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Bike Review - Posted 5th November 2014
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Honda CB Two-Fifty, Part 1

Glen Wilkin bought a cheap commuter and found to his surprise that it wriggled its way into his affections. Does that mean the CB Two-Fifty can be considered a classic bike? He says so...

The carving on the headstone should read something along the lines of ‘here lies a classic motorcycle, 1992-2003. It did a brilliant job’. Of course bikes don’t get headstones and neither do they get buried, unless you have unusual ideas of the afterlife, but I reckon the CB Two-Fifty deserves some sort of epitaph for being a classic bike, at least within my definition of the term.

Classics? What are they then? No doubt the most debated topic in many a long-winded chinwag but it is a personal thing. For me it is simply a bike that does what it was designed for in some memorable way. So while no-one will argue that a Goldie or 650 Bonnie deserves the classic title, they get it for different reasons. The Goldie earns it for being a definitive British racer of its day even though you can’t say it was easy to live with. The T120 might not have handled so well but gets its stripes for looks, speed and soundtrack. The fact that these two random examples still generate enthusiasm now, like when they were new, allows them the classic status.

The same might be said for many an icon but now it seems to get applied to more mundane machines which are justifiably being appreciated for less obvious reasons, RC’s test on a Triumph 3T for example. Even unloved in their day lightweights seem to attract a value and status as classics. So why not a more modern equivalent? Some will no doubt be horrified at this but I don’t see the need to restrict ‘classic’ to ‘bikes not made in Asia’. After all BSA weren’t thinking ‘let’s make a classic’ when they drew up the A10. They just wanted to build the best bike they could within the budget and design brief, just like any engineers do wherever they live and work.

Honda CB Two-Fifty

The Honda CB built from 1992 to 03 is not to be confused with the Super(wet)dream of the 250 learner era. The Two-Fifty is a very different little thing. In fact I think it has almost nothing in common bar the name on the tank, which tells us the first thing we need to know. It is a Honda and that means well-built because, whether they are designing a scooter or a superbike, Honda will always do a fine job of the engineering. I am not anti to British, Italian or any other nation’s bikes; my other ride is a Speed Triple and it is an utterly wonderful creation. But after years of regular use the bargain-priced CB is as reliable as it was on day one. That brings me to point one of why this is a classic under my ‘does it meet its purpose?’ criteria. This thing was designed for commuting on the cheap and it excelled at that then and now.

Honda CB Two-Fifty

The CB does 70mpg on the mixture of town and country roads I mostly use mine for and can hit 80 on a longer run. It doesn’t use any oil at 30,000 miles and tyres seem to be lasting about 10k at each end. They are Pirelli City Demons, new when I got it and are like every Pirelli tyre I have used, great for half their tread wear then giving weird stability issues (the Corsa 3s I had on the Triumph did the same). What else is cheap about the CB? Well, most things really. Genuine parts have not been extortionate except in one case which we will come to shortly, and most stuff is available as a pattern item too so you have a choice.

Brake pads can be had for 15 quid, cheap tyres (if you really must) can be £40 each and things like levers and cables off eBay are the price of a pint. My only expensive spare so far is a Motad exhaust at £220: the one that failed was genuine Honda and God knows how many years of salt that had been through. A chain lasted 10k without an oiler although its replacement has got one (which we will cover later). The sprockets were fine.

Honda CB Two-Fifty

So can you run a CB on a tenner a year then? Sort of. There is one area where the insects have got in the medication and that is the front brake caliper. A twin-piston, supposedly sliding affair, there is nothing wrong with it as a brake. OK, while you won’t be thrown over the bars, it’ll stop the bike reasonably well from the speeds it is capable of – but it does corrode. And it corrodes around the seats for the seals so after a while if not kept clean (and a lot of commuter machines are not pampered), you re-seal it and find the thing leaks around the pistons. I am sort of there at the moment but it is so small a weep that it really is OK and I have a caliper off a Trophy 1200 rear that I will make fit sometime soon. But if the problem was worse then a secondhand caliper will cost 70 quid or more and how good will it be? Genuine new, I was quoted over £400 for the complete assembly by the local dealers. No doubt other bikes use the same caliper, I heard 600 Fazers and Bandits mentioned, but I don’t know for sure and the bits would still be unknown quantities from a breaker.

A commuter needs to be reliable. Nearly 22 years of use and still going says it all. If something does break, this thing is so simple to work on, you can’t believe it. Engine removal to do a top end overhaul took about 45 minutes first time. If I did it again it’d be finished in under half an hour! You need about two spanners and one screwdriver. Screw and locknut tappets, air cooled, SOHC with two valves per pot; the engine is as basic as they come. It’s totally sorted too, after a couple of centuries being used in millions of various Hondas from CM125s through CD200s to 250 Rebels. The 360-degree throw on the crank means a pleasant buzz at any revs but it just lets you know what the engine’s doing, it isn’t annoying.

Honda CB Two-Fifty
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The motor doesn’t break much but if it does then it’s no big deal. I do have a small problem on mine: when it gets hot, as you let the clutch in it makes a rattly sound, so you imagine the chain is loose and skipping teeth on the sprockets. It isn’t, and pulling the motor to bits a couple of years ago I couldn’t find any reason for it. Gentle throttle and getting the clutch in at low revs when you move off reduces the effect. It hasn’t got any worse either and I hardly notice it now but I’d love to know what it is.

The only other fault has been a bit of rubbish getting in the carb which has seen me limp home on two occasions at idle speed so I have fitted a decent filter in a new fuel line and kept my fingers crossed. Electrics are fine with a single pick-up CDI ignition system, and so is all the plastic and metal work, I painted the formerly chrome front mudguard, although it is solid enough, and most of the frame and the swinging arm when I got it but only to tidy up a bit of surface rust. The original Honda paint on the tank and fairing is great still.

So the CB ticks the boxes for cheap and reliable which means so it’s already a classic by my criteria… but wait, there is more to come.

Next time: having fun, and bonding with the bike…

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