WHAT GOES AROUND comes around. This saying is quite fitting for the latest bike I now have residing in my garage. A bright red, 1985 Honda CBX750 FE.
The CBX was just an old man’s touring bike as far as I was concerned. It looked a bit odd too.
1999 and a new millennium beckoned. I had progressed to a FireBlade but accepted a go on the CBX. Looks can be deceptive and I could not believe what a good bike it is. It handled, braked and went like a rocket. Remember I was comparing it to my FireBlade as well! I needed a new winter hack and a deal was struck.
Introduced in 1984 with a claimed ninety-one bhp at 10,000 rpm . I remember Motorcycle News testing it to a top speed of over 140 mph. Honda quickly capitalised on this and the 1985 brochure advertised it as, ‘tested to a top speed of 144 mph ‘. Most magazines seemed to coax over 130 mph which is not bad.
Unfortunately for Honda, 1985 saw the introduction of Suzuki’s GSX-R750. One hundred horse power and over one hundred pounds lighter than the CBX. Yamaha’s FZ750 also produced similar output and all of a sudden the CBX was out of the limelight, which is a shame as I think it is a very under-rated bike. It sold for £2880 when it was introduced, which was quite expensive at the time.
Now it’s sixteen years old. I have stripped and renovated the cosmetically shabby bike to excellent condition and it is gleaming next to my CBR900. Even the looks are growing on me. Self-adjusting hydraulic tappets, a camchain tensioner that works and the novel use of the frame’s down tubes to carry the engine oil. This reduces the sump capacity, making the engine more compact. It also has an oil cooler – I ask you, in this bloody climate we have in the UK!
The engine is very narrow with the alternator behind the cylinders. It has a useful 4.8 gallon fuel tank and would you believe this: there is an accurate fuel gauge in the cockpit fairing. It seems to average only about 36-39mpg, which is about 10 mpg down on what I get from the Blade.
The suspenders are worth a mention, with anti-dive front forks and three-way adjustable rebound damping. The front end has an alloy fork brace and even air assistance, although I cannot see the 0-6 PSI variation available making much of a difference. The rear pro-link suspension is also air assisted but more importantly is enclosed by a metal shroud and a rubber gaiter to protect it from the elements. An excellent idea and a shame it has not caught on with our salt and grit infested roads.
So what’s it like on the road? I can go out on the FireBlade and reach some serious numbers on the speedo. However after reading last year about the poor bugger who was sent to jail for speeding above 150mph, I shudder at the consequences. Family man with 2.4 children goes for ride on motorcycle and returns criminal and public enemy number one! Zero tolerance, go to jail and put some money in the police coffers please. What is the bloody country coming to? I can see the sort of headlines we will have in a few years time: “Motorcyclist Sentenced To Two Years Imprisonment For Trying To Derestrict His 75mph Governed Fireblade”
The judge said, “We will not stand for this criminal and anti-social behaviour”. Don’t say I did not warn you! Anyhow I digress. Meanwhile back at the ranch. …
Over the years I have had a number of winter hacks and can honestly say I enjoy buying and restoring them as much as I enjoy scaring the living daylights out of myself on the FireBlade. So what advice can I give you on buying and restoring a hack? By restoring I mean to good useable condition, not chucking large amounts of money at a bike in the pursuit of perfection. Buying from someone you know or friend of a friend is a good option. Over a period of time you can probe a bike’s history and find out the drawbacks and problems before you jump in head-first with an offer. It also helps if you have some old bike magazines or friends with some to help research the model you’re after. Price up spares and consumables, budgeting for a worst-case scenario, ie. tyres, chain and sprockets, exhausts and a number of obscure engine parts.
Remember not to eye up a bike with rose-tinted spectacles. A shiny standard paint job on a petrol tank is a bonus but it’s not much good if you have to spend seven or eight hundred pounds on bits and pieces. Cheap practical motoring is what we are after. Let me use my CBX750 as an example. The bike, as I said, was very tatty when I acquired it. The plus points were that I knew its history for the last ten years and it had regular 2000-mile oil changes. The engines are ultra reliable and the only reccurring faults seem to be leaking forkseals and the chain split links going absent without leave. The rear tyre was nearly new and it came with a new front circa 1985 Pirelli Phantom tyre, although that was not fitted. The mechanic I got to fit it was laughing and wondering how someone had kept the tyre so long without using it. Part of the reason may have been because the width was a size too big for the front wheel. Luckily the tyre wall height was lower than standard so it fitted on the rim. Don’t just think a tyre will not fit because it’s a slightly different size. However you will have to be aware that it might affect the bike’s handling. The mechanic soon stopped laughing when it took him nearly an hour to fit it on the rim, heating and softening the tyre with a gas heater.
I basically divided the bike into three areas to work on. First the rear was stripped out and the swing arm painted. Wheel silver is nearly standard and went on a treat. An electric drill with a wire brush attached works well for preparation and saves wearing the fingers away with emery and paint remover. The shock and linkages were stripped and greased. I had caught them in the nick of time before they seized and had to spend quite some time freeing them up and greasing them.
The middle of the bike meant cleaning up the engine with small brass and wire brushes, a bit laborious, and then re-spraying the engine black.
A little word on exhausts. I could have bought a Neta system for the CBX for less than £200, which is reasonable. Closer inspection of the Micron four-into-one showed it still had some life left in it. I carefully used the drill and wire brush to get some rust off it. This produced holes in the collector box, which were quickly welded up at the local garage for a tenner. The exhaust was still too noisy to pass an MoT so I had a number of options. The inside of the silencer had disintegrated and I was going to grind the weld off the exhaust end cap to remove and repack the baffIe. M&P and other accessory shops sell it. Taking an even quicker route, I found a piece of one inch diameter pipe, about a foot long (in old money). This was drilled all the way along and hammered down the tail pipe. I am not saying you can get away with it on all exhausts, but it worked a treat on mine. The MoT mechanic was giving it a funny look but it quietened the bike and the MoT was in the bag.
To finish off, the bodywork was scratched and faded. A bit of patience with T-Cut and Turtle Wax soon had it looking nearly new.
On the CBX I have travelled on my favourite stretch of road back to back with the FireBlade. In summary I cannot believe how good the CBX is. Do not get brainwashed by what magazine road testers write about faster, lighter bikes and stickier tyres. It only works up to a point on real roads. The FireBlade is good but believe you me the Honda CBX750 is the more unlikely superbike of the two!
Bruce Wilson / UBG