Honda’s CBR shined in the twisties, exhibiting impressive corner stability thanks to a rock-solid chassis and the Unit-Pro Link rear suspension.
The Honda CBR600RR, with its tightly tailored and svelte bodywork, never looked like it had a “fat dress,” but put it on a set of scales and it definitely seemed to be big-boned. That’s all changed for ’05, as our new CBR scaled in a whopping 22 lbs lighter than last year’s bike. Honda has gone through every component, shaving ounces where it couldn’t pare pounds, and grinding away grams where it couldn’t whittle away ounces. At 398 lbs with its tank empty, the Honda now weighs just two pounds more than the class lightweights R6 and ZX-6R, both of which have gained several pounds.
Though the CBR looks much the same as before, nearly everything from the bodywork inward has been massaged. Lighter are its frame, swingarm and exhaust system, but it’s the introduction of an inverted fork and radial-mount brakes that are the obvious changes. Reshaped intake ports are meant to increase velocity flow for enhanced midrange power, one of the 2003-04 model’s most obvious deficiencies. The full details of the CBR’s changes can be found in our 2005 Honda CBR600RR First Ride.
Prior to gathering the bikes for our shootout, I had the opportunity to take the new CBR out on a street ride with a couple of guys from American Honda and some other journalists. A ride on an ’04 600RR brought along for comparison revealed that its responses are slightly slower than the lighter ’05, and its non-radial brakes are bit less crisp. I’d be lying if I told you the inverted fork makes a significant difference when riding in street conditions.
On street rides during out comparison test, the ’05 CBR’s short front end feels very racy, as the rider feels perched over the front wheel. Most of our testers appreciated this feeling, especially when canyon strafing and racetrack mauling, but street riders looking for comfort might want to shop elsewhere. The RR’s short windscreen doesn’t deflect much air for the rider, and its bars are slightly lower in relation to the seat. Combined with its hardest-in-class seat, the CBR would be the least best suited for sport-touring duty.
“I dig the riding position on the Honda because it is perfectly suited to hauling ass,” says ass-hauler Ken Hutchison, who spends his free time as Editorial Director of this very e-magazine. “It’s the raciest of the bunch and that makes it real easy to ride fast and aggressive. But over the long haul it starts to wear you down quicker than the other bikes. The wind blast and weight forward on your wrists takes its toll after a couple hours.”
Working in the CBR’s favor, its suspension feels really good on the street and sucks up bumps better than expected. It also has the lowest pegs in the group, giving longer legs a tad more room to stretch. Its gearbox is super-slick, perhaps Honda’s best-ever sportbike transmission, and its mirrors are actually useful for a sportbike.
When it’s time to rip it up, the CBR is quite playful, though it’s slightly slower to turn than its rivals. Many of our testers praised the Honda for inspiring the most confidence. “The chassis is the most stable of the bunch,” says the ever-talkative Hutchison. “The term ‘rock solid’ was all over my notes. I think the Unit Pro-Link plays a huge part in this since the bike always feels stable under braking, acceleration, choppy road surfaces whatever you throw at it. Add the inverted fork, radial mount brakes and a summer weight-loss program into the mix, and what you get is a CBR that is the easiest to ride at a fast pace for me.”
While many of the bikes put the rider down in the cockpit, the CBR positions the pilot on top of the bike in a very racey position.
In last year’s shootout we griped about the CBR’s relative lack of midrange meat, so we were happy when we learned of Honda’s efforts to bolster it with cylinder porting revisions. While the ’05 version seemed peppier and the dyno readings show a power boost from 8500 to 10,500 rpm, its mid-rpm deficiency to the others is still apparent. At virtually nowhere through its rev range does it make more power than the grunty GSX-R or the big-bore ZX, and it falls behind even the R6 at most points. This doesn’t mean the CBR feels lethargic, as its rush to redline is scintillating and its peak horsepower reading of 101.8 is practically identical to last year’s bike. But whether on the street or the track, a CBR needs to be in the right gear to keep the others in sight. Taller gearing than the others only makes it feel worse.
“The CBR is a bit anemic until it reaches 8500 rpm,” says Brian Korfhage, last year’s Gixxer killer. “At that point it takes off and starts to flex its muscles, but the majority of riders won’t want to be revving out their bike on public roads. Shorter gearing might fix some of that bottom-end deficiency, but when compared to the others, the CBR could use a little more down low.” But, adds Hutch, “Once you get it on the boil above 9 grand the bike feels just as bitchin’ as the others, and its engine is definitely one of the smoothest when the tach is hovering in quintuple digits.”
Although the dyno clearly demonstrates how much power is created, it can’t tell how it makes its power. Our more sensitive testers noted the CBR’s abrupt throttle response, both when coming on the throttle and when rolling off the gas sometimes it’s fine; sometimes it’s quite harsh. We’ve felt sudden response when re-applying throttle on several other injected bikes, which is very unnerving when the horizon is tilted, but the CBR compounds this by its abruptness when backing fully out of the gas. I noted this characteristic in our First Ride article from the track, and again when out on the street ride with the Honda peeps. I twice got the back tire locked up and sliding under compression braking at higher rpm in first gear, once in damp conditions and once in the dry. Although it can be ridden around if careful, it shakes rider confidence and is a distracting element of an otherwise fine fuel-injection system. A slipper clutch, like in the Kawasaki, would help.
While the potential buyer for a supersport bike like these is more interested in performance than looks, let’s not kid ourselves that style is still a key factor in a purchase. Here the Honda shines, with a tight look, underseat exhaust and edgy front end, plus our favorite set of instruments that include a fuel gauge the others don’t.
“The CBR looked the sickest of the bunch,” says the Honda-happy Korfagio. “At first I was put off by the black bike; I usually like bright, vibrant colors. But the Darth Vader-like shroud is harder than nails and twice as sharp. Fit and finish is typical Honda and nearly flawless.”
Hutchison, too, hammered out some effusive words about the CBR’s appearance: “It just looks sinister and compact. The Line Beam headlamps look trick and the sharp angles make it seem like you may cut yourself on it if you’re not careful.”
One final faux pas to note: A CBR owner needs a tool to access its tool kit located under the right-side fairing. American Honda complained about it during the CBR’s development phase, but Honda Japan thought it was okay because a coin could be used. To our eyes, it seems as if there might be room for the tools under the passenger seat and above the “center-up” exhaust bulge if the kit was divided in half. Either that or splurge on the extra dime needed to put a quarter-turn Dzus fastener in the screw’s place.
Dzus fastener or not, Honda has boosted the CBR’s MSRP by $400, now up to $8,999, the most costly bike in this test.