BIG BIKE, LITTLE BIKE...
ON THE ROAD WITH HONDA'S HALF LITRE CBR
I first 'discovered' the B3081 several years ago when I picked up a Moto Morini Granpasso to review from the Dorset dealers Three Cross Motorcycles, and then made my way across country to Wales to give the bike a workout among the hills and valleys.
When I say 'discovered'. It was much in the way Columbus 'discovered' America - it was always there and other humans had inhabited the place for hundreds of years, but it had to be a white explorer who took the historical plaudits.
Zig Zag Hill...
So when I arranged to borrow a Honda CBR500R from their press fleet, the B3081 seemed long overdue for a visit, as the way I remembered the previous ride it was a mix of almost everything a rider seeks: fast straights, tight and sweeping bends, a tricky set of hairpins (Zig Zag hill), plus woodland and open country as the road winds out across four counties – Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset.
A flexible friend
The bike was introduced to the world last year, along with two other models in the range; the 500F and the 500X, and for UK and European riders it is marketed as a first 'big bike' within the power limits set by the new licensing regulations: 47bhp. The R denotes that this is the sports model with a full fairing, looking a little like its bigger and faster siblings the 650RR and the 1000RR Fireblade, but with a more body friendly riding position that makes the bike a more flexible friend.
The B3081 begins just outside Ringwood in Hampshire and the early miles skirt the New Forest through woodland shade, which was welcome on one of the hot, hot days we're enjoying this summer. Verwood, the first small town it runs through is where Crescent Motorcycles are located - once a major British Superbike team with their Crescent Suzuki bikes. But a few miles beyond and into the rolling wheat fields and first straights I spotted a sign board 'Bugad Classic Bikes', turned the bike around and took a closer look. Hanging beneath the main board was an invitation pronouncing 'Kettle On'.
A wooded drive gave out to a series of farm buildings around a big quadrangle, which turned out to be horse racing stables in previous usage, and the Bugad (www.bugad.com) workshops occupied one end with a row of bikes sitting in the sun against the backdrop of old Ariel, Triumph, and BSA signage. As well as servicing, hiring, selling and sorting out older bikes, they run a 'Not Poole Quay Bike Night' event each week.
Riders in the south and south west will probably be familiar with the Poole Quay Bike Nights held over the summer; a gathering along the attractive seafront of that Dorset town. But it's busy and as a consequence has to be organised, so the Bugad people decided to run a more informal alternative for those who enjoyed a less frenetic evening. So the statutory burger van was installed in the yard and riders turn up to enjoy the countryside rather than the (crowded) coast.
Another 3081 fan
The mechanic at Bugad was a 3081 fan. He used the road every day travelling to work, and like me couldn't figure why more motorcyclists didn't ride it. But despite the attractions of chatting in the sunshine it was time to move on and enjoy the road. Slow down sections run through quintessentially English villages named Sixpenny Handley and Tollard Royal: narrow between cottages and pubs. But accelerating away the Honda can be pushed along the country road using pressure on the well positioned bars to flick through bends. At one point I was a little too enthusiastic diving downhill from brilliant sunshine into a wooded bend and I underestimated the drastic light changes along with the effect of sunglasses. The result being some rapid braking and pulling to upright which was very easy given an effective combination of the ABS wavy front disc brake (just a single) and light weight; just over four hundred pounds.
The road makes a climb on to Cranborne Chase with great views on a clear day across miles of rolling farm and downland towards Salisbury. But what goes up must come down, and the 3081 running west does this via Zig Zag hill; 'officially' the bendiest stretch of road in the UK, and although not very long (a mile) it's provided You Tube clips, urban myths and comments aplenty from those who know it. If you want a decent traffic free run at the hairpin bends, early mornings would have to be favourite, but the road surface has deteriorated down the years, so it's not so advisable to 'attack' the bends with as much enthusiasm as a rider might enjoy – a report in 2006 concluded how bad it was, but a country B road is not a priority.
The light handling of the CBR made the hill easy going, and more open stretches of road and bends will give riders the satisfaction of the stable free revving experience of a bigger machine, which is probably what Honda intend. The twin cylinder engine is a new stand alone design that has been given a balancer shaft on the crank, the effect of which is to provide a very smooth zip through the six speed box and a 'sweet spot' around seventy/seventy five mph.
A 'Do anything' bike
There's a small but efficient screen, at least for a rider of my size, around five seven. The raised bars create a comfortable riding position, and make manoeuvring through traffic an effortless exercise. Making this a 'do anything' bike from commuting to touring, as a range of Honda luggage accessories is available. For my body the seat could do with more in the comfort stakes, especially as the bikes gives a good mileage range delivering up to two hundred miles from the twenty plus litre fuel tank.
And talking of fuel; I was slightly surprised when re-fuelling that the petrol cap wasn't hinged to the tank – 'it just came off in me 'and guv'. I filled the bike at the finish of my run along the 3081, which came to an ignominious end at a roundabout on one of those soulless retail parks cum Travelodge cum KFC drive thrus just outside Wincanton. It seemed a bit of an insult after fifty miles of rural riding. To get over my 'disappointment' I pushed on up the A371 towards Shepton Mallet in Somerset but stopped at the village of Castle Cary, where it was market day and squadrons of screeching swifts dotted the endless blue sky. Just like southern France.
On days like this there are not many better experiences than being on the open road with a bike, and the 'little' Honda offers an easy handling motorcycle that is versatile and exciting. The roads across Dorset and this part of southern England are relatively traffic free, and no motorways slice up the land. Go explore.
Our thanks to Honda for the loan of their CBR500R. This model with a price tag £5299 represents more affordable new bike motorcycling and much improved fuel consumption along with the recently introduced NC700 series - www.honda.co.uk/motorcycles/supersports
John Newman for Wemoto News
Any comments? Does anyone know this bike or this road personally?
If so email us at email@example.com
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