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Bike Review - Posted 14th November 2014
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Honda CB Two-Fifty, Part 2 - The Modifications

Glenn Wilkin was impressed by his little Honda commuter's frugal reliability, so he set about fettling its lights and chain lubing to make it even more practical and even less expensive...

According to my criteria, the CB had proved itself to be cheap and reliable and worthy of the Ďclassicí tag. This unassuming little bike also has more going for it: the essential things for a motorcycle you can come to love, it is fun to ride and you can get involved with it.

Honda CB Two-Fifty

Fun first then. Donít think of manic blasts at three figure speeds. You might hit 85 but that would be mpg at a steady 45mph. That single-carb motor only gave you about 18 horses new, the present day remainder of which can find their way to about 80mph but only if you really wring its neck and I am not a sadist. 55-60mph is your realistic cruising speed and 65-70mph for a well-planned overtake. No, the CBís charm lies in tootling along B-roads, enjoying the sights and smells of the countryside like you might on a gentle single from the 1930s, and thatís fine Ďcos my favourite roads have grass in the middle.

Or you might try having a bit of a fling on smaller A-roads where you find the CB goes around corners much better than it has any right to considering the basic spec and two decade old suspension. On my commute to work the highlight is a roundabout, the only one in fact on the way. I turn right in the mornings and I reckon the CB takes that right as fast as the Speed Triple cos it is a tight little radius and the Triumph is pretty heavy and the tyres are still cold. Of course, the big beast would leave the nice little Honda for dead on the straight bit afterwards but on the CB I donít care about fast. I enjoy its gentle acceleration that keeps up with the traffic and never threatens to propel you to license-damaging speeds.

You wind up through the gears, changing up at probable peak torque around 6000 revs and look down to find yourself selecting top at, wow, 47mph. And you feel the satisfaction of having used the motor exactly as it performs best, impossible on the Triumph (which has Daytona cams) where the best bit is between 5 and 8500rpm and involves 90-plus mph on the clock. It is great but you canít do it all the time. On the Honda, you can and it is rewarding for that.

Honda CB Two-Fifty

The CB is even comfy for 50 miles or so but to be honest it is a little small even for my 30-inch inside leg and gets cramped after an hour in the saddle. I think it was designed for the Asian market where presumably inside legs are of a more modest proportion. The 1970ís style clocks are clear to read at night (unlike the Speed Tripleís white-faced things), and the switchgear is in the right place; again unlike the Triple where it is easier to plunge yourself into darkness than simply dip the lights because the dip switch is a reach away from your gloved left fingers, but very close to the off switch that works in the same plane and direction.

And involvement? I think that is what gives you a bond to your bike. For me at least, I need to make a bike my own to feel an involvement and that means a few mods, an ĎI did that and now it is betterí sort of thing. Sports bikers may fit performance bits, the Harley crowd more chrome and a few extra eagle/wolf motifs. To each their own. I like simple, practical stuff. I have a rule for the CB: whatever I do to it, I do for as little as possible. I am not mean or even very broke, it is just a challenge I set myself to run this bike on a small budget.

Honda CB Two-Fifty Rear running lights on tail fairing

So as the lights were pretty indifferent when I got it, I could have bought a new headlight and a gas discharge bulb but about a tenner spent on some relays and a couple of hours in the garage sent a full 12V from the battery to the 40/45W headlight instead of the 7.5V that made it through the original switch. A huge improvement and another few quid on a 55/60W bulb means the Honda honestly has the best light I have had on bike ever.

The rear has an LED bulb purely for reliability. A small split led to my learning how to re-cover the seat with a bit of vinyl cloth and a staple gun. Also, as I ride this thing through traffic day and night, rain, hail and snow, I want it to be hi-vis. But I donít like day-glow, I think it looks crap so the bike has Ďstealthí hi-vis! There are the excellent LED bullet lights from Bike-Vis front and rear, and black 3M reflective material on the mirror backs with red reflective tape cut to fit over the stock lines on the rear fairing. You donít see any of it in the daylight but it is hard to miss in poor visibility.

Honda CB Two-Fifty

The drive chain on the CB wore out just as fast as the Speed Tripleís which seems odd until you think that this one runs in all that winter salt, dirt and water, and it was a basic non-O ring affair. So I needed a chain oiler on the cheap. I made one, it is automatic and uses a ball-bearing as an inertia operated ball valve. The body is from a 60ml syringe and the flow is governed by a MIG welder nozzle. It cost nothing and works as well as the already excellent value for money Tutoro thing I have on the Triumph.

I fashioned a small screen from some 6mm round steel and an old (hence free) airliner window scratch panel to keep the elements at bay. The badly scratched rear fairing was filled and painted, I even gave the wheels a smoked black-to-white paint job: how cool is that? I do want to improve the front brake a little when I get time but it is not urgent.

Honda CB Two-Fifty
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Essentially I feel I have made the CB my own and I like it all the more for that. A more complex bike would not be as cheap and easy to improve upon. The Triumph for example, yes I have changed it a lot but mainly to sort out some of the odd ideas they put on the earlier 955s. It has cost a lot more and I donít have the same satisfaction.

To finish then, four years ago I bought a £350 Honda CB Two Fifty. It was 18 years old, filthy and I thought it might do a couple of years of my six mile each way journey to work every day. It has since done so much more, taking me once a week on a 70 mile round trip to see my parents, provided rides out to just enjoy the experience and itís put a smile on my face almost every time. It has been a reliable friend through rain storms and gales, ice and snow when we made it in to work in weather that kept a few car drivers safely at home.

I pat it when I get off because it has a little character. It has even provided my five-year-oldís first ride on the back of a bike. Sometimes I take this lovely under-rated little motorcycle out for a spin in preference to the Speed Triple, a bike that is justifiably becoming a legend in its own lifetime, and I canít say more than that.

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