon fuel tank, which incorporates a 0.77 gallon reserve, should take you
135 miles before it is time to start looking around for a petrol station.
This sort of fuel consumption is* highly creditable considering very little
of my mileage was undertaken in 'town.^or at low speeds.
One of the boons of bikes like the Super
Dream is that they make ideal commuting transport while still retaining the
ability to take in a Continental tour or rally without fuss. In town traffic
the Honda has light and quick steering, a feather-like clutch action, great
braking, and a docile disposition. Yet it has all the urge it needs to stay
ahead of most traffic, excluding riders of larger motorcycles. Neutral is
easy to find at a standstill, although six gears seems a real overkill when
you have to change down five times approaching a red traffic light. My ankle
never became quite convinced that so much frenzied activity should be
The switchgear is similar to that fitted
to the CX500 and it all works very well, except that the indicator switch is
easy to overcancel. Roll on self-cancelling indicators, although it is
understood that Honda engineers have yet to be satisfied with any of the
methods they have tried so far. Lighting and instrumentation is as good as
you would expect. The 400 has now sprung a quartz halogen headlight with
60/55W beams which should take care of the darkest roads, but our test bike
for some reason was fitted with an ordinary light that was of very little
Quality of finish is unlikely to cause
owners any problems, except in two areas. Our bike, although only 1500 miles
old on collection, had heavy rusting inside the ends of the attractive
tapered silencers. And while rust had yet to attack the under-belly balance
pipe between the two exhausts, most older Hondas that have faced a salty
winter have rusted up badly in that spot. I believe some dealers offer
rust-proofing on that large balance pod free of charge — it's worth asking.
Otherwise the paint, chrome, and alloy look very durable. Plastic is used
for the rear mudguard, chainguard, and sidepanels.
The dualseat is retained by two catches
and secured by a loop around the helmet lock. Once these are released the
seat lifts right off the machine, revealing the toolkit, access to the air
filter, and a small plastic box under the tailpiece that holds the owner's
manual and very little else. The major electrical components and the battery
live behind the sidepanels. The air filter is a washable polyurethane foam
type, which should cut servicing costs. Being a single overhead cam engine,
tappet adjustment should present few problems (the whole rocker box comes
away with two bolts), while the electronic ignition removes yet another
chore. That leaves just changing the oil and balancing the carbs as regular
service items, and the oil drain plug is readily accessible. The test bike
used a negligible amount of oil during the 800-mile evaluation.
The upswept silencers emit a pleasant
burble that sounds good without being offensive, and the silencers
themselves are well clear of the wheel spindle for speedy rear wheel
removal. I had a sudden and unexpected puncture while overtaking a car in
Knightsbridge the evening I was taking the 400 back to Chiswick, but thanks
to the prompt arrival of help in the form of a Honda van I didn't have to
actually change the wheel. It shouldn't present any problems, though.
Mechanical noise on the twin is very low,
and generally it has all the appearances of being very easy to live with.
One annoying trait that seems characteristic of these models is a high
degree of drive-train lash which is compounded by the sudden on/off action
of the CV carbs. The mirrors give a reasonable view of following traffic,
even if the vibration did continually upset the images and occasionally
knock the offside mirror out of adjustment. Again, that sort of problem
should not occur on other The latest 400cc twin from Honda at £949 offers a
stylish package that is equally suited to commuting or touring,.with the
added dimension of first-class handling to separate it from the crowd. If
that sort of combination is the result of Honda's efforts to please the
European market, it bodes well for other new models to follow. The Super
Dream has sufficient merit to warrant its introduction as a new model, and
if Honda can leave it be for a few months it must be one of the great
all-rounders of 1979.
Motorcycle Illustrated -