The Tale of the Honda CB400

Small, light and easy to handle, Honda's CB400 might be the best of the breed. Pang, a 26-year old car mechanic, was grief-stricken. His beloved Honda CB400, lovingly cared for during six years of ownership, was lying in the middle of the street, its frame twisted beyond repair after a teenage scooter rider had plowed into Pang on his way to work. The pulled hamstring and bruises would soon mend, but his Honda CB400 was ruined.

'I poured a lot of love and money into that bike,' Pang says. 'I learned how to navigate Bangkok traffic as well as get along with traffic on the provincial roads. I learned to do motorcycle maintenance on it. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't the best looking motorcycle, but it was clean, reliable and fun. And it was my girl.'

Luckily, the scooter rider had insurance. While Pang's father was negotiating a settlement, an acquaintance named Tee came into the car dealership where Pang worked, mentioned he was selling his Honda CB400, and asked Pang to buy it because he knew Pang would take care of it. Pang was torn. 'Did I want to have that much emotional investment in a motorcycle again?' His father talked him into it, as the insurance payment would surely not be enough to buy a new Honda CBR250R.

The Honda CB400

After the success of its four-cylinder CB750, Honda decided to build a complete range of motorcycles designed along similar lines. Honda's first try at a small-bore four appeared in 1972 in the shape of the CB350 Four, a 347cc overhead cam with four carburetors feeding four very small cylinders. Impressively engineered, it was also seriously underpowered for its weight, and was pulled from the Honda lineup after two short years.

The next iteration of a smaller four appeared in 1975 in the form of the slightly larger and more sporting CB400F. Like its predecessor, it had a single overhead cam, a single disc up front and four carburetors. Four uniquely curved exhaust pipes fed into one quiet muffler, and a new cylinder head with larger intake and exhaust valves pumped up power, as did boring the cylinders to 51mm from the 350cc 47mm.

Some riders at the end of the '70s advocated sporty handling, a majority of them were interested in straight-line power. A quiet exhaust note, reliable functioning, good brakes and lack of vibration were not hot selling points for a motorcycle in that time. To a 400 meter obsessed public, what mattered was that for all its sophistication, the Honda CB400F was no better in 400 meters than the Yamaha RD350 and the Kawasaki 400 triple, the motorcycles it was usually compared to.

Despite the Honda CB400 failures in the mucho power department, it was a well-built machine with technological innovations that aided rideability, including a nicely engineered six-speed transmission and a smooth, stron, low effort, slip-resistant clutch. A mild can grind gave the engine good pull over a wide powerband -= without the flat spots experienced by the two-stroke competition, thank you very much – and the Honda CB400 was very stable in turns and accelerated nicely out of them.

Back in the early '80s testers praised the Honda CB400's functionality. It was, as one tester said, 'a bike that delivers reasonable economy, comfort and exceptional performance n terms of speed and handling. There are flaws here and there, but the way the motorcycle handles mot situations manages to reduce the quirks to minor annoyances.' Among these annoyances was the fact the Honda CB400F didn't have much room for passengers comfortably. The seat was too hard and the bars bent some people's wrists at an awkward angle, the horn was weak, and it was easy to accidentally kick the jinged right footpeg out of position.

Offsetting these issues, the Honda featured easy to read instruments that were well-lit at night, useful helmet locks, a wobblefree shift linkage, and a handy guard to keep the rider from catching a foot between the clutch cover and the brake lever.

All in all, the early Honda CB400 was a successful package, and Honda changed little about the Honda CB400 over the years. Over the years the low handlebars got higher and wider, the pegs lower and farther forward, and the seat somewhat lower, as well. Importantly, the engine and the suspension was not changed that much.

Still, the Honda CB400 didn't sell worldwide as well to make Honda happy. It didn't have enough chrome to interest the cruisers, it didn't look enough like a road racer to interest the sport riders, and it didn't have enough horsepower to tickle the fancy of either set.

The virtues of the Honda CB400 have continued to appeal to numerous enthusiasts, especially in Japan, where the Honda CB400 has become a cult bike. Even today the Honda CB400 Super Four is a very modern motorcycle and the NC42E engine is now-a-day an 4 valve DOHC, equipped with PGM-Fi (Honda fuel-injection) and other modern technology, and the engine has become more powerful with 52 horsepower and 10,500rpm. The brakes of the modern Honda CB400 is still excellent and ABS is optional.

Despite owning other motorcycles the Honda CB400 continued to be Pang's main ride until the accident. After he bought Tee's newer model CB400 Super Four, he stripped all the hard to find original parts off his old CB400 (as much as possible at least) and put them on his new CB400.
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