Engineering a motorcycle that excels in not just one—but all performance categories is no easy task. But that’s exactly what Honda has done with its 2011 Honda CBR1000RR. In its current iteration Honda’s liter-bike is a two-time Superbike Smackdown champion and one of the most well-developed sportbikes we’ve ever ridden.
The most impressive feature of the CBR is how each individual component works in unison to give motorcyclists a ridiculously fast and easy bike to pilot at the racetrack. At the heart is a liquid-cooled 999cc Inline-Four engine. Although it doesn’t boast the high-rpm hot rod tricks of the BMW or MotoGP-style engine firing order of the Yamaha, the Honda does offer the fattest mid-range power curve of the Inlines.
Although it’s considerably down on top-end horsepower as compared to BMW (30.29 hp to be exact—no, that isn’t a typo) the CBR actually pumps out more power than the Beemer up until around 9000 rpm. And whether you’re riding at the street or the racetrack that’s where you need it the most. Peruse the dyno chart and you can see that the Honda is cranking out superior levels of wheel twisting force from as low as 5500 rpm. It steadily builds enroute to its 77.79 lb-ft peak at 9700 revs. This places it mid-pack in terms of outright production. Its maximum horsepower output was also mid-pack with 153.08 hp arriving at 10,800 rpm, well shy of its 13,300 rpm redline. And that is the kink in the CBR’s otherwise impenetrable armor—insufficient top-end engine performance that peters off much earlier than the other bikes.
(Above) Mid-corner stability is one of four handling areas the Honda received a perfect score. (Below) Steve Rapp said riding the CBR1000RR required the least amount of effort.
“To me what really stood out about the Honda was its mid-range,” Rapp explains. “Right when you pick up the throttle it had so much power—more than any of the other bikes. Only problem is that it falls off too soon up top so I was basically short-shifting it everywhere.”
“Honda brought their A-game once again,” proclaims Earnest. “That bike was so dialed in – everything was perfect. Probably the best motor for that track layout too with killer mid-range – mid corner stability – and it was great on exits – everything was so good. I just wish it had more over-rev on top because it just falls short after the power tapers off.”
During acceleration off Turn 10, the CBR mustered 0.68g of acceleration force which put in behind all but the KTM and Yamaha. However, it achieved the second-highest top speed (134.5 mph) before entering Turn 11. For reference, its speed was only one or two mph higher than the rest of the Japanese but still a staggering five mph off the BMW.
The Honda also lost some speed during up-shifts since it doesn’t offer an electronic quick-shifter even as an option. Fortunately its gearbox performed flawlessly with no transmission problems encountered. Despite not offering any sort of advanced rider aids such as traction control or adjustable engine and/or throttle sensitivity maps, the CBR’s stock throttle and engine calibration settings are so good that you’ll never miss it. Plus the feedback from the rear suspension and the way in which the power is located in the rpm range makes it easy to slide the rear tire and “predict” how it will react when you dial-in the juice.
“I’m in love with the Honda’s powerband,” affirms Hutchison. “It is so easy to use and could be one of the most user-friendly liter-class engines ever made. Year after year it manages to be one of the best engines on the market. I can’t blame them for them not wanting to change it. Even though it doesn’t have the electronics package as some of the other bikes it honestly doesn’t need it.”
On our scales the Honda weighed in at 443 pounds—tying the Ducati’s 1198 as the second-lightest bike in this test. Around the track the CBR feels even lighter—even more so than the class-leading ZX-10R. Although it didn’t turn-in with the same urgency as the Kawasaki, it maneuvers in such a predicable way that it almost feels like an extension of your body. It’s like riding on rails. Just think about where to go and instantly the rider is there. Where with other bikes take a split-second for the suspension to compress, settle and rebound—the Honda reacts immediately. This fosters a very high level of confidence allowing the rider to lap quickly without actually having to put in much effort. Need more proof? Look at the scorecard. It received perfect marks in a total of four handling categories.
More evidence comes from of the hard numbers: The Honda tied the R1 for having the highest corner speed through Turn 13 (72.1 mph) with a maximum lean angle of 56.8 degrees (same as Ducati 1198). In Turn 16 it was more of the same, the Honda recording another best speed at the apex of the corner. While it trailed behind the Kawasaki through Turn 4 it was only by the slimmest of margins (0.5 mph) thus giving it maximum points in the Highest Average Corner Speed category. Through Turns 8/9/10 we measured the its flick rate at 54.4 degrees/second, which was behind the Kawasaki and Suzuki, but aside from the KTM riders claimed the Honda felt the most maneuverable side-to-side.
“If I had to describe the CBR1000RR in one word, ‘balanced’ would probably be it,” says Neuer. “The chassis feels so planted all the time regardless if you’re braking hard, hard on the gas, or dragging footpegs around corners. It makes you feel like a hero.”
As always the Honda drew praise for its accommodating ergonomics package that worked well for every test rider regardless of their size. Sure you can’t adjust the position of the footpegs like some of the other bikes, but it doesn’t matter because the stock set-up just plain works.
“The CBR is one of the motorcycles I feel would be perfect for trackday riders in particular,” says Hutchison. “It’s so easy to ride and it seems like it works great for a wide range of rider skills. For someone making the jump from a middleweight to open-class sportbike they would be smart to consider the CBR. Except for feeling down on top end it is damn near the complete package.”
“The thing that stands out about the Honda is its small size and utterly spot-on handling,” exclaims Atlas. “Simply speaking, so much as think about where you want the RR to be anywhere throughout the corner – entry, mid, exit – and it complies on a moments notice. Did you pick the wrong line? No problem, just make a minor adjustment and you are back on track, another shining point for the diminutive Honda. And speaking of size, my 5’6” frame fit perfectly on what is undoubtedly the smallest bike of the bunch bar none – think 600 with a 1000 motor.”
To our surprise braking performance didn’t feel quite as robust as it has in past years. No brake fade was encountered and there is plenty of stopping power available but the radial-mount Tokico calipers didn’t seem to be as communicative as before. This made it slightly more difficult to trust the brakes hence the lower -0.81 max braking force in Turn 1.
Despite being down on power compared to some of the bikes the Honda still netted the fastest outright Superpole lap time. It’s also worth nothing how easy it was to achieve that time with zero “moments” or any other such sketchy situations. While it had the fastest outright lap time along with perfect marks in a number of other categories, once adding up all the numbers it still trailed the BMW by just four points. If Honda could boost top-end engine performance there’s no doubt it would dethrone the BMW, but until that happens the CBR will continue to be known as the first runner-up.
2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Track
2011 Ducati 1198 Track Comparison
2011 KTM RC8R Track Comparison
2011 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Track Comparison
2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 Track Comparison
2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Track Comparison
2011 Honda CBR1000RR Track Comparison
2011 BMW S1000RR Track Comparison
2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Conclusion