celebrating 40+ years of motorcycling

Chapter 26 – CBX, it’s like a drug

My last CBX550


So, it was on the lookout again and, being the thoroughly adventurous soul that I am, I went looking for another CBX550! I quickly found one at a local shop in Queanbeyan and bought it. It was a standard F model, again in red/black/orange and was fitted with a 4-into-1 that was LOUD!!!!! I knew it would never pass rego with the pipe the way it was and the dealer quietened it down for me. But the quietening process also took the edge off the performance and it never really excited me like my old bike had, and I missed the F2’s fairing. So I sold it after only a month or so and started looking for an F2 again.

By now it was 1991 and the short lived nature of the model (2 years) and the less than careful nature of many who had bought CBX’s when the model was current meant that everyone I asked told me the same story; either they had a CBX but it was a heap of junk or they told me that I’d never find a good one now. Finally, I tracked down what was to become my pride and joy. It was owned by a lady whose husband owned TWO CBX’s, not 550’s, but the monster 1000cc Six Cylinder ones. One was his regular riding bike and one sat under a cover in his garage having never even been started, let alone ridden! John had bought the 550 for his wife, Margaret, to ride when they went on Sunday tours up to the Hunter Valley. It was a 1982 model and, when I bought it in mid 1991, it had just 8500kms on the clock! It came with a pair of Krauser panniers, a heap of spares and was actually an “F” model that John had converted to “F2” specifications by buying all the necessary parts from his Honda dealer and fitting them himself.

I brought it home in a ute since it had been out of rego for nearly a year, registered it in Canberra and re-introduced myself to the joys of CBX. This bike was a jewel. It had never been thrashed and had scarcely a mark on it. I rode it constantly. During the 11 years that  owned it, the only time it spent off the road was to have fork seals, carburettors, rear brake master cylinder and a few other minor things attended to.

The bike still had the standard exhaust system on it when i got it, but, from Day 1 I was aware that the rust bunnies had been at work. The exhaust system was patched several times and finally got to the stage where it wouldn’t take any more welding. I did source a company that made a stainless steel replica exhaust that looked exactly like the standard one but would never rust. I started saving up but it never happened!

When getting the bike ready for rego in 1999, I became aware that it was never going to pass inspection with the pipes in the shape they were in. So, with a replacement pattern system costing $A600 and more important priorities on which to spend that sort of money, I took the cheap way out and bought a 2nd hand Tranzac 4-into-1 which scrubbed up quite well and worked OK. It cleared the panniers so there was no problem there and provided me with a little more ground clearance (not that that has ever really been a problem for me). It also sounded great and reminded me of how nice my original CBX had sounded with the O’Brien 4-into-1. Surprisingly it worked fine and the carbs did not need to be re-jetted as they had with the first bike.

I also found a very cheap solution for a top box. A A$29.95 tool box from Bunnings! Waterproof, plenty of capacity, lockable and it came with a plastic tray inside that found a home in my workshop housing my socket collection. Outstanding value!

Despite all of its faults, and, yes, I’m no starry-eyed virgin, it had faults, I loved it to death. The timing chain noise was the bane of my life on all three bikes. A design/manufacturing fault meant that the tensioner would fail to return on over-run and would rattle unmercifully when the engine was idling. Using a slighly lighter weight oil in the engine partially resolved the issue, but I still got very used, very quickly to odd looks from motorists when you pulled up beside them at the traffic lights. I guess it’s something like what riders of dry-clutch Ducatis experience still.

Front tyre choice was also critical. The bike was a bit “flighty” around the front end, probably due to the amount of unsprung weight imposed by the complex inboard disk brake system. Fitting a slightly larger tyre than recommened slowed the steering down to an acceptable level, but brought with it the penalty of a ferocious “head shake” on deceleration if you happened to accidentally take one hand off the handlebars.

But by far the CBX’s worst issue was the rear shock absorber/spring unit. It was the famous Honda “Pro-Link” system, but, rather than use a spring, Honda opted for air to assist the shocker. Adjusting it was as simple as adding air or bleeding some out, but the location of the shock absorber unit brought with it a problem that was endemic to most Hondas of that era and one which could not have been solved without a major re-design.

Simply, the rear shocker was placed vertically, immediately behind the engine. Once the engine heated up and the oil in the shock absorber had been heated as well by the movement of the rear suspension, the oil in the unit began to aerate and all ability to absorb the shocks of the road and effectively keep the wheel on the ground was lost. Slow and tight corners didn’t show it up so badly, but long sweeping corners saw the bike set up a slow cavitation, or “wallow” that was quite disconcerting.

I’m not saying it was dangerous and you could “ride around it” to a certain extent, especially if you were prepared to play silly games and hang ferociously off the seat in the corners, but it was just another eccentricity in a model that had had far too little development and was never intended to be a long-running proposition in the market place anyway.

The fact that I owned 2 (I’m not counting the LOUD one, it didn’t last long enough for me to miss it) for a total of 16 years says something about the model (or, perhaps it says something about me, you be the judge)

In June 2002, after 11 years of ownership, the CBX and I finally parted company. That was the bad news. However, the good news is that it went to a very good home, a lady in Melbourne who already had a 550F and wanted to stay with the marque but have a much better bike and in better condition. I correspond with Margie on a reasonably regular basis and I know that she and the CBX are still the best of friends.

CBX at Athletics carnival

At the school athletics carnival

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