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I've been riding bikes for 14 years in that time I've owned everything from 600cc sports bikes and all rounders to 125s but some of the bikes I have enjoyed most have been the little 400cc grey imports. So far I have owned a CBR400, a ZXR400, a VFR400 and the Honda CB-1 every one of them have been reliable and great fun to ride.
The CB-1 I currently own is an H reg and like most of the 400cc bikes it is a grey import which means it was never officially available in the UK when it was released the CB-1 was only available in America and Japan. Most of the grey import 400cc bikes that have come to the UK were imported from Japan where the strict MOT laws meant most riders bought a bike then traded it in against another one when the time came to MOT it. This left many bikes with low mileage in perfect condition lying in warehouses unwanted. Most of them were 400cc which new riders in Japan were limited to by licencing restrictions but there were also some great 250s such as the CBR250 Hornet 250 and VTR250.
In the late eighties and early nineties many UK companies cottoned on to this and started to import container loads of bikes to the UK. The headlights needed to be changed for UK spec and the speedos are KMPH rather than MPH so the only thing required for the bike to pass UK MOT was change the headlight beam and some stickers or an overlay on the speedo to show MPH.
The CB-1 is a great looking bike it's a naked bike which looks like a mini streetfighter with a chunky alloy frame minimal plastics and dropped bars. The bike looks miles better in my opinion than the officially imported CB500 that we got in the UK. As with most Hondas especially the Japanese built ones the finish on the CB-1 is excellent my bike is over 20 years old and still in excellent condition most people can't believe how old it is when they look at the reg plate.
The CB-1 shares the same 4 cylinder 400cc engine as the CBR400 although it's detuned it still revs to 17 thousand with plenty of low down and mid range power. Out on the road the CB-1 is a blast to ride through town the low seat height and narrow bars make filtering easy. Take it to a twisty A or B road and it really comes into it's own it handles really well and 400cc bikes due to their low seat height and compact size are great for getting your knee down. The 6 speed gearbox is slick and the bike pulls well in any gear but drop it down a gear and it will take off screaming it's way willingly all the way to the 17 grand redline this bike is at it's best when you really work the gears.
With a top speed of around 110 motorways aren't really a problem the bike will sit at legal motorway speeds all day if required but at around 85 miles on the main tank before reserve there's going to be a few fuel stops on a long journey. In all honesty I was usually glad of the fuel stops as due to the compact riding position and low bars there was usually a need to stretch knees and wrists after long rides on the CB-1.
The CB-1 is cheap to insure and reasonably cheap to run I can get around 55mpg if i'm careful but this will go down to around 30mpg if I'm thrashing it. The bike only costs £35 per year for road tax compared to £53 for my 600cc Fazer and insurance for both bikes on one policy is only £130 third party fire and theft.
Many people are wary of buying the CB-1 or other grey import bikes because they think they might have problems finding spares if anything goes wrong. In reality this is rarely a problem due to the amount of grey imports on the road these days many aftermarket companies make spares for these bikes and as long as you know the exact model of your bike even if your main dealer does not stock the parts they will be able to order spares from Honda. The Honda grey import models are usually are identified by their frame number as well as their name the CB-1 is also known as the NC27, The CBR400s were NC23 and NC29 the VFR400s were NC21 NC24 and NC30 so if you know this number the dealer should be able to get you the correct part.
There are also a few grey bike specific forums online including one dedicated to the Honda CB-1 so if you have any problems they are a great place to get advice and often a good source of second hand spares. Members on the forums are also great for advising if other parts from a different model will fit your bike or can be modified to fit your bike this is helpful as it takes the trial and error out of buying used spares. Many CBR400 parts will fit the CB-1 but others won't so double check on the forums before you buy.
I would recommend fitting a set of engine bars or crash bungs they might not look cool but they can save you a fortune in the event of a low speed crash or if you drop the bike. Although most parts are readily available for servicing the CB-1 replacement body work parts such as seat panels,tanks and engine casings are a lot harder to find and usually expensive.
The only downside I have found with the CB-1 is there is a lack of tyre choice available the sizes aren't common so although you can get tyres no problem the options from most manufacturers are limited. Some owners have changed the swing arm to accommodate a wider tyre to give more choice which is something I might consider in future.
The CB-1 has been reliable I have used it for courier work and Sunday blasts and only had one problem with it unfortunately the problem caused it to break down several times before the fault was found. The fault is very common on both this and the CBR400 both of them eat regulator rectifiers! The reason the fault couldn't be traced is because when it starts to go it will work on and off which means it breaks down as though the battery is dead then starts again and it runs perfectly for a few days then without warning it would do the same again. I left it with a garage after the 2nd time and they tried and tested everything but could not find a problem. The third time the bike broke down I found the CB-1 forum and got the answer in minutes and since the new regulator rectifier was fitted the bike has been perfect ever since.
My CB-1 was bought due to me struggling to ride my Fazer after a leg injury due to the heavier weight and higher seat on the Fazer I had difficulty if I had to hold the bike on my injured leg at junctions where the road camber made it impossible for me to hold it with my other leg and I was worried I would drop the bike. The CB-1 was supposed to be sold after I got back on the Fazer in reality I keep finding excuses to keep it and although I like the Fazer deciding which one to keep is proving a much harder choice than I thought it would be.
Overall the CB-1 is a great choice for anyone looking for an unfaired 400cc bike. The low seat height and overall small size of the CB-1 make it a perfect choice for new riders and any rider with shorter legs will appreciate getting both feet flat on the floor. At 58bhp the bike would be an ideal first bike for riders who have done the direct access test that allows them to ride any bike but anyone with the restricted licence would need to have it restricted down to the 33bhp limit until their 2 year restriction ends. The CB-1 doesn't have the power and top speeds of a 600 or bigger bike but take it to a twisty road and it's still great fun for more experienced riders as well as novices.
The original CB1-400 was only available as a grey import, mainly from Japan. Japan has a licensing system that favours 400cc bikes, hence there is a large market for this engine size over there, the vehicle requirements (our MOT if you like) make it hard for old bikes to survive out there, hence many a Jap spec 400cc bike comes to our shores. What do you get with a CB1 then? What about a Naked CBR400, the same rev happy 54bhp screamer of a bike with a low seat height, handling to make a CBR600/GPZ600/R6- In fact any 600cc sportsbike owner cry with anguish because they simply cannot keep up on the twisty bits. It has a surprising turn of speed too, although limited to 180kph (about 112mph) this limit can be disabled by simply fitting a kilometer to miles speedo converter as supplied by Motrax for about £30.00, this allows 12,000 rpm in top- about 122mph. The only real diadvantage is the lack of wind protection, making it a contest between wind and your arms over 80mph, but a simple cheap screen can do wonders for this. What you will usually find is a low milleage bike, that has probably been stood a while, so you need to hear it start and run from cold. The front brake is more than adequate for the weight, and it is a light bike. It has a tendency to run hot if there are any air leaks in the inlet tract too, so don't remove the air filter! And the spark plugs are dear at £8.00 each, other than that, they are great fun easy bikes to live with. I've had two, so I should know! There is a later model for sale, called the CB1 Super-4, different bike, much larger, not as quick but it does have wind protection in its favour. Be warned that the tank is not very big, and if you use the performance you will need fuel every 120 miles, but my steadiest riding produced well over 60mpg, my worst (trackday) 30mpg, so you sqeeze the twistgrip and make your choice.