2009 Honda CBR1000RR Comparison Track

Steve Atlas | May 18, 2009
2009 Honda CBR1000RR Smackdown Track Test
Honda CBR1000RR
MSRP: $12,999
Curb Weight: 447 lbs.
Horsepower: 149.64 @ 10,700 rpm
Torque: 76.62 lb-ft @ 9600 rpm
Quarter Mile: 9.68 @ 138.8 mph
Outright Top Speed: 183 mph
Racetrack Top Speed: 155.59 mph
Superpole Best Time: 1:56.09
Overall Ranking: Champion

Thy champion returnith. Like an undefeated gladiator walking into the Roman Coliseum to fight his next battle, the Honda CBR1000RR enters this shootout with the target square on it. But like the bred-to-kill gladiator, so too is the Honda. They’re not here to make friends. They’re here to win. Honda has always spent a great deal of time and effort getting its press bikes well set up and performing their best, this year being no different. And like a familiar face, it was reassuring to get back on a bike which you knew would instantly boost your confidence.

Right out of the truck everyone was extremely comfortable on the Honda. Last year at the more tight and technical Pahrump it dominated, but this was almost to be expected as the CBR is unquestionably the smallest and most agile of the group. Literally feeling like a 600 when you first swing a leg over, none of the other bikes comes close to the compactness of the RR. But this was a new day and a new track and a new set of challengers. Thunderhill is much longer and faster than Pahrump, so keeping up with the monster motors of the Kawasaki and all-new Suzuki was going to be no easy task. Standing the test of time, at least in this group, looked nearly impossible.

That is, until we rode them all. It’s hard to believe that the Honda would once again shine so brightly, but that wasn’t to say it didn’t have a serious fight on its hands in the form of the new GSX-R1000 K9. Suzuki’s latest and greatest liter-class beast brought serious heat: But it wasn’t quite enough.

2009 Honda CBR1000RR Smackdown Track Test
2009 Honda CBR1000RR

With the rest of the bikes in this group, it’s typically the engine that first catches your attention. In the Honda’s case, it’s the aforementioned diminutive size and extremely nimble chassis. And while Thunderhill is fast, it’s also very technical and puts great emphasis on the ability to quickly change direction as well as a premium on how well a motorcycle handles. With the Honda it feels as if by the time your brain thinks about changing direction you’re already there, requiring only the slightest tug on the bars. It’s by far the easiest to ride aggressively.

“The Honda’s ability to turn-in quickly was one of the most neutral of all the

2009 Honda CBR1000RR Smackdown Track Test
That’s one nice rear end. No, we’re talking about the bike you weirdo.

bikes,” Sorensen said. “It took very little effort to flick the bike in, but it wasn’t twichy at all and gave excellent feedback from the front as you turn the bike from left to right.”

“Once again the CBR1000RR seems to feature the most well-sorted suspension package of the test,” Hutchison adds. “It required the least adjustments according to our test riders to dial it in and was the most confidence inspiring bike of the test for me personally. I could push harder for longer sessions than I could on any other bike. That’s because I wasn’t thinking about anything but riding when I was on the Honda. It isolates the rider from the track and lets you focus on the task of putting corners together and having fun while doing it.”

2009 Honda CBR1000RR Smackdown Track Test
It was hard to separate Waheed from the Honda.

Taking a look at the data you can see several interesting things. In Turn 2, while the lean angle may not be the highest, it’s one of the fastest to complete the corner as well as holding one of the highest speeds at max lean. The same thing can be seen in Turn 14 where it is the quickest of all the bikes to get though the corner, though max lean is right in the middle of the field. This shows that not as much lean is required from the Honda to still maintain the same speed or better than most of the competition. It’s also interesting to point out that it has some of the lowest max lateral grip numbers, showing that on this flying lap I was sliding the Honda to a certain degree in both turns more than the others. It’s the Honda’s solid set-up and very communicative chassis that allowed this to be possible without crashing. And equally as important as handling to achieve this was the connection my right wrist had with the rear wheel, another area the Honda shines.

See and hear the comparison-winning CBR in action in the 2009 Honda CBR1000RR Video.

Power delivery is crisp and spot-on, never intimidating the rider, only asking him or her to push harder, open the throttle sooner and go faster. It’s not as intimidating as the Kawasaki or as strong up top as the Suzuki, but where the Honda makes up time is coming off the corner. Due to its much more real-world gearing and torquey engine, acceleration in the low- to mid-range on the Honda is the best of the Inline-Fours no question and surpassed only by the thumping Twin-powered Ducati.

2009 Honda CBR1000RR Smackdown Track Test
AFM fast guy Michael Earnest was instantly at home on the Honda and hauling the mail right out of the gate.

“The Honda motor is probably one of the most deceiving in its power delivery,” Sorensen remarks. “The band in which it lays down the power is seamless; there are no steps, gaps, or hiccups as you twist the throttle. It’s deceivingly fast. That being said, in the upper gears this bike doesn’t have that “warp drive” feeling the Suzuki and Kawasaki have.” 

Says Hutchy: “This may not be the most powerful bike of the bunch, but you would never know it by the way it performs. It provides a level of connection with the rider that is difficult to achieve, giving it an advantage over a lot of these bikes.”

A quick look at the dyno numbers supports this, with the Honda spinning the rear wheel drum to the tune of 76.62 lb-ft of torque, nearly two lb-ft higher than the next Inline. As for power, though, it could only muster 149.64 hp, which is well down the field. But a closer look at the graph reveals that from 6000 rpm to 10,000 rpm it’s actually the strongest of the Inline-Fours, which is typically where the bike is ridden around the racetrack, though tapers off from there where as the Suzuki and Kawasaki keep on pulling. As far as top speed on the front straight, its lack of peak bhp didn’t cause it to suffer too badly, ticking the beacon at 155.59 mph, putting it right in the middle of the field. But what goes up must come down, or in this case, what speeds up must slow down. And, again, Honda has one impressive set of stoppers.

Click past the beacon at 155 mph, sit up and grab the front lever. Awesome initial bite greets the rider, decelerating the bike with haste but not causing the chassis to get out of shape. With a great leverage ratio and progressive action, not to mention massive amounts of continued power, the Honda slows as quickly and precisely as the rider asks – no more and no less. Are they the best of the group? No doubt it’s between the Honda, Kawasaki and the Ducati, with voting nearly split between the three. Though, a quick glance at the data chart shows the Honda to generate the highest braking G-forces by a healthy margin going into Turn 14. There’s no question that they are a precision instrument, which is what the Honda CBR1000RR is all about.

2009 Honda CBR1000RR Smackdown Track Test
Hutchy heads out for some fast laps on the Honda CBR1000RR. He says the Repsol graphics helped him drop 2 seconds per lap. We don’t believe him…

“For me the Honda has the best brakes, for sure,” Waheed interjects. “But the Kawasaki, those are right there as well. It’s hard to say, but there no question these two bikes stood atop the competition by a healthy margin in terms of braking.”

“The brakes are superb,” exclaims Kenny. “I have a tough time saying exactly what it was but they have a level of feel at the lever that I didn’t seem to find from the other bikes. It allowed me to brake with much more confidence than other machines.”

Equally as precise and equally as ‘Honda’ is the transmission and slipper clutch. Like the Suzuki, one never thinks of the transmission on the CBR as it never does anything wrong. There’s no worrying about hitting a false neutral going into a fast corner or missing a full-throttle up-shift – it just plain works. Same goes for the slipper clutch, which almost perfectly blends the amount of slip with the amount of back torque, getting the rider into the corner smoothly while still relaying back a feeling of being planted to the ground.

“It’s a Honda and it worked like a Honda should – flawlessly,” Sorensen said in his final words about the CBR. “But the question for this test is: How does it get around the racetrack? When I look at the lap times it’s hard to pick anything else. Riding the bike, it never does anything stupid, it works very well. It may not be as exciting to ride as some of the other bikes, but it is a tool on which to go fast, and that’s exactly what it does best: lap the track fast.”

2009 Honda CBR1000RR Smackdown Track Test
Once again the battle for top spot was close. In fact, the closest we’ve ever seen.

Yes, this is exactly what the Honda does – lap the track very fast. It topped our Superpole session with a lightning-fast 1:56.09, as well as having the best average lap time (1:56.88) of the bunch. And it did so very easily. Maybe even too easily? It’s for this reason that when it came time to tally the numbers it was, in fact, second to the GSX-R1000 on the subjective half of the test, which won us over with its wildly entertaining engine. But when the objective performance numbers came though there was no question who the winner was. It may lack some of the personality of the Suzuki, but there’s no question which is the best bike of the bunch.

They say defending any title is always harder than getting the first (just ask Chad Reed), but Honda’s CBR1000RR took everything thrown it’s way with ease and extreme precision, proving that so far it’s one of the few Superbikes to stand the test of time. Once again, say hello to the MotoUSA Superbike Smackdown Champion, the 2009 Honda CBR1000RR.

Steve Atlas

Contributing Editor |Articles | Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.