By Tom Montano
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix. It’s a saying you often hear when someone is trying to make something better and it all goes horribly wrong. In the highly competitive world of open-class sportbikes, this could mean the introduction of costly redesigns and useless new parts that make things more complicated and ultimately have an outcome of very little improvement. It appears the men at Honda had this in mind when they decided to leave good enough alone with its 2012 CBR1000RR.
Why completely change what already works when a few subtle upgrades will do the job just fine?
Honda has opted to build on the same basic platform that has taken Johnny Rea and his Ten Kate CBR1000RR to several victories in the World Superbike Championship. The same bike that Karl Muggeridge also achieved success on by claiming the 2011 German Superbike Championship aboard an ABS-equipped CBR.
So without engaging in any kind of great overhaul or redesign of the current CBR, Honda has come up with some exceptional upgrades that they believe will keep them at the top of the heap in the open sportbike class.
Unlike many of its rivals, Honda decided to forgo the ever-popular electronic riding aides and stick to the basics. Thus, traction control, engine mapping and power-mode controls are all absent from the new CBR, but that doesn’t mean you will be left behind. Instead what you will find is what Honda calls “a perfect balance of power and handling designed to work together as a complete package.”
Back in 1992 when Honda introduced the original CBR900RR, the main goal was to build a bike that worked great everywhere. Whether on the track or in town, Honda wanted the rider to feel at ease with the bike while having the confidence to take full advantage of the available performance at hand. The new model marks the 20th anniversary of the CBR1000 and the rationale behind the original CBR900RR still rings true today. With some of the same engineers heading up development, the new 2012 CBR1000RR project should be a step forward in the continuing success of the CBR family. Or is it?
The previous CBR1000RR was a good bike and it had reasonable success at the racetrack. But the street market is where it really counts. After all, if the bikes don’t sell there won’t be any racing.
Over the years Honda has managed for the most part to design motorcycles that perform well at the racetrack while still retaining the elements crucial to being a great streetbike – things like comfort and ridability. It’s been a few years since the CBR1000RR has been updated and without fitting electronics what could they do to sweeten the prize?
First off, Honda engineers decided to enhance the handling characteristics of the CBR by fitting a new Showa 43mm Big Piston Fork (BPF) up front. The new BPF fork offers a larger damping volume that will reduce the hydraulic pressure generated as the fork legs compress and extend. The increased surface area of the larger piston helps control oil flow through the cartridge, allowing for a better damping effect. This in effect translates to increased feel and stability under heavy braking and corner entry, and the superior bump compliance of the new Big Piston Fork is also a welcomed attribute.
At the rear of the bike, Honda still incorporates its Unit Pro- Link suspension, but with a new Showa Balance-Free shock. This patented new design sports a unique double-tube damper case, plus an internal cylinder for added damping response. It’s much like an Ohlins TTX racing shock except it comes as standard kit on the 2012 CBR1000RR.
Both front and rear suspension components are equipped with external compression and rebound adjustments, and pre-load may also be adjusted on both units to suit your riding needs.
New 12-spoke cast aluminum wheels also play an important part in the handling of the bike. The theory is that the added rigidity of the 12-spoke design – combined with the new suspension - allows the rider to better translate what is going on underneath him/her.
Another notable update is the new layered-fairing design that increases cooling, reduces drag and creates a nice pocket of calm air around the rider for improved comfort. The new fairing also sports an integrated chin spoiler in the nose for reduced aerodynamic lift to further enhance the handling.
Okay let’s put the new updates to the test. The press launch for the new CBR1000RR was held at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California - a great track for testing motorcycles. What isn’t so great is the fact that the weather in mid December in Northern California can be a bit dodgy. And dodgy it was. I awoke to morning fog and heavy mist and by the time we got to the track it hadn’t lifted, which prevented us from riding. Eventually we made it out, but the weather didn’t make it very productive or much fun.
But one thing I could test in the iffy conditions was the revised fuel injection mapping with better throttle performance. Infineon Raceway is sketchy when it is wet so the smoother you are on the throttle, the better off you are. I quickly found the new fuel injection settings to be spot on. There was plenty of power when you wanted it and it came on smoothly and in a linear fashion.
The fact that Honda had brought some 2011 CBR1000RRs to compare the new one with was insightful on their part because you could really feel the difference between the two bikes. The new CBR was definitely smoother, yet more responsive.
As the sun started to break through and the track warmed, the fun started. While we found the new bike to be smoother and easier to ride in less than ideal conditions, just how would it handle the abuses of a proper trackday thrashing?
When the conditions were less than ideal, the 2012 model soaked up the bumps and felt at ease with the conditions at hand, but I thought the suspension might be a bit too soft to be so composed at less than full tilt. I quickly discovered that the new suspension has a wide range of operating parameters. As the speed increased so did the ability of the new Showa fork and rear shock to handle a plethora of situations. Infineon has a lot of elevation changes, turns, and not much in the way of straights to rest - so you’re working all the time. Thus you want a bike that’s easy to ride and won’t wear you out.
The new Balance-Free rear shock is a big improvement over the 2011 model. The new CBR1000RR soaked up the bumps and kept its composure when you nailed it out of the corners. The way the rear wheel tracked over the bumps was great and when you came off the corners on the gas it was like you were being pushed forward with plenty of usable traction – just like a proper race bike.
One note of interest was the throttle response when transitioning from off the gas to back on while exiting the corners. The fact that it is so smooth really helps keep the bike from lurching back and forth, taking away the fear of craping open the throttle on an open-class sportbike. They got it right – and that’s just part of the perfect balance of power and handling they were talking about.
By mid afternoon I was really feeling good about the new CBR. Infineon has lots of turns and a few fast transitions to deal with so a nimble bike is a real plus. Getting hard on the gas out of turn seven that leads down to the turn eight esses is always a struggle, and muscling the bike back and forth is tough – not so on the CBR. It’s really a joy to throw around.
Once again, it’s here that the new rear shock plays a key role in keeping the attitude of the bike neutral enough to be able to put it where you want - when you want. The Showa Big Piston Fork also shines in places like the hardbraking turn nine chicane. The fork reacts predictably entering corners with a nice controlled dive. As soon as you are done with your trail braking, the fork settles in and allows the rider to continue through the corner with excellent feel and control.
Every now and then I would forget what gear I was in, but the fact that the new multi-function LCD instrument cluster has a gear indicator would save me. It’s a nice addition, allowing you to look down and compare the revs of the motor on the new bargraph-like tachometer to what gear you are in and adjust your riding accordingly. I am a big fan of the old style needle-type tach, but the new dash layout on the 2012 CBR was very cool. There are also options for a lap timer, five-level shift light indicator, fuel consummation and efficiency, and several other readouts.
The next thing on my comparison list was the newly revised optional C-ABS linked braking system. On the previous CBR1000RR the brake bias between the front and rear was a bit too heavy on the front brake when engaging the rear brake. The 2012 C-ABS model has decreased the amount of pressure applied to the front brake when hard on the rear brake. Meanwhile, when you are hard on the front brake the rear brake is engaged just enough to settle the bike a bit, which I like because I’m a rear brake kind of guy.
Once you get your head around the C-ABS system you will come to realize how impressive it really is. The one flaw is that the lever pull is somewhat compromised by the fact that you don’t quite have the initial bite and feel as you get into the lever as on the no-ABS system. But after you understand the difference in feel between the C-ABS equipped bike and the no- ABS model you can really hammer the brakes. Even the added weight of the C-ABS (an additional 26 pounds) is barely noticeable.
While on the subject of braking and corner entry, I began to question whether or not the big Honda was fitted with a slipper clutch. As you pushed the corner entry deeper and really put the Tokico radial-mounted, four-piston calipers and 320mm brake rotors to the test, the new CBR1000 was every bit as smooth as you could imagine. I inquired about the presence of a slipper clutch and was informed that the new CBR comes standard with Honda’s patented center cam-assist mechanical type slipper clutch. Instead of moving the plates from side to side as on regular slippers, Honda’s clutch moves both the center cam assist and the pressure plates to provide additional slipper effect. It worked well and I had no trouble with rear wheel hopping. I left the track very satisfied with the new 2012 CRB1000RR.
The weather was even worse the next morning for our street ride and it was a bit daunting because it had rained and the roads were damp. But it didn’t stop us and we headed out from the hotel to explore the back roads and coastline of Northern California.
The roads there are ideal for testing just how user-friendly and forgiving a motorcycle can be. There are plenty of bumps, offcamber turns, blind corners, and wet patches to navigate and you need to feel confident with your ride when attacking those conditions. Well, the new CBR1000RR with its revised fuel injection and new Showa suspension was up to the task.
All the usual obstacles were met with ease. The smooth throttle response was a big plus and the way the suspension soaked up the bumps kept the ride exciting but never scary in such precarious conditions. Just like at the racetrack, both ends of the bike tracked well over the bumps and stayed planted to the ground all while driving forward.
I encountered several spots throughout the ride that required quick and precise action… i.e. blind corners and debris in the road. The new ABS was great, allowing you to brake as needed while not throwing it down the road if you happened to get into a panic situation. I have to say that the perfect balance of power and handling that the men from Honda talked about earlier was very evident on the new CBR1000RR. Well done, boys.
The new 2012 CBR1000RR comes in three-color combinations: Black, red and pearl white with a splash of blue and red. The MSRP for the standard 2012 CBR1000RR is $13,800 while the C-ABS equipped model will run you $14,800. For just a grand more, sign me up for the ABSequipped model.
Originally published in the January 10th, 2012 issue of Cycle News ®