Jett Tuning was in charge of the Honda’s modifications, owner John Ethel a current Erion Racing Honda crew chief with decades of tuning experience.
Totally redesigned in ’07 and last updated in ’09, for this year Honda’s massively-successful CBR600RR received only color scheme changes, much like the rest of the competition. But with a track record that includes countless shootout victories, the last being in ‘08, as well as a very close second in last year’s comparison, we expected the modified Honda to be a contender. And we were right.
The boys in red don’t take these shootouts lightly and we can always tell. For this they hired none other than John Ethel to do the tuning. Ethel has a resume that dates back decades, building bikes and being a crew chief for guys like Jake Zemke and others at the highest level. He stills works with Erion Racing at some events while running his own shop, Jett Tuning, out of Camarillo, California. With years of Honda and CBR600RR tuning under his belt, Honda figured no one would be better for the job.
Ethel started off by adding a full Erion Racing Arata titanium exhaust system, including titanium end can, while the fueling duties would be handled by a Honda kit ECU and Power Commander 5 set-up & dialed-in on the Jett Tuning dyno.
Vortex 520 sprockets and a D.I.D. Gold Chain took care of the final-drive gearing. Due to the layout of the Honda’s shock and Unit Pro-Link rear-end no spacers were able to be used, or needed for that matter. Removal of the mirrors for track duty completed the Stage 1 mods.
The updated Honda 600 spun the dyno at 111.19 hp and 45.38 lb-ft of torque. This ranked it third in modified form both in terms of horsepower and torque. As for its stock numbers, last year the Honda was last with 98.06 hp and second from the bottom with 42.35 lb-ft of torque. That solid gain of more than 13 ponies was enough to bump it up a spot and was the biggest gain in the group. The CBR’s hp now edges out the Yamaha, which makes 110.63 hp, a bike that it trailed in stock form. It also remains ahead of the Yamaha in torque output, though only slightly now – 45.39 lb-ft vs. 45.24 lb-ft, respectively. This shows the Yamaha gained more torque than the Honda, since in stock trim the difference is almost two lb-ft.
Jett Tuning was able to muster 111.19 hp and 45.38 lb-ft of torque form the Honda. This was the biggest gain of any bike in the test compared to stock, the CBR getting 13 additional ponies form the Erion exhaust and HRC/Power Commander combination.
The stock ’09 CBR rolled across our scales at 403 lbs full of fuel, making it without question the lightest 600 of the bunch. Ditching the stock exhaust and the gearing for lighter parts only aided in its featherweight status, dropping 24 lbs to bring the wet weight down to 379 lbs, one of two bikes under 400 lbs in a ready-to-ride state and the lightest bike of the test.
Once out on the track the increased power-to-weight ratio became very apparent. Like the Suzuki the Honda is extremely smooth throughout the rev-range (just look at that graph), without inconsistencies anywhere in the power curve. Yet the CBR did feel faster seat-of-the-pants compared to the GSX-R. It’s also very consistent from top to bottom, allowing the rider to be liberal in choosing where in the rev-range he wants to ride. Of course like any 600 it prefers to be up top screaming like a banshee, but compared to a bike like the Yamaha that demands it, the Honda is far more flexible.
“The Honda engine is one of most linear bikes of the bunch, smooth and responsive all the way through the power curve, no steps or bumps,” Sorensen explains. “It doesn’t feel like the most powerful against the other bikes, but I would imagine it will be right in there with the other bikes on the dyno. Also in the upper part of the rev range (12K – 16K) it has a very useable power that doesn’t sign off towards redline.”
Neuer was comfortable on the Honda right away. “The CBR was really easy to ride hard, no real dead spots in the power delivery,” he says. “It pulls strong all the way through and does so in a way that makes it very easy to exploit. Very well-tuned motorcycle.”
Honda did its homework when it came to gearing and was nearly dialed in straight off the truck. One small change was made at Big Willow, adding a tooth to the rear sprocket, after which it next to perfect. The CBR ended up with a 15-43 at the big track and a 15-46 at streets, both helped make the Honda easy to get along with.
Adds Sorensen about the gearing: “As usual Honda showed up and the gearing was nearly spot-on. I think they added maybe one tooth at Big Willow and did nothing to it at Streets and it was about as close to perfect as you can get, much like the Kawasaki was.”
Mid-corner stability and easy-to-use power are what make the Honda such a formidable competitor. This was reflected in the lap times, the Honda at or near the front on both tracks
If I had a quarter for every time Honda showed up to a shootout with a chassis that was well sorted, well, I’d have a heavy pocket full of quarters. So, it was no surprised that the CBR hit the track solid, planted and ready to be pushed hard with few changes. That’s not to say the chassis is perfect, as it trails behind in terms of flickability, but there is no question that Honda got the absolute most from this bike.
It’s shining point? The CBR’s mid-corner stability is without reproach. Push the Honda hard through the center of any turn and it continually asks for more, a step above the rest. A good deal of this comes down to the stock rear shock, which, while not perfect, is one of the best of the group. This is also without the addition of any of the spacers or shims that some of the competition used as the stock Honda rear end doesn’t allow for it.
“The Honda has the best mid-corner stability of all the bikes,” continues Sorensen. “It’s a very taught and solid feel when planted into the corner; very responsive and confidence inspiring. The Honda shock worked very well and was one of the best. It was set up firm with very little squat under hard acceleration and seemed to soak up bumps when hard on the gas with very little fade during long runs.”
This combination of mods added up to a bike capable of some seriously quick lap times. Second-fastest to the high-horsepower Kawasaki at the big track, the CBR flashed across the stripe with a best of 1:27.75 in Superpole, just under four tenths back. At Streets the role was reversed, the Honda outpacing the Kawasaki by virtue of 1:19.27 to 1:19.56 for top spot. Averaging the two the Kawasaki takes the overall honors, though by less than a tenth of a second. Also consider this: Both bikes rated nearly equal in chassis and had the best gearing for each track, but in modified form the Honda makes almost seven horsepower less than the Kawasaki, though tips the scale 20 lbs lighter, showing that weight can be just as important as power.
Compared to times from the original Supersport Shootout in stock trim, where it was at the back of the pack with a 1:21.97, the 600RR took the biggest step forward of any machine here, shaving off a whopping 2.7 seconds around Streets of Willow. That’s a serious gain in time, displaying just how important proper gearing and a better power-to-weight ratio can be.