Honda’s CBR600F has been a top selling machine in its class since it first appeared way back in 1987. The same combination of speed, fluid handling, rider comfort and all round value-for-money continues to attract plenty of UK bikers.
But the CBR600F now competes in a crowded corner of the bike market. The Yamaha R6, re-vamped Suzuki GSXR600, Triumph TT600, Ducati 748 and the rev happy ZX6R Kawasaki all offer a mid-sized sporting alternative.
Insidebikes clocked up 1,000 miles on the 2001 CBR600F to find out if it still has the right stuff.
About five years ago I rode my first brand new CBR600F and was absolutely blown away by its sheer ability. I toured two-up on it, I rode like a fool around roundabouts, commuted 150 miles a day on the thing and actually considered getting my wallet out and buying one – it really was close to the perfect bike.
But that was 1996 and time (and the bike market) moves on. Now, the CBR600F is no longer the class leader. It is instead playing catch up to the devastatingly quick Yamaha R6, which is why Honda have a Sport option available, which looks the part but bafflingly, lacks the performance tweaks necessary to give the Yam a spanking on a trackday.
The `basic´ CBR600F is nevertheless a great bike and without doubt is much more practical for everyday use than the Sport variant, which has a single seat, no centrestand and a sexy red/black paint scheme as its main differences. I personally think the yellow paintwork on the standard version looks more `sportier’ but maybe that´s just me!
SPEED IS ALL RELATIVE
On paper, the Honda has got it all; 110bhp four cylinder engine, fuel injected and digitally ignited to clinical, 14,000rpm, mad scientist perfection. It really is a rocketship of a motor, as I discovered on the one dry day during a week of road testing. Doing a ton feels like cruising at 70mph, it is breathtakingly quick.
Then there´s the chassis. Lightweight aluminium twin spar frame, matched to a supple, yet surprisingly comfortable suspension package. The CBR600 still has that uncanny composure, that rider confidence-boosting feel, which is biking gold dust. Anyone can jump onto a CBR600 and start going fast, within about 45 seconds of firing the engine up – it just gets on with doing exactly what you want to do.
So you end up travelling much quicker than you thought on the Honda. Feeding in the power early from roundabouts and corners, letting the four cylinders rev out hard towards 10,000, mainly just to hear a little bit of noise from the frighteningly quiet exhaust.
Why frightening? Trouble is, a clinically dull, neighbourhood friendly, quiet exhaust note may be respectful to the environment, useful in not alerting local Plod to your riding style etc. But it´s another reason why people are not buying sportsbikes, in my opinion. Too many of them sound, and look, samey, boring, safe, even though they are in reality 160mph missiles that demand 100% attention from their riders.
Of course, an end can solve that problem for you fast enough, which would then probably make you all the keener to sample regular trackdays and really use 90% of the CBR600F´s stunning performance. Like most 600cc class bikes these days, the Honda is so incredibly quick it´s wasted on the public road and I soon found myself sliding the bike occasionally on the gravel, farmer´s mud, bad repairs and dozens of other typical public road hazards.
Thankfully, the CBR also has superb brakes to slow things down if you do get carried away sometimes. They aren´t quite as amazing as the R6 stoppers, but that´s no bad thing, especially if you´re an in-experienced rider. The Honda has a kind of balance, a poise, to its braking which is very user-friendly. It´s hard to fault the brakes on any modern bike nowadays, but perhaps the best compliment you can pay the CBR600, is that its front brakes simply do their job, faultlessly, every time.
As the week long test period was mainly notable for its wet weather, it just reinforced my feeling that the average 600 sportbike now has no real use as daily transport. A 600cc single cylinder trailbike, or a big scooter, is all you genuinely need in the appalling traffic conditions which make up typical commuting 80% of the time. But on Saturday, when the sun shone and a few local roads were refreshingly clear of traffic, the CBR600F was just incredibly exciting, a personal theme park ride. Luckily for Honda, weekend fun riding is why most of us buy a motorcycle and the CBR600 remains a simple `plug in and play´ kinda toy.
A MENTALIST YOU CAN LIVE WITH
I´ll own up straight away and say that if I was forced to buy a 600cc sportbike, the Yamaha R6 would be number one choice – no further debate. It has an edge, a raw animal character that scares and fascinates me every time I fire that silky motor.
But the Honda has other talents that are equally important and need to be weighed up, depending on how often and how far, your biking weekend is going to take you.
Let´s start with the saddle, which is brilliantly wide, flat and comfortable, plus it´s got adequate room for a passenger to travel about 50 miles before pain sets in. An afternoon’s long, solo ride of 260 miles, in pouring rain, proved how well designed the CBR600 is – I was soaked at the end of it, but not wracked with back/shoulder/buttock pain, which a 100 mile motorway stint on an R6, or Duke 748, would guarantee.
It isn´t just down to the saddle of course. The Honda´s handlebars feel just an inch or two higher, and wider, than the R6, GSXR600 or Ducati 748. Only the ZX6R, in my experience, feels like it has a similar sort of handlebar-to-seat stretch that fits my 5ft 9ins worth of knackered old bones. The CBR600 also seems to have a slightly higher screen than the R6, which again, just makes life that bit easier on longer trips.
Other good stuff includes the mirrors, which are rock steady and – just – give an acceptable view beyond your elbows, plus the Smart Water anti theft marking, plus the HISS security ignition key. Little things, but details that other 600s haven´t got.
Build quality overall looks good on the Honda, although the R6 matches it in my book, and even former suspect devices like the Ducati 748, are now generally 100% reliable given the sort of light usage that your typical middle aged leisure biker does in a year. Almost every detail looks well made, although I don´t like the new R6 style minimalist dashboard and it´s a bit sad that 80s style, indicators on stalks can still be found on a seven grand motorcycle, when they should be an integral part of the bodywork.
Petrol consumption, despite the fuel injection system, wasn´t anything to write home about, with about 40-45mpg being the norm if you gave it any stick at all. It´s faintly depressing that modern bikes seem incapable of returning better mpg than the GS1000 I owned back in 1980, but the Honda isn´t alone in this.
Another minor annoyance was the headlights, which were angled so high that dipped beam caused road rage from at least three motorists. Also, the reserve fuel indicator is a flashing series of black blocks, which don´t stand out that well on the grey digital dashboard. If manufacturers could all agree to use a yellow warning light of a similar shape, or icon, that would seem more sensible.
These niggles aside, the CBR600F is a hard act to beat for other manufacturers. The R6 is my fave because its single-minded purpose turns every journey into an adrenaline fuelled race. Ditto the Duke 748, GSXR600 and ZX6R – for me they all have more character, more soul, than the technically superior CBR600F. But that isn´t too healthy for my licence, so yes, the Honda would almost certainly give me an easier life, whilst blowing my socks off at a trackday.
Yet that isn´t enough. Common sense reasons are what I use to decide on my next car, computer or fridge. A sports motorcycle has to inspire me, offer a mind-warping way of escape from the daily grind, turn boring travel into a memorable adventure. The CBR600F can do that, some of the time, it´s just that its rivals do the same thing with a fraction more panache, more charisma and a deeper sensation of speed.
In the end, isn´t that what biking should be all about?
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda cbr600f.
Engine………Water-cooled, four cylinder, 16 valve, cc 599cc
Claimed power (bhp)………109bhp at 12,500rpm
Front tyre………120/70 x 17in
Rear tyre………180/55 x 17in
Front suspension………43mm telescopic forks, Rear suspension; Monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake………Twin four-piston Nissin calipers, 296mm discs
Rear brake………Twin pot Nissin caliper, 220mm disc
Top speed………160mph (est)
Fuel capacity………18 litres
Buying Info………£6,900 (otr)