In the late 1970s, Honda was struggling in motorsport, with long-distance racing being its only real area of competitiveness. However, one form of racing that was becoming more and more popular at that time was road bikes that had been modified. The company realised that this could be a form of racing where it could be successful.
It developed the CB1100R from the CB900F with the intention of creating a model for production-class racing. As such, it would need to sell a certain number of bikes to the public and these would have to be as close as possible to the specification of the bikes they needed for racing, hence ‘homologation special’.
So, in 1981, Honda released the CB1100R, the R denoting ‘Racing’. This was, fundamentally, a road-legal race bike; it used a 1062cc bored-out version of the air-cooled inline four cylinder motor from the CB900 it evolved from. It produced 115bhp and 72lb·ft of torque – not bad for the early 1980s. But it was the way it wore it that made it so special – the engine red-lined at 9500rpm and loved to rev yet developed excellent mid-range performance. It was mounted in a conventional steel chassis with front right-way-up front forks with air damping and twin shocks at the rear, with gas dampers and remote reservoirs to prevent the oil from overheating. Both ends were, of course, fully adjustable. The CB1100R was also the first Honda to use twin-piston front brake callipers, a development necessary for the track and it also featured an anti-dive system to maintain the bike’s attitude under braking.
There were three models of the CB1100R produced; the 1981 RB, of which just over 1000 were produced. The RC was introduced in 1982 and the RD in 1983, each with a run of 1500 necessary to qualify for showroom-class racing.
The bodywork was pure racer; the RB came with a round headlight, a ¾ length fairing and a single seat. The RC in 1982 came with a pillion seat but with a removable cover to hide it from sight and a full-length fairing to help high-speed handling. It also featured a square headlight, which carried over to the RD, though the fairing was cut short. It too kept the removable pillion seat cover and foot-pegs and was supplied in pearlescent paint with an aluminium fuel tank.
It was no surprise that, as a bike bred for racing but allowed on the road, it was a delight to ride. Handling was sharp, the bike cornering eagerly and nimbly and holding a line perfectly through bends yet allowing mid-corner adjustments as necessary. Its riding position was undoubtedly race rather than touring but many agreed that it was surprisingly comfortable for longer journeys.
Hot off the back of Honda’s CB750, the world’s first super-bike, the CB1100R was a huge hit and became one of the most desirable homologation specials of the era. It achieved considerable success, including wins in the Castrol six-hour race in Australia and production series across Europe.