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Honda CBX 400F
It's not easy to follow in the footsteps of a legend.
Not even a junior-grade motorcycle legend like Honda's CB400F. Its half-life on
this planet was so brief that its biography is but a short paragraph in the
magnum opus of moto-history, yet it still managed to earn cultbike status
amongst the cafe-crazies. Many of them even vowed never to forgive Honda—not
only for terminating a magnificent motorcycle after just three short
Well, listen up, all you fans of the late, great CB400F: The
400 Four is back. No, it's not the same CB400F you've grown to know and love,
it's a substantially better one—better in power, in handling, in braking, in
comfort and in just about any
That's probably okay with you, though, since most riders didn't lament the passing of the old 400 Four any more than they do the new one's failure to reach these shores. They are, after all, only 400s, which equates to buzzy, twitchy, cramped, slow, little motorcycles, the kinds of bikes in which you have absolutely no interest. But before you turn a deaf ear, hear this:
The CBX400F is none of those things. We know; we spent an entire month testing one that had been imported by DG Performance Accessories of Anaheim, California. And we're talking about a mid-13-second motorcycle here, folks, a bike that'll blow not only the old CB400F into the weeds, but a lot of bigger and more highly exalted machinery as well. We're talking about a bike that weighs just 402 pounds and has a low, 30.7-inch seat but that doesn't feel at all undersized; a motorcycle that will dart off into a fast corner at the very thought of turning, yet is as stable on the open road as something twice its size. We're talking about an honest-to-God, for-real motorcycle that just might, if you could get your hands on one, make you forget that the original 400 Four ever existed.
Your first indication of the CBX400F's for-realness can be
found on the tachometer face, where the engine redline is set at an unbelievable
11,500 rpm. Jeezus. Nothing but purebred racing machinery has ever had a redline
that high, especially a four-stroke. But Honda has struck the mother lode of rpm
on this bike without resorting to anything but its tried-and-proven
short-stroke, four-valves-per-cylinder technology. The sizable bore of the
highly oversquare engine (55mm bore and 42mm stroke, as opposed to the 51mm by
50mm dimensions of the CB400F) provides the large valve area needed for a high
power output, while the extremely small and light valves in each 99.8cc cylinder
permit ultra-high rpm. And the short stroke yields the low piston speeds
necessary to prevent the engine from ripping itself apart
Indeed, but your mental tachometer just isn't calibrated to deal with 11500 rpm, so you'd never know that the engine wasn't self-destructing by the way it sounds at those speeds. The CBX400F wails like a runaway air-raid siren as the engine approaches redline, and the shrieking resonates inside your helmet so loudly that it's all you can hear. The intake roar alone is menacing enough, as though you and the seat are about to be sucked into the 26mm Keihin CV carbs at any second. And you can't help but feel that something—a piston, a rod, perhaps one of the 16 valves that is being hammered open almost 100 times a second—is going to come flying up and eunuchize you on the spot.
Of course, this all sounds more apocalyptic than it really is, since the CBX400F is perfectly happy to run all day in these absurd rpm ranges. What is surprising though, is that despite the engine's high rpm inclinations, it's not at all peaky.
The best performance, obviously, comes in the upper part of the powerband, say, between 7500 rpm and redline. And to that end, the slick-shifting six-speed gearbox has very closely spaced ratios that keep the revs from dipping below nine grand (except between first and second, where they drop from 11,500 to about 8000) during a WFO run. Nonetheless, the power delivery is almost linear from idle to redline, with only a slight increase in acceleration in the upper third of the rpm range.
Some of the CBX400F's reasonable mid-range stems from the exhaust system, which pairs off the cylinders that fire at even, 360-degree intervals (Nos. 1 and 4 lead—^ into the left muffler, Nos. 2 and 3 into the right). The conventional arrangement (feeding Nos. 1 and 2 into the left mufflejtf^ and Nos. 3 and 4 into the right) is cos- -metically more symmetrical but not as efficient, since it adjoins cylinders that fire at uneven (180/540-degree) intervals.
This is not to imply that the CBX400F's midrange performance
is in the literbike league; it's not. There's usable power on tap at virtually
all rpm in all gears, probably even more so than on the old 400F. But when
you're at cruising rpm and want to summon some serious acceleration, a downshift
or three usually is in order.
Those dragstrip numbers also mean that the CBX400F will outrun a slew of 500-550cc motorcycles and all of the 400-450cc four-stroke twins. And any stock RD400 Yamaha that sees a CBX400F coming had better run the other way if it hopes to avoid being embarrassed. Not that this racy, rpm-aplenty double-hammer doesn't have its practical side. For one, it's the first four-valve-per-cylinder fconda multi to abandon shim-type cam followers in favor of the forked, screw-adjustable type (a la Suzuki GS750E/ 1100E) that makes valve-lash adjustment easy and inexpensive. And everything else inside the engine is conventional fare, from the plain-bearing crankshaft to the Hy-Vo-type cam chain and primary chain to the solid-state breakerless ignition. The CBX400F engine might perform like a racer out on the road, but it's just another motor in the shop.
The same can be said about the chassis, which has a distinctly racy personality when in motion but is comprised mostly of ideas that have seen service on other Honda models. The front fork is air-assisted, as is the single rear shock that is Pro-Linked to an absolutely gorgeous cast-aluminum swingarm.
There are no provisions for making damping adjustments at either end—perhaps a concession to the inordinate high cost of a 400cc four but you will find one of Honda's TRAC anti-dive mechanisms on the left fork-slider leg. The steering geometry on the double-down-tube frame is a touch slower than the old 400F's (97mm of trail compared with 84mm), and the wheelbase is about an inch longer. Both tires are H-rated 18-inchers mounted on attractive ComStar wheels. See? Nothing revolutionary about that.
But due to the CBX400F's light weight and well-balanced chassis design, all of its handling magic is found in the riding, not on the spec sheet. The bike is so inherently stable that you don't have to concentrate on keeping it going straight when you're not turning, yet it practically begs to be tossed into a hard turn. It banks over with remarkable ease, even when braking hard, and it willingly follows whichever line you choose. You can even change lines in mid-corner if you so desire—partly because the steering remains so neutral when the horizon is tilted over at crazy angles, and partly because there's so much cornering clearance that you can usually tighten up your arc if need be. You have to lean this machine way, way over before the centerstand feet (and, on the right, the footpeg) contact the ground. Even with no air at all in the suspension units (not, incidentally, a recommended procedure), it takes a fairly aggressive charge through a corner (or a sizable bump therein) before hardware kisses highway.
Overall, the CBX400F handles corners of all sizes, shapes and speeds with aplomb, never wiggling or twitching in the least. But the bike has its finest hour in the tight twisties, where the quick steering and high-rev- s ving engine rocket it from i turn to turn about as fast as g most riders care to go. If you | don't come away from an £ llVfe-grand charge through * the hairpins on a CBX400F feeling like a card-carrying roadracer, chances are you never will.
Still, given its propensity for back-road blitzing, the Honda
is quite comfortable in cruise mode. The engine is pleasantly smooth below 6000
rpm and acceptably so above it, and the ride quality most of the time is just
short of plush. Only certain small, abrupt bumps deliver any harshness to the
rider, and even some of those jolts would prove less annoying if the seat were
more comfortable. It's rather firm and ill-fitted to the nether regions,
rendering it a not particularly luxurious place to park for more than an hour or
The riding position offers a near-perfect Euro-style
sportbike tri-angulation, even for six-footers, and the spacing between the
rearset pegs and the foot controls seems spot-on for Amercian (read: big) feet.
And a large rider can even see what he's left behind, since the mirrors are
spaced fairly far apart, despite being mounted on narrowish, cast-aluminum
The claimed advantages are: 1) The disc is protected from
water and grime
Unfortunately, it never rained during our test of the
CBX400F, so we can't report
The brakes are eye-catchers, as well, with generous finning on the hubs and calipers that gives them a high-tech, exotic ook. It's all part of a concerted effort by onda to style the CBX400F as a serious enthusiast's motorcycle, not as an entry-evel tiddler. It certainly works, to our eyes, at least. And the best styling lick of all is the rear turnsignals, which are cleverly integrated into the outer ends of the taillight lens. But since that places the signal lights too close together to comply with U.S. regulations, don't look for similar treatments on Hondas sold here.
That's too bad. The real pity, though, is that the entire
bike, or anything like it, won't be sold here. It's our loss, since the
CBX-model 400F is an exciting, competent, complete motorcycle, one whose only
faults are its seat, its lack of small-bump suspension compliance and its mild
shortage of rebound damping in the rear shock-all of which undoubtedly would be
rectified once the bike were recalibrated for American roads and riders.
The CB400F got lost in the shuffle back then amidst
everyone's mad rush for 11-sec-ond performance and hot-rod literbikes, but the
pendulum has begun to swing the other way. The trend now is more toward mid-size
motorcycles, and the CBX400F more than qualifies as one of those. Modern
technology allows it to perform like a 550 and, in fact, almost as well as a
CB750 Honda of the '75-'77 era. Besides, what endeared the original CB400F to
its followers was its appearance more than its performance, for it was the first
Japanese motorcycle that didn't look like one. But beneath its European-inspired
cafe-racer exterior was little more than an overbored 1974 CB350 Four—certainly
not one of history's most memorable motorcycles.
• Okay, the CBX400F is unobtanium, but this isn't going to be another dissertation on how the motorcycles are always better on the other side of The Pond. That's almost incidental. But central to the 400F's attraction is that you can wring the be-jeezus out of the thing—going really fast in the bargain—and get off feeling that you've used every ounce of performance that the littlest CBX has to offer.
All that might not mean very much if the CBX were "just another 400." But it isn't. From the inboard discs to 16 of the tiniest valves you've ever seen, the CBX fairly sweats performance. And it all works. So you can view the CBX as just another interesting piece of hardware that's not available in stores if you want to. Not me. I figure that it's rolling proof that performance 400s—a class almost forgotten of late—still provide their own special joys. —Larry Works
• As a former owner of Honda 305 and 350cc twins, I've got a
soft spot for small bikes. My roots run deeper, too, having spent most of my
roadrace days aboard Yamaha RD350s and 400s. So riding the CBX400 was like
meeting an old friend.
• After my first ride on the CBX400F, I was not overwhelmed.
Oh, it seemed to be a nice enough motorcycle, but it didn't feel nearly as fast
nor as nimble as my much-modified '75 400 Super Sport.
Source Cycle Guide 1982