Honda CB450 Test
Motorcyclist Illustrated 1969
He's a decent sort, really, my next door neighbour.
Mark you, he'd be an even more decent sort in my estimation
if he was to teach those two kids to stay in toed
after seven in the morning, particularly on those
rare Sundays when I get a "lie-in". But,
despite his basic British interests in all that is
best in life, like cricket and rugger, he admits to
a curiosity nosiness, perhaps in the variety of machinery
which I lock in my garage from time to time. A layman
(to the point of thinking that a two-stroke is something
rather naughty which takes place in Soho), he admitted
to a liking for the "Yahama" and "Kawisaku"
and a Triumph.
But what really made those quick, beady little eyes
glint behind the horn-rims was the Hindu. "Aha,"
he said as he spied me reluctantly wheeling the machine
out o,ie sunny Sunday morning, "the Hindu
Lead'ng him firmly but kindly by the elbow to the
shade of his blossoming cherry tree, I explained that
this was, in fact, the newest product, the latest
offspring, of the giant Japanese Honda concern
and that the name "Doho" was, actually,
DOHC. And that this was the 450 cc twin-cylinder model
which had aroused such interest at the recent motorcycle
show at Brighton. "Oh," he exclaimed, rather
weakly. "But it is rather handsome, don't you
1 did think. And, after a good, long ride, thought
even more. You remember the ill-fated, luckless 450
cc twin "Black Bomber", the motorcycle which
was destined to wipe the floor with everything on
two wheels, to change the face of motorcycling? Forget
it. From the same family, maybe, but the resemblance
is as strong as that between Liberace and Steve McQueen.
The earlier model, from which we expected great things
in the realms of PR, was a good motorcycle, but had
its faults. It vibrated badly; it was bulky and overweight;
and it didn't hold the road too well either. An unfortunate
aspect of this size of unit is its "bastardisation",
not accepted as belonging to any particular size-range;
too big for the 350s, a shade too small for the 500s.
And yet it has everything you could wish for from
a motorcycle. This, above any other which comes to
mind, is the Compleat Motorcycle. It has a twin overhead-camshaft
power unit which smoothly, unhesitatingly, wafts its
rider up to and over the three-figure mark; in standard
trim, it comes with dual instruments of rev-counter
(calibrated up to 12,000 but with the "blood-line"
at 9£) and, rather optimistically, a 140 mph
speedometer; steering damper; two handlebar mirrors;
trafficators as bold and decisive as those on three-ton
cars; and (oh, sophistication of sophistications)
an electric starter. Plus those dozen-and-one little
touches which would only occur to a fastidious little
Japanese, like nylon or polished alloy guides for
cables, to keep them out of harms way and ensure a
smooth, untramelled passage through the labarynths
of frame and cycle parts. Like the tiny grab handle
above the nearside rear suspension leg, to lift the
machine back on to its centre stand. Nothing, no matter
how detailed, is overlooked, it seems. The rear seat
in a remarkably realistic synthetic leather, hinges
at the nose to give access to battery and electrics.
Folding footrests for rider and passenger. Think
of it, and it's bound to have been thought of.
Internals of the power-house have been updated, putting
aside the weaknesses of the "'Bomber". The
lubrication system features a remodelled pump; the
clutch has been redesigned; it's got a new crankshaft,
carried in four bearings. Bore and stroke are
unchanged at 70 mm x 57.8 mm, but improvements in
the top half mean that rpm have been raised. Valve
sizes were enlarged, compression ratio was lifted
from 8.5:1 to 9.0:1; combustion chamber and piston
were reshaped and the resultant betterment gives more
power, more smoothly, more reliably. Gear ratios are
designed for every contingency: fast touring (6000
rpm at 70 mph), pobbling through traffic, and clean,
sharp acceleration. Breathing is through two 32 mm
Roadholding has been helped by the new frame, a little
longer than the earlier machine's, and a combination
of large diameter single tubes and smaller twin members.
From the steering head, a heavy down-tube travels
to a point just beneath the engine plates where it
separates into two, running below the crankcase. Along
the top of the engine there is a sizeable tube as
far back as the nose of the seat, at which point it
blossoms into twofold. A sturdy, substantial skeleton
which holds together the flesh and bones of the CB450.
Suspension is something which creates a problem for
me The makers' settlings are often a little harsh,
having usually been set for an average 11-stoner,
the resultant stiffness, even with adjustable units,
making life uncomfortable. A good compromise seems
to have been established on the 450-rear damping,
although I rode it only over A and B class roads and
obviously not "on the rough" was such that
it went unnoticed; was taken very much for granted
and warrants comment only in that it was good,
very good. (My wife remarked that she had no complaints,
which really sets the seal on it!). Front fork tube
diameter has been increased- so has the travel, by
a half-inch. Soft without being spongy but there was
a little patter from the front wheel under braking
from high speeds.
Electrics and the improvement thereof are a strongpoint
with the Japanese. They have always specialised in
the miniature, in transistorisation. The electrical
components on the CB450 are above reproach and I remember,
as you probably do, the occasion a few years
ago when Luigi Taveri pulled into his pit in the Isle
of Man where, within what seemed like only a minute,
his mechanics had ripped off a great slab of transistorised
control apparatus and replaced it. Taveri sped off
down Bray Hill on his little Honda, the subject of
a mechanical heart transplant. Part of the new Honda's
system is an alternator output control where, to eliminate
battery-boiling, excess current is carried straight
to earth. Fear not that the lights (which are, as
one might expect, fully up to the mark), trafficators,
ignition .and horn will drain the battery of its energy.
The situation is, as the pundits have it, completely
Honda have always made "small" machines,
with the distinguished exception of the startling
CB750 "four". Engine sizes have varied from
50 cc to 450 cc, but they are usually more comfortable
for those of smaller-than-average stature. Riding
position is narrow and neat, and even the most ungainly,
mis-shapen figure would find itself organised into
a tidy, knees-and-elbows-in, straight-armed style.
Lean into the wind if you must, but it would look
most improper on a mount of such middle-class propriety.
The re-shaped petrol tank, slimmer, taller, and the
almost unkinked handlebars (from where every mechanical
operation stems, rear brake and gearchange apart,
and from where, on a dark and serpentine road, one
could control progress—starting/stopping, directional
changes, headlight beam, horn-blasting and all—
without moving much more than the thumbs of either
hand), must answer for the respectability of the riding
Braking disappointed. Perhaps the linings had yet
to bed down in which case I preferred them somnambulant
rather than wide awake but reluctant to get to work.
The front, of 7.87 in diameter, is twin-leading shoe;
the rear, fractionally smaller at 7.08 inv a conventional
back-end s.l.s.—both are 1.19 in area width.
Maybe I expected too much; the apparent faultlessness
of the machine as a whole led me to anticipate tremendous
braking power, particularly at the front. It was preferable
to use the engine as a brake, changing down through
the five-speed gearbox with that distinctive, beautifully-engineered,
short-movement snick-snick-snick. The thought crept
into a cynical corner of my mind that, with Japanese
tyres (that old hobby-horse of mine) lacking in wet-weather
traction as they do, it was as well that retarding
progress was a gentle business. Incidentally, when
our photographer Brian Holder and I met, one typical
English early summer day in pouring rain, I tried
a "wheelie". As the wheel stepped from side
to side, rpm soared and I felt a distinct loss of
rapport between man and machine, it was then that
I realised that whoever had penned the immortal cliche,
"Discretion is the better part of valour",
was a kindred spirit and a man after my own palpitating
One of many pleasures in this era of refined, discerning
and "leisure" (pronounced "leesure"
in deference to the nation from which that vast industry
stems) motorcycling is that of firing a machine at
the push of a button. All right, so it's unshaven,
foul-breathed, red-blooded masculinity to swing your
motor into life with a steel-muscled, hairy rght leg.
But at the time of writing I bear a fresh scar on
my calf as evidence of weaknesses in this system.
(The worst pain to 'bear is that of smiling through
tightly clenched teeth at amused onlookers as agony
fastens its grip, before giving a nonchalant wave
to dismiss the incident, and dashing around the first
corner to wring the 'blood out of a soaking sock,
roll around in the road clutching the leg and cursing
one's Maker, the machine's maker, and anyone within
sight, sound or living memory, especially one's wife
for not sympathising and even more so when she does.)
Not so with the Honda CB450. Turn on petrol; flick
back choke lever; switch on ignition; depress right
thumb on handlebar 'button and there you have it.
A rustling from the starter motor, smaller than the
earlier component and the rather high-pitched note
of the twin is there to confound your friends and
bring a knowing smile to the lips of the old-timers
as they stroll away, stiff right legs in perfect step,
to talk of the Good Old Days when you could tell which
were men and which were girls because the latter danced
A ride through the Cotswolds and the Vale of Evesham
on a fresh, clean morning of spring sunshine when
the world is in blossom, young and unspoiled;
when the English countryside is greener than you could
imagine, and week-old lambs, tails destined to twirl
for only a limited time before going their separate
ways, leap to the woolly protection of their mothers
as a strange machine passes at speed; this is all
that's needed to confirm that with a mount of the
calibre of this creation from the other side of the
globe to transport you, all's well with the world.
It's a Fine Motorcycle, is this. Look at one. Sit
on it. Pull the levers. Stroke the tank. Then sell
your car. Now do you know what you've been missing?
- Engine: 444 cc; bore and stroke 70 mm x 57.8
mm; four-stroke twin; 45 tohp at 9000 rpm; carburetters,
twin 32 mm Keihin; compression ratio 9.0:1.
- Electrics :12 volt, 12 ah battery. Brakes: 7.87
in, twin-leading shoe front; 7.08 in sis rear.
- Wheels: 3.25 X 18 front, 3.50 X 18 rear.
- Wheelbase: 54 in.
- Ground clearance: 5.5 in.
- Seat height: 31 in.
- Weight: 412 Ib (kerbside).
- Price: £399 19s. Od.