Honda’s CBR600F used to be the ultimate do-it-all supersport bike. It was a true ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ machine that was as popular with racers as it was with riders looking for a solid all-rounder, or cash-strapped sportsbike fans who couldn’t afford a big-capacity bike such as a Honda FireBlade or Yamaha YZF-R1.
But in 2001 this started to change. Desperate to win the world supersport title and reacting to more extreme models coming from Suzuki and Yamaha, Honda launched a more track-focused CBR alongside the traditional F-model. Called the F-Sport, it featured slight engine tweaks to allow race teams to get the most from it and while it succeeded in its job, taking the 2002 WSS title, it also marked the end of the CBR’s relaxed attitude. In 2003 the CBR600RR arrived, with little or no thought for anything aside from track domination, and the CBR600F was discontinued soon afterwards. At which point Honda realised their mistake…
The CBR’s legions of fans made it clear that while track-focus was all very well and good, they wanted a relaxed sportsbike that would still handle the bends but wasn’t too extreme. In response Honda (eventually) launched the disappointing 2011 CBR600F, which was basically a Hornet with a fairing attached, which matured into the better CBR650F in 2014 and has now evolved again for 2019 into the CBR650R. And this time Honda have finally done those many CBR600F fans proud as it’s a bit of a cracker.
Starting with the look, well what can you say? Replicating the Fireblade with its new full fairing and twin LED lights, the CBR650R looks fabulous. In fact, it looks just like a Blade! And it doesn’t stop there, you now get inverted forks and radial brakes, giving the CBR far more street credibility, as well as an updated chassis, new wheels and even some electronics in the form of Honda’s HSTC traction control system. And the engine hasn’t been forgotten about either, featuring a new slipper/assist clutch, revised gearbox and even a bit more power (well, 5%) through new cam and valve timing. As you can probably tell, this is far more than a slight tweak to the good, but uninspiring, CBR650F and is in actual fact designed to put the CBR name back on the map. Something it most certainly achieves.
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On the road the CBR650R is an absolute joy and reminds you just how much fun supersport bike were before they became too cramped for many riders. The riding position, although made sportier this year through the clip-ons being moved 30mm further forward and 30mm lower than previously, is far from extreme and means you can ride all day in comfort. However find some bends and the fun really starts.
The older CBR650F was blessed with some impressive Showa suspension, but for 2019 the R gets inverted forks and a revised shock that sit within a slightly altered steel frame. On the road this set-up delivers a wonderfully agile yet balanced ride in the corners, feeling sporty but not overstepping the mark in a similar fashion to the old CBR600F, while the smooth inline four motor loves to sing when revved. You can most certainly wear leathers with sliders on this bike and if you are in any doubt, the Ron Haslam Race School will be replacing their CBR600RRs with the CBR650R this year, which is quite a vote of confidence. Add to this new four-piston radial brakes (with ABS) that grip with enough strength but don’t bite with too much ferocity, not to mention traction control working seamlessly in the background, and it all adds up to a machine that is ideal for sunny weekend rides. But what about dull wet commutes, which was always a CBR600F strength?
Away from the fun roads and the CBR650R continues to impress. The updated clutch is 12% lighter than before and requires only the slightest of touches to pull the lever in while the gears effortlessly snick home, making both perfect for town use, while the inline four has a surprising amount of torque. It’s not as grunty as a parallel twin such as Yamaha’s MT-07 or the Kawasaki Ninja 650, but it has enough smooth torque to mean gear changes aren’t required all the time while also keeping vibrations down to a minimum. There is actually very little to find fault with and aside from the new LCD dash being a touch dim, the CBR650R is bang on the money – which is £7729 or £99 a month on a PCP plan. But will it sell? Here is the surprising part…
Despite many people assuming the supersport class is all but dead aside to a few die-hard fans, the CBR650F actually sold very well for Honda UK last year. And by very well that means better than the Fireblade! On this basis you have to look at the facts – the CBR650R is way better looking than the CBR650F, better handling, better stopping, better equipped and has more power. Will it sell? Of course it will, it’s a CBR. Although CBR600F-purists will note it still lacks a centre stand…
Engine: 649cc liquid-cooled 16v DOHC inline four
Power: 92.6bhp @ 12,000rpm
Torque: 47.2lb.ft @ 8500rpm
Claimed economy: 56mpg