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Video: We ride Honda's CB1100 RS and EX

Published: 13 April 2017

Updated: 13 April 2017

At the moment we are spoilt for choice in the UK when it comes to retro bikes. From the large capacity machines such as the Triumph Thruxtons and Bonnevilles to the smaller capacity Ducati Scrambler range, including BMW’s R nineT models and the likes of Guzzi, if retro is your thing - or neo retro as Yamaha offer - you have plenty of options. But oddly, since its European debut in 2013 Honda’s CB1100 has bubbled away below the radar, unlike in Japan where it has been a smash hit. With one updated and one new model, could 2017 finally be the year of the CB in Europe?

It has been a while since I rode the EX and I’d forgotten quite what a pleasant retro it is, and one that has become even better for 2017. To be brutally honest the major changes to the EX are fairly minimal, but they all add up to a far improved overall machine. The new Showa Dual Bending Valve forks give a plusher ride than the older style of fork and the new 16.8-litre tank as well as looking better increases the bike’s practicality by adding two more litres of fuel.

Read more MCN first rides here.

The appearance of a sixth gear in 2014 within the air-cooled engine gives an even longer over-drive (it has to be said the top three gears are a touch widely spread) and overall riding it a gentle pace is a real pleasure. If you are into relaxed retro cruising, with or without a pillion as both are catered for exceptionally well on the CB, the updated EX is well worth trying out, especially if you are considering a Bonnie T120 as the Honda actually has a bit more spirit within its air-cooled motor than the Triumph’s water-cooled parallel twin. But what of Honda’s new sporty option?

The RS is basically a tweaked EX chassis with some flashy suspension and brakes added. The steel frame’s geometry is sharpened, an aluminium swingarm fitted and the conventional forks and brakes swapped for beefy 43mm Showa conventional items (not inverted BPF, Dual Bending Valve again, and Tokico instead of the flashier Brembo its rivals boast).

While this certainly gives the RS a sportier edge, Honda have stopped short of really pushing the boat out in terms of handling and compared to the higher spec competition such as the Thruxton R with its Öhlins, BPFs and Brembos it’s lagging slightly behind, which is a bit of a disappointment. Personally I feel if you are going to build a café racer, make it a proper one like the R nineT or Thruxton, don’t pull your punches.

There is little wrong with it aside from slightly lazy handling, I just hoped for more and where the RX exceeded my expectations, the RS failed to meet them.

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