You won’t find a more stable supersport in the paddock than the CBR600RR. With a 41mm inverted HMAS cartridge fork and Unit Pro-Link HMAS single shock, the RR had our testers gushing over its stability.
The Honda faithful in the MCUSA office weren’t too happy that their bike placed fourth in our street shootout. Sadly, one of these stellar supersports had to be ranked last, and the CBR’s relatively wimpy motor and brick-like seat dragged it down the rankings.
We’re happy to report that the CBR’s seat and short windscreen don’t hold it back on the track. “It feels closest to a racebike,” says Chamberlain, another former racer in our group. The hard seat, low bars and up-over-the-front riding position, which hurt the CBR’s score on the street, feel ideal for track use. The bike is narrow, nimble and turns in quick.”
In the high-speed environment of the track, the Honda stands out most for its unflappable stability, aided by the perfect setup for track work provided by former World Endurance champ Doug Toland, now a chief tester for Honda’s R&D department (and a guy who beat Kevin Schwantz in a Willow Springs race 20 years ago). The composed CBR shrugs off bumps, ripples and dips almost like they don’t exist.
“The CBR felt the most composed over the rough stuff,” gushes Chamberlain. “Bumps were easily soaked up without any disruption to the chassis, which enabled greater confidence in the corners. With a lot of the rider’s weight up over the front of the bike, it enables you to have a good feel for what the front end is doing. Stability at mid-corner is as good as any, and its front-end feel and stability ranks at the top of the score sheet.”
Infineon’s high-speed Turn 1 uphill section can be an intimidating challenge, but the CBR feels especially planted here, bolstering rider confidence. It was also the most stable through Thunderhill’s fast and bumpy Turn 8 left-hander, aided by its more rigid fork and uprated frame. It’s stable and solid, with no twitches in hard steering transitions like the older bike would sometimes do. Fast-guy Roberti also heaped praise on the CBR’s solid chassis, noting a high level of feedback and a small, light feeling he said is “almost perfect everywhere.”
Where the CBR isn’t perfect, as on the street, is in the motor department. More power is almost always better, and the Honda has less. Roberti took out the CBR first, and he came back commending its motor. His second CBR stint occurred after riding the ZX and R6, and his opinion changed to calling it “a little soft” in comparison. Becklin concurred, calling the CBR “pretty anemic.”
“It lacks midrange punch,” Becklin elaborates. “You really do have to be in the right gear with the CBR or the thing just won’t pull. It forces you to think a lot about gear changes, engine revs, tach position/shift light in order to get good drives. It takes attention away from just riding in order to make up for its power deficit.”
The CBR’s demure low-end pull requires riders to keep the revs up to access the bulk of the Honda’s power.
Another engine-related distraction on the CBR is its harsh throttle response when reapplying power. This can sap confidence when coming into a corner too hot and have to back out of the throttle before re-applying power on the exit, its rider being timid with the twistgrip for fear of a quick lurch of power that might cause a sudden loss of traction at high lean angles. The R6 also shares this liability.
As we noted during the street testing, the Honda seems to have taller gearing than the others, especially in first and second gears. While going through spec charts, we found that the CBR has by far the tallest final-drive ratio, 2.688:1. While the ZX-6R uses a 15/43 sprocket combination (2.867:1), the 600s here use a 16-tooth countershaft sprocket with a variety of rear sprocket sizes. The CBR’s 43-tooth rear is the smallest of the bunch (GSX-R – 45; R6 – 48), giving it less of a torque-multiplication advantage. Honda counters this with relatively shorter gearing in the transmission and less of a step between gears, but its overall ratios in the first two gears are still taller than the rest. Although this is a drawback on the street, it can actually save an upshift on the track.
“Whereas the other bikes would top out and require another gear,” explains Chamberlain, “you could often get by without the extra shift on the CBR. This is somewhat irrelevant as most serious track riders will gear the bike for that specific track anyway, but I thought it worth mentioning because I think it unfairly hurt the CBR’s sense of power when driving out of low-speed corners.”
The CBR’s stock gearing can also work against it. Infineon Raceway has a couple of low-speed corners that forced the CBR rider to select a lower gear than the others and, unlike the Kawasaki, the Honda can get a bit squirrelly during high-rpm downshifts. “I wish the ZX-6R’s slipper clutch was on the CBR,” says Becklin, “because I was constantly dropping one more gear than the others bikes and the rear end would protest with some interesting wiggles.”
Ratios aside, the CBR’s gearbox performs its shifts smoothly under max power, something the Yamaha can’t claim. It was only once the Suzuki arrived to our test that the RR got lowered from the top of the transmission rankings.
Braking performance in this crowd is nothing short of stellar, and the CBR’s radial-mount calipers and 310mm rotors are beyond what we could imagine on a stock streetbike just five years ago. Still, our testers rated the Honda brakes last by a hair, likely due to it being the only one not equipped with one of the trendy radial-pump master cylinders. The CBR is also the only one without a remotely mounted brake reservoir, which can make fixing crash damage more expensive.
Overall, it’s the CBR’s remarkable poise that keeps it in high regard. The Honda encourages confidence in every rider that gets on board. “It’s very fun to ride on the racetrack,” Becklin sums up. “It’s a good handler and is confidence inspiring. The CBR really encourages extreme lean angles – it’s fun to see how far over you can get it.”
– Pegs touch the earliest at a racer’s pace.
– Headshake can be induced on the usually stable CBR with the addition of Dunlop’s D208GP race-compound tires.
– While the others roared up on their back wheels in first gear when coming onto the front straight at Infineon, the CBR was reluctant to mono-wheel, whether due to the anti-wheelie characteristic of the Unit Pro-Link rear end or to the softest midrange of the group.
– The only one without a thumbwheel clutch adjuster on the left clip-on.