Two years ago, in a Los Angeles airport motel room hidden among other motel rooms and accessible only through a warren-like maze of passages, a late afternoon meeting was taking place. The meeting had been arranged at the request of Mr. Tadashi Kume, the Director of Honda Research and Development, and included other Honda R&D personnel from Japan and the United States, representatives of American Honda, and a small selection of motorcycle journalists. Mr. Kume came quickly to the point. "What do you think of Honda motorcycles?" he asked. Sensing that Mr. Kume hadn't come thousands of miles to exchange pleasantries, the American journalists were direct.
"Hondas embody the soundest engineering in all of motorcycling. They have proven to be reliable. They're beautifully finished, and they all perform well. "But it seems to us that Honda's current street offerings are not really new. The 750 has been with us since 1969. The 550-Four is essentially the same bike it was in 1971, and we haven't seen much significant progress on the 450 twin either. The 360 twin is adequate but not much more.
"We suspect that something has changed at Honda since the late Sixties. Back then, your bikes were replaced frequently with ones which were genuinely better. But during the past several years the company seems to have grown static, conservative. It no longer moves as fast or reacts as quickly as it once did. Everyone looks to Honda for new expressions, new ideas, new solutions; but recently, Honda has been plodding along. Certainly progress has been made. But progress is not the same thing as excitement. Hondas are no longer exciting." The journalists suspected Mr. Kume was not hearing anything he didn't already know. The time had come, Mr. Kume concluded, for Honda to produce a cosmic haymaker of a motorcycle that would catch the state of the art right in the ten-ring and put all the pretenders back where they belong. Honda, after all, had lost a good deal of its performance image. There were no Hondas racing on American pavement. There were no Hondas winning performance comparison tests, and no Hondas causing crowds to form and jaws to drop. Not so long ago the brightest of motorcycling's bright stars, Honda had turned into a background shade of dowager-gray. In the mind of Mr. Kume, the time had come for that to end.
Monday, October 24, 6:45 a.m. We are at Willow Springs Raceway this dark, sharp morning to see, to feel, to ride a motorcycle about which much is rumored but nothing is known. We hear it before we see it: a whistling Porsche-like snarl cuts through the coldness as the big Honda is warmed by one of its four attending mechanics. Just as the sun comes up we draw close enough to make it out. It is difficult for us to retain the calm all journalists aspire to.
Four days later-two at Willow Springs, one at the Webco dynamometer, and one split between Orange County International Raceway and Honda's R&D facility in Torrance - we came to believe that in the 1047cc, 24-valve, four-overhead-camshaft CBX-Six, Honda had the haymaker it wanted. There are flaws here and there, signs of haste and certain ambiguities. But the objective - to build the fastest production motorcycle available for sale anywhere in the world - has been met. The bike is more than fast; it is magic. The exploding glitter of its technical credentials lights up the sky. To know the motorcycle is to know the only rules Honda follows are Honda's own.