Honda CBR600RR Battle Hardened
Honda's CBR comes into this fight unchanged for 2006. In a fashion contest, the RR holds its own, although not all our testers warmed to our bike's metallic pearl orange color and tribal flames graphic.
It seems just a short time ago that we rode Honda's first 600cc double-R, raving about its surefootedness and vigorous top-end hit. Now the elder member of this fiercely contested class, the CBR is in the twilight of its butterfly-short lifespan as we expect a ground-up re-do for 2007.
Lucky for Honda, the CBR is going out swinging. Let's not forget the RR was sent to the fat farm just last year and had its soggy midrange boosted. It's always had one of the most composed chassis of any of its rivals, making its rider feel immediately confident.
Climbing aboard, the CBR's ergonomics prove to be a lot less demanding than the Duc, with a taller seat and more legroom.
"This time around the ergos seem a lot more favorable for street riding," says our Creative Director Brian Chamberlain. "The new Yamaha and Triumph are so racy that the Honda actually feels pretty relaxed now. The rider still sits up high and over the front, putting a lot of pressure on the wrists, but not as bad as some of the competition. The bars are set nice and wide and placed fairly close to the rider. The seat is still fairly stiff, but not as bad as the Ducati."
Robin Haldane, our Graphics Designer and the guy who edits our videos, is the least experienced rider among our cadre of testers. Other than griping about the CBR's hard seat, he enjoyed what the Honda offers. "As the newbie of the group, the smooth nature of the Honda was kind of nice," he says.
Wind protection from its sharply tailored fairing and stubby windshield is slight, so you'll probably want to fire up your Goldwing for touring duty or when riding in cold weather. Underneath the windscreen is a plain-looking but highly readable instrument cluster.
"Offering up everything but a gear indicator, the gauges are well laid out, easy to read, and offer a progressive fuel gauge that is a lot more comforting (than just a low-fuel light) on those long stints in the middle of nowhere," BC states.
The CBR's engine, what was once the peakiest bike in the class, has taken a turn similar to its ergo shuffle. It actually has the overall best powerband of the 599cc bikes, despite its slight deficiency up top, aided by the shortest overall ratios in gears 3 through 6.
The CBR places its rider over the front of the bike, which is great for sporting duty but less so for comfort. A thinly padded seat reminds you of the bike's purpose.
"On the street, those 2-3 ponies are not evident," BC notes. "While it may not make the most power, it does offer decent midrange pull and a super smooth power delivery."
The on/off throttle abruptness we noted last year was for some reason much less prevalent on our '06 tester, and BC wasn't the only one of our testers who described the CBR's power delivery as "smooth."
The double-R also received praise for its slick gearbox and easy clutch take-up, just another arrow in its quiver of street-friendly characteristics. Its braking performance wasn't exceptional, but even the Duc's last-placed binders are excellent, and we experienced no fade or control issues. The CBR's lack of a slipper clutch isn't much of a drawback during street use, but we're reasonably confident next year's bike will have one anyway.
Honda is known for putting in a massive amount of R&D work into its products, and nowhere is that more evident than its chassis and suspension performance. Its chassis geometry numbers reveal nothing special, but somehow it all combines into something exemplary.
"The CBR steers very quickly and transitions are easy," Chamberlain says. "Even with its quick turning ability, the front end is extremely stable and offers plenty of feel. The CBR is definitely one of the most confidence-inspiring bikes in the corners."
The RR's suspension deserves recognition for its suppleness and ability to accommodate a wide variety of rider physiques. Honda has nailed this bike's sweet spot, so it received consistently high marks no matter who was aboard. Hutch described it as perfect, adding that "it really shines when the road conditions suck." It also is the only bike other than the R6 that has an easier to tune preload adjuster on its shock, using a knuckle-friendly ramped collar as opposed to the crude but precise locking rings on the others.
Donny B at speed on the CBR. He says he felt confident and comfortable on the Honda, calling its riding position "aggressive but plush."
Typical Honda, the attention to detail of the CBR is second to none. For example, the center-up exhaust steals storage room from under the seat, so Honda provides a mini tool kit stashed inside its right fairing panel; a coin can be used to loosen the fastener to access the kit. And the bike's fit and finish is outstanding.
Not all of us, however, were keen on the flashy pearl orange color on our test bike. MCUSA's President Don Becklin ribs that it should win some kind of "Safety First" award, and we can imagine a slow CBR rider being nicknamed "Pylon" by cruel riding pals. That said, we also encountered several who loved the paint scheme. The more conservative among you might prefer the CBR's red, black or silver color options better.
"The CBR is a perfect example of why Hondas are so popular with consumers," Kenny sums up. "The bike looks like its hauling ass even when it's not moving, it's really easy to ride, it's fairly comfortable, and it has excellent suspension. What it doesn't have is a mighty motor that could give it separation from the rest of the pack."
"Although the CBR is at the end of this model cycle, it is still very competitive in this field of newer bikes," BC adds. "The only thing really missing from the CBR is a slipper clutch and a cheater motor."
Friendliest chassis inspires confidence
Suspension not finicky
A well-honed machine
Motor could use some more cojones
Short a few features
Lowest grin factor score.