Call it what you will, but the streetfighter/standard/naked/retro class is hugely popular these days, and for good reason. For a decent price, you can get a great everyday bike that's not only comfortable enough to ride halfway across the country, but also sporty enough that you can hang with your sportbike buddies on a Sunday morning blast. As has been typical of Honda over the past several years, (not so much with sportbikes, more so big-bore cruisers and four-stroke motocrossers) the company has waited for a particular niche to mature for a couple of years before jumping in with both feet.
According to Gary Christopher, American Honda's senior manager of motorcycle press and racing, Big Red feels that the "naked sports" category-which includes Suzuki's recently revamped Bandit 1200, Kawasaki's ZRX and Yamaha's FZ1 while growing 29 percent last year-is now a viable market for Honda to enter. And that entry is the CB900F-otherwise known as the 919, which "brings the CBR900 concept and attributes of light weight and good power-to-weight ratio to this category."
Cognizant readers will recognize the 919's engine, and in fact the mill is lifted almost directly from the 1998-99 version of the CBR900. This particular motor was chosen (over the 929, 954 or even the XX) because its light weight fit the bike's concept, and its longish stroke was better suited to making the low-rpm grunt desired. Internally, less compression (10.8:1 versus 11.0:1) and modest cams focus power lower in the rpm band and also accommodate fuel injection rather than the 900's 38mm carburetors. The 919 utilizes Hondas PGM-FI, the basic system similar to that of the 929 but with smaller 36mm throttle bodies-again, more bottom end power being the goal.
While you may have recognized the engine, chances are the 919's chassis won't be familiar-although the basic layout is used on Honda's hugely popular naked 600 Hornet overseas. The steel frame consists of a single rectangular backbone that connects the steering head and swingarm pivot. The frame is hidden for the most part-those nice aluminum plates in the pivot area are bolted to the frame and help support the swingarm, but do not attach to the engine as it may appear. Front suspension consists of a 43mm non-adjustable cartridge fork, and out back sits a linkless, preload-adjustable single shock.
Commuting on the CB900 can be summed up in one word: fun. It's easy to tell who rode in on the 919, as he has the grin of the cat that's eaten the canary-he knows he's been a bad boy, but just can't resist. How can a bike make the daily grind fun? Well, for starters, the Honda makes it so darned, well...easy. Push the starter button, and you're ready to roll. There's a throttle-body-mounted fast idle knob, but we never needed it, even on mornings with temps in the 40-degree F. range. With the bike running, you can ride away now. The 919's injection is crisp, the clutch and transmission light, and the steering neutral and precise at low speeds. Threading through traffic is a breeze, as the 919's handlebar is narrow for a standard bike but still gives lots of leverage over the bike's 485 pounds of well-centralized mass. The wheelbase is actually quite long (almost equal to the ZRX, in fact) but the bike acts like it's at least two inches shorter. At real low rpms, the fuel injection can be a bit lurchy, and you'll find yourself using the clutch a bit more often.
Stomping brakes are lifted...
Stomping brakes are lifted straight from the '96-'97 model CBR900, and work great even with the 919's extra heft. The nonadjustable fork has surprisingly good damping rates for sporting use. Our bike came with Michelin Hi Sport tires, but some will arrive with Bridgestone BT56 buns.
The fun part is mostly due to the CB's engine, though. The bottom-end punch is super-strong for the modest 919cc, but mix that with the bike's weight and this thing leaves a stop like a scared rabbit. If you're feeling brazen, it's a simple matter to be a bit careless with the throttle and loft the front end when you cross the crown of an intersection, but we don't condone that kind of behavior. The sound-intake and exhaust-further eggs you on, almost like the bike is taunting you.