|BY ITS NUMBERS, KING||
The CBX announces itself as an exotic - elegant
restraint atop an audacious self-confidence that jumps
up and down, I'm a six!
By Phil Schilling
Honda's CBX was a grabber from the start. In the desert darkness, along a deserted road, you hear again the rushed whisper that six cylinders and 24 valves make at 75 mph, and you remember again the first time you rode a CBX. Strange, isn't it, how after tens and hundreds of test machines, you can recall how it was with the clarity and resolution of the day just past. Maybe it's the soft, backlit red glow from the instruments; the CBX had the dials first done in that motif, and this visual cue connects again and again with that first CBX.
Yet that could be only part of it. Because in so many ways the CBX is a memorable machine, and not necessarily in a functional way either. The CBX announces itself as an exotic -- restrained but with an audacious self-confidence. See Me! Six cylinders! Twenty-four valves! Six carburetors! Presence. A motorcycle that you don't look through or past. See and look again. You can't say that about many Hondas.
Outlandish from the beginning, the CBX was introduced as an unabashed Superbike, a war missile meant to blast the competition right out of orbit. Aggressor-bike, yes, indeed; it had the hard good looks of the CB750/900 Super Sports; it was 11-second quick and 135mph fast; it was as trim as possible at 606 pounds; and it possessed as much mechanical charisma as anything on this side, or the other, of Gallarate.
That was the CBX's dilemma. Its soul was exotic; its marching orders were Superbike. As a complete Superbike package, the CBX was two too much for its own good -- a proposition that Suzuki GS1000s and 1100s soon made clear. The total Superbike envelope had size-and-handling limits; and the original CBX, magnetic, charming and captivating, was nevertheless, as a Superbike, resistible.
After the fact, Honda understood. If Suzuki and Kawasaki wanted to fight a Superbike war at the 1100cc altitude, they were welcome to duke it out, Honda seemed to be saying, and its message for 1981 was: Have this CBX Reincarnate: the Pro-Link Sports/Touring, Flash/Touring version. Penalties, yes: heavier, slower, more massive than ever; advantages: better braking, more comfortable, more civilized and usable, better handling -- and, to be perfectly honest, better shaped and toned and curried and softened for the clientele who could afford a CBX.
No matter how the CBX gets shaped, the central fact of the thing is its six-cylinder engine and heroic proportions. The thing easily fits on the desert landscape, out by Edwards Air Force Base, the touch-down station for the space shuttle. Six hundred and some pounds says security in a vacant land. An errant critter astray on the highway would be bunted aside with little more than a quiver filtering into the cockpit.
Cockpit, now that's a civilized word for a sitting and steering place on machinery that leaves you outside. Cockpit is Plane-Talk, and the CBX parts the winds with fairing and lowers but leaves your helmet buffeting in tht windscreen's air-wake. Like an old open-cockpit biplane. Your body doesn't fight the elements; just your head fights them. You have to wonder whether or not this union of protection and exposure reflects Honda's uncertainty with the CBX: should it be full-touring, corpulent and secure like an oversized armchair, or should the six-cylinder have a ruggedness that keeps its sporting rider in the elements? A compromise then. Body comfort and head drafts.
Early-morning commuter traffic begins to clog the Los Angeles freeway system. At seven the incoming arteries begin to choke; at eight traffic seemingly pulses in place. The freeway running in from the desert dumps onto Interstate 5 -- that great north-south line that rifles through a yawning San Joaquin Valley -- just as I-Five slides into the Basin.
The CBX, agleam in the morning light, finds California Freeway Life suitable. Itís comfortable enough over those freeway slabs, tractable enough to crawl at 1500 rpm in fifth, big enough to be seen, narrow enough to split lanes, and as long as the seven-a.m. day still carries a lingering four-a.m. chill, the six-cylinder engine warms the cockpit. Most of the heat the lowers duct away, and the trickle of seven-a.m. warmth suggests how toasty the CBX might be on a Bakersfield August day.
The great inland California valley lies behind the CBX; in front thereís the 405, which breaks off Interstate Five and butts into 101 going west toward Ventura. That 101 interval, in California reckoning, is about 45 minutes. That measurement recognizes time and ignores distance, a pretty interesting calculation thatís indigenous to a freeway-style life. Since the freeways look the same everywhere, from bots-dots to green- and-white exit signs, travel has a treadmill quality. You motor along in place, just the names on the signs that pop by are different. Thatís why passing cars becomes important on multi-lane freeways; it confirms that youíre making distance on the mill.