(first posted 10/27/2015) The Honda CB750 of 1969-78 has already become a universally recognized milestone in motorcycle history and a blue chip collectible classic. The same cannot be said yet about the original CB750’s successor, the 1979-82 CB750F. Surviving CB750Fs are popular as a basis for custom café racers and are collectible in original form, but they exist in the shadow of the original CB750, in a sort of second-rank classic status. Finding a slightly rough but clearly coveted survivor curbside during a recent trip to Chicago, the Second City, therefore seemed appropriate in a way. Parked one block off of picturesque Lake Shore Drive in the affluent Near North Side area, this CB750F embodies the current status of the model quite well.
The CB750 was a sensation when introduced in 1969, bringing four cylinder power and smoothness, a front disc brake, and the quality and reliability that Honda had been establishing as its hallmark since the 1950s. The Kawasaki Z1 of 1972 elevated the performance bar further with a 900cc double overhead cam four rated at 81 horsepower, far surpassing the CB750’s 67 horsepower. Along with the smaller displacement fours from Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, they established the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) as the new standard. The CB750 and Z1 both became sought-after classics after the usual depreciation cycle as used vehicles. Both also earned reputations as having more power than their chassis could handle, though, with flexible frames and single front disc brakes that were overtaxed by the bikes’ weight and speed potential.
The engines of the CB750 and its Japanese competition being ahead of their chassis design led during the 1970s to the emergence in multiple motorcycle-producing countries of high-end manufacturers that combined Japanese four cylinder engines with proprietary frames. Bimota in Italy, Rickman in the U.K., and Vetter in the U.S. each produced small numbers of sport bikes for customers with deep pockets wanting the ultimate in handling as well as speed. For riders of more average means, during the 1970s there continued to be viable reasons to choose a Norton or Triumph, which had well-established reputations for handling corners well.
The 1979 CB750F was a further step in the evolution of the UJM that introduced more sophisticated engine and chassis design. The inline four now had a cylinder head with double overhead cams and 16 valves, Honda’s first use of a four valve head in a mass-produced four cylinder motorcycle engine after earlier use of four valve heads in singles since 1972 and in the CBX1000 inline six and CX500 V-twin in 1978. The more advanced 750cc four was rated at 72 horsepower, an increase over the 67 horsepower of the SOHC 1969-78 CB750. A 900cc version introduced in the same year, the CB900F, produced 95 horsepower, trumping the 90 horsepower of the Kawasaki Z1000, the 1000cc successor to the Z1.
Chassis improvements were an equally important aspect of the 1979 CB750F. They used a new twin down tube frame that was significantly stiffer than the preceding CB750 frame, along with larger, air adjustable front forks and rear suspension with a needle bearing rear swing arm and fully adjustable shocks. Brakes advanced significantly as well, with dual front discs and a rear disc that were more than capable of arresting the bikes’ weight and speed. The wheels were the aluminum alloy composite ComStars that Honda had introduced in 1977, claimed to be significantly stiffer than existing spoked wheels and allowing the use of tubeless tires. Reviewers at the time judged the chassis of the new CB750F favorably, declaring it to be finally competitive in handling with the CB750’s rivals from Europe.
The 1979-82 CB750F brought Honda closer to making no-excuses all-around performance bikes that completely eclipsed the competition from Europe, which it and other Japanese manufacturers would do during the 1980s. During that decade, Honda and the other Japanese manufacturers released a succession of four cylinder sport bikes that established them as the undisputable leaders in high performance motorcycles: the Suzuki Katana in 1981, the Kawasaki Ninja and the V4 Honda Interceptor in 1984, the Yamaha FZ series in 1986, and the inline four Honda Hurricane in 1987. The CB750F with its DOHC 16 valve four, improved frame and suspension, and triple disc brakes represented a step from the 1970s UJMs to these sport bikes of the 1980s.
The CB750F found curbside in Chicago shows some wear and tear sustained over the years – small dents in the fuel tank, flaking chrome on an exhaust pipe, a replacement seat cover wrinkled from extensive solo riding –but also subtle upgrades to its rolling stock. Slightly oversized dual sport tires (Shinko 705s), 110/80-19 in front instead of the original 3.50 H19, are an unconventional choice that look beefier than the original size tires and may be of some benefit in low traction conditions. The ComStar wheels are all silver instead of their original black and silver, matching the silver paint of the bodywork. Otherwise, the bike looks original, straight out of the early 1980s.
The neighborhood where this CB750F was found is one of the most affluent in the city of Chicago, so it is unlikely that its owner is keeping it because he or she cannot afford to buy something more desirable. Keeping a Japanese motorcycle of this era on the road can be a challenge, with parts being far less available than for the original CB750 and other classics with larger followings and aftermarket support, so riding this CB750F probably requires an especially dedicated owner. The owner most likely understands and appreciates the CB750F’s place in history and its performance improvements over the CB750. He or she may also like that its inconspicuous style, which to most will look like any 1980s UJM, and its existing dents and wear make it a classic motorcycle that can be parked on the street without much fear. Regardless of the details, this CB750F in the Second City deserves to be considered second to none as a classic in everyday use.