1975 CB 400/Four, Honda's Giant Killer

Text: Lisa T. Rask • Photography: Lisa T. Rask

And so, she said, "I'm thinking I'll follow as much of old Route 66 as I can from Illinois to L.A. After that, I'll head up the Coastal Highway, visit some friends in Portland, and then follow the Lewis and Clark Trail back home. I'm telling my parents that I'm taking the Honda. They don't need to know that it's the 400/Four, not the Civic... What do you think?"

I sat there staring at my dinner plate not knowing how to respond. It was late May, and my only goal was to survive the last few days of teaching middle school. Now, my roommate was blurting out her summer plans involving a mode of transportation she only had a passing acquaintance with. A solo trip of more than 5,000 miles? On a bike that's almost as old as she was? Was she nuts?

The only thing I could think to say was, "Well, it sounds like a good plan."

Maria, like many of my friends throughout the years, was fascinated by my motorcycling family. But unlike those other friends, Maria did learn to ride, and shortly after, enlisted the help of my dad in finding a bike. Not an especially tall person, she needed something that would allow her to place her feet on the ground comfortably, yet be fast enough to keep up with her wild personality. My dad suggested she try out the Honda 400/Four I rode. And thereafter, Maria was hooked.

In 1975, Honda introduced its CB400F. This snappy machine - an upgrade of the CB350 Four, a four cylinder, four-pipe that had been rolled out in 1972 - not only had a larger engine capacity (expanded from 347 to 408cc), but it also included an extra gear (six instead of five). And who can forget its stylish four-into-one exhaust?

The 400/Four certainly wasn't in the large bike category. Its top speed was 103 mph, and it could do a standing quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds. However, if you were a teen rider in the mid-seventies, the CB400F looked big next to your friends' mopeds. As written in Cycle in March 1975, "If you can't respond to the CB400F's electrifying mechanical presence, you should immediately switch your sport to checkers."
Honda had a winner on its hands, and there were only minor changes during the three years of production. An exception to this, the color of the tank and side covers: blue was only available in 1975, while red was an option in 1975 and 1976; yellow replaced blue in 1976 and was available through 1977; and then maroon replaced red as an option in 1977.
Despite its charms, Honda stopped production in 1977. Some say it was because the company simply couldn't make any money on the model. A 400cc sohc bike cost the same to make as Honda's CB750, but it sold for much less.

About 100,000 of these machines were imported to the U.S., and Maria was lucky enough to snag a red one. Shortly after, she left for Route 66 and points beyond.

I met up with Maria in Portland, where my parents had dropped off my 400/Four. On a crisp morning, Maria and I opened the chokes, started our bikes, and pulled on our helmets. With our cam chains pleasantly rattling, we gave each other the thumbs-up and headed east.

Riding through the Columbia River Gorge, we stopped at the quirky Maryhill Museum for a break and a peek inside. Exiting the museum, we were greeted by the sight of our bikes, their red and yellow tanks gleaming in the sun.
"Hey," Maria remarked, "looks like we're riding Ketchup and Mustard."

As we followed what we could of the route set by the Lewis and Clark expedition, Ketchup and Mustard never let us down. We leaned through corners in the Bitterroots in Idaho, waited out a forest fire near Missoula, and spent that evening talking with a British woman on a bicycle who was attempting to ride across the country. After receiving the go-ahead to continue down the road, I felt a little guilty leaving her behind; but it was her choice to ride a bicycle instead of these Japanese classics that Maria and I straddled. She may have had a striking accent, but that was nothing compared to our bikes' exhaust note.

In Glacier National Park, Maria and I spent a couple of days enjoying the scenery and hiking. When we left, however, we both agreed that our favorite part had been riding past the road crew on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway. The first time, we got a few waves, but after the fourth or fifth pass, the guys took off their hats and shouted, "Take us with you!" That road was built for our motorcycles.

Trading Ketchup and Mustard for a canoe in Fort Benton, Montana, Maria and I tried to get a feel for what Lewis and Clark's journey must have been like. The day was hot and sunny, and the cool water felt good. We spent most of the time letting the current carry us along, watching the rugged scenery as we drifted by. Despite the ease of the day, however, we were itching to get back on the pegs.

We were even more grateful for our decision to abandon the canoe when we stopped at the Lewis and Clark Museum in Great Falls. Viewing a diorama depicting expedition members portaging boats and supplies was humbling. Suddenly, my vintage 1970's suspension seemed like the lap of luxury.

Our journey continued through North Dakota with stops at Fort Mandan and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Waving goodbye to the buffalo, we began counting down the miles back to Minnesota. The last morning, as we rode our growly bikes through a small town, two kids ran alongside, yelling how cool our motorcycles were. I tipped my helmet at them, thinking, "I couldn't agree with you more."