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We’ve all had those interim jobs on the way to better things. When younger, a few of us at Shepsters Towers used to be assistant tea-boys, fetching industrial sized cups of steaming brew for our overlords that would acknowledge our existence with a clip around the ear and harsh words about our mums. But we knew that if we worked hard and avoided the blows, one day we would climb out of that diminutive role to the heady heights of being able to manage the tea-trolley unassisted. Ahh dreams . . . one day, one day. But the point is, the role was a stepping stone to bigger and better things. As far as laboured introductions go, welcome to the CB450, a motorcycle that would set the stage for the world beating CB750. However, the little 444 CC wasn’t without its charms, and at the time it was Honda’s largest model.
Whilst the Americans were establishing the first Church of Satan, the Canadians were getting colour television and the Soviets were thrashing probes to the moon, Honda was embarking on proper humanity-propelling advancements: the innovation of having motorcycle electronics that actually worked. It was a neat, quick and lithe bike with twin-pipes that could outmatch anything in its class and a few notches above, yet the motorcycles weren’t being snapped up like scriptures from Beelzebub; the paying public were used to 650’s like the vibrating classic British-twin in the BSA Lightning. Honda set about sparking the customers’ imagination. Whilst those of us at Shepsters place strategic pillows-over-laps at monikers such as CB 450 K 0 1966, the rest of the world seems to actually enjoy real names. The marketeers went full throttle, bestowing the title Black Bomber for our cycle of choice (because it was black and quick) and Red Dragon (because about four models actually came in red) – which is a might better than other Honda names such as Benly and Dream, the latter of which we’re sure is a stripper.
Reliable electronics and an electric start were certainly steps in the right direction, and it came with some unique styling too. The rev counter and speedometer encased in a single chrome snorkel mask is extremely fetching, with some lunatic creating a vertical tachometer which we really like. It retained the drum brakes front and rear until later models, which may have given rise to the Canadian name for the CB450: the Hellcat. Anything noted for its turn of pace, reaching over a 100mph with its four-speed transmission yet weighing a slightly plump 187kg, isn’t generally improving a rider’s confidence when praying to the drum brake gods. Honda also embarked on torsion bar valve springs instead of coil springs, which we believe was a first. Whilst you may be thinking to yourself, ‘hang on, I’ve seen plenty of torsion bar springs in my time, sonny jim bob!’, you’d be entirely correct. They’re most commonly used on four-wheel drives and tanks. It was also used on the door mechanism for the gull-winged DeLorean, if that’s not enough of a hallmark of longevity and design prudence.
Sporting an apparently lamentably hideous sixteen litre gas tank (maybe they were very picky in the 60’s, it looks perfectly fine to us), the CB450 never met Honda’s production expectations and sunset plans were quickly put in place. To see how Honda shaped their future, check out our earlier write-up of the marvellous Honda CBF750F Super Sport (link). Without hyperbole, Honda were about to change motorcycling forever.
Predecessor: Honda CB77