Back In Black: Honda 919 Road Test | Sport Rider

Back In Black: Honda 919 Road Test

Honda Reincarnates The CB900

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."

We liked the simple tachometer (with inset temperature gauge) but the speedometer is a bit crammed to quickly judge speed. This view—no fairing, and the closely spaced fork tubes—makes the whole bike seem smaller than it actually is.

Déjá Vu,
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.

The heat shields on the underseat exhausts do a great job: we never felt them more than warm to the touch, and passengers never noticed excessive heat. Attaching luggage takes a bit of creativity, though.

Ruffian ride
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.

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.

Hopefully, your daily dredge doesn't include any freeway action, as you'll be less than enamored with the 919 in that context. The seating position is fine, and the seat itself is quite comfortable. For longer distances, however, the seat is a bit hard, and its forward slope means you can't move around all that much. The mirrors provide a good view although we'd much prefer rectangular units for a wider shot of what's behind. It's the buzziness in the handlebar and footpegs that kicks in just before 5000 rpm-about 80 mph-that, combined with the windblast at those velocities, will tire you out quickly.

On the plus side, the passenger seat-while not looking all that spacious-is quite comfortable. While we were initially worried that the high-mount exhausts would cause trouble with luggage or a passenger's legs, we never felt the exhausts' shields more than warm to the touch. There is a substantial amount of heat from the engine, which at lower freeway speeds is directed at your legs. Oddly enough, it added no warmth on cooler days, but was noticeable with temps in the 70-degree range and above. With a fairing (and Honda plans to offer a small flyscreen and centerstand as options) you could take the 919 on an extended journey, but it wouldn't be our first choice.

The 919's backbone is a single tube of rectangular steel, which the swingarm straddles at the rear. The nice aluminum sideplates you see actually bolt to the frame and swingarm, but not the engine-although they give the appearance of doing so.

Excellent for city work, the 919's seating position is slightly more upright than the FZ1's even though the handlebar is lower. While comfortable, the seat's slope limits you to a single position over a long haul.

We'll digress momentarily and discuss the 919's suspension, as you're sure to be wondering why it's nonadjustable. We did too-and we still are. The componentry itelf-a cartridge fork and remote-reservoir shock-is of good quality and works surprisingly well over a variety of surfaces. The damping settings Honda has chosen are a nice compromise. Our lighter staffers found the suspension worked nicely in smooth twisties, but was too stiff for freeway expansion joints or rough canyon work. And conversely, heavier staffers (which we borrow from Motorcyclist as they have plenty to go around) found the settingsfine for the freeway, but too soft for serious sportiness. We're happy with the boingers, but it's the lack of adjustability that leaves us that little less eager to take the bike on a long trip, and a bit reluctant to take it on a serious sporty ride.

Bust a move
Back to the business at hand. On twisty pavement, the naked Honda is back to being a fun bike to ride. It's happiest on tighter, second- and third-gear sections of road, where the midrange grunt can be used to squirt from the exit of a turn and the powerful brakes-with excellent feedback-can scrub off that speed easily for the entrance of the next. The light steering has the bike eager to change direction, although if you're too forceful with the handlebar the bike will show its displeasure by wallowing on its suspenders. Rolling whoops bother the 919 less than some sportbikes we could name, but sharp-edged bumps will see the bike's tires leaving the pavement, and you'll be running wide if there's a series of small stutter-bumps.

Now I wonder why.... As delivered, our CB900's chain adjuster was near the very rear of its range. The bike turns much quicker than its 57.5-inch wheelbase would indicate.

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.

Our 919 came shod with Michelin Hi Sports, which provided stunning grip on smooth pavement, and make touching down the curb feelers a regular occurrence. While the Honda has ample midrange for canyon work, you'll be wishing for a bit more of a top-end rush on faster sections, as power fades off quickly after about 6500 rpm. Trying to eke more steam out of the boiler room by spinning the motor relentlessly nets decreasing returns-handlebar vibration at higher revs soon tires you out, and the engine just doesn't pull like it does down low. Additionally, the fuel injection-fine in that broad sweet spot between 2500 and 6000 rpm-becomes quite abrupt in the off/on throttle transition. No, the 919 is definitely at home ridden smoothly in a tight canyon, with the pace backed down just a hair from all-out.

The 919's nonadjustable suspension and lack of fairing-omissions which are not really reflected in the bike's price-significantly narrow the bike's focus from an all-around mount. As a streetfighter though, the 919 is stunning. It makes the daily commute fun, and willingly partakes in any antics you may occasionally perform. That Honda chose to give the bike a decidedly sporting bent only endears it to us further, meaning this is one bike that we'll have to keep for a while.

+ Ton o' fun
+ Great city bike
+ Excels in tight canyons
- Nonadjustable suspension
- Could use more power
- Not fun on the freeway
x For a wheelie good time dial 919

Black On Black:
Honda's 919 Takes On Yamaha's Super Standard FZ1

Last year, we were so impressed by the crop of standard bikes that we dubbed them "super standards," with the Yamaha FZ1 coming out on top in our comparison test. (August 2001). Under the guise of determining how the 919 stacks up against the R1-engined Fizzer, we retrieved our test unit from its unsuspecting owner Steve Mikolas, and proceeded to thrash on it some more-all in the name of science, you understand.

The most obvious difference between the two bikes is the FZ1 is faired, the CB900 is not, and this is just one example of each bike's bias. The Yamaha's plusher suspension, more open riding position, and expansive seat (along with the fairing) make it much more suitable for long distances and freeway droning. The Honda is less accommodating in each of those areas, as well as being buzzy at elevated speeds. We will point out that below 60mph, the Honda is quite happy to plod along, whereas the Yamaha surges and has trouble holding a constant speed.

At the fun end of the spectrum, the harder edge of the Honda makes it better suited to sporty riding. Its firmer suspension, solid chassis and peppy engine allow it to leave the Yamaha behind in tighter environs. Both have neutral, quick steering (the Honda's a touch lighter), but the FZ1 moves around on its suspension and feels much more than 30 pounds heavier than the 919. If the road opens up, however, the Yamaha's 20-horsepower advantage shows immediately, and any gap the Honda has eked out can be quickly erased.

Really, it depends what you want out of your standard motorcycle. For general commuting and sport riding, we'd grab the 919 key and have fun. To go places, it's the FZ1 we'd want. For a do-it-all bike, it's hard to fault the big Yamaha though: a fairing, 20 horsepower and adjustable suspension all for $500 more means we'll pass on the extra sportiness the Honda offers. -AT

SR Opinions
If all your riding consists of twisted pavement then this Hooligan is The Bike. The street-fighter has become a rapidly expanding market in the States, but this begs the question: Why did Honda bring a very competent but still-lacking machine into an escalating brawl? How hard is it to bring fully adjustable suspension to the field of battle these days? The Honda is most happy being thrown side to side during tight canyon sorties but the true mettle of a standard/street-fighter is versatility. The seating puts my feet in an awkward position (behind my torso) and the pegs are a bit high for my 6-foot frame. Add a motor that sports the notchy fuel injection of the 929 and I'm left pondering what could have been. The styling is current with its flat-black-bad-ass look, and coupled with the underseat exhaust makes for a "tuff" look. All said, I'm picking out small inadequacies but they add up-the 919 is a very capable machine but has room for improvement. It's one hell of a tease but I'm gonna have to pass for now.
-Steve Mikolas

I must admit that I'm pleasantly surprised by the 919. Coming into this test, I had visions of the ill-fated 1993-'95 CB1000, a bike that looked like a sleek urban street weapon but turned out to be a slow, heavy blunderbuss. And when I learned that the 919 was equipped with non-adjustable suspension and a "tuned for midrange" version of the old 900RR motor, it only reinforced those fears.

Thankfully, the Honda 919 is nothing like the old CB1000. It's a seriously fun package to ride, with zippy performance to back up its streetfighter looks. This thing is unbeatable in the city; the motor's low/midrange acceleration lets you shred traffic with ease, and nimble steering habits and crisp brakes give you the confidence to handle any situation that may arise. Even the spring and damping rates are a decent compromise.

But for the same amount of money, I'd get more power and nearly adjustable suspension in the Yamaha FZ-1. And that's hard to overlook.
-Kent Kunitsugu

Honda CB900F
Suggested retail price: $7999

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, inline, 4-stroke four
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves/cyl.shim-under-bucket adjustment
Displacement: 919cc
Bore x stroke: 71.0 x 58mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Carburetion: PGM-FI, 36mm throttle bodies
Transmission: 6-speed

Front suspension: 43mm cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel; no adjustment
Rear suspension: Single shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel; adjustment for spring preload
Front brake: 2, four-piston calipers, 296mm discs
Rear brake: single-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.; cast-alloy
Rear wheel: 5.5 x 17 in.; cast alloy
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Michelin Hi Sport
Rear tire: 180/55-ZR17 Michelin Hi Sport
Rake/trail: 25.0 deg./3.9 in. (98mm)
Wheelbase: 57.5 in. (1461mm)
Seat height: 31.5 in. (800mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. (19L)
Weight: 485 lb. (220kg) wet; 455 lb. (206kg) dry
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter, temperature gauge, lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low oil pressure, fuel injection warning

Fuel consumption: 32 to 42 mpg, 37 mpg avg.
Quarter-mile: 11.09 sec. @ 121.77 mph (corrected)
Roll-ons: 60-80mph/3.68 sec.80-100mph/4.02 sec.


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