As the California sun sank low, and the strands of sunlight glistened off the polished black tank of the Honda CB1100, you would have been forgiven to think that you were somehow transported back in time to the year 1963. This motorcycle seems out of place in the modern world, instead belonging to a subculture that has long since passed. The CB1100 isn’t just a thematic throwback to the café racers of yore, but rather, it’s something that truly channels those early Nortons, Vincents, and Triumphs that raced from café to café, pushing riders to go continually go faster.
Honda imbued that long-forgotten magic that made those early motorcycles great in the CB1100. There’s an energy that this motorcycle gives off. It’s in the lines—it’s in the way the engine puts down power, and even the gauges. Every part of this motorcycle gives you a nostalgic feeling. And in an age where anyone can go out and buy a 200-plus mile-per-hour sport bike, the CB1100 takes the rider back to a time where it took skill, engineering, and balls to truly find out what a motorcycle can do.
Commuter by Day
Building something with a dual-personality is a major hurdle for designers and engineers. One personality should not overpower the other, or else the relationship doesn’t work. The Honda engineers that built this CB1100 definitely paid close attention to the history and characteristics of café racers.
When café bikes became popular, riders were taking the motorcycles they rode every day, stripping them down, and tuning them to go faster. But they kept the motorcycle’s ability to be used daily; speed without sacrificing drivability. Nothing on this motorcycle hinders its performance, yet it remains comfortable and extremely easy to ride. Even with a passenger on long trips.
Even with its ease of riding, it’s the power and performance that truly set this motorcycle apart. The CB1100 is propelled by an 1140cc air- and oil-cooled inline four-cylinder engine. Twisting the throttle isn’t snappy, or violent, like many others. The power delivery is similar to a Rolls-Royce; sophisticated and smooth, but with a ferocity that quickly leaves others behind.
Rocker by Night
The CB1100 revs to 10,000 rpm, but you find yourself short shifting and only taking it to 5,000-6,000 rpm. Great for gas mileage, but it’s only in those upper echelons of the tachometer that the vibrations and points of contact between you and the motorcycle bring an intensity that sends shivers down your spine. This feeling’s amplified high up on mountain roads, where the twist of the throttle coming out of a turn transports you into a whole other world.
Given the nostalgic nature of this motorcycle, the thought of it having performance credentials could be laughable. Nevertheless, the CB1100 can compete with the modern 600cc sports bikes of today. Leaning into tight turns, the Honda performs without hesitation or argument. You feel confident dropping your knee further towards the asphalt. However, unlike those modern sport bikes, there is no traction control, and no throttle maps—so it’s just you and the bike. Although, when you look at the price, you may begin to lean a little less.
Great Attention to Detail = Greater Prices
The attention to detail Honda spent on this motorcycle is astounding. Every piece—bar the cheap chrome plastic tail—feels well machined and heavy. Gleaming in the sunlight while riding down the 101 towards the California coast, the gauges give off an elegance that could only be found in steam dials from the early 1920s.
These beautiful and expensive looking details aren’t surprising though once you see the bill for the CB1100. Excluding destination, the motorcycle costs $10,399. Nevertheless, considering the Honda’s nostalgic competitors, which include the dreadful Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight, the not-yet-released Yamaha XSR700, and the Kawasaki W800, which you can’t buy here in the U.S., the Honda is a great value. Especially for those who don’t want to fiddle with carburetors.
The CB1100 feels like a time machine. As if it’s echoing Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix through its throaty exhaust. It’s a throwback. A motorcycle out of time, but done so with all the precision that goes into building a modern MotoGP superbike. For those wanting the rocker aesthetic, get on one of these machines, and let it take you on an adventure into the past.
Engine: 1140cc air-and oil-cooled inline four-cylinder
Old-school looks meet new school design
Will never leave you on the side of the road like most old café racers will
Price is steep
Chrome plastic tail doesn’t flow with the rest of the motorcycle
Photo Credit: Jonathon Klein for BoldRide