Close your eyes for a moment and envision the perfect sportbike on the street. First, it would have to be fast – really, really fast – yet easy-to-ride. Because what’s the point of having a quick bike unless you can fully exploit it around every bend and on each straightaway? Last, it has to be comfortable. Because after all this is your perfect bike and you’re going to want to ride it every day, rain or shine, hot or cold because it is, in fact, perfect. Okay, you can open your eyes, close your computer screen and journey to the local Honda motorcycle dealership because they have one there right now – it’s called the 2009 Honda CBR1000RR.
Although last year’s champ returns to the party without any changes, other than new colors and its anti-lock braking system (ABS) option (which we tested on the 2009 Honda CBR600RR ABS during its first ride review), the CBR1000RR is still too good to be knocked from the top spot.
Although we’re not totally sold on its exterior profile, we are fans of its limited-edition Repsol Honda color scheme. No doubt some will complain it looks gaudy, but for any true motorcycle racing fan, it looks like you’re riding the same Repsol Honda MotoGP bike as Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso – only with bright headlights, working rear view mirrors and an especially quiet exhaust. In fact next to the Ducati and Yamaha it garners the most attention at a stop light.
Hop aboard the CBR and you can’t help but notice its diminutive size – the most compact feeling motorcycle in this test. It also ties the Ducati for being the most svelte despite making use of the second largest fuel tank (4.7 gallon capacity). With a full tank of premium unleaded fuel the Honda comes in at 447 lbs ready to ride. Even if it’s still not down to the weight and overall size of a brand-new 600cc supersport, it’s certainly getting closer.
Despite its compact dimensions, the riding position isn’t cramped, even for a rider with above-average height. Everything, including the position of the handlebars, seat and footpegs, are laid out in an ergonomically correct manner, which proves to be the ideal balance between sport and comfort.
“Of all the motorcycles in this test the CBR is easily the most comfortable,” confirms Kenny. “It sounds like everyone seemed to fit it from our tall riders to the shorter ones and that’s pretty impressive in this day and age. Also, it just seems to work the best on the street of all these bikes. It’s comfortable, fast and the suspension is always rider-friendly no matter how screwed up the road is.”
Push the starter button and the Honda fires up and settles right into idle. Lift the kickstand and the Honda’s light weight is noticeable. In fact, its mass deficiency translates into scooter-like nimbleness during parking lot maneuvers. Yet as speed increases the Honda doesn’t lose a bit of its agility. It turns from side-to-side the easiest and is by far the most-easy bike to manhandle during aggressive rides.
Most times agility comes at the price of overall stability, but that’s not the case with the CBR. With its high-tech and completely unobtrusive Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD) headshake is a non-factor, no matter how rough the pavement.
Curvy roads, straight roads, dirt roads. Nothing can stop the Honda CBR1000RR from delivering a comfortable yet entertaining ride.
“It really comes down to the Suzuki and the Honda for me,” says Wallace. “The Suzuki does everything well, but the Honda just does it a tad bit better. I don’t know about it being the better track bike but on the street it really is the best.”
Although it is difficult to notice without riding each motorcycle back-to-back, next to the Ducati, the Honda has by far the shortest first gear of the bunch, thus ensuring a quick escape from stop lights. Shifting to second reveals the Honda transmission’s accuracy, although it isn’t quite as refined as the ultra-precise Yamaha’s.
Like the Kawasaki, the Honda’s bottom-end power is on the mellow side, which makes it less intimidating for an inexperienced rider. Although the Honda doesn’t make use of any fancy power delivery gizmos, like the Suzuki and Yamaha drive mode selectors, if you keep the revs below 6000 rpm and short shift the engine, it feels quite similar to the CBR1000RR’s little bro, the CBR600RR.
But don’t let the Honda’s soft bottom-end power fool you. Find a stretch of open road and wick up the throttle and if you are anywhere near the CBR’s copious mid-range, the bike charges forward unlike any other in this test – no doubt a combination of shorter final drive gearing and copious amount of mid-range power. Just look at the hard numbers: The CBR was the only motorcycle to break the coveted 10-second mark in the quarter mile, coming in at 9.68 seconds at a speed of 138.8 mph. It also recorded the fastest 60 to 100 mph roll-on time (measured in fourth gear) of 4.17 seconds. That’s nearly a half-second faster than its closest competitor.
While the Honda’s mid-range power proves to be more potent, when you spin the engine up to its 13,000 rpm redline, it doesn’t have the same vicious acceleration sensation as the top-end biased Kawasaki and Suzuki. It’s very close, however, and a side-effect of that shorter gearing which pays such huge dividends at the drag strip or the roll-on tests.
“It may not have the ultimate top end but it does have the ultimate mid-range and that’s where the power needs to be,” says Hutch. “On the street the CBR brings serious heat. It’s light, powerful and easy to ride. In terms of big performance sportbikes, it just doesn’t get much better than this.”
Of all the bikes in the comparison, in terms of overall comfort and ride quality the Honda is truly on another level. While there is still some vibration at freeway speeds it isn’t enough to cloud the view from the Honda’s decent-sized rear view mirrors. It’s also super quiet. While that might be a turn-off to a potential buyer, the Honda is the bike for high-performance in a low-key package. Just make sure not to get it in the ‘hey, look at me!’ Repsol colors. While plus sized riders might get annoyed by its lack of wind protection, especially when compared against the Suzuki, for the vast majority of riders there isn’t a liter-class sportbike as comfortable as the CBR.
While the Honda wears the smallest-looking front brake calipers, the CBR is just as proficient at braking as it is in every other category. While each superbike’s braking capabilities are awesome, the Honda’s are our favorite.
The 2009 Honda CBR1000RR’s instrument display is nearly perfect. All it needs now is a gear position indicator and a larger programmable shift light.
Adding to the CBR’s long list of street credentials is its clear and legible instruments. An oversized orange backlit tachometer is flanked by a digital display that provides, speed and trip functions in addition to engine coolant temperature and other warning lights. However, the Honda doesn’t have a gearshift position indicator and the shift light is way too small and can’t really be seen when needed.
The Honda’s top-shelf overall performance will cost you. Despite returning with zero updates the 2009 CBR1000RR will set you back $12,999. That’s $1000 more than last year and makes the Honda the most expensive Japanese superbike. The new ABS upcharge is another $1000, which pushes an ABS-equipped CBR1000RR to $13,999. But excellence certainly has its price and if you want the best, more often than not you have to fork out the most.