This article was originally published in the February 1997 issue of Sport Rider.
As the mercury crested 95 degrees in the high-noon sun, five CBR1100XX test bikes lurked under shelter ten of Honda Proving Center of California’s 7.5-mile test oval. The reason for assembling the five examples of Honda’s latest flagship, along with a handful of motojournalists, on a track that allows cornering speeds of 180 mph was obvious: Honda was prepared to back up the rumors that the new XX would smash the 175-mph production speed record held by Kawasaki’s powerful ZX-11.
With 149 countershaft horsepower at 9500 rpm and the most slippery fairing this side of Mick Doohan’s NSR500, the XX certainly had the right ingredients for a record-shattering top-speed run. On the third pass, with a crosswind blowing the Honda across two of HPCC’s three lanes, Sport Rider’s Jason Black lifted his butt inches off the seat in order to smooth the airflow over his back, pinned the throttle exiting the final corner and went past the radar gun at an indicated 10,950 rpm in sixth gear—178.5 mph. Suddenly, Kawasaki’s record and the rumors surrounding Honda’s worst-kept secret evaporated in the Double X’s turbulent wake.
This wasn’t a big surprise; Honda’s silent confidence upon introduction of the XX back in July told everyone watching that the company wasn’t bluffing. Honda knew it had a flier on its hands, but being the wary corporation it is, chest-pounding claims of the fastest bike ever were stifled. Subtle hints and wild rumors were all we had.
Honda never openly said that the CBR1100XX was aimed directly at the conquest of the ZX-11. Looking back at past models that have rolled off the assembly line, it’s easy to see a pattern in the company’s market position: Make the bikes refined and versatile, a competent overall package, rather than narrowly focused for the racetrack or emphasizing power over handling. The CBR600, CBR1000 and VFR750 all fit into this mold, as does the CBRXX, but this latest incarnation suddenly forces home the power issue. It appears Honda no longer wants to be second fastest.
Look no further than the CBR’s press information for proof that Honda won’t stand for second best. “Pretty looks never were the primary goal of [the CBR1100’s] design,” it states. “Clean aerodynamics were.” The fairings are the by-product of careful and extensive wind-tunnel testing; there are very few sharp angles on the surface; the front fender uses ducts to create a low-pressure zone on its outer edge, supposedly to help manage airflow around the front wheel; the tear-dropped front turn signals are integrated into the mirrors like on the NR750, eliminating drag-inducing stalks that would stick out of the side of the fairing. Honda claims a lower coefficient of drag than on its own NSR250.
A crucial element in the bodywork’s design was the sloped front fairing. Honda knew what would yield the least amount of drag, but a bulky, conventional headlight would not fit into the XX’s radically pointed nose. As a result, the CBR’s piggyback headlight was developed, stacking the high beam unit over and behind the low beam, conforming to the steep angle of the front end.
All the wind-tunnel testing in the world won’t help unless there is a worthwhile engine underneath. Honda’s claim of 149 countershaft horsepower for the CBR1100’s 1137cc engine (see “The X(X)-Files” sidebar, p. 21) was backed up by our smokin’ 136.7 rear-wheel horsepower run. California models will supposedly only lose 1 horsepower due to retarded ignition timing for EPA noise regulations.
When asked why—with the success of the ram-air assisted CBR600F3—there was no ram air on the XX, Mr. Yamanaka, the CBR’s large-project leader, had a short and succinct answer: “The XX already makes 164 ps [Japanese horsepower standard] and is very fast. Bike fast enough, does not need ram air.” Ram air would have made the CBR faster, but it also would have created a carburetion headache for Honda engineers. Plus, without ram air this motorcycle does nearly 180 mph. The next logical step for a second-generation, even- faster XX is an easy one.
If you’ve ever seen an original CBR1000 sans fairings, you know why Honda clothed it—it was a cluttered mess. The CBR1100, however, is nearly as pretty with the fairings off. The black-painted frame, subframe and engine meld with subtle aluminum pieces, carefully routed oil lines and hidden wiring looms. And this refinement can be traced throughout the entire motorcycle. Each aluminum bodywork fastener is drilled out six times around its circumference, as are the steering-head bolt and the exhaust canister ends, creating a reoccurring theme throughout the Double X.
Sheer performance can’t be measured in attention to detail and raw numbers alone, or so reasons Honda. If the CBR1100 was truly to be “The World’s Greatest SuperSport Machine,” it would have to be comfortable and accommodating to the rider. The effort that went into making this happen is apparent before the engine ever turns over. Bar and footpeg placement are hard to fault. Control feel is crisp and precise—typical Honda. However, the automotive-like instrument cluster is not as easy to read as on most Hondas, and the dominant speedometer makes the small, tucked away tach seem like an afterthought. Obviously, Honda wanted the rider to know how fast he was going first and foremost.
At 557 pounds full of vital fluids, the XX is by no means a small motorcycle. But its feel belies its weight. This was not only accomplished by mass centralization, but by puting the fairing and windscreen closer to the rider. Unlike many big-bore sport bikes that stick the rider behind a huge, outstretched fairing and tall windscreen, the CBR uses a narrow fairing and wide, flat windscreen mainly out of the rider’s line of sight, giving the impression of riding a smaller motorcycle.
This feeling doesn’t subside, even after the big engine is thrumming its quiet idle and the slick-shifting, six-speed transmission is toed into gear. We had hoped for a cable-operated clutch, but the hydraulic unit on the CBR worked surprisingly well. Even under the abusive conditions at the dragstrip, the clutch wore reasonably, allowing smooth and linear launches. Our dragstrip testing was hampered by a filthy strip, allowing the CBR to spin the tire drastically through second gear. We’re convinced a properly prepared dragstrip would have allowed several tenths to be cut from the 10.43-second, 132.6-mph run.
Riding a liter bike through congested city traffic is usually like trapshooting with an M1 tank, but the Honda surprised us. Steering effort is remarkably light at lower speeds, and though power is not overly abundant below 4500 rpm, there’s enough to squirt the bike through traffic with ease. Low-speed maneuvering aboard the Honda is enjoyable due to its balanced feel. The memory-position folding mirrors are a welcome addition for those who split lanes or store the bike in tight spaces, though their clear view is mostly shrouded by elbows due to the mirrors’ forward placement.
Two things became apparent as the testing miles began to stack up: this motorcycle is deceptively fast and eerily smooth. A high-frequency vibration can creep through the right handgrip below 5000 rpm, but other than that, Honda’s dual balancing shafts do an excellent job of canceling out unwanted vibration.
Power builds in a turbinelike rush of acceleration, almost as if the bike is equipped with ram air. The meat of the powerband resides above 6000 rpm, but the engine is not immediately responsive due to the large-bore 42mm carburetors; there’s not enough air velocity to lift the slides at lower rpm. But as the revs rise—and velocity increases—so do the slides, and the accompanying rush of power means you’d better have both hands firmly clasped on the bars. Peak power is at 9750 rpm, but the XX pulled all the way to 10,950 during our top-speed run, 150 rpm past indicated redline.
So Jack be quick. But is he nimble? Several Sundays on the best testing roads we could find answered that question. Though the XX steers precisely and confidently, the nonadjustable 43mm conventional front end is overdamped. An abundance of low-speed compression and rebound damping gets the CBR bucking over bumpy sections of pavement. The suspension is biased toward heavy damping to control chassis pitch, but it doesn’t allow for a comfortable, leisurely pace over nasty pavement, a situation we’re willing to bet most buyers will encounter on a regular basis. Much of this could be avoided with a fully adjustable fork, and the fact that Honda saw fit not to include this feature on an $11,500 motorcycle is inexcusable.
The chassis’ rigidity and composure counter the suspension’s tautness. Even with the suspension’s shortcomings, the CBR is capable of highly elevated speeds in the twisties and displays very little of the wallowing feel associated with motorcycles of this size. Make a steering input and the chassis settles almost immediately. Steering from straight up and down to full lean takes only a moderate push on the bars, but transitioning from full lean on one side to full lean on the other reminds the rider he’s on a large motorcycle; an aggressive push-pull on the bars is needed to get the CBR through a quick set of transitions.
Helping pull the bike down from the high level of speeds it’s capable of is Honda’s latest generation linked braking system (LBS) (see “Brakes” sidebar below). Honda argues that for the average rider a linked system provides better control under a panic situation. We’ve criticized the system in the past (why cater to a rider of below-average riding ability—and what are they doing on the fastest production motorcycle available anyway?), but must admit that the latest generation is the best we’ve seen yet.
Unfortunately, the extra brake lines, delay valves and servomechanisms mask some of the crisp braking feel associated with most Hondas, creating a somewhat mushy lever feel. But two fingers up front activate six pistons on three rotors, pulling the bike quickly down from speed. Several of our testers use the rear brake of a conventional system heavily and didn’t care for the linked front end when rear-braking into corners, though the new delay valve does an excellent job of minimizing front-end dive when using the “back” brake. The merits of the latest LBS will be judged by the individual rider.
So there we have it. In a day of political correctness, frivolous lawsuits and a government obsessed with saving society from the dangers we inflict upon ourselves, Honda blows onto the scene with the fastest motorcycle ever produced. The CBR1100XX has set an even higher standard in the open-class sport-bike market, blending comfort and handling into a fast and refined package. But the question still remains: Will it best the ZX-11 in a heads-up contest?
Make no mistake, the CBR1100XX isn’t just a bored-and-stroked CBR1000 wearing a more slippery fairing. It’s a new-from-the-ground-up creation that Honda wants to take to the top of the liter-bike ladder. And unlike the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird mock-up used in Honda’s ad campaign, the Double X is anything but outdated. Rather than using the engine from the old CBR as a foundation, Honda opted for the newer designs used in the CBR600 and 900 as a basis for the XX’s 1137cc powerplant, thus the shared upper crankcase and cylinder block configuration. The cylinder block is canted forward approximately 22 degrees more than on the old CBR, allowing a straighter shot for the bank of huge 42mm flat-slide, CV-type Keihin carburetors—the largest carbs ever used on a four-cylinder production bike. (The previous CBR used 38mm semi-flat-slide CVs.) The camshafts are driven by a side-mounted cam chain, effectively allowing the engine to be narrowed due to the decreased distance between each cylinder. The right-side cam-drive (versus the old bike’s center-drive system), combined with Honda’s open-deck casting technology (also used in the ‘96 CBR900RR), allows for a narrower and lighter cylinder block. With the open-deck casting, narrower cylinder sleeves are cast directly into the cylinder utilizing an aluminum-to-aluminum bonding technique. The steel cylinder lining is thinner and thus the distance between each cylinder has been decreased by 3mm. Also, the steel cylinder sleeve does not have a flange over the top of the cylinder, so the entire top of the block is aluminum, making for easier machining and less costly tooling. The cylinder block is now 408.5mm wide, compared to the 1000’s width of 436mm. Bore and stroke figures are 79 x 58mm, increased from the old CBR’s 77 x 53.6mm.
The cylinder head is similar to the ones found on the 600 and 900, using a shim-under-bucket valve-actuation system. Included valve angle is now 30 degrees (versus 32 degrees on the 600 and 900), making for a flatter and more compact combustion chamber for more efficient flame travel. Valve sizes are 32mm for the intake and 27mm for the exhaust. Honda wanted the XX to be smooth as well as powerful, and by eliminating rubber-damped engine mounts, the powerplant can be used to strengthen the frame as a stressed member. A reinforced frame would have needed to be heavier to be equal in strength. Until now, a single counterbalancer has been used in other in-line four sport bikes as an alternative, but Honda has employed a dual-balancer system designed for “total elimination” of high-frequency engine vibration. A computer-controlled, 3-D map–type ignition system like the one on the CBR900RR works in conjunction with the throttle-position sensor on the carburetors and monitors throttle angle and engine speed for claimed improved throttle response and smoother on-off throttle transitions. To cool such a high power output, Honda created a new large-capacity aluminum radiator. To dampen excess noise, the clutch cover uses a thick rubber gasket and rubber inserts around the mounting bolts. A spring-loaded, scissor-type primary-drive gear leads to the six-speed transmission, effectively reducing excess driveline lash and resonant noise produced by a fixed primary gear. —J. B.
In keeping with the ground-up restoration theme, the XX sports an all-new, twin-spar, aluminum chassis. The triple, box-section, extruded-aluminum spars are mated to the cast-aluminum steering head and die-cast-aluminum swingarm-pivot sections. Rake is 25 degrees, with a conservative 99mm of trail. The bolt-on subframe is a steel unit. Mass centralization was important in order to make the big 1100 feel as small and quick on its feet as possible. A 43mm cartridge-type conventional fork settles the CBR’s front end and utilizes Honda’s Multi-Action System (H.M.A.S.), offering 120mm of wheel travel. Honda’s internal piston construction is designed to provide more precise and compliant damping rates. The fork’s rebound-damping rates have been nearly doubled, increasing with shaft velocity, and compression damping has been increased approximately 35 percent. Out back, Honda’s Pro Link damper also offers 120mm of axle travel. Rebound damping has been increased approximately 70 percent, while compression damping has been nearly doubled. —J. B.
Honda first introduced the dual combined brake system on the 1993 CBR1000F and then revised it for the ‘96 ST1100. The new “Evolution” version of the dual CBS is now fitted to the CBR1100XX. Three-piston calipers adorn each rotor, the fronts measuring 310mm and the rear 256mm. The two outside pistons on each front caliper are controlled by the bar-mounted brake lever. As braking force increases, a servomechanism uses a caliper arm to activate a secondary master cylinder mounted on the left front-fork slider, applying a corresponding amount of force to the outer pistons on the rear caliper. The rear brake pedal activates the center piston on each caliper. —J. B.
Suggested retail price: $11,499
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, in-line, 4-stroke four
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves, adjusting shims under buckets
Bore x stroke: 79 x 58mm
Compression ratio: 11.0:1
Carburetion: 4, 42mm Keihin flat-side CV
Front suspension: 43mm Showa, 4.7 in. travel; no adjustments
Rear suspension: Honda Pro-Link, one Showa damper, 4.7 in. wheel travel; adjustments for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: 2, three-piston, single-action Nissin calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Three-piston, single-action caliper, 256mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.; cast-aluminum
Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17 in.; cast-aluminum
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17
Rear tire: 180/55 ZR17
Rake/trail: 25.0 deg./3.9 in. (99mm)
Wheelbase: 58.7 in. (1490mm)
Seat height: 31.9 in. (810mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal (22L)
Weight: 557 lb (219kg) wet; 525 lb (206kg) tank empty
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer, odometer, tripmeter, temperature gauge, fuel gauge; lights for neutral, sidestand, high beam, turn signals, low oil pressure, low fuel performance
Fuel consumption: 39 to 41 mpg, 40 mpg avg.
Corrected best 1⁄4-mile acceleration*: 10.43 sec. @ 132.6 mph
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)
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