For many people, their first motorcycle is the motorcycle they will always remember and most regret selling. Mine was a Honda CB900F Bol d'Or, and the regret only increases with time.
Being in lockdown gives me time to think about my history riding, and so I got to thinking about my first motorcycle.
Just like in many things, you never really forget your first motorcycle.
Especially as many of us who owned ancient motorcycles now know that what they used to ride is now considered a classic.
I had no idea the first bike I was buying was a future classic. I just bought the cheapest motorcycle within 5km (that's "a few miles") that I could find on the local equivalent of Craigslist, whatever it was back in 2001.
For me, this cheap, convenient first motorcycle was a 1981 Honda CB900F Bol d'Or.
If anyone is wondering if you should get a CB900F Bol d'Or: Unless you're a collector or a mechanic, then absolutely not. Get a more modern equivalent like a Honda 919, also known as the Honda Hornet 900.
About the Honda CB900F Bol d'Or
I didn't know anything about the Bol d'Or when I bought it, nor even for most of the time I owned it.
Now, having dived far deeper into the world of motorcycles, I know a thing or two!
The CB900F Bol D'or wasn't sold in the USA, but was sold in Australia (where I'm from, and currently am holed up at time of writing), Japan, and Western Europe, plus a number of other markets around the world.
The CB900F has a four-stroke 900cc engine that when tuned properly produces 71kW (95hp) at 9,000 rpm (I don't think mine ever did).
It weighs a hefty 260+kg wet, part of the reason why it never felt very fast — though other modern motorcycles that produce 95hp (like the much more modern Honda CBR650R) are plenty fast. I personally never could get mine above 160 km/h, though it was rated at a maximum of 210 km/h.
The Bol d'Or (and any other motorcycles that carry this name) was named after the French motorcycle endurance race of the same name. Honda had won the race for most of the 70s, helping put the brand on the map in Europe.
The Bol d'Or race itself is 24h endurance race exclusive to motorcycles that has been going since 1922 and continues to this day. It is held on many legendary racetracks around France. The name means "bowl of gold" or "golden bowl" (in French), though I don't know the origin of the name — maybe it's the prize you win at the end but I really don't know, I can't find the evidence.
The Bol d'Or (the motorcycle, not the race... nor the bowl) also came in a faired variant. But these are much more rare!
Why I regret selling the Honda CB900F
After years of neglect, I sold my CB900F on eBay for A$750. I was fully prepared to sell it to a junkyard for basically nothing at that point.
It was sad for it to leave — the end of an era. Why I gave up motorcycles for a good ten years is another story, but basically it's because I felt like my nine lives were up.
There are a few reasons I think that — presuming I were to keep riding — I should I have kept my motorcycle. But the main one is that my early instincts about what I like in motorcycles was 100% correct.
I've had the good fortune as a motorcycle nerd and writer to have sampled many different motorcycles over the years. They've ranged from 200cc dirt bikes all the way to 1700cc cruisers, and I've loved them all in many ways. If any one of those were my only motorcycle I'd be happier than if none of them were.
I bought the CB900F Bol d'Or because it was
- Cheap — it was A$2,500 with about 20,000 kms on it. I didn't even try bargaining — given it had low compression, a loose chain, and needed a carb overhaul, I probably could have had it for $1,500.
- Naked — it didn't have a fairing. This meant I could work on it without stripping a bunch of stuff off. Also, it looked cool.
- Reliable — the Honda never made me worried it wouldn't start or take me 500 kms or more.
- Attractive — It looked great, with its basic structure, big engine, and round headlight.
And twenty years on, I still like all those things! I look at the modern equivalent of the CB900F, which is either the Honda Hornet 919 "CB900", or the Honda CB1300 (not sold in the US) and I think "Now that's a great looking motorcycle!"
The Honda 919, as great as it is (I owned one for a while), wasn't quite the same thing, of course.
Firstly, it didn't look as classic as the old CB900F. The Honda 919 has that "manufactured for efficiency" look that Honda is good at pushing out lately.
Don't get me wrong. Honda makes some incredible looking machines. Some of them are design icons like the Honda Valkyrie Rune or the Honda Hawk — motorcycles way ahead of their time, and in a class of their own.
But the Honda 919 just didn't have that aesthetic appeal.
Secondly, the Honda 919 was a nimble, fast beast. It was much lighter than my old CB900F. In fact, when I rode it, I thought "this thing is better than me".
I think that in all my motorcycles the CB900F was actually the easiest one to ride. It ripped along at 100mph without any problem. It was impossible to stall. I'd definitely own one again... but I think I'd rather have a more modern one with rider aids like ABS and traction control.
In summary, the Honda 919 is actually a great motorcycle! It's funny to say this but this separates it from my cantankerous beast of old that was unwieldy to ride and handle.
The Honda CB1300, on the other hand, is aesthetically a much better-looking motorcycle.
The Honda CB1300 has:
- A round headlight
- Steel pipes
- Twin suspension with a nice colour
- A well-shaped, attractive tank
- a 270kg+ wet weight
The CB1300 really works for me. It really reminds me of that CB900 of old.
Would I buy a CB1300 today? Definitely — or something like it, like the XJR1300 — but not in my currently small stable of motorcycles that I already don't get enough time to ride.
Regretting selling your first motorcycle
I pretty much want to tell anyone: Never sell your first motorcycle that isn't a learner.
This is of course stupid advice — which I'll explain below.
In many parts of the world (I think everywhere except America, and probably the badlands of Europe where laws are a little lax), you have to first have a learner bike. This is typically something low-powered and unthreatening — like a dirt bike or a Honda Nighthawk 250.
These can be fun, but they're usually not the motorcycles you'll lust after years later.
The second motorcycle, however, is often the one you fall in love with. Maybe even the third one. These are often motorcycles your friends have, or that you see in magazines and years later think... I gotta have one of those.
My second motorcycle was the Bol d'Or. My third was a Ducati Monster that I wanted when I was 16, but that's another story.
It's crazy to say "never sell your first/second motorcycle" because so much goes on in our lives. Most of us (myself included) can't afford to have a garage full of motorcycles. We may phase in and out of riding. And most importantly, we have a lot of exploring to do — you don't know until you've tried them all if you're a cruiser rider, a sportbike rider, an adventure rider... it's just a joy finding out.
The other thing that happens is that your first/second motorcycle will almost definitely become a classic over time.
I'm going to assume you put a lot of thought into choosing that first motorcycle. I definitely did... poring over reviews in magazines, scouting at shops, watching YouTube videos (j/k, YouTube didn't exist then!)
Many old motorcycles, if well-preserved, are now classics. The CB900F definitely was. The old Monsters are. It'd definitely be a negative cash-on-cash investment over time (with all the insurance payments and maintenance), but it'd still be a cool motorcycle to show up at Alice's Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard, or whatever your local motorcycle hangout is.
I often see people missing their first motorcycle no matter what it was — could have been a Harley Sportster, a Triumph Bonneville, a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-636, a Suzuki SV650, or anything.
Whatever that first motorcycle was, the excitement of getting onto a motorcycle and thinking a huge range of conflicting thoughts ranging from "I could take this thing around America (or Australia or Europe)!" to "This thing could kill me!" really gets your mental juices flowing in a way no other machine ever will.
Definitely for me, every time I get on to a motorcycle these days, I barely look at the controls before setting off. I know I can ride anything. And as cool as that feeling is, it takes some of the magic away.
Maybe I just need a faster machine...