Honda - The name on the tank no longer means what it used to

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s had a sense of the importance of Honda in the scheme of things. It changed motorcycling by making motorcycles that were reliable and oil-tight, and were a practical alternative to a car – a service life of over 100,000 kilometers was no longer a dream but a reality. You could do 160km/h on a single-cam Honda Inline-Four every day without the motorcycle complaining or you having to rebuild it every weekend.

Sure, some models in some categories lacked the sparkle of competitor motorcycles from Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki, but that didn’t matter. If it said ‘Honda’ on the fuel tank, everyone knew you were on a winner for durability and reliability.

Not content with world domination on two wheels, Honda started making cars, the first few where powered by a 360cc twin-engine based on the engine from the CBR360. As far as I know, not much survived. Honda got distracted by its success, however, and lost the plot with motorcycles for a period while it concentrated more on cars.

It didn’t affect its reputation among riders, though, and despite often being the slowest motorcycle in whichever class it was in, sales boomed because people trusted the brand and the dealer network was already well-established.

Times change. Such is the intensity of cost competition that Japan currently outsources much of its manufacturing – particularly for its smaller motorcycles – to countries with lower labor costs. The current CB/CBR300 and CB/CBR500 series are now manufactured in Thailand. There’s nothing wrong with this, but somethings is going wrong with Honda’s quality control. Can you recall any time in motorcycling history when a production motorcycle has been recalled to have its crankshaft replaced?

The labor cost around the world to pull an engine out, split the cases, repair it and reassemble the motorcycle would far outweigh any profit Honda got from the original sale. Worse, it devalues the brand’s hard-won reputation. The recall list for the CB/CBR300 and CB/CBR500 models is long and may not stop in the near future. Anyone who’s thinking of buying one of these on the basis of the name needs to think carefully.

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