Honda enters this year’s middleweight battle armed with a mildly revised 2013 CBR600RR ($11,800). Beneath the red, white and blue bodywork is the same tried-and-true 599cc Inline-Four engine as used in the Moto2 World Championship. New wheels and the latest-spec suspension pieces from Showa aim to elevate handling, but are the improvements enough to put this two-time Supersport Shootout champ back on top?
Despite gaining a few pounds in its latest redesign the Honda still claims the title as lightest in the category, tipping the scales at 415 pounds. When its wheels are turning on the circuit, it offers an added level of maneuverability that the others simply can’t match. The Honda changes directions so quickly it actually takes a few laps to acclimate to its ultra-precise steering.
“It’s probably the easiest bikes of all the bikes here to ride,” Pridmore reveals. “It was the funnest for me. I could put that bike absolutely anywhere at anytime. It didn’t matter where I was on the track or whether I was going fast or going slow.”
) The Honda steers so quickly it actually takes a few laps to acclimate to its sharp response. (Center
) The Honda’s brakes ranked well and were second to only the Kawasaki. (Below
) The CBR is one of the smaller-feeling bikes in this contest and isn’t quite as accommodating for taller riders compared to the Suzukis or the Ninja.
Data proves Pridmore’s assessment, with the CBR600RR recording the second-fastest side-to-side flick rate through Turns 8/9.
“The Honda definitely felt more at home to me because I actually road-raced a Honda in ‘08 and ‘09,” remembers Colton. “The one thing I like about it is how close you sit to the handlebars. It was really easy for me to hold onto the bike and grip it with my legs and arms in the corners.”
But not all of our testers were sold on the Honda’s ergos; a tad bit puzzling as it offers the identical control dimensions and cockpit layout as its predecessor—a bike that has historically scored well in the ergonomics category. Although it’s an easy aftermarket fix, the seat’s slippery surface made the CBR more challenging to ride fast.
“The ergonomics are very small for me,” comments Neuer. “I’m 5’11” and I struggled with it a little bit. It took me a while to get used to it.”
Suspension-wise we had mixed results with the CBR’s new Showa-sourced big-piston fork. We appreciated the ultra-precise pitch control and road feel during corner entry, but the fork didn’t offer the same level of feedback at lean. As with any new piece of hardware it takes a while to work out bugs and get the damping settings dialed-in and that’s what occurred with the Honda… but the potential is there.
During braking, our testers were pleased with the function of the Honda’s Tokico set-up even though it lacks the prestige and eye-catching flash of the Brembos. Both power and feel were always consistent whether we were on Lap 1 or Lap 11 and the brakes were easy to modulate during corner entry. During braking for Turn 1, the CBR registered the highest g-force (-1.19g) and third-highest at Turn 8.
Mid-corner the Honda got the job done but didn’t instill the kind of confidence we remembered from past shootouts. Navigating Turns 4 and 5 the CBR’s corner speed (65.07 mph) ranked it mid-pack. But where it really counts, in the high-speed fourth-gear bowl, it was at the back of the field recording a speed higher than only the Ducati (69.28 mph). Yet it recorded the third-most
Honda CBR600RR Settings:
Front fork height: 4mm
Preload: 1 (Turns in)
Compression: 8.5 (Turns out)
Preload: 9(10) for Superpole
Rebound: 2 7/8
degrees of lean angle here. In the second-to-last corner, Turn 16, the Honda recorded the highest speed at 54.09 mph—much faster than any other bike except the Ninja, demonstrating the prowess of its new fork during corner entry despite not being as dialed-in as it could be. Upon averaging the speeds the Honda was credited with eight points in the category.
Historically the Honda’s engine performance has always been a few steps behind the competition and a trip to our dyno room confirms the engine is a weak link in an otherwise very competitive package. The CBR squeaked out barely over 100 horsepower at 12,500 rpm. That’s over four less than the GSX-R600 and 6.26 ponies less than the R6. When compared against the V-Twin-powered Ducati it was at a 20.6 horsepower disadvantage. Although over-rev is plentiful with 2900 rpms available before the rev-limiter
) The Honda’s new BPF worked well during braking and corner entry but failed to deliver the same level of confidence we remember at lean. (Center
) The Honda has one of the more accommodating cockpits. It is more relaxed than perhaps any other machine but still favors smaller riders. (Below
) The front suspension and brakes allow the rider to trail brake deep into corners.
cuts in, power drops off so rapidly that it’s better to short-shift rather than run the engine to the 15,400 rpm redline.
“There’s nothing to complain about this bike,” sums up Dunstan. “The acceleration I’m happy with. It’s not as good as the other bikes I’ve been riding but it’s not so poor as to ruin the experience for me.”
It’s not all bad news when looking at the torque curve as the Honda motor offers decent mid-range power with its 44.81 lb-ft torque peak at a relatively low (for a Inline Four 600) 10,600 rpm. That placed it ahead of its fellow 600s but still a few lb-ft away from its larger displacement rivals. You can feel its muscle coming off corners, especially the exit of Turns 10 and 13 where it recorded the highest acceleration force numbers in this test, proving how effective the engine is through the mid-range. But it’s lackluster top-end and the fact that it doesn’t have a power shifter hurt its top speed down the straightaways.
“It’s an easy bike to ride fast and it gives good feedback,” tells Zemke, who has intimate knowledge of the CBR having raced them at the factory level for years. “But I think it could use a quickshifter as well… I think all the Japanese bikes could use quickshifters [laughs] cause when you’re out here at the track running around with bikes that have them and bikes that don’t, you can really feel a big difference there.”
“With that being said, I would say it probably has the second-best transmission in the whole field,” continues Zemke. “The shifts were all very smooth. All in all it was a nice bike to ride on track and didn’t require a lot of effort to ride.”
The Honda was a good all-around bike,” agrees Wooldridge. “Fun and easy to ride. It didn't do anything really wrong. But it could benefit from the use of slipper clutch or quickshifter.”
“It’s hard not to like the Honda a lot,” Carruthers said. “Honda has always done a good job of compromising with its sportbikes – they perform well on the racetrack, but are still good streetbikes. This CBR600 fits that bill again.”
The CBR’s upgraded hardware pays dividends during corner entry with extraordinary levels of maneuverability. It also weighs the least, too. Despite this cat-like agility, it
- Lightest in class
- Easy to turn and exceptionally agile
- Excellent fork action during corner entry
- Needs more top-end power
- Could benefit from slipper clutch and quickshifter
- Slippery rider seat
didn’t elicit the same rock-solid mid-corner composure we remember. It also continues to come up short in the motor department-- a complaint we’ve expressed for years. Mid-pack Superpole times and scores in key subjective categories once again kept the Honda out of the top spot. Big Red knows where it needs to improve, now it’s time to act.