It Takes a Village

Story by David Booth//
March 1 2020

It may take a village to raise a child, but if the past 18 months of scrounging for parts is any indication, it takes an entire planet to rebuild a 1982 Honda CB1100R.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Christ, Dave, of course you’re lost in a metaphorical wilderness – all my scouring of the globe was, of course, done on the internet – you can’t even get the basics down pat: Honda didn’t make a CB1100 in 1982. It was an ’83 model.

Well, actually, our Canadian CB1100Fs were the cast-offs Honda sent to our shores as a poor man’s cousin to Europe’s and Australia’s all-conquering CB1100R. The first big-bore production racer from a Japanese manufacturer – what, you thought that was Suzuki’s GSX-R750? – was the 1981 CB1100R, which so dominated production racing that in the hands of Joey Dunlop, Wayne Gardner and Rocket Ron Haslam, these bikes won literally every major race entered. They’re rare (only 4,050 were made), expensive (even super-scruffy versions command at least 15 large) and the parts (which differ from the garden-variety CB Honda) are getting rarer than hen’s teeth. Hell, even basic CB750s are getting difficult to service now that they’re 40 years old.

And that, my friends, is where the “world” comes in.

First, the easy part. Like all classic vehicles, spare parts tend to amass at one supplier eventually. So, while Bike Bandit in the U.S. is good for run-of-the-mill Honda stuff and David Silvers in the U.K. has a few basic “R” parts, the repository of record for ultra-rare CB1100R parts is Consolidated Motor Sales in the Netherlands. Oh, even they can’t source the ultra-expensive Wombat alternator covers – narrower than most, for more ground clearance – but I did just order a full stator and rotor assembly, of which there apparently are four left in the whole wide world.

And while I’m in the midst of giving out “Attaboys,” a round of applause for the man who put it all together: Canada’s own Darren Begg, whose dB Customs has become, in five years, one of the go-to Honda custom shops in the world.

But conglomerates who store OEM parts and Fancy Dan engine builders who assemble OEM parts are not what I want to talk about here. Nope, the people I revere – the madmen who are really the heroes of any classic vehicle restoration are the obsessives who rebuild, remanufacture and even (in the case of my old Honda, especially) re-engineer parts that supposedly faultless manufacturers never got quite right.

And while there has always been a grassroots business of improving old-timers – bearing upgrades for Triumph cranks, anyone? – methinks that the rise of CAD/CAM machining and 3D printing has spawned a new surge in ingenuity.

So, from the relatively small (a wider throat inlet screen for better oil flow, thanks to a machinist in Oregon named Cary) to some truly mad Dutchman who recast original rubber footrests for the, what, 50 CB1100R owners who have ridden enough to wear out their foot pegs, there really is someone out there solving virtually every problem a restorer could imagine.

And the ingenuity is incredible. NOS pistons have long since disappeared, even from cmsnl.com’s stock list, so everyone just uses 2-mil-over Wisecos. The problem is a starter system originally designed for a 750 is now trying to push 1,123 cc of high-compression Wisecos. Things – notably, the starter clutch – break. That is, until some astute DIYer noticed that an R6 clutch just might bolt on without too much fuss.

That’s hardly the half of it. Need new valves? Custom-built in England in sturdier-than-stock stainless steel, thank you very much. A programmable ignition system so those big-bump pistons don’t ping? Well, there just so happens to be some unemployed computer geeks in the former Eastern Bloc who are avid motorcyclists. Hell, some guy in Japan is even remaking bodywork … in carbon fibre, no less.

But the maddest of them all is a Kiwi racer named Brent Hyde. It seems that classic racing Down Under is big business. And if your 1980s CB doesn’t have 220 or so rear-wheel horsepower – yes, almost as much as a World Superbike – you’re not running at the front.

That, as one may imagine, puts quite a strain on parts designed for the 100 or so ponies the original bikes might muster. That’s why the Vance & Hines parts catalogue includes a completely re-engineered cam-chain guide/tensioner system (a weakness of all ’80s Hondas), a direct gear drive system (replacing the chain that used to connect crankshaft and gearbox) and, the pièce de la résistance, a remade cylinder head with a revised combustion chamber shape and re-machined inlet tracts. Yes, just so riders of these classics can go racing.

Of course, what matters to me is all that re-engineering makes my R more reliable. Actually, it’s probably overkill. But thanks to a “village” that now extends all the way to Auckland, my CB1100RC is running sweeter than it did when it came off the line 37 years ago.

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