Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 5th July 2017

The spirit of the late, great CBR600F2 rekindled – at last!

They say ‘never go back’ and when it comes to engineering or, specifically, motorcycle design, that’s never been truer. After all, would anybody buy, say, a 1975 Honda CB250K5 today?

But when the machine a manufacturer is trying to recreate is as good as the brilliant, mid-1990s CBR600F2 and when the manufacturer concerned is no less than Honda, the maker which came up with the stupendous 1966 RC166 250/6, the oval-pistoned NR500 and the simply barking CX500 Turbo, we should take a second glance.

honda motorbikes

Which is exactly what Honda’s updated 2017 CBR650F is. Initially created, based on then 600 Hornet mechanicals, in 2011, then revised and grown into the CBR650F in 2014, the CBR-F is, as the name implies, Honda’s attempt to recreate a sporting middleweight four with all the brilliant all-rounder qualities of the original ‘90s F2.

Honda CBR650F

In truth, however, Honda, has never quite achieved it – until now. Back in the ‘90s, the F2 (as most of us know from direct experience it was so popular) was the definitive sporting all-rounder. Its 100bhp four combined with a decent box-section steel chassis, enough sporting ability, fabulous ergonomics and comfort and an accessible price to be both a true ‘bike for all reasons’ and the best selling machine of the decade before 600s became all hard-core sporty with the introduction of 1998’s Yamaha R6.

A little over a decade on, with extreme sports 600s such as Honda’s own CBR600RR quickly becoming irrelevant, Honda tried to reprise the appeal of the F. But while the first 2011 CBR600F failed to satisfy and the second, 2014 attempt, was ‘close, but still no cigar’. This time round Big H might have finally cracked it.

Honda CBR650F bike review

The newcomer is based on the same mechanicals and silhouette as the outgoing CBR-F but Honda has used the opportunity of the necessary refresh required to adhere to 2017’s Euro4 regulations to give it a significant makeover.

review of Honda CBR650F

So, engine-wise, for example, although based on the same, 649cc, 16v four, intake changes along with a new exhaust combine to increase not just power by a useful 4bhp but also peak torque slightly. The results, 90bhp at 11,000rpm and 47.2lb-ft @ 8000rpm, now more closely match those of the F2 (which also produced 90bhp and 47ft-lb) than ever before. Furthermore, this has all then been further enhanced by shortened gearbox ratios for cogs two through five to further improve acceleration.

Honda CBR650F motorcycle

The chassis has a few significant tweaks, too. First and most importantly the forks are new, 41mm, preload-adjustable, Showa ‘Dual Bending Valve’ types claimed to give a more progressive and refined ride. While, secondly, and just as importantly, its ergonomics have been made noticeably more ‘sporty’ as well with handlebars that are 90mm lower and 30mm narrower. The result, when you add all that little lot to a new, sharper fairing nose (now holding an LED headlight) along with racier, more youthful colourschemes, is a CBR650F that’s all-round significantly sportier and engaging.

Honda CBR650F dash

And from the saddle it delivers just that, as well. On board, the new CBR650F is just as easy, unintimidating and effortless as the old versions ever were – this is classic ‘first big bike’ territory – and with unchanged, slightly basic, LCD twin clocks (there’s still no gear indicator, sadly), the view remains a little basic and budget. But the riding experience quickly dispels any doubts. The new CBR is both a natural doddle to get on with, one that’s easy through town and completely comfortable when commuting. And then, when you start to wind up the wick, it gets better and better with an engine the revels in revs, a slightly sharper, more aggressive attitude that eggs you into corners, a competent, reassuring ride and sharp-enough steering and brakes. In short, this CBR-F far, far more of a hoot to scratch and slice through the turns than the old one ever was and yet with absolutely no trade-off in terms of comfort or practicality. Whether you’re looking for a budget sports tourer, day-to-day commuter or an unintimidating sports bike, the CBR650F offers something for pretty much every rider.

Honda CBR650F saddle

Admittedly it’s not ‘quite’ perfect – nothing ever is. The slightly basic clocks look a touch cheap; the new paintschemes are a little garish for my taste and, although it can be significantly improved with Honda accessories such as a pillion seat cover and hugger, it’s not as handsome, either, as the ‘90s original. But in every other respect – fun, versatility, value and quality – this CBR-F finally delivers exactly the same ‘bike for all reasons’ experience as the old.

Honda CBR650F side

Honda says its intention was to give added style, improved sports performance and better handling, all without compromising versatility and value. This it has certainly achieved. Maybe, after all, we should go back more often…

Specifications

ENGINE TYPE

Transverse four, DOHC, 16 valves, liquid cooled

DISPLACEMENT

649cc

BORE X STROKE

67x46mm

MAXIMUM POWER

90 hp (67 kW) @ 11,000 rpm

MAXIMUM TORQUE

64Nm @ 8000rpm

FRONT SUSPENSION

41mm Showa upside down fork

SEAT HEIGHT

810mm

KERB WEIGHT

211kg

FUEL TANK

17.3 litres