Clearance Sale: Honda’s Hidden Costs

Do you remember buying your first bike?

If you’re anything like me, and you got involved when you were relatively young, then you scraped together what little money you had for the bike, the gear, and the insurance, and were already out the door before the ink had dried on the documents.

You then proceeded to ride everywhere, all the time, for any reason, racking up pretty crazy miles pretty quickly. Even if you came to biking later in life, you were probably still stretched – in this day and age – to get everything paid for, and very excited to get out and ride.

Now imagine you’re 19, and you’ve used your savings to put down a deposit, as well as scrape together gear and insurance for a brand new Honda CB500. The UK’s insane licensing laws mean that there’s almost nothing second-hand that fits the stipulations on your freshly-minted A2 license, so you have no choice but to take on the finance payments of a new vehicle if you want to make the most of your license. Fortunately, Honda are quite competitive here.

Now, 600 miles later, you bring the bike back for its initial run-in service, which Honda charge for on this bike (some manufacturers cover this for you). But hey, that’s just an oil and filter change, right?

Not here. MCN dropped the bomb this week that Honda’s new 500cc twins will require their valve clearances checking at their first service. That’s a £300 bill, and (given my weekly mileage) just a fortnight after purchase too. If I’d spent my last penny insuring the bike, I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford this, and I definitely wouldn’t be amused.

Back here in the present, where I was initially genuinely interested in the direction this new efficient, small-capacity Honda seemed to be heading, I am instead puzzled. Honda have some of the best engineers on the planet, and they’ve crafted a neat little 500cc twin that, while making less power than a 26-year-old Kawasaki GPZ500, should be really very efficient and well made. So if their high-revving 1000cc Fireblade can go for 16k miles before the engine must be cracked open for inspection, what on earth is going on?

Let’s remember that the bike will be under warranty when this service happens, so we’ve no option to skip it or try our own hand. But I did some more research and found that this may be becoming a trend on Honda’s less performance-oriented models.

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The cool new CB1100 retro-styled roadster needs it’s valves checking every 8k. On my Bandit, that’s when I change the oil filter and spark plugs, not when I take the engine to pieces. Admittedly the 1140cc engine is air cooled, and therefore maintenance will need to be more frequent, but when such older designs were used in the past they were accompanied by screw-and-locknut adjustable valves, not the bucket-and-shim systems normally only used on high-performance bikes.

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The FireBlade doesn’t even need its oil changing until 8k, yet the NC700 requires valve clearance checks at every service. They may only be screw-and-locknut, but that’s still work you’ll be paying for. And it’s not even as though Honda have decided to save money on materials, resulting in faster wear. The CB1100 is £8,999 in the UK, just over £2k cheaper than one of the best litre-class sports bikes ever made. It doesn’t make sense.

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Unfortunately, Honda’s PR response to this mess has been farcical. They try to point out that the valves won’t need checking again until 16k, and so the cheap fuel costs and purchase price will make up for this early shock. But almost every modern bike manages at least this – the Triumph Explorer doesn’t need its clearances examining until it hits 24k! That’s not a bragging point, or even an excuse – it’s a misdirection. They still haven’t explained why the build quality of their engine or confidence in their factories is so poor that they feel the work needs examining at the owner’s expense.

As an amateur engineer I’m afraid I would need more before I handed over my money for any of these bikes. If build quality is an issue, then Honda, whose reliability is their meal ticket, need to fix it on their own dime, not force new customers to traipse back to the dealer for a long wait while their brand new bike has its engine taken to pieces. I understand the PR department not wanting to get technical with the general public, but if they can’t explain it to the press, we can’t pass on the message.

So for now I’m going to wait. Your move, Honda.

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