® Ten things every Honda CBX owner should know

The Honda CBX is a very special motorcycle. At over 40 years old it is far from the fastest or best performing. Even at its debut it enjoyed king-of-the-hill quarter-mile status only until the Suzuki knocked it off its tenuous throne merely a few months later. Heck, with its origin in a 1950s NSU design its multivalve multi-cam engine was already old tech before it was even produced. So no one has illusions, not then and certainly not now. And heavy? And wide? And a 19-inch front wheel? But with all those antiquated characteristics, there is still an allure, a captivating finesse, special character, and visceral thrill that is rare and hardly matched in today's motorbike offerings. I especially appreciate the CBX engine's unique DNA, a sort of amalgamation of vintage European technological brashness with practical, durable Japanese engineering. It's very much a Lamborghini with Asian foster parents. It's a neat bike, very possibly my all-time favorite, both to own and ride as well as to service and rebuild. However, in this day of low-maintenance vehicles this attention-demanding machine is an anachronism, a thing unexpected and unfamiliar. Thus I find the following things important enough to encourage every CBX owner to put them on a list of things to resolve.

1 First, and this really is first, cylinder compression matters in every engine, vintage ones more so, and 1970s Honda ones most of all. This is in fact the CBX's achilles heel, it's downfall, and it is eminently significant. As the years and/or miles roll by the CBX steadily throws away a certain percentage of its compression. It is practically an axiom that 120-130 psi is observable in any example of the CBX one will encounter, roughly a thirty percent loss from the as-manufactured 170. Every machine. And most of that by the 15,000-mile mark. And all because of cheap valves, for which quality long-lasting aftermarket replacements are available and strongly recommended. And what I use.

2 Second, the state of the brakes on every CBX that enters my shop is inevitably disappointing. But they needn't be. While typical Honda 70-80s tech, meaning single-action, collet design as in virtually every mass-produced car and thus relatively low-performance, the little-known truth is, the stock brakes -- that is, with almost all stock parts -- can actually be phenomenal. All it takes is a little care. I spend nearly as much time on the brakes as I do the engine on every CBX I fettle. High performance brakes aren't the answer. Getting after the brakes you already have is.

3 Third, it concerns me that every single CBX I see has between two to four quarts of oil missing. This is simply neglect. And it is unconscionable. One of the problems is folks don't know how to check the oil in the CBX. It is not the same as in most other motorcycles. Due to the oil cooler, the measured oil level changes dramatically after engine shutdown as the oil drains back to the crankcase. Thus the level is best checked immediately, before it has a chance to artificially rise. Add to this the tendency for vaporization common in most motorcycles, and the engine's very hot-running nature, and crankcase oil level becomes a critical concern on the CBX.

4 Fourth, the CBX alternator has got a bad rap. It's not a pile, contrary to what many believe. Once set up properly, it, like the brakes, is trouble-free and a good performer. There is nothing wrong with the Kawasaki-based alternator conversions. They're fine. But they are completely unnecessary. The stock alternator is powerful enough and durable enough to do its job. Even the all-too common and expensive issue of excessively-worn drive disks is easily and cheaply overcome.

5 Fifth, the Dyna ignition systems that so many like to put on their CBXs offer absolutely no advantage, and in fact due to the quirky wires and connections inherent in them, plus poor engineering, unprofessional installation and other issues, the Dyna often poses a decided disadvantage over the stock ignition system. The OEM ignition is quite good. There are many very good-performing CBXs around with stock ignition systems.

6 Sixth, the CBX does not need aftermarket carburetors. Unless you are an experienced racer who somehow manages to open the throttle for extended periods more than fifty percent -- on the road -- non-original carburetors are the things of dreams and more bling than anything else. And they bring to the equation their own idiosyncrasies. The stock carbs properly attended to are marvels of performance and themselves responsible for much of the satisfaction of riding this iconic motorcycle. Find the right person to set them up and you will be amazed at the truth of this. On a related note, stay away from jet kits. They are bandaid fixes even on those machines for which they are relatively suitable. That is, they make up for other issues on those machines that should themselves be addressed. But on the CBX, they are all the bad and more. Criminal, is the word that comes to mind. Don't ruin your CBX carburetors with a Dynojet kit.

7 Seventh, with the engine a stressed member of the frame, it is important to properly install and tighten the engine hangers, parts which have to be removed for each valve adjustment. Almost every CBX that makes its way to me has had someone install them incorrectly -- often stripping the threads in the frame -- or tighten them in the wrong order, which also promotes damage. What's worse is aftermarket hangers. I have yet to see one that is made correctly. Really, you ask? Yes. What aftermarket hanger makers fail to do is to replicate the stock hanger's offset. The original main engine hangers have an offset between the top and the bottom. All the aftermarket ones I have worked with are absent the offset, requiring shimming the bottom with washers to properly create it, which I have had to do many times. Failing to do so results in the hangers being bolted up crooked.

8 Eighth, with the CBX's carburetors being as fiddly and old-school as they are, and having circuits that are really tiny and precise, they are prone to varnishing up very easily. You simply must keep Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer in them at all times, round the clock. Unless you think nothing of having them expensively rebuilt each riding season. Sta-Bil really works. Use it. And by the way, ethanol has nothing whatever to do with this.

9 Ninth, as with every vintage bike, the CBX's electrical connectors are of a design whose terminals are exposed to the ravages of the elements, thus requiring frequent inspection and ultimate rehabilitation. Expect corrosion and melting of the plugs. The good news is, all the needed parts are available, even from Honda, and getting after this has the potential of improving electrical performance. Done right the repair will never have to be done a second time. And it really needs doing.

10 Tenth and last, the CBX clutch is often misadjusted in the bikes I see, in two different ways. First, correct pressure plate adjustment is neglected. This is done behind the small removable screw-on adjustment access cap. The cable must be slackened completely before the adjustment is made, then the adjusting screw is bottomed gently and reversed an eighth to a quarter turn and locked down. Afterward, the cable is adjusted mostly at the engine end, leaving just a tiny bit of adjustment at the handlebar end. At the handlebar end, the correct slack is very small, just a sixteenth inch of lever movement. Be sure to lube the cable before adjusting it, this makes a significant difference.

I hope this has been instructive and useful. The CBX is a wonderful bike. I had mine for over 50,000 miles. But I have actually discouraged more than one individual from acquiring one when I felt they would be challenged by the inevitable needs previously-owned machines tend to have due to neglect and ignorance. If you are a new owner, or are about to be, see my article on the costs of putting a used CBX in shape after purchasing.


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