2017 BMW R nineT Pure + Honda CB1100 EX Compared | Reassuringly Retro
With all the excitement nowadays over whipping around on exotic electronically aided high-performance motorcycles, there is a lot to be said for going back to simpler times and our purist roots. That brings us to our 2017 BMW R nineT Pure vs. Honda CB1100 EX comparison review.
How about just riding a basic-level motorcycle for the sheer visceral pleasure of it, and taking a little more time to savor the open road? The old adage of having more fun riding a slow bike fast than a fast bike slowly has a lot of truth to it, especially on public roads.
Also, naked motorcycles with all the mechanical bits on show tend to have more visual appeal than plastic-wrapped superbikes. Of the plethora of machines that fit into the Standard category, the 2017 BMW R nineT Pure and Honda CB1100 EX fall nicely within that designation.
The 2017 Honda CB1100 EX pulls from some iconic and much loved company heritage, and riding around town I had a lot of admiring smiles and thumbs up from car drivers. When you get appreciation from the non-motorcycling public, you know you’re on to something a bit special. Encouragingly, the CB1100 EX resonates with young and old alike.
The more modern, yet heritage-centric roadster styling of the 2017 BMW R nineT Pure wouldn’t look out of place in the next Mad Max movie. Judging by the instant iconic success of the standard more-adorned R nineT when it debuted, I can safely say the Pure’s visual appeal is very strong as well.
Both of these motorcycles are seemingly trimmed back to basics, with clever usage of modern engineering and materials. However, simple looking they may be; simple they are not. EFI, ABS, and some LED lighting are standard on the BMW and Honda. The contemporary materials and finishes are also a big leap over yesteryear, and both bikes are able to utilize modern radial rubber with a much stickier footprint.
Although the old saying “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” has its brand-building place, for buyers to slavishly adhere to it can leave a lot of otherwise potentially fun motorcycles out in the cold. Truth is, although going by a machine’s spec sheet can be a useful indicator of outright performance, it can just as equally be misleading if you’re trying to assess the real enjoyment potential of a motorcycle.
This is particularly true with these two machines and, despite my comment earlier about riding slow bikes fast, make no mistake, neither of these motorcycles are by any means slow. If you want to wring them out and get into some fast cornering—they will happily take it and leave you feeling like you could have asked for more.
On specs alone, the Honda doesn’t have the measure of the BMW in any area, so I would be tempted to assume this comparison is likely to be more than a bit unfair. For example, the CB1100 EX four-cylinder air-/oil-cooled motor reputedly outputs around 85 horsepower to the Dunlop Sportmax Touring D205, whereas the BMW pushes a heartier 100 horses to the Metzeler Roadtec Z8 out back. Keep in mind that the air-/oil-cooled BMW twin on the Pure is not the latest water-cooled boxer found in the new generation RT or GS models.
Fully fueled curb weight is a similar story, with the Pure tipping the scales at 483 pounds, while the CB1100 is some 57 pounds porkier.
In terms of suspension, the BMW has a non-adjustable 43mm conventional fork, plus a linkage-free single shock with adjustments for rebound damping and sprint-preload. Yet the Honda goes totally old-school with a 41mm fork and twin shocks—both ends have spring-preload adjustment, but no damping adjustments.
Likewise, the Honda again stays true to history and comes with the now-uncommon 18-inch wheels and relatively narrow 110 and 140mm tires, while the BMW is fitted with typically modern 17-inch rims (the cool cross-spoked wheels seen here are a $500 option) shod with a bigger footprint 120/180 tire combination.
So, the Pure completely outclasses the poor old slug of a CB1100 in every aspect then? Well, not so fast, because actually, it does not.
Taking nothing away from the BMW which is quite a sporty beast, the Honda is anything but a slug. It is a typical Honda, of course—a beautifully engineered street-sleeper gem that does everything very well. However, the CB1100 EX also comprehensively exceeded my expectations in every area; it was a fast-riding, great-handling delight.
The Honda is incredibly easy to ride. While on-paper it is quite heavy, in reality the CB1100 is superbly balanced and carries its weight effortlessly. The spec sheet also says it is underpowered. However, the motor is quick reacting and willing to rev and never feels like it’s lacking in power.
Despite being an inline-4, the CB1100’s powerplant is also extremely torquey and produces a ton of power low-down. It redlines at a mere 8500 rpm, and at 70 mph the low-revving motor is only turning at 3000 revs.
The CB1100’s fuel mapping is very smooth, and you need a fairly large handful at the twistgrip to extract the Honda’s performance. Dropping the hydraulic clutch off the line, the Honda is not terribly sprightly in first gear, but from about 20 mph onwards the CB1100 EX will accelerate as hard as you ask it to—at no point did I find it wanting at all.
The 1140cc engine is expectedly smooth, yet not buzzy. Instead, it has that slight mechanical low-frequency rumble I remember from the past, and I find that very pleasant. Anyone who has ridden a late-’70s Honda will smile knowingly as the familiar sounds and feelings come flooding back—without any of the minor quirks of riding an old bike.
The Honda’s motor is clearly targeted to those who don’t need a screaming engine; and yet if you choose to rev it out to redline, the motor will deliver its power handsomely. Dare I say—this can be quite a fast bike! So the Honda is lovely to ride at a modest pace, and if you get a touch of the crazies and wick it up through some twisties or on the freeway on-ramp, the motor will happily respond.
With its lighter overall weight and slightly more urgent fuel mapping, the BMW is quite a bit more powerful than the Honda. The boxer twin feels mild at low revs, yet as the throaty burble of that lovely exhaust takes on a more urgent tone as you twist the throttle harder, the motor leaps the bike forward like a thoroughbred leaving the gate at Kentucky.
BMW claims 110 horsepower at 7750 rpm, and that sounds about right at the crank. It must lose more to the shaft-drive than the Honda loses to its chain final-drive, so perhaps that evens things up just a tad.
The Pure has no rev-counter so I can’t quote numbers, but certainly at modest road speeds the 86 ft/lbs of claimed torque makes for a motorcycle that will jump off tight corners no matter which gear you’re in. Cruising in a straight line, the Pure motor simply purrs along as though it is barely turning over. When you choose to rev it, the engine takes on a much punchier character. This bike is fun!
As lovely as the BMW R nineT Pure is to ride, mounting a big capacity twin longitudinally in a motorcycle chassis has its quirks. This includes the typical slight shuddering while stopped at the lights and when pulling away. Having said that, once moving, the engine smooths out nicely.
There is also that odd-feeling torque reaction when blipping the throttle, although when riding normally with the clutch out, the shaft final drive is spinning in the opposite direction of the crankshaft and mostly cancels that out.
The final quirk to the R nineT Pure is the heavy duty, somewhat clunky gearbox. It is almost impossible to clutchless upshift without a strong surging as you come back on the throttle. Even using the clutch I had to be very deliberate (slow) when changing gears to try and keep things tolerable. The optimum way to ride the BMW is to get it into the higher gears as soon as possible, and then exploit that wonderful powerband using fifth and sixth gears only, irrespective of the speed you’re doing.
In contrast, the CB1100 EX’s new six-speed gearbox has perfect ratios and is wonderfully smooth to operate. It makes clutchless upshifts so seamless that a passenger would be hard-pressed to tell you had changed gear.
Handling-wise, the motorcycles are similar. That comes as a surprise, given how inferior the Honda’s chassis and suspension appears to be in theory.
The BMW’s suspension is firm yet compliant, and the Pure handles in a pleasant, neutral fashion. It’s not the fastest turning bike I’ve ridden, but the wide handlebars allow the bike to turn in quickly and predictably, and once in a corner the BMW stays planted on line. It’s almost impossible to upset the chassis mid-corner because the suspension soaks up all the bumps—I never felt the need to adjust it. The ride is firm, yet comfortable, and the BMW rides very well.
As mentioned, the Honda is equipped with ‘only’ a Showa 41 mm fork and Showa twin shocks, and everything is only adjustable for spring-preload. However, unlike the late-’70s/early-’80s editions this bike pays homage to, the twin-loop full-cradle steel frame and taut swingarm have the full benefit of Honda’s modern, mighty engineering.
That wizardry prevents the whole hinged-in-the-middle handling that was so notorious during that era—and, yes, I became well acquainted with it at the time. That unpleasantness is now absolutely consigned to the history books. The CB1100 EX is nimble yet stable, with tight, neutral handling. The thinner footprint tires definitely help the Honda to be so agile and reactive, yet it never becomes nervous at all—even in fast, bumpy corners.
The suspension units themselves are absolutely ideal for this bike and my 185-pound weight. Fast or slow—and you can ride the CB1100 EX very hard—the suspension is firm-ish and exceedingly well damped. Honda has taken certain measures to allow decent cornering clearance. Still, if you’re really going for it—and it’s difficult not to have serious fun in the twisties—then it is possible to touch down the feelers on the folding footpegs.
I definitely pushed the CB1100 EX and, even on bumpy corners, it didn’t waggle the handlebars in that oh-so-familiar way. On a couple of occasions, I had to change my line due to rocks in the road—no problem, the Honda obeyed without objecting. Nothing upset the chassis and the bike tracked through corners and held its line perfectly.
The non-radial brakes on both bikes do their jobs very well, with the BMW using 320 mm front rotors and Brembo four-piston calipers, plus a 295 mm rotor at the rear. The Honda has smaller 296mm twin rotors at the front and four-piston calipers from Nissin, with a 256 mm rotor for the rear wheel.
Both machines’ brakes are very powerful, have plenty of feel, and perform as one might expect. However, the Honda’s brakes also have a fairly strong initial bite; expert riders will appreciate the braking performance, while less experienced riders will quickly learn to be smooth on brake application. Fortunately, both of these bikes come with full ABS.
Tires on these bikes are radial-belted, so relatively sticky, sporting tire compounds are used that provide decent grip for each bike—yesteryear tires these are not. The BMW’s Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact tires feel good, with neutral handling; I never had any grip issues.
The Honda comes equipped with Dunlop Sportmax Touring D205 radial tires and they are excellent, despite a name that indicates a focus on long-life. Even though the Dunlops are relatively skinny for nowadays, I always had grip, even when pushing hard through 80+ mph corners. As with all Dunlops, they allow for neutral, consistent handling at all lean angles, and gave plenty of feedback from the road surface.
Ergonomically, the BMW is a little more aggressive than the Honda, though both bikes have very natural riding positions. The Pure’s seat is cleverly designed to look minimalist, yet it is surprisingly comfortable. The riding position is a little more ‘on top’ on the BMW, whereas the Honda is more conventional, and I found my knees fitted well into the scalloped sides of that gorgeous, seamless gas tank.
The BMW’s more leaned forward riding position and wide, flat handlebar make for a slightly sporting ethic, whereas the Honda’s position is much more relaxed with the rider almost completely upright.
The CB1000 EX has mid-control footpegs that are farther forward than the BMW’s semi-rearsets, and the Honda’s handlebar is tall and pulled back. The Honda can be described as almost cruiser-like. Its comfortable ergos, friendly character, and deeply padded retro-style seat, would not be out of place in the American V-twin landscape, so I’m tempted to call the CB1100 EX a “gentleman’s cruiser”. However, make no mistake—if you live near twisties and you want to explore the sporting side of the Honda’s personality, then fitting a flatter, European-style handlebar will not compromise the bike’s comfort while encouraging you to have some serious fun.
Priced at around $12,000 each, these two motorcycles aren’t budget machines, but they’re not overly expensive either. The BMW’s price can go up a little depending on the options you add, and there are definitely some very cool accessories to accentuate the look as well. Regardless, any way you slice it, these are both very well engineered, beautifully finished machines, and that doesn’t come particularly cheap.
Despite coming at the purist, retro ethos from completely different perspectives, both of these motorcycles benefit from modern technology and engineering techniques. They are both incredibly enjoyable to ride, and I found myself continuously smiling while riding each of them.
While they are not sportbikes, if you feel the need for speed, then each one has a sporting side to its nature—you can push either one of these motorcycles hard and they will respond more than willingly. They both have huge upsides, and no downsides.
So forget the spec-sheets, forget the gizmos and gadgets—or lack of them—this is pure (no pun intended) enjoyable motorcycling at its very best, and these two bikes should be judged on that alone.
Ultimately, the choice simply comes down to approach—do you desire a contemporary-retro BWM R nineT Pure or a classic-retro Honda CB1100 EX in your garage? Regardless of your preference, you will not be disappointed with either one.
- Helmet: Shoei X-Fourteen
- Jacket: Cortech GX Sport Air 4
- Gloves: Racer Mickey
- Jeans: Spidi J&K Pro Tex
- Footwear: Sidi Doha
Photography by Don Williams
|15 Essential Specs||BMW R nineT Pure||Honda CB1100 EX|
|Engine||Horizontally opposed twin||Inline-4|
|Bore x stroke||101mm x 73mm||73.5 x 67.2mm|
|Cooling||Air and oil||Air and oil|
|Front tire||120/70 x 17; Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact||110/80 x 18; Dunlop Sportmax Touring D205F|
|Rear tire||180/55 x 17; Metzeler Roadtec Z8 Interact||140/70 x 18; Dunlop Sportmax Touring D205|
|Front brakes||320mm discs w/ 4-piston calipers||296mm discs w/ 4-piston calipers|
|Wheelbase||58.8 inches||58.7 inches|
|Rake||27 degrees||27 degrees|
|Trail||4.6 inches||4.4 inches|
|Seat height||31.7 inches||31.2 inches|
|Fuel capacity||4.5 gallons||4.4 gallons|
|Curb weight||483 pounds||540 pounds|
|Price||$11,995 MSRP ($12,495 as tested)||$12,199 MSRP|