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Honda CB1100RS Review

Review Date - 04 July 2018

By Tom McQuiggan

Rolling back the years!

Being a “70's biker” I was more than a little excited to hear in 2010 that Honda were releasing a new “retro” model based on the original 1969 CB750. It would be an air-cooled in-line four and would sport twin rear shock absorbers and would even have a flat, one-piece seat like in the old days!

A 1969 Red Honda CB750 motorcycle

Sadly, when the bike arrived in UK showrooms some 3 years later, it looked more 'dated' than 'retro'. There was very little that appealed to me – it looked more like the 1990's CB750 than the 1970's version. It had a drably styled fuel tank, alloy wheels and worst of all, just a single exhaust! 

The 2013 CB1100 and the 1992 CB750 in a combined image

There was an update in 2014 which made some improvements, but nothing of any significance until 2017 when Honda made a total redesign of the CB1100 and came up with (IMHO) the perfect blend of retro and modern.

Even if you're not particularly interested in the CB1100, I would heartily recommend that you read the fascinating story of the development of this bike on Honda's webpages. It gives a rare insight into what goes on in the depths of the normally secretive development areas of a big manufacturer. And it also makes you very aware of the emotional interactions between engineers and designers. Absolutely fascinating...


Anyway, when I saw the 2017 model, I immediately fell in love with it and despite having a superb VFR1200 in the garage, I kept hankering for a CB1100. A full year went by before I gave in to the urges and went to Blackpool Honda to test-ride the 'RS' version. When I got there, I took the bike out on my own so I could 'rag it' a little, before returning to the dealership to pick up my pillion for the second part of the test.

Tom sat on the CB1100RS at the shop then the bike at his house

While riding on my own, I immediately felt an enormous lack of power having just stepped off the 170-bhp VFR. I was really quite surprised at the difference and felt that the fifth and sixth gears were virtually useless unless you treated them as 'overdrives'. I felt like turning back and ending the test ride.

After a short while, I reminded myself that this bike was a totally different animal to the big Viffer. It was a plodder – something to take you around the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District or North Wales. Something to chill out on as you took in the scenery that you had ridden to see in the first place!

And so I started to forget about the lack of grunt and opted to accept the laid back riding style and just enjoy the new experience. And then I thought “Hold on a minute! This thing has nearly 90BHP and if you can't have fun with that power, there's something wrong with YOU, not the bike”.

So I found some country lanes and started to spank the bike, ignoring my normal built-in rev limiter. I took each gear change to the redline and a smile started to appear on my face. Yeh, I kinda like this bike!

Back at the Dealership, my fiancée sat on the bike and was immediately impressed by how easy it was to get on, thanks to that low, flat seat. We set off and through our intercom she repeatedly complimented the smoothness of the bike and even pointed out how good the exhaust note sounded. For her it was all about getting on and off, comfort and safety (she equates milder acceleration and lower speeds with safety). Overall, she was very happy and very complimentary of the bike.

Tom's partner stands by the CB1100RS smiling on a sunny day

For me, I was over the moon with the look of the bike. It was gorgeous! The perfect blend of old and new – the 70's styling, the twin shocks, the twin exhausts, the big headlamp with twin horns and the simple speedo and revcounter. I also appreciated the modern suspension with a bit of gold bling, the radial brakes and ABS, the gear position indicator, LED lights, the appearance of a 70's airbox, the side-panels.

Yes, it was certainly working for me. I also loved the fact that I could physically touch the spark plugs, LOL. The thing that I found disappointing (considering how much effort Honda put into designing this retro bike from scratch), was the seat didn't hinge like in the old days. They'd gone to soooooooo much detail (even making the cooling fins thinner to make them 'ping' when cooling down) and yet missed something that would have been the icing on a classic cake!

So, was I ready to buy?? For the salesman, sadly not. Not until I'd seen the beautiful retro from Kawasaki – the Z900RS. So off I went to Preston Kawasaki and there she was in all her Candy Brown glory! Gorgeous!! Or so I thought, until I looked closer and realised that this was no real retro at all.

For one, it was water cooled. It only had one silencer instead of the original's four. In fact, this was no retro at all – it was the modern Z900 with a different tank seat and headlight. Hmmm, not very happy with that – at least Honda had designed something from scratch and poured a lot of time, effort and money into creating something special.

And so it was back to the Honda Dealer to negotiate a PX price. It was (for a change) a rather good deal, so I signed the order form and arranged to pick her up a few days later. Originally I had been fancying the black colour scheme, but new for 2018 was the Silver, so I opted for that instead.

No sooner had I got her home and our holidays were upon us, so my new bike had to sit it out for a while in the garage until I got home. On the first Saturday back it was forecast to be a scorcher, so I got up at 6am and went out for a ride in the cooler morning sun.

I headed over to Devil's Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale and had a brew before going on to Sedbergh, Garsdale and Hawes. Contrary to my earlier acceptance of riding a plodder, I was riding the CB11 as quickly as any other bike I've ever ridden on these roads. It was a fast pace and I was enjoying every minute of it.

The CB1100RS in countryside settings

Comfort levels were high and the exhaust note was very, very pleasing, especially when surrounded by dry-stone walls where you could properly hear the offbeat valve timing. The engineers designed the exhaust note to be at its best around the 3-4k range, where most people will spend their time on this bike.

Good acceleration was only achieved by pushing the revs, but it reminded me of why I've always had a great fondness of 400cc bikes - you can properly thrash a 400 in this country and not worry too much about losing your licence or shortening your lifespan too much. Thrashing a Fireblade on UK roads is likely to result in a much different ending.

I'm not saying the CB11 is a sloth – it's not! But it's not gonna put you in the way of any serious harm no matter how hard you push it. With a pillion onboard (90% of the time with me these days), the gearbox gets a lot of use. There's no 'powering away in any gear' as there is on large capacity machines – you have to plan overtakes and be much more involved and in-tune with the bike you're riding – and that's good too.

The brakes on the CB11 are pretty good and the ABS is a no brainer as far as I'm concerned. The comfort of the seat I would say is below par compared to almost any other bike I've owned. It's a 200 miler at tops – but then I usually stop more often than that for a brew or photo opportunity anyway.

The 'upgraded' suspension of the 'RS' model is, I find, a little odd. It feels a bit sharp and tight for my liking. I wouldn't call it sporty, because I've had CBR600RR's and Fireblades which had more compliant suspension than this. I'm going to have to look into it more when I have time – certainly for solo riding.

Fuel economy is pretty good so far at just over 50mpg if ridden sedately, but when I'm on my own I can get that down to about 39mpg, resulting in a tank range of between 145 and 200 miles. The 'dashboard' is simple and clear. Just two clocks with a centrally mounted info-panel which includes a handy gear indicator.

Under the 'non-hinging' seat, there's a very handy storage box which holds (for me) a sidestand puck, a security cable, an emergency rucksack, spare ear-plugs and a V-Sponge. Very handy indeed! No bike is perfect – that's for sure! And like every other bike, the CB1100RS has its positives and negatives. But overall I am really pleased with my purchase. First and foremost, it's bloody gorgeous!!! And if I don't feel that way when I open my garage door, then there's not much point going any further is there? Secondly, I'm enjoying the 'downsizing' more than I thought and the lack of out and out grunt is taking me back to bygone times which I actually remember with affection.

I've had to fit a topbox which spoils the look of the bike somewhat, but it doesn't look too bad with the box detached, so that's good. I also improved the ridiculous mirrors by fitting extenders (Yamaha 10mm Left Hand Thread). Finally, I've fitted a quick-release tankbag.

The top box, the tank bag and the mirror extenders fitted to Tom's new bike

So, if you fancy revisiting your yoof, consider one of these. There's an 'EX' model with spoked wheels and higher bars and no gold bling for less money too. Unlike the Kwak Z900, it is a proper retro design built from the ground up and it shows in all the detailing and finish. It looks like they really enjoyed making this bike and I really like owning it.

Many thanks to Tom for his excellent review. If you'd like to see your review published here on Bikes And Travels drop Ren a line via ren@bikesandtravels.com

Reader's Comments

CrazyFrog said :-
A fascinating review of a good looking bike Tom.

Motorcycling is a very broad church, and it's good to hear from folk with a different perspective, as we all (myself included) tend to be lightweights on here :-)

Personally, in my over 35 years behind bars, I've never had a bike that made more than 50bhp and I think if I tried to redline a 90bhp bike in every gear, I'd exit stage through the nearest hedge pronto!
5/7/2018 12:09:34 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
My Fazer 600 produced 95bhp (allegedly). What I've come to appreciate is that doubling the power does not double the performance. My CBF125 at 11bhp can achieve roughly 70mph absolutely flat out with a tail wind. A 110bhp motorcycle, for example a BMW R Nine T, is 10 times more powerful but it cannot achieve 700mph.

More power undoubtedly improves 0-60 times and top speed - but not by anywhere near as much as the numbers suggest. It's all because of "squared" and "inverse squared" in the mathematics involved.

Anyhow I gave up considering a CB1100 when Tom mentioned 50mpg....or less.
5/7/2018 12:24:40 PM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Yes, 50mpg, that's a point, though I guess for the size, weight and power that's not too bad is it?

My personal yardsticks before purchase are

1/ Must be simple and maintainable by a moron (me).

2/ I want least 8k, preferably 10k out of a rear tyre, and the cheaper they are to replace the better.

3/ 60mpg minimum.

4/ At least 150 miles tank range before reserve.

5/ A bit of 'character', though this is hard to judge until actual ownership.

As I say though, we're all different and I totally get that most other people will have a different set of priorities.

5/7/2018 1:23:19 PM UTC
Rod said :-
Really love the CB1100RS in Grey!
I understand the feeling of a lack of power, this is all relative, and I am sure you will adjust to the new level of performance.
I am sure some on this site will not understand how 90bhp is not enough, so expect a few comments.
I am now riding a 20 something bhp bike and although I do not like Motorways on any bike, I now avoid them to a much larger extent because of the lack of power ( I await the inevitable comments ).
Running costs of 50mpg may seem expensive, but if I was to ride my bike at 90bhp speeds I think it would cost much more in new engines!
5/7/2018 8:40:03 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-

Easy simple bike - save for the EFI which when you understand it is actually quite simple too.

12k rear, the front cracks with age before wearing out. About £80 for a pair.

140mpg regular use. Rding into headwinds across Ireland with camping kit about 110mpg.

250 miles minimum from the tank, usually look to fill up around 290 to 300 mile mark.

Character? Erm...struggling into headwinds on a motorway is certainly "character building".


Relatively simple compared to some but the devil's own job just to get to the tappets.

I'm hoping for around 8-10k rear, about 18-20k front. About £140 for the pair.

70-80mpg. Pushing about 65mpg, sitting behind trucks on motorways 95mpg.

250 miles on tank before the gauge starts blinking.

Character? It's a Honda, it's kinda dependable if a little ordinary. That mate that's always on time and reliable but rarely leaves you creased double with laughter. The one that makes you laugh also gets arrested a lot and sleeps with your girlfriend.
5/7/2018 8:45:45 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
*Cracks fingers preparing to answer*

Power is relative. If you ride a 125 then a 250 feels fast, correspondingly if you've been spoiled rotten with an abundance of power then everything else feels slow. The key therefore is to stick with smaller bikes. Sorted...next!

Motorways are fine on a 125! Well. Sort of. Kinda. Maybe. As regular readers will know I use my 125 on the motorways all the time and therefore Rod you're 250 would be fine for me. As with the power it's a question of readjusting the mindset. I have become very "Zen" and even when I'm on the 500 I rarely trouble the 70mph speed limit. Chill out maaaaaan it's groooovy.

Yeah, be kind to that 250 engine. It was never really designed for 100mph plus.

Cheers Rod. It's all about what works for each person. If someone wants 200bhp that's fine. I, well, I struggle to imagine where and when you could ever use that power though.
5/7/2018 8:54:05 PM UTC
Rod said :-
Ren, That is my point! I avoid motorways and I am happy travelling at 55 - 60 mph. If a biker wants to ride faster, then they need the bike which is suited to this type of riding, hence less than 50 mpg.
Most vehicles are travelling at around 75mph on the Motorways when they are not at a standstill with traffic, and although the Zuma will manage this speed I feel uncomfortable with the engine so close to the limit. So I spend a lot of the time on the Motorways following the lorries, and find this boring.
5/7/2018 9:17:50 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
The world is a strange place. I used to hate motorways BECAUSE I was doing 70 (and more). I found it tiresome hanging on to the bike, battling the wind and the noise and fighting the traffic. Now I'll sit in the left lane tucked 2 seconds behind a truck. I have time to think, to relax, to sit back in the seat and let those in a rush wash by me.

Sharon doesn't like this, she too finds it boring and soporific. We sort of compromise on 65mph.
6/7/2018 6:22:54 AM UTC
Sharon said :-
Great review Tom,
Glad you are happy and enjoying your new bike.
As for the topic of motorways I to find low speeds on the motorway both boring and unnerving. I feel unsafe to be constantly overtaken and pulled in front off or have the driver behind a inch from my rear. So I prefer to keep up with the flow and find a space to occupy.
The Inazuma must be quite different from the Z250SL although they both are 250cc because it sits very comfortable at 70mph no where near it rev limit. Riding on the motorway the other day after parting from Ren I was happily keeping flow with traffic and thought I was only doing about 70mph only to find the bike was purring happily along at 80mph. If a 250cc can break the limit with such ease I have no idea how owners of bigger bikes keep legal.
6/7/2018 8:14:31 AM UTC
Rod said :-
Ren/Sharon, I have never liked motorways, but I do not find them as boring if I use them as they were originally intended, to get from A to B quickly.
This takes more of your attention when on the motorway, and more importantly you do not spend as much time on the motorway.
We come back to things being relative.
The bike I owned for 19 years was a Kawasaki GTR 1000 this had just under 90bhp and was considered slow by my brother who still rides much faster bikes. I could ride this bike at 100mph and not worry about hanging on and battling the wind as the touring faring would allow you to ride at this speed with your visor up.
Inazuma speed.. The Inazuma has an indicated top speed of 92mph, this is the redline. At 75mph the Inazuma is revving at 9000prm, in comparison the Kawasaki GTR was revving at 4500rpm, and to get into that gap in the next lane would not need to rev near the redline.
I am not criticising the Inazuma, It is a great little bike, and it may well be OK riding it at 9000 - 10000rpm, but I am not comfortable this close to the redline.
Sharon, just before I owned the GTR I had a 250 Kawasaki, this had a top speed of 130mph, It was called the KR1.
6/7/2018 9:46:46 AM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Psssst, Rod - The KR1 is a two stroke. Don't mention two strokes on here or Ren will have you blackballed off the site. Hopefully you may have got away with it this time though ;-)
9/7/2018 12:08:09 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-

2 Strokes!!! Pffffffffft!!! I remember in my yoof people revered the RGV Gamma, the RD250/350 YPVS and the KR1S (aka Kris). These words were evocative of immense speed and power in motorcycles barely larger than the Honda H100 (2 stroke) I owned back then. "Ring-a-ding ding ding" went my little Honda and "Braaaaarp!" went the Kris' and the Gammas and the Power Valves as they went past me.

Then I got a Honda CD200 Benly. Not because I wanted one but because it was all I could afford. The smokers would still pass me by but I soon learned, much like my H100, they'd be broken down soon whereas my Benly would just keep on plodding along.

Better fuel economy. More reliable. Cheaper to insure. Less likely to be stolen. My Benly also made a noise that didn't drive me insane after 3 hours on the motorways.

Now we'll have no more mention of 2 stroke engines. It took me all of my energy to just look at Ian's Arial/Aerial/Ariel thing without retching.
9/7/2018 12:27:15 PM UTC
Rod said :-
Hi CrazyFrog,
I will have to be carefull, I have already taken this post away from the cb1100rs by talking about motorways.
Now I ha e mentioned two strokes. I will have to make amends and mention high mpg bikes like Enfield Diesels.
9/7/2018 5:25:58 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Ahhh the Enfield Diesel. Why oh why oh why oh why did they stop making it and why can we not but them in the UK? 50-50 mix of diesel and used chip fat, the smell of chippy following me everywhere I go, put put putting along without fear of any horrible rapid acceleration and as much as 200mpg if ridden carefully. Ahhhh such sweet sweet dreams.
9/7/2018 5:55:23 PM UTC
Rod said :-
Ren, At the risk of going off piste again, I read a couple of years ago that a company was useing the Enfield 500 and grafting on to the bottom end a diesel generator engine. So the diesel may be available??
9/7/2018 7:04:53 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I never worry about staying on piste here at Bikes And Travels.

I remember reading something similar regarding the diesel Enfield...but I've not seen or heard anything since. I'll have a look around.
10/7/2018 7:33:29 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I don't think the diesel Enfield was actually made by the factory* but was (is) a conversion. Some used a Robin boat engine, others a Yanmar.

But the original (or at least an early) diesel motorcycle was a Matchless created by the late Ernie Dorsett http://www.dieselbike.net/Dorsett/Dorsett.htm

*But I could be wrong - I was once.......
10/7/2018 9:57:18 AM UTC
Ross said :-
I came across this at a rally in Kent a couple of years ago. A small crowd gathered to see it depart and a few had a snigger as it rattled and shook into life. It gathered pace down the road with all the alacrity of a soporific snail!

R E Diesel
10/7/2018 11:42:10 AM UTC
Rod said :-
Ross, That looks like the Enfield I was referring to, with the generator engine.
How are you getting on with the Zuma?
10/7/2018 6:54:56 PM UTC
Keith m said :-
Oh dear Rod, did someone say two stroke. Serial offender me. Tzr250, KR1, RD350 X3. Owned all of those. I'll get my coat.
10/7/2018 8:00:39 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I know the diesels will be slow but it's not exactly like my name is Marquez is it.

Sublime to the ridiculous here. Big heavy slow diesels and small light powerful 2 strokes. OK wise guys. Invent something as light, simple and powerful as a stroker that has the rugged reliable fuel efficiency of a diesel and we'll be wealthy people!
11/7/2018 6:16:36 AM UTC
Ross said :-
Rod said :-
"How are you getting on with the Zuma?"

Still enjoying it, it's running well...I've just put a pair of Avon tyres on to replace the originals, it's still doing 80+mpg and I'm looking forward to having a run out to Ardingly classic bike show on Sunday which is about an hour and a half each way from me, which should be a nice trip across country and across Winnie the Pooh's back yard in Ashdown Forest!
11/7/2018 7:53:41 AM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Diesel Enfields are available to order here :-

11/7/2018 7:56:35 AM UTC
Tom McQ said :-
Hi All. I'm liking the CB11 more and more. The power issue is becoming less of an issue the more I ride it. Yes, I miss the THRILL of intense acceleration, but I have to accept the fact that my olde-worlde brain is not so good these days at processing the barrage of information that fast bikes funnel through your optic nerves LOL.

As motorcycle riders we're all looking for different things and while many want a simple and economical form of transport - a workhorse - others have a completely alternative set of requirements. Personally, I have always looked at bikes as fun. Something to provide me with thrills and pleasure. Something for the weekend or a holiday break. Something that stirs my soul or fills me with desire (err, not THAT kind of desire, that would be weird). It's a lifelong hobby. Something that is not part of everyday drudgery. A hint of danger. An escape.

If I could afford it, I would have a few other bikes in my garage to admire and enjoy, and they are a world apart from each other, but I'm attracted to them all for different reasons.

* Honda CB400/4 (1976 in Red)
* Honda CB750/4 (1969 in Gold)
* Honda CB200 (1973 in Green)
* Honda CB250N (1980 in Black)
* Honda CX500 (1978 in Blue)
* Honda Goldwing GL1000 (1975 in Blue)
* Rudge Ulster (1930's in Black)
* Laverda Jota S2 (1981 in Orange)
* Kawasaki H2 750 Triple (1972 in Blue)
* Kawasaki Z1 900 (1973 in Candy Brown)
* Honda CBR600RR (2016 in Repsol)

Pre-Divorce, I had a man-cave and did a few bike restorations, but alas, it's an uber-expensive hobby and my lifestyle has changed in such a way that I'd probably not want to spend many hours in the garage anyway. But I do miss that side of biking - all the tinkering and fettling that I see on here.

Man Cave
17/7/2018 11:39:01 AM UTC
Chris said :-
Hi Tom,
I know I'm late to this party but just read your review of your bike.

I've been pouring over youtube videos and tests and can honestly say that the press launches are crap reviews all on the same bike they all take turns on and filmed in the same place in spain even the video shots are same at different points just the mcn guy or bennetts ins guy, visor down guy riding on the CB1100rs,all have read the spiele and all sound the same,there all out there on the jolly nothing wrong with that but i realised years ago if its a review you want ask a rider or two in a bike park,and get a test ride.

Your review spoke to me rather better,and I must say it chimed with my own bike journey of 41 years.
I still have a pack of classic sport bikes I've a TL1000sv original full power and can say that the handling issues were bogus,the uk press were the only ones who complained about the issue,Now i also have a fire blade 954rr a legend of a bike but beware They shake their heads far worse than any tl under full throttle,Didn't hear about that in the press did you.

7 years ago my wife decided that she wanted to get on the back again but she just hates the seating position on sports bikes,so asked me to get a 70's style retro like our old z650/4 kawa.

i found a great little Rear Suzuki GSX750w Inazuma,86 horse,220kg great seat,and very old school retro (my mates instantly stopped ringing me to go on rides with them)I learned to ride and look at the scenery again,i now ride the type of roads you have started using and enjoy this bike in a much different and enjoyable way.
my problem is slowing down after years of hooning around,I'm not cured completely its a work in progress,reality struck though when a 25 year old guy we were riding with, himself up front lost his front wheel on a dirty bend and ended up under a 4x4 ,4 of us trying in vain to revive him.
It's never put me off riding and it has not really slowed me down but 9 years later i'm still working on it.But the point is my old GSX is brilliant kit.
Today i spent my (low pay out) private pension money,every penny, i've just bought a Honda CB1100RS,the wife sat on it and likes the way she can swing a leg over easy,the seats a bit roomier, its going to get 1 tooth down on the front sprocket and two up on the back to cure the lack of pull.
It's an old timers instant performance hit, all bikes should do it,all mine have it, there all geared up high to get them through the noise regs, best mod you can do and its cheap.So on that basis i hope my new CB1100rs is going to be ok,If not its your fault.Do you Still Have It? Chris.
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