After a short recess the Superbike arms race is back in session and Honda hopes to be standing atop the smoldering pile of worn-out rubber in Motorcycle-USA’s forthcoming Superbike Smackdown shootout with its updated ’12-spec CBR1000RR ($13,800 base / $14,800 C-ABS MSRP). The changes include fresh suspension, more aerodynamic bodywork, wheels, instrumentation and engine mapping aimed at making it even less demanding to ride on the road and track. For technical details read the 2012 Honda CBR1000RR First Look feature as this evaluation focuses on our riding impression.
The beauty of the CBR1000RR platform is the synergistic relationship between each individual component. From its Inline-Four engine and six-speed, slipper clutch-equipped gearbox to the geometry of the frame/swingarm, suspension and brakes —it all functions in harmony allowing the rider to operate the motorcycle at a level they might not be as capable of if they were on any other liter-bike, even with the benefit of rider aids like traction control.
Tuck in behind the windscreen and it’s readily apparent how svelte and maneuverable it is at all speeds. Despite gaining two pounds over its predecessor (441 pounds, fully fueled, ready to ride) it’s impossible to feel the difference. The cockpit layout is unchanged and continues to offer class-leading levels of both control and comfort even without the benefit of adjustment for this six-foot tall rider. Honda claims the new bodywork creates more down-force in corners and develops a calmer pocket of air behind the windshield but we couldn’t notice a significant difference. Still, we’re fans of the CBR’s new look—especially the 12-spoke wheels.
(Above) Honda’s new layered fairing contributes to better engine cooling and aerodynamic efficiency at speed. (Center) The ’12 CBR1000RR’s all-digital display not only looks cool, it’s easy to toy with and read. (Below) A spoiler in the chin of the front fairing creates more down force.
We’ve always been captivated with the historically smooth yet punchy demeanor of the CBR franchise’s Inline-Four engine. The motor works equally well on the street and tighter stop-and-go type circuits like northern California’s Infineon Raceway. The latest iteration magnifies this trait by delivering enhanced powerband linearity at low-to-mid RPMs. This makes it even less intimidating for any level superbike rider at initial throttle inputs or when riding on wet pavement as the back tire has less propensity to spin (more on that later).
Stay in the throttle and you’ll be greeted by a fat, far-reaching wave of engine torque from 6000 to 10,000 revs that propels the CBR off corners with comparable authority of a big V-Twin, only without that classic Twin shake and rattle. Well-timed upshifts are a necessity as the top-end power tapers-off shy of its 13,300 redline. On the street this isn’t a problem though for closed course racing it’s important to note that this motor has been approximately 20% less powerful, in terms of peak horsepower, compared to the class-leading BMW S1000RR (see results of the 2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Track for more info). With right around 150 horsepower available at the rear tire, the CBR cannot be considered “slow” but it sure could use a boost of top-end power.
Even though Honda’s flagship sportbike has yet to offer any form of throttle sensitivity or engine power modes, since the powerband and engine fueling are so perfectly calibrated most riders will never miss it. Traction and wheelie control is also absent but again since this bike is so easy to control we don’t consider it a deal breaker.
A slick-looking and easy to read all-digital instrument display, reminiscent to the Digitek model used on Ducati’s sportbikes, keeps the rider clued in to what’s happening. A horizontal bar-graph style tachometer and bright five-level shift light sits atop the dash. In the lower left corner a gear position indicator is flanked by engine coolant temperature and the speedo. Below are various indicators and malfunction warning lights. The display also has the ability to log lap times and provide fuel mileage data too.
Without question the most noticeable (and important) improvement is the
(From full stiff)
suspension—most specifically, the shock. Born from road racing, Big Red and technical partner, Showa, have engineered a design that all-but eliminates that tiny, almost miniscule-feeling “dead zone” between compression (downward) and rebound (upward/return) strokes. To do this, the damping piston inside the shock body now slides within a cylinder. The piston is devoid of valves and fluid is now pushed through ports. This allows damping force to be constant thereby eliminating the flat spot and enhancing rear wheel traction on and off throttle. You wouldn’t think a subtle change such as this would net such a significant handling improvement but it does. Heck, we always thought that flat spot in the shock was normal and just “how it is”. But the difference it makes on the racetrack is night and day.
(Left) At 441 pounds with a full 4.7-gallon tank of fuel, the CBR is one of the lightest 1000cc bikes available. (Center) New bodywork is supposed to provide a calmer air pocket for the rider behind the windscreen. We didn’t feel a difference.
It becomes clear the moment you load the rear tire aggressively with the twist grip. Where you would normally feel that split-second feeling of nothing-ness, when the shock is transitioning between compression and return movement—which is an opportunity for the tire to spin—it now feels like the tire is glued to the pavement—always. It was actually difficult to break the rear tire loose on the ’12 bike when ridden back-to-back with the ’11 machine (Honda brought out ’11 models just to demonstrate this exact point). On the street the upgrade was less noticeable, still we’re keen on the bump absorption characteristics and can say that the CBR is one of the most supple, yet sporty Superbikes on the street.
(Above) Rear tire traction is a big improvement over the 2008-2011 machine. (Center) Mid-range power—the CBR has plenty of it which is a big plus for the street and smaller, point-and-shoot racetracks like Infineon. (Below) Due to track conditions, it was hard to get an accurate read on the CBR’s new Showa big piston fork, however we did observe that it reduced chassis pitch during hard braking which equates to enhanced stability during corner entry.
While the rear was as good as advertised, it proved to be more difficult to get a good read on the new big-piston style fork. Due to an overnight shower, the racetrack was green so we never really had the confidence to enter corners with the same level of gusto as we would on a warm, sunny day. Still under hard braking, the front end wouldn’t pitch as much, which ultimately leads to superior chassis balance when you tip the bike into a turn.
Speaking of the brakes, the CBR’s optional electronic ABS system received some tweaks in the form of revised braking bias. The back brake continues to be linked to the front, but when it’s actuated it delivers less forward pressure. We rarely ever use the foot brake (except for manual wheelie control) so we couldn’t tell the difference. One thing we did notice is that the position of the front brake lever had to be adjusted further toward the handlebar as compared to the old bike, which could be attributed to a change in pad material. As always the brakes function well delivering a high-level of feel and outright stopping power. Sadly the C-ABS feature is “always on” and doesn’t offer the ability for manual de-activation.
It isn’t much of a surprise that Honda’s CBR1000RR continues to be one of the easiest, most manageable liter bikes we’ve ever ridden. Although it lacks some of the high-end electronics of the competition it presents such an astounding level of poise that it can actually getaway without these gizmos. And with its updated suspension and smoother low-speed road manners it should have something for the competition come shootout time this spring.