Grunt. That’s what you want in a big retro machine and the Honda X11 has got it in spades.
This slightly porky looking bike is basically a stripped down CBR1100XX Blackbird, with an engine in a softer state of tune, but not by much. There´s still 136bhp knocking about in those bores, which feels arm-wrenching without any sort of screen or fairing to block the breeze. A top speed of around 150mph is on the cards if you have the neck muscles, and the closed roads of course, to go for it.
So it´s got all the toys, a beefy engine and a sports-touring derived chassis to play with – the Honda X11 is much more than the average low budget, 80s tech all-rounder. But then we come to the styling…oh dear.
A few years ago, there was a great 1000cc retro machine on the market; beautiful quality finish, a torquey four cylinder engine, respectable handling, excellent brakes and rather tasty styling. Only one thing wrong with the Honda CB1000 – it cost over eight thousand pounds to buy in the UK. Unsurprisingly, people bought Bandits for £6500 instead and went on Caribbean holidays with the change.
Now, Honda have come back to the arena for a second attempt at landing a knockout punch on the retro class champion, Suzuki´s bargain Bandit 1200. There´s an all new twin spar frame, linked brakes, a low price of just £6500 on the road and a 136bhp fuel injected Honda Blackbird motor. Does it feel meaty? Put it this way; the X11 makes the 1200 Bandit look like a vegan in a pasta hat.
There´s no magic ingredient in the engine department either, it´s all tried and tested Honda technology. With an 1137cc, DOHC, 16 valve four cylinder unit derived from the effortless Blackbird, Honda have picked on of the most logical engines within their range for a big retro machine. It´s powerful of course, making a claimed 136bhp at 9,000rpm, but more importantly, it´s lost none of the deceptively potent lunge that its big brother `Bird simply oozes from as low as 3,000 revs.
The fuel injection system is every bit as clean and precise in metering the go juice to the cylinders too, giving an immediate reaction to the rider´s itchy right wrist – you think you can overtake, then two seconds later, you have.
Honda have just taken the edge off the Blackbird´s power for use in the X11, making it pretty much the perfect blend of torque and outright top speed. The model I rode was a brand new demo from Castleford Honda, (cheers Bob) so in deference to the handful of miles on the clock, I didn´t cane the nuts off it.
That said, it was hard to resist gunning the bike in 4th gear as I climbed uphill, away from the photographer, watching the revs push past 7,000 and the speedo rapidly dart past the ‘instant ban´ level of speed. I would guess that the X11 is easily capable of cracking 140mph in 5th, with maybe 150mph possible if you got you head well down between those odd looking clocks – that is seriously fast for an unfaired bike.
Some big retro’s have plenty of poke, others, like the Ducati Monster have sharp styling and almost sportsbike handling. What you don´t want is an engine that overwhelms the chassis, leaving you with the unnerving feeling on bumpy backroads that controlling the back end of the bike is like trying to herd jellies.
There´s no worries with the Honda on that score. Unlike its competitors, (like the slightly lairy XJR1300 Yamaha, or twitchy ZRX1100 Kawasaki) the X11 is rock steady on the fastest, bumpiest sweepers you can find. The chassis is equally as smooth as the motor.
There´s nothing exceptional about the frame and suspension, unless you count the beefy back section of the twin spars which has the engine hanging from it, plus another T-shaped, box section, alloy extrusion which acts as the swinging arm mounting point. Compared to many sportbikes, it looks like a section of Forth rail bridge, but that´s probably a very good idea.
There´s a monoshock rear, adjustable for pre-load only, with 43mm Showa forks upfront, which you can´t tinker with in any way, keeping it together over the bumps. The front end is particularly impressive for such a big bike (the X11 weighs in at nearly 500lbs dry) and you soon get some confidence on the corners. It will squirm and wiggle if you push it over rough roads, but in general, something this heavy is going pretty much where you point it, once you´ve shifted your weight far enough to point it in the first place. You need to haul every ounce of your bodyweight to make quick changes through an S bend, or coming off a roundabout, but otherwise, the Honda is less choppy than the Bandit 1200, ZRX Kwacker and in a totally different class to the softer riding XJR1300 Yamaha. For me, the only retro that has the same level of precision as the X11 through the turns is the BMW R850R. That wasn´t a joke by the way…just ride one – hard – and you´ll find out why. Here´s a question that you might find hard to ignore; can you live with a big ugly bike?
There´s no doubt which is the prettiest retro on the market, but Ducati’s Monster is long in the tooth now and desperately needs a more powerful engine. Suzuki´s Bandit is a plain Jane to look at, but cheap and efficient. For me, the ZRX1100 Kawasaki has the right lines for a factory streetfighter, it looks like an integrated design, not a quick parts-bin solution to a marketing department memo. That´s also where the T509 Triumph falls down; a great rider´s machine marred by its bug-eyed, slab-sided styling. Painting it lime green doesn´t help matters either…
The X11 does Honda no favours with its chunky, fat-tank, flared shoulders looks. The air scoops either side of the engine are claimed to do two jobs; improve cool air flow to the radiator, thus keeping it compact yet doing the same thermal balancing act as a bigger rad would. Secondly, the plastic `ears´ promote downforce at the front of the engine, improving stability at high speeds on the X11. I can buy that concept, the bike feels rock solid without a doubt.
But they look god-awful. That shouldn´t matter, but it does. The X11 has unattractive lumps and bumps all over, with some poor details too, like the clocks, which are housed in a futuristic plastic console and have painted faces the colour of Heinz oxtail soup. Er…why?
The fuel tank/airbox cover is immense too, which might not be everyone´s cup of tea visually, but also gives the bike an unusual riding position, especially for the shorter leg types like myself. Still, the wide-boy gas tank holds a claimed 22 litres, which should give a range of around 150 miles before you need to think about searching out the next government tax contribution fuel station. The X11 also has one of the most comfortable saddles in the class too, with a Corbin-esqe profile to it and plenty of padding. The pillion passenger gets a raw deal though, with a narrow, hard perch at the back.
If all that style challenge criticism seems too much, let me balance it out by saying the X11 is a typical Honda in so many respects, that it´s hard not to get a grin on your face whilst riding it.
Build quality is excellent, with a beautiful curvaceous stainless steel exhaust system leading the way. The paint looks thick and durable, every component that needs to move does so with a slick, unfussy efficiency that you expect from the world´s number one bike producer. The clutch and five speed gearbox are outstanding.
There´s a great deal to be said for buying a bike that you can simply jump on and ride, easily, safely, enjoyably – especially if you´re that classic retro customer, the `born again ‘ biker. Journos sometimes forget how intimidating big bikes can be, but the X11 is definitely the most novice-friendly big retro around.
Honda are selling the X11 as a low cost touring choice too, with optional soft luggage set and flyscreen available as extras. Certainly, at £6500 on the road, it´s cheap enough to sell in decent numbers, although bargain tourers like the Yamaha Diversion 900 and the Triumph Trophy, both do the same job much better with proper fairings.
It isn´t really a tourer, it is a basic Jack-of-all trades rocketship with the Honda name on the petrol tank. That alone, makes it a different proposition for many people, a quality option that should last well. There´s no doubt that the X11 can cut it out there on the road with the best big capacity retro bikes on the market, in fact, it virtually annihilates them once the rev counter hits 6,000 and the Honda just takes off into the distance. It would take a really skilled/crazed sportbike rider to leave you behind on the X11, whatever the road was like.
The bottom line is that this bike´s styling, or lack of it, doesn´t mean much when you´re riding it, because you aren´t looking at it. It´s the total biking experience that counts and here, the Honda delivers an almighty kick in the pants for the money, but with all day long comfort too. It might look like a bit of a wide boy in a cheap suit, but it rides like Savile Row.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the Honda x11.
Engine……….Transverse, four cylinder, 4 stroke, DOHC, water cooled, cc 1137
Claimed power (bhp)……….136bhp @ 9,000rpm (EST)
Wheelbase……….1500mm , Suspension; 43mm cartridge type forks, no adjustment, rear monoshock adjustable for pre-load only
Seat height……….795mm Dry weight; 222kgs Brakes; Twin 310mm front discs, linked 3 piston calipers, Rear 256mm disc, 3 piston caliper.
Tyres……….120/70 front, 180/55 rear, both 17 inch diameter
Fuel capacity……….22 litres