1979 Honda CBX Road Test - page 4

Willow Springs is called a "rider's track" by practically everybody, especially those most familiar with it. It has a downhill front straight, Turn One is a nick-'er-back-to fourth banked lefthand sweeper, Turn Two climbs forever uphill to the right, and Turn Three is another left, this one going off-camber just when it shouldn't. The next one jogs right, tips off-camber and charges back down the hill into a lower-gear left, also off-camber. Turn Seven skids off-camber at the top of a rise, Turn Eight is a flat right that can be taken at the limits of bravery and stability in fifth gear, and it leads into Nine, a tightening lightly-cambered right that has put more riders into the desert than Barstow-to-Vegas.

Going faster and faster as familiarity grew, riding impressions began to coalesce. First: the engine is so smooth and so snappy that the tachometer must be observed at all times or else the white-tipped needle lives forever in - or beyond - the red zone. The engine makes a lot of power - no great surprise there - and gets down to serious work once 6500 to 7000 rpm is achieved (the power peak is at 9000 rpm, the red line at 9500). At high speeds the rider is hardly aware of the engine at all; beyond a rushing highpitched hoot there is no noise to hear or vibration to feel, and one is left with a curious sense of distance from it, despite its size. Both journalists had just finished testing the Yamaha XS Eleven; both knew enough not to draw premature conclusions, yet both felt the Eleven had more engine clout than the CBX. Both were wrong.

Handling: touchy. Here today and gone tomorrow in some corners, here today and here tomorrow in others. By and large the CBX countenanced Willow with grace. There are no impediments to banking angle on the bike's right side; the sidestand limits it on the left, but not in any way that could be described as dangerous. Through the first seven corners high-speed stability is excellent for a big bike, or even for a small one. There are no wobbles, no wallows through these seven, yet the CBX must be ridden with care. It does not suffer sloppiness gladly. Deceleration is a good example. The entrance to Turn Four is riddled with bumps, and two downshifts-to third, then to second-must be made as the bumps are traversed. If the rear brake is applied too hard, or if engine speed doesn't match ground speed after a downshift, the bike hops its rear wheel in a busy display of irritation, a condition that worsens as the rear shocks get hot.

Exiting Turn Four also gave some exciting moments. The exit, off-camber, finds the CBX in second gear with its revs up. Get boisterous with the throttle and the back tire spins, which if not instantly controlled will put you on your head. Turn Four does that to all motorcycles; it is especially hard on the CBX, because of the bike's stupendous power output. If caution must be taken with braking, so too must the rider be smooth when initiating a turn. The story on the CBX is this: plan ahead. The bike is not thrilled to death if it has to make a mid-turn correction, nor does it appreciate being flipped abruptly to its maximum banking angle. The rider never forgets that it's a heavy bike; it has a heavy engine with a high center of gravity, and quick flips overcompress its suspension and lead to the flounders. But if the rider is precise and thinks about what he's doing the CBX rates as high-average in the race track handling department.

Except in Turn Eight. When the CBX comes upon Willow's Turn Eight it is belly to the ground, indicating over 120 mph. Specialist bikes (either GP racers or AMA Superbikes) frequently can be stuffed into Turn Eight wide-open. Generally, the CBX cannot. As soon as the first part of the corner is negotiated the bike begins a long, slow, disquieting wallow that can be subdued only after the throffle has been rolled back.

This behavior was noted by both journalists and was repeated for most of the two days. But on the afternoon of the second day the technicians replaced the slightly worn rear tire with a new one, traded the rear shocks for a fresher pair with a higher spring rate, and installed a front fender that had a beefier between sliders mount. For the following five laps the CBX's handling approached excellence; the bike could be turned quicker, the Turn Eight queasiness disappeared, and the bike was overtaken with a sense of solidarity it had not displayed before. But on the sixth lap, and all subsequent ones, it returned to its old habits, leaving the journalists with the impression that the rear dampers have no business being where they are, which is attached to this motorcycle.

The swing arm is almost as suspicious as the shocks. It's slender, tapered, uses plastic swing arm bushings and pivots on a bolt that looks like it came from a moped. In this area, the motorcycle is incomplete and inconsistent.

In addition to the performance of its engine, the CBX is superior in two other areas: its drive line and its brakes. CV carbs and all (which will be discussed later), the CBX is the best of the big Japanese motorcycles in terms of driveline snatch: none was noted, period. Irimajiri explained that the fact that it is a Six has much to do with this. Snatch, he explained, depends to an extent upon how much torque is applied to the crankshaft during one revolution. The problem can be eliminated one of two ways: add a large amount of flywheel weight (BMW-style), or increase the number of cylinders and reduce the one-rev torque figure. The CBX's clutch is a model of light, progressive engagement, and its gearbox, while clunky in the lower gears at moderate engine speeds, provides precise engagement at full-hustle. In two days of whipping around the track, the journalists missed but a single shift between them, which caused the engine speed to soar past 11,000 rpm but did no damage.

The CBX's brakes-especially those on the front-perfectly exemplify Honda's belief that the CBX will be bought and ridden by expert-level motorcyclists. The lightweight, 5mm-thick front rotors are from the GLl000; the rear rotor is unique to the CBX and has been thoroughly trimmed for lightness. Front calipers are from the 750; the rear is the same as the GL's. What makes the CBX's front brake unique is its extraordinarily powerful, light action. The components may look familiar but the ratios have been changed; the brake lever travels farther and takes less pressure than any current big bike's, and the result is stopping power you wouldn't believe. The current trend on dual-front-disc bikes is just the opposite: less lever travel, more lever resistance on some, just more resistance on others. The trend is responsive to the amount of trouble the average rider can get himself into if he grabs a race-track handful of double disc brakes without knowing what he's doing. No part of the CBX was built for average riders - most especially the front brake system.

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