Never officially imported to the UK, the X4 was a beefed up version of Honda’s much underrated CB1000 Big One (great name or what?), from the mid 1990s.
With a 1294cc four cylinder engine capable of pushing this unfaired monster to the far side of 140mph, it’s still got a lot going for it.
Styled like a production class dragstrip racer, the X4 has all the civilised touches you would expect on any big Honda, but could so easily be transformed into a tyre shredding nutter bike. Unusual – some might say ugly – the X4 is certainly different.
One incident summed up both the appeal and the drawback of Honda’s X4. I’d parked the mean black super-cruiser outside a cafe while I nipped in for a sandwich, and returned to find two middle-aged women from the kitchen admiring it. It’s a beautiful bike, they agreed. `Shame I haven’t got a crash-helmet with me,’ said one, `or I’d have asked you for a spin on the back…’ Like it? Beautiful? Asking for a ride on the back?
Didn’t they realise that they weren’t supposed to be infatuated by Honda’s muscular 1284cc answer to Yamaha’s mighty V-Max – but intimidated, awe-struck, even terrified? With its kicked-out front forks, flat drag-race handlebars, big four-cylinder engine, humungous rear tyre and laid-back but aggressive styling, the X4 is supposed to be a machine with a seriously bad attitude. A bike that stomps away from the lights in a cloud of tyre-smoke, leaving wrinkled tarmac, humbled opponents and bitten-off chicken’s heads in its wake. But somehow the X4 is a bit too neatly styled and restrained to seem very menacing – and the same thing is true when you ride it.
The Honda has plenty of torque, alright, and it’s quick off the mark. It also handles pretty well, its brakes are good, and it’s refined – which is part of the problem. Because the X4 is just too bland and forgiving to generate the extremes of excitement and raw fear that have made the V-Max a legend for over a decade. The X4 was launched only this year, and is still officially sold only in Japan (this bike was bought in by Southern Motorcycles of Southampton, who have a handful on sale at £7299). Its engine is a revised version of the watercooled, 16-valve, chain-driven unit from Honda’s CB1000. Adding 1mm to the bore and a 13.6mm to the stroke gives dimensions of 78 x 67.2mm, and pushes capacity out to a whopping 1284cc, so the X4 certainly ain’t short of cubes. Peak power remains almost unchanged at 100bhp, but it’s produced 2000rpm earlier, at 6500rpm. And the big motor churns out an impressive 90 lb.ft of torque at a lowly 5000rpm – that’s over 20 lb.ft more than the CB Thou produces, and slightly up even on the V-Max’s figure.
While we’re talking numbers, what’s not quite so impressive is the fact that this Japan-market bike is also electronically limited to 115mph – although for another £50 you can get an ignition chip to sort that out. That big engine is the X4’s centrepiece, but the square-finned unit is a relatively insignificant part of a styling package that is influenced by both cruiser and drag-bike shapes. From the front the Honda looks fairly ordinary, but it’s eye-catching at the rear, where the twin silencers have been kept short and wide so as not to obscure the view of the X4’s solid 17-inch wheel and its fat, 190-section Bridgestone Battlax radial rubber. The ergonomics also have a hint of drag-bike, with the straight handlebars (on low raisers) combining with the very low rider’s part of the stepped seat and the fairly rearset footpegs to give a slightly sportier riding position than I’d anticipated. With the twin chromed clocks and the big black tank (complete with fuel and temperature gauges set into the alloy filler cap surround) rising up ahead, this is a bike that you sit very much in, rather than on. The riding position is unusual but the big engine fires up with the familiar rustle and whir of a thousand other Honda straight fours. From the moment you pull away there’s no doubt that this is one strong and supremely flexible powerplant. The bank of 38mm Keihins responded to a crack of throttle with instant acceleration.
The X4 pulled from well below 2000rpm even in the highest of its five gears, and in the lower four ratios it delivered seamless power all the way to the 7500rpm redline. Because the bars aren’t too high and the pilot sits so low behind the clocks and tank, there’s more wind-protection than is normal for a naked bike. My test began with a thrash up the M3, where I was pleasantly surprised at the Honda’s ability to sit at a steady indicated 90mph without too much discomfort. But if you want to go much faster, you rapidly find the silly limiter making it misfire the moment its speedo indicates 115mph. At that point the X4 is indicating 6500rpm in top and feels as though it has a good few mph to come. A more relevant drawback is noticeable at lower speeds.
Although the X4 engine doesn’t vibrate particularly for such a big lump, it has a typically busy four-cylinder feel and doesn’t feel relaxed in the way, for example, that Honda’s own flat-six F6C does. On several occasions I went to change up a gear, only to discover that I was already in top. And if the X4 doesn’t have the effortless feel of the best cruisers, nor does it even approach the gut-churning high-rev acceleration of the 40bhp more powerful V-Max.
Where the Honda does score is by having considerably better handling than most cruisers, thanks to a sturdy twin-downtube steel frame, a beefy aluminium swing-arm and some reasonably competent suspension. With forks kicked back to 31 degrees, a lengthy 1650mm wheelbase and a hefty 249kg of dry weight, the X4 was never going to be anything other than slow-steering, and in a straight line the black bike felt as solid and unshakeable as a gutful of Guinness.
That’s less of an advantage on a bendy road, where the X4’s narrow handlebars mean that you have to work quite hard to make it change direction, pulling it down forcibly into tight turns. The Honda lurches around a bit if ridden quickly through bumpy bends too, but at a more gentle pace it remains impressively stable, thanks to reasonably firm and well-damped 43mm forks and rear shocks. In corners the limiting factor is not normally the grip of the excellent Bridgestone tyres but the ground clearance, which runs out early in a shower of footrest sparks (though the lean angle is not bad by cruiser standards). And at least this is one cruiser with good brakes.
The pair of 310mm front discs, gripped by four-piston Nissin calipers, combine with the efficient single rear disc to give excellent stopping power for such a big, heavy bike. The X4 also scores pretty highly in other cruiser-crucial areas such as finish and comfort. Paint (in choice of black, maroon or gunmetal grey) and chrome is good and thick.
There’s no centrestand, but switches, dials and controls are to Honda’s normal high standard. Fuel capacity is a feeble 15 litres, but the seat is wide for the rider and also the pillion, who gets a solid alloy grab-rail to hold. The X4’s roomy pillion perch obviously appealed to the woman at the cafe (alright, I admit it – the one who wanted a ride was more `old’ than `middle-aged’), and there’s no denying that as a cruiser the X4 has a lot to offer. It looks pretty good, it’s torquey and it’s capable of being ridden in reasonable comfort for a fair amount of time.
Added to that, the Honda’s competent handling, braking and roadholding combine to make an impressively sensible and practical super-cruiser. But I still couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed by it.
The X4 gets the job done, but it doesn’t have either the personality or the outrageous performance to make for a particularly memorable ride.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda x4.
Engine……….Liquid-cooled inline four, cc 1284
Front tyre……….120/70 x 17in Bridgestone BT57 Battlax
Rear tyre……….190/60 x 17in Bridgestone BT57 Battlax
Front suspension……….43mm telescopic
Rear suspension……….Twin shocks, adjustment for preload
Front brake……….2, four-piston Nissin calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake……….Double-action caliper, 280mm disc
Fuel capacity……….15 litres