The International CBX Owners Association

"Dedicated to the Preservation of the CBX Motorcycle"

"A Ride Does it All"

ICOA Member David Gaines astride his Setright Dresda CBX

L.J.K. Setright lends tone to the high that proves too high: CBX vs CB900F

Oh, the little more,
    and how much it is!
And the little less,
    and what worlds away!

Browning would have seen the place of the CB900F in the scheme of things, and I think that I can too. It is a very fine motorcycle indeed, one of the very best; but it is not the best. It has only a couple of cylinders fewer than the CBX, only a few horsepower less, is only a few mph slower, takes only a little longer to reach whatever speed you fancy, steers and stops almost as well, is nearly as well furnished, and is not quite so costly either to buy or to run. Ninety-five per cent is enough of a good thing for most people; but let me see now, 95% of 95% of times over, it comes out at seventy per cent. No, it is not that much inferior to the CBX, surely, but if the nearness appeals in the showroom, the shortfalls appear on the road.

There are so many similarities in detail between these two Hondas that we could hardly fail to consider the 900 a sort of bourgeois CBX. Brakes, valvegear, handlebars, even those three-way adjustable rear suspension units have been common to both since we first saw them in Europe, though the U.S. version of the CBX was not so trimly barred nor as adjustably damped--perhaps for the same reason as the CB900F was never intended for the U.S. market at all.

You will remember the subaltern who, asked the place of cavalry in war, described its function as "lending tone to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl". The CBX does the same for motorcycling, with that effortless superiority which is the mark of the true aristocrat. Alas, a man is often ill at ease with a silver spoon if he was not born with one in his mouth, and it is not difficult to identify among motorcyclists that same resentful rejection of the best because of lack of familiarity with the best. It is a kind of craven lack of confidence, as though a mortal man were offered Aphrodite but, daunted by the prospect, ran back home to the girl next door. Only thus can I account for the failure of the motorcycling world to snap up every CBX made, while they hunt down the CB900F remorselessly.

The CB900F is the king of the superbikes, but the CBX is the hyperbike (and the KZ1300 is merely a megabike, which is not nearly as clever), unique and without peer. Don't tell me that its engine is too wide: It is no wider than the legs of a rider, so it adds nothing to the frontal area, and personally I would rather have my legs shielded by a cylinder apiece than exposed to every blow (whether wind or wallop) that might come their way. Anyway, the four-cylinder engine, needing to have its masses hung on the ends of its crankshaft, is practically as wide down at the levels where ground clearance begins to matter. And no four, not even a flat four, can be as good as an inline six; it cannot be as smooth, as flexible, as easy on the transmission and the rider, as muscular or as musical as the six, all other things being equal--and here they are not equal, for the four is, albeit less powerful, more highly stressed than the six however you like to measure it. From pressures to piston speed, from conrod angularity to ring flutter, the CBX engine takes life remarkably easy, leaving the 900 to toil with the sons of Martha. Yet the CBX engine is as responsive as a racer, the nicest cycle motor to ever reach the street.

As for the cycle, there are niceties missing from the CB900F that need to be there before it can face up to the aristocrat. Some pains were taken to lighten the inevitably hefty CBX, and they pay dividends: a hollow wheel spindle is not only lighter, it is a better wheelspindle than a solid one. Light-alloy parts, if not made quite as light as their materials might allow, can be stiffer than steel ones.

On paper, I am not in much doubt. On the road, I am in none. The CBX feels better and goes better, and the difference is greater than the difference in price, so the costlier bike is actually the better bargain. There are umpteen details to show why, but a ride does it all. I would have thought the 900 fantastic if I had not ridden the 1047 first; and when I rode the 900, somebody on a 1047 made me sad. A bunch of us were trying the 900 in Germany, but Honda had brought along a brace of sixes ("to lend tone to what otherwise would be a vulgar brawl," no doubt?) and a pair of German riders who set off on them after us caught us just as we were getting wound up on the Autobahn. Had I been alone on the four I would have taken the blame, for though I may be clever I am certainly not quick; but the chaps with whom I was keeping company are most emphatically quick--yet the CBX duo left us for dead, flat-out in the pouring rain and driving wind, with great cross-gusts angling off all the trucks and across all the bridges along the hectically busy road. It was a fair comparison of like for like, for the CBX bikes were (like the CB900F) manufactured to European specification, with proper dampers and riding position and brake pads and so forth. And yet in Germany, too, Honda is selling the 900F in thousands, the CBX in handfuls.

The high that proved too high,
  the heroic for earth too hard,
The passion that left the ground
  to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God
  by the lover and the bard;
Enough that he heard it once;
  we shall hear it by-and-by.

I told you that Browning would have understood.

--L.J.K. Setright

Back to the Top

Text (c) LJK Setright
first appeared in Cycle Guide,
February 1980
Web Page (c) International CBX Owners Association 1998

The International CBX Owners Association Home