Borrowing design features from its RC212V MotoGP racer, Honda is betting its 2008 CBR1000RR will do to the Superbike class what its CBR600RR did to the Supersport field in 2007 – dominate.
With the yellow over-rev light staring me in the face I grab an upshift. I start to feel the front-end gently climbing skyward as I motor uphill towards Laguna’s infamous corkscrew, I run the bike wide and to the outside, setting up for the famous turn. I close the throttle, snag a downshift and squeeze the tank with my legs as hard as I can while jamming on the front brake lever, then out of the corner of my eye last year’s world champ and certified Laguna expert, Nick Hayden, snakes through, rear-wheel kicked out sideways, then in a instant he’s gone… All on a bone-stock 2008 Honda CBR1000RR streetbike.
Honda defined the modern day open-class sportbike category with its ground breaking CBR900RR. When the first double-R hit the streets as an early release ’93 model, it was the perfect blend of a nimble, lightweight chassis stuffed with a compact, high-performance engine-all wrapped in flashy race-replica plastics.
Like you, Honda’s open-classer has evolved quite a bit over its fifteen years. In 2000 it morphed into the 929, and then two years later, it saw another displacement bump to 954 in pursuit of the ideal balance between lightweight agility and open-road performance.
Honda’s flagship sportbike finally made the jump to full-fledged superbike status with the introduction of the CBR1000RR in 2004 and two short years later the platform was tweaked in effort to keep pace with the three other major Japanese big-bores nipping at the double-R’s rear tire.
Last year’s MCUSA 2007 Superbike Smackdown IV saw the double-R reign supreme on the street portion of our liter-class test. However, its more street-oriented focus, absent slipper clutch, and lackluster high-rpm performance really set it back on the track. Considering that the CBR1000RR is one of Big Red’s most popular sportbikes on the sales floor, I assumed that something smaller, faster, and shinier would be in the works for ’08 -because coming in behind its Japanese rivals just doesn’t sit well with Honda.
After our ’08 CBR First Look preview, I was foaming at the mouth in anticipation of riding the all-new 1000. And when the invitation finally arrived in the mail with the words Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway stamped on top, I was about as giddy as Homer Simpson in a donut factory.
Neil Hodgson is one man hoping Honda found the perfect solution with its new CBR1000RR, with the former BSB and SBK champ contesting the 2008 AMA Superbike series aboard the new CBR.
I assembled my gear and jetted off to the site of the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix for a day of getting to know Honda’s all-new liter-classer. Winter weather on the Monterey Peninsula is always a crap shoot, but rescuing that litter of kittens from the side of the highway last week must have finally paid off and with my karma at an all-time high, I was greeted to sunny skies and mild temperatures.
During the morning tech presentation, the Honda crew explained three primary design focuses of this year’s big-bore: First, engineers sought to integrate proven race technologies born on-track in the highly competitive realm of MotoGP. Second, power-to-weight has always been a key fundamental of the CBR pedigree, so it comes as no surprise that engineers continued on their never ending quest to trim weight and bump up power output. And with a claimed curb weight of 435 pounds, it appears that Honda has again raised the power-to-weight benchmark. Lastly, with products like ASIMO, the astronaut-looking humanoid robot, it’s pretty obvious that Honda is an innovative company. That being said, engineers desired to incorporate new trend-setting technologies that will make the bike easier for the rider to control both on the street and on the track.
At the heart of the CBR is an all-new engine that is not only 5 pounds lighter, but also more compact and according to Honda, 6.5% more powerful than its predecessor. Internally, the liquid-cooled, Inline-Four has a slightly more oversquare bore/stroke layout of 76 x 55.1mm, equating to 999cc’s of displacement. Compression has received a minor boost to 12.3:1 (up from 12.2:1) New forged pistons with a special low-friction coating retain the same weight as before and now reside in an innovative separate, sleeveless cylinder block, which allowed engineers to increase cylinder bore without increasing engine width.
Although last year’s CBR had a tremendous mid-range punch, its top-end performance was a bit limited. The solution: A significantly revised valvetrain specifically designed for improved high-rpm performance. New, larger titanium intake valves (30.5mm) replace last year’s 29mm steel units. Exhaust valves have been slimmed to 24mm (down 3mm), which in turn allows the use of a 15mm shorter cylinder head. Controlling the updated valve componentry is a set of lighter (1.1 pound) thin-wall camshafts.
Fueling the all-new powerplant are 46mm throttle bodies featuring Honda’s Dual Stage Fuel Injection. All eight upper and lower 12-hole Denso fuel injectors are controlled via twelve unique 3-D fuel-injection maps. The lower, primary injectors power the engine during low-rpm use, while the upper “showerhead” injectors come alive from atop the twin ram-air fed 9.7-liter airbox during mid-to-high rpm engine loads.
We shared the Laguna Seca circuit with a fellow who knows a thing or two about taking a Honda ’round the track at a pretty good clip.
Spent gasses are now passed via a unique stainless-steel 4-2-1 MotoGP-style exhaust that sits beneath the bike just like Nicky Hayden’s RC212V. The low-slung system is positioned as close as possible to the center of the motorcycle in order to aid handling and to allow maximum cornering clearance. Inside the lightweight three-chamber muffler, both electronic and pressure exhaust valves are used to reduce noise and enhance power output at any rpm setting.
Cradling the engine is an entirely new chassis. Like its middleweight sibling, the CBR1K is now bestowed with a more compact four-piece twin-spar aluminum frame that utilizes Honda’s Hollow Fine Die-Cast manufacturing process-allowing frame wall thickness to be as narrow as 2.5mm. Not only is the frame more rigid, it is 5.5 pounds lighter and 1.2-inches slimmer than the one it replaces.
In the suspension department, a fully-adjustable 43mm inverted Showa fork returns, but the distance between the fork tubes has been reduced by 10mm in order to help slim the front profile. Offset has also been increased 2.5mm (from 25mm) in order to sharpen steering response.
Out back, Honda’s unique RC211V inspired Pro-Link rear suspension features a new, 12mm longer gull-wing shaped aluminum swingarm that stretches wheelbase to 55.4-inches. Housed inside, a fully adjustable rear shock boasts updated spring and damping rates and 5.4-inches of travel (up 0.1 inches).
Externally, the CBR1000RR sports lighter, aerodynamically efficient bodywork that utilizes smoother shapes, alterations which Honda claims actually help the bike change directions at speed. Additionally, the archaic stalk-style front turn signals have finally been integrated into the mirrors and add to the CBR’s clean look.
Okay, okay-enough with the techno mumbo jumbo already! How does the thing ride? As I suited up, ready to experience 1000cc glory, I could hardly contain my excitement. With a beautiful Pearl Yellow/Black double-R adorned with my name glistening under the bright winter sun, I climbed aboard.
The first thing that stood out was how diminutive the new CBR feels. The bike feels significantly narrower and almost 600-like. Seat height measures 32.3-inches (same as last year) and despite it being the same on paper, it feels lower and more intimate, as if you’re sitting in the bike rather than atop. The reach to the handlebars isn’t quite as much a stretch as before and like the current generation CBR600RR, the riding position feels very relaxed.
Honda’s 2007 CBR1000RR (above) felt significantly larger than the all-new 2008 version when we turned some laps on the old model.
Pulling in the super-light feeling cable-actuated clutch is easier than ever due to Honda’s unique thrust cam-assist, in which a set of cammed surfaces within the clutch basket automatically increase the amount of pressure generated on the clutch stack.
Once under way it becomes immediately apparent just how silky-smooth the engine is even at low-rpm. Motoring out of pit-lane and onto the 2.2-mile road course I was greeted with a large dose of acceleration that only a liter-class machine can provide.
After a few easy laps behind American Honda’s Senior Product Evaluator, Doug Toland, I started to hammer down. Right away I was impressed with just how effortless steering was. Similar to Honda’s middleweight class stunner, the new 1000 changes direction ridiculously easy. No doubt in part to its revised steering head angle of 23.3-degrees (reduced from 23.45) and decreased 96.2mm of trail (down from 100mm).
With those aggressive chassis numbers, one might presume that things can get out of hand quickly, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the massive amount of power the CBR pumps out, the chassis stays remarkably well planted.
This is due in part to the second generation HESD (Honda Electronic Steering Damper). The ultra-compact piece mounts neatly and unobtrusively under the front of the fuel tank. In function it’s almost completely unnoticeable. That is until you whack the throttle open, unleashing all 999cc’s of fury on the 190/50R17 Dunlop Qualifier rear tire which simultaneously sends the front 120/70R17 Qualifier dancing back-and-forth, struggling to maintain contact with the road below.
And speaking of acceleration, when those throttle bodies are opened the new Honda engine is deceptively fast. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s almost boring how smoothly the new 1K mill doles out the juice. Power wheelies in the first three gears are standard issue courtesy of the powerful mid-range of yesteryear, but where last year’s engine would fall off the new one continues to pull like a freight train all the way until the small, yellow over-rev light ends the fun.
Grip with the OEM Dunlop Qualifier rubber is good, but we needed something stickier to really push 2008 Honda CBR1000 suspension.
Outright grip from the OEM Dunlop rubber is surprisingly good, considering the fact that you have roughly 150 horsepower just a twist of the wrist away. Getting your knee down on the stock rubber is easy and as long as you can use some throttle hand restraint, one can have plenty of fun, safely. However, once the pace starts getting upped, the street rubber quickly mutes the feel of the road making it a bit more tedious to push hard.
Throttle response on the new CBR is a massive leap forward not only over its predecessor but for all sportbikes. On/off abruptness has been completely expunged and the rider now feels a more direct connection to the engine then ever before. This is due, in part, to Honda’s innovative Ignition Interruption Control System (IICS). The technology, which is a first of its kind on a Honda motorcycle, uses sensors that compare engine speed to the speed of the countershaft sprocket as well as the degree of throttle input. When engine speed exceeds countershaft speed by a certain limit, IICS retards the ignition, which thereby eliminates unwanted drive lash.
Another piece of technology which passively assists the rider is IACV (Idle Air Control Valve). First launched on last year’s CBR600RR, IACV smoothes out throttle response on both acceleration and deceleration by allowing intake air to briefly elevate engine idle speed, which allows smoother throttle transitions when the throttle is opened or closed.
Keeping tabs on what’s happening beneath you is a new instrument package that is both elegant and functional. A large analog RPM gauge, digital speedometer, coolant temperature, clock, dual tripmeters, odometer, MPG and average fuel consumption, are paired, of course, with assorted engine warning lights. A yellow over-rev light is also integrated into the silver faced cluster. The only thing missing is a gear-position indicator and a larger, brighter over-rev light.
During lunch break, our CBR’s super-light aluminum three-spoke wheels were stripped and replaced with a set of brand-new ultra-sticky Dunlop 211GP race tires. Race tires have a way of revealing handling gremlins, showing the bikes true character. But, I’m happy to report that things just got better with the DOT race rubber.
With the track-specific tires underneath us, the suspension provided an incredible amount of feedback. The already razor-sharp steering was further improved due to the triangular profile of the race rubber. However, with the added adhesion of the tacky rubber, we began to load the suspension harder. During heavy braking coming into the corkscrew and final ultra-slow Turn 11 we continually flirted with the bottom of the fork, which in-turn would cause the rear end of the bike to get unstable and swap around. But by adding two turns of fork preload, we managed to stay out of the bottom-end of the fork and had increased rear-end stability during hard braking.
Speaking of stopping, last year’s double-R was already renowned for its potent set of stoppers, but even a good set of binders can be improved and that’s exactly what Honda’s engineers did. New lighter, more rigid radial-mount Tokico monobloc four-piston calipers grab on to a lighter set of six-point mount floating 320mm rotors powered by a radial-pump master cylinder. Keeping front wheel height in check while rowing through the first few gears is a single-piston rear caliper pinching a 220mm disc.
Feel through the rubber lines is fantastic and similar to the setup found on the 600RR. Power is equally as pleasing with only a single finger needed to haul the bike down from speed. However, I did encounter some minor brake fade, which was surprising given the high-end componentry, but fade was relatively minimal and quickly corrected by adjusting the lever adjustment to one smaller increment.
Finally, Honda has made the leap into the slipper-clutch era, and its first attempt is an absolute homerun. Coming down into Laguna’s ultra-deep Turn 2, simply grab two downshifts and let the slipper-clutch do the rest. No longer does such precise care have to be used during corner entry as on last year’s machine and rear-wheel chatter is a thing of the past. Additionally, engine braking continues to be reduced, allowing the rider to more accurately gauge their corner entry speed.
Like the original CBR900RR, Honda has taken a tremendous step forward with the new CBR1K. The handling disparity between open-classers and middleweights is getting closer by the year. And by incorporating new technologies such as IACV and IICS, Honda has made a bike that is not only more capable in the hands of a skilled rider but also far easier for a novice to manipulate. But the single most amazing feat is that this revolutionary motorcycle comes in at $11,599, that’s only $100 more than last year’s.
The big question for 2008 will be where the all-new CBR stacks up against its literbike competitors. Neil Hodgson and Miguel Duhamel will be pushing the new Honda against the dominating Yoshimura Suzuki squad in the AMA Superbike series. And then there is always MotorcycleUSA’s Superbike Smackdown. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.
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