Honda’s CBR600 is one of its most successful models ever. Since 1987 over 350,000 of the sporting middleweights have been sold, and it’s easy to see why. It’s fast, comfortable, reliable and you can take a pillion passenger who isn’t a double-jointed gibbon with ease.
But can Honda redefine their mid-range Everyman sportbike, making it leaner and meaner? Chris Moss has the answers.
Honda´s CBR600 is a modern masterpiece. It’s almost perfect combination of sporting performance delivered in an easy to use manner, allied to plenty of comfort and reliability, make this a package that few can ignore.
But there have been some more hardened scratchers who´ve rejected the CBR´s qualities, considering its refinement and civility a bit too excessive. For them, either the more focused GSX-R, ZX6-R or R6 were much better choices.
Honda tried to lure some of these purists into the CBR camp in 2001 with the introduction of the Sport model to run alongside its more sensible F version. But the Sport just didn´t differ enough, and Honda´s plan had to be considered a bit of a missed opportunity.
However, for 2003 things will be very different, and there´ll be an all-new and very sexy RR version of the CBR in the showrooms alongside the F model.
It´s a very stylish bike with performance to match, and anyone who doesn´t consider the RR as one of the best lookers on the market needs their eyes testing.
Its seductive style shouldn´t be too much of a surprise really, as it been inspired by Honda´s Grand Prix winner, the RC211V. A bike with which, Italian genius Valentino Rossi demolished the opposition in 2002…well, until some of the others got hold of a V5 as well.
Now though Honda is clearly trying to win over a few of those more macho types who´ve strayed to the more sporty options in years gone by, the launch of the new bike at Estoril GP track in Portugal proved that traditional CBR fans have also been considered carefully too.
Because not only has the new RR model got everything it needs to race alongside its rivals, but it also has virtually all the best features that CBRs have become so famous for as well. It´s an amazing package, and effectively makes this CBR even more versatile than any others. Arguably, this is also one of the very best Hondas ever built too.
Ironically it was poor weather at Estoril that underlined the continued civility of the new version. Too slippery to ride hard on, the dodgy track conditions dictated a slower pace and helped emphasise just how easy to ride and forgiving the RR can be.
Its balance and poise proved to be exceptional. And the combination of lightweight and stable handling, user-friendly brakes and suspension, and a truly brilliant engine, made riding in treacherous conditions a much easier and happier affair than it would have been on many other sportsbikes.
The four-cylinder motor, which features a twin-injector arrangement to fuel it, has impeccable manners. The delivery of its power, which peaks at a heady 115bhp, is extremely linear, smooth and glitch-free. And the spread of power and torque is so wide you´d think you were riding a bike with a bigger motor.
The gearbox may be one of the lightest and slickest ever fitted to a Honda, but there´s not much call to use it often because the engine´s so damned flexible.
It´s an absolute gem to use whatever the situation.
When the weather improved, its more exciting side could be sampled fully. And when it´s revved it´s just as impressive as it is when it´s laboured. So smooth and linear is the motor´s delivery, that it´s impossible to tell when the real meaty stuff kicks in. It´s simply a case of the more it´s spun, the more power it gives. And that´s true virtually all the way up to its heady redline of 15,000rpm.
The engine is my favourite part of the bike, but the behaviour of the chassis isn´t far behind, for, like the engine, it´s so easy to utilise.
The mass-centralisation policy of Honda´s design engineers has made the new CBR a very small bike, which feels much lighter and more compact than the Sport model.
Some testers moaned that it was a bit too cramped to allow them to tuck right in down the straights, but anyone under six foot should be able to cope. At just five foot seven, I felt the bike was good enough to ride all the way back to the UK without any problems.
Back at the track the CBR dealt with everything that was thrown at it, and that´s impressive given Estoril´s variety of corners.
It didn´t seem to matter whether you were howling down from high speed, using the Honda´s highly effective brakes, and then flicking it onto its side in a jiff, then back again, to negotiate the tight uphill chicane. The result was always the same very stable and dependable service.
There are probably a lot of reasons for this commendable control, but I´d choose the suspension as one of the most influential contributors. It has a plush action in its initial part of its travel, and then as it´s compressed further it firms up very nicely to keep the bike in check superbly. At the same time, it gives the rider all the important messages you need through the bars and seat to decide when you´ve reached the bike´s limits.
There won´t be many who get to that stage, given the capability of the Honda´s handling. But it´s nice to know the feel and feedback are good enough to let you know the instant you do.
I couldn´t honestly say whether the unique rear suspension arrangement (which does not attach the shock to the frame in the normal position behind the tank linking it instead to a cross member behind the engine via two tie-rods) has an influence on the superb feel. Maybe it´s just a marketing exercise in an attempt to make the Hondas seem more advanced.
Whatever, the set up works very well indeed.
As do the Nissin brakes, which hauled the bike down repeatedly from high speed very impressively and in total control every time. Much like the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, which faced similar levels of rigorous punishment without a hint of complaint.
You might think I´ve taken a bung from Honda because of the high praise I´ve heaped on the new CBR, but the thing it so damned good it´s almost impossible to criticise it.
OK, you could moan a bit about the lack of storage under the seat (filled almost completely by the exhaust silencer), and pillions might groan after a while about lack of comfort. But if that´s all you got to whinge about, then you´d have to admit the RR is a pretty special bike.
And don´t forget if those two items are important to you, you can always consider the more sensible F version.
Though after looking at that bike, which was also at Estoril I can´t help thinking it´s been relegated to very much also-ran status. Compared to the RR it looks very dated like something your Dad would buy.
Whether the RR is better than the new R6, and ZX-6R will remain a mystery until they´re all tested side by side. But those others will have to be pretty special to compete with the new CBR.
It´ll be in the shops in March 2003, and should cost around £7000.
There´ll some extras available at the same time, which include a small U-lock, seat cowl, bike cover, and paddock stand. There´s also an optional race kitted CBR600RR, featuring cams, valves and springs, gaskets, race generator and loom, revised air filter and fuel-injection parts, a close-ratio gearbox, race radiator, and an Arrow exhaust system.
Honda is claiming that peak power will be 13% stronger than the road bike. The racebike version has chassis kit parts, including; Showa fork internals and a piggy-back shock, brake lines and pads, chain and sprocket kits, and rear set footrest assemblies.
All parts are available separately, though the complete kit will cost just over £7000.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda cbr600rr 2003.
Engine……….Liquid cooled in-line four, 16 valve, four stroke
Power ……….115bhp @ 13000rpm
Frame……….Alloy twin spar
Front suspension……….45mm HMAS telescopic forks, adjustable pre-load, compression and rebound damping
Steering head angle……….260
Rear suspension……….Unit Pro-Link monoshock, adjustable pre-load, compression and rebound damping
Front brakes……….Twin 310mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake……….Single 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Top speed (est)……….170mph
Fuel capacity……….18 litres