Honda 1100xx (2001)
It's interesting how in different situations you are forced to reassess your understanding, opinion and belief in the products you use. In 1998 I felt completely comfortable riding the then new Suzuki Hayabusha down the M40 in Britain at speeds very near to the manufacturer's claimed maximum. It was a warm, dry, summer's night, with good visibility and practically no other vehicles around. I remember calling my godfather - whose house I had been visiting - to let him know that I had arrived back at Silverstone safely. Never a slouch behind the wheel himself, and very familiar with the 30 mile route, he thought I was joking and was actually filling up for fuel somewhere down the road!
This ride has remained with me ever since, not just because it was the fastest I have ever been in any vehicle on a public road, but also as a reminder as to how lucky I was on that July evening. No, the police were not a concern. But the thrill of the adrenalin rush was caused in no small way by the fact that if anything at all had not gone my way, as the speeds rose and winds grew louder, I would most certainly not have written any more columns for TACH - or in fact anyone else. If this all sounds a bit macabre, it isn't meant to be. It's reality. Two years later and these thoughts came rushing back into the forefront of my mind as I sprinted down the highway to the Fontana Raceway for the final CART race of the year. The track is fifty odd miles from West Hollywood, although on the Yahoo! map it looks like it's just down the road next to the grocer. The 10 Freeway was to take to me directly there. Saturday traffic in any major town is just like any other day - just more crowded and less hustled. I wasn't in any particular rush, but the sun was up and Honda felt good in the saddle. The best thing about driving in LA is the car pool lane. Bikes are allowed too and very often I have found myself alone for miles, whizzing past the dummy car drivers.
What I didn't know was that the 10 had a newly re-tarmaced lane. Not only was it the flattest and smoothest piece of road I had seen in a year of riding in California, it was completely empty...and the bike and I were ready. Out from the lines of cars and trucks the speeds steadily rose; 70, 80, 95 100, it was so easy, like a private test track lane heading into the horizon. As the road came onto a straight section I accelerated and changed down. The 165 horses, breathed a big gulp of air and blew me into racing speeds. Up to 6th gear, head down and 150 on the clock the XX was loosening up nicely. The windscreen deflecting the high-speed wind ravage around me, I kept the power on, watching all the time for a sleeping bear or (an LA special) a bear-in-the-air. With a registered 165 I thought it time to cool off, just in case a dim whit decided to ignore the quadruple double yellow lines separating my raceway from the highway. The key here was not the speed, per say, but the perception of speed, which felt considerably faster. For although I was alone on this stretch and the road conditions were almost perfect, the concrete wall between East and West traffic was maybe 5-6 feet from my left elbow. It was also around 4-5 feet tall - so the feeling I had was of a fast moving and narrowing tunnel.
How does this relate to my reflections about the Suzuki? Well, boy, don't we all put a great deal of faith in the designers, engineers and mechanics whose job it is to keep these machines and many others like them in the best possible and safest performance condition! The problem with speeds like these and, in fact, speeds a great deal less than 100mph, is that all seems perfectly normal, stable and in control right up to the point when it all goes wrong. A tyre deflates, a suspension element fails or you simply lose control. Having watched both first hand and, through the world of television, accidents occur in all manor of sports and disciplines, I need to constantly remind myself that what appears controllable is simply that - just an appearance, a deception almost. What does this have to do with the Honda XX - or in fact any other bike? Well I am pleased to say not very much. I am not going to trawl through the news archives and press releases to count the number of safety recalls on the world's automobiles and motorbikes but it is a fact that several defects (and I am not talking about Ford and Firestone here), amongst bike manufacturers have caused very serious accidents in the past few years. M y father actually just sent me an email recently explaining that he would feel much happier if I were not to ride the aforementioned Suzuki anymore as there had been a serious defect discovered. A bit late now!
This is why the XX is so good. No. It isn't the fastest. No. It isn't the newest. But, it is an excellent sports bike, with character, feel and a great deal of confidence-inspiring performance. When a bike has been around this long and still sells healthy numbers five years after its original introduction, it must be doing something right. I, for one, found it to be a perfect companion in LA. It is big (like everything else), it has excess power for the asking, the ride ability of a much smaller machine and a formidably imposing design that still turns heads. The brakes, as I have written before, are not the best - by a long way. Why can't Honda fit triple calipers? However, the PGM fuel injection is good and once above 5,500 revs the power surge is very evident. Cruising along PCH at 65mph the rev counter reads 3,000 rpm. This is not only relaxing but also very efficient and with bags of torque you rarely have to drop more than a single cog, if at all, to leap up the speed ladder.
If you want the latest, buy a Kawasaki. If you want the fastest, then the Suzuki is a good bet. But sometimes it pays not to rush onto the merry go round to early, especially when you consider the kind of trust we are placing into others' hands.
HONDA 1100 XX Engine 16 Valve, 4-cylinder Max Power 164 bhp at 10,000 rpm Dry Weight 494 pounds
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