By Troy Siahaan
Turns out they listen to us after all. For years we’ve complained that our European counterparts get all the cool-looking motorcycles, and whenever we try to get them here those requests seem to fall on deaf ears. This holds especially true when it comes to naked sportbikes, which never seem to sell well over here.
Not this time. Honda’s CB1000R has already been available in Europe since 2008, and the liter-size sports naked has received positive reviews. For 2011, American Honda reps finally agreed to bring it to the USA.
Conservative as the company is, Honda is producing the CB1000R in limited numbers initially from its Italian manufacturing plant and will increase shipments if sales deem it worthy. As such, don’t expect to see it here in anything except black.
A Throwback To The Way Things Used To Be
Before the age of CBRs, GSX-Rs, ZX-Rs, and YZF-Rs, bikes like the CB1000R were considered the superbikes of the day. With minimal bodywork and upright handlebars, standard bikes like this didn’t have a category – they could do it all. Over the years, that formula has mutated into the genre-specific motorcycles we see today. Honda is aiming to bring back that classic style of the CB750 into a form fit for the 21st century.
Where else should we start, then, but the engine. Based on the 2007 CBR1000RR 998cc motor (before the current generation), Honda refrains from calling the repurposed mill detuned, but instead calls it “retuned” for “loads of right-now power.” Whatever you want to call it, the “old” Honda superbike engine from just a few years ago now pumps out a modest 107 horsepower and 63.6 ft.-lb. of torque, according to the Superflow dyno at Gene Thomason Racing.
Retuned as it might be, the mill has plenty of power to get you out of the tightest situations. Or, if you’re like me, it has enough grunt to allow the rider to leave it in sixth gear and never touch the shift lever again at speeds above 20 mph. Speaking of gearing, the CB1K shifts with precise clicks
each time you call for a gear. This is a feat we’re used to in many of Honda’s sport and sporty type bikes.
Unlike Honda’s sportbikes, or any sportbike for that matter, the cockpit of the CB1K is noticeably neutral and unusually narrow, especially considering there’s a liter-class engine underneath you. Seat height is a reasonable 32.5 inches. The reach to the gold-anodized, tapered handlebars feels natural, while the footpegs are seemingly directly underneath the seat, which itself is fairly well cushioned. All told, the rider triangle harkens back to that of the CB750 of yore. Its narrow stature, however, “almost feels motard-like” as our own Pete Brissette put it.
A Trip Through Time
Riding the CB1000R is much like being transported back 30 years before motorcycles were so specific. Granted, I wasn’t alive 30 years ago, but I’ve heard stories. It’s so eager to hit the road, and the comfortable riding position makes it enticing to do so. Despite the fact it doesn’t have a windscreen, wind blast is fairly tolerable even at highway speeds.
Around town the bottom-end torque and rather short first gear makes quick work of stoplight drag races. And the fueling, especially at lower speeds, feels refined and seamless. Its narrow profile makes it a great urban dweller, as slicing between cars is supremely easy. The upswept handlebars provide enough leverage to maneuver wherever you need.
But when it comes down to it, the soul of the CB750 that’s found in the CB1000R yearns to be unleashed on twisty canyon roads, not in a straight line. It all starts in the die-cast aluminum frame that’s strong yet light and is the basis for the rest of the handling package.
That package consists of a fully adjustable 43mm Showa inverted fork in the front and a single Showa shock in the rear, adjustable only for spring preload and rebound damping. That shock is attached to a single-sided swingarm, which adds a bit of class and distinction to an already attractive design.
Thankfully the CB1000R performs as well as it looks. The handlebars that allow maneuverability on the everyday commute also add leverage to turn the bike in the canyons, aiding the bike’s lightweight feeling. In actuality, the CB1000R’s claimed wet weight is a substantial 485 pounds — about 30 pounds more than the 2007 CBR1000RR sportbike. It seems odd that a naked and minimalistic motorcycle weighs so much more than the fully-faired cousin it was derived from. Especially considering the CBR1000RR of the time was one of the heaviest literbikes on the market.
Nonetheless, the CB1000R hides that weight well with its ability to transition side to side extremely quickly and accurately. “Honda engineering at its best,” says Pete. “I don’t know how Big Red hid the extra pounds, but the CB’s feathery handling absolutely makes it feel as lightweight as a modern supersport. I didn’t believe the bike weighed as much as it does until I saw the figure in an official Honda press kit.”
Credit in this department also goes to the 180/55-17 rear tire Honda chose to fit on the CB. The taller, rounder profile helps make turn-in on the nearly 500-pound motorcycle a breeze.
When ridden at a brisk pace the suspension handles the bumps well, absorbing the bulk of imperfections on the road. It also allows the bike to track a consistent arc through turns. As delivered, our test bike was set up for a plush ride, with the preload ramp set to its lightest setting. Considering this, the ride was a touch soft when we ramped up the pace, but nothing a few clicks and turns of the adjusters couldn’t handle.
Stopping the CB is a set of 310mm rotors and four-piston Tokico radial-mount calipers up front, sourced from the same generation CBR1000RR that donated its engine. A single 256mm disc and twin-piston caliper handle braking duties in the rear. Much like the suspension, for 90% of riding situations it has plenty of power and feel at the lever. But when pushed that extra 10%, our testers were split on the braking performance. Editor Duke felt the brakes were plenty strong, while Pete felt they lacked a strong initial bite like he prefers from most sportbike brake sets. The CB doesn’t come with ABS that is optional in other countries.
Blast From The Past
All told, the CB1000R really does its best to bring back the spirit and tradition of Hondas of old, but with the usual contemporary upgrades of less weight and more power. Not only does it look the part and carry some design cues from 30 years ago, its overall package feels like a modern day interpretation of the early CBs as well. On the agility front, it’s uncanny how quickly the bike likes to get on its side.
At $10,999, Honda’s placed the CB1000R right in line with other naked bikes in this category like Kawasaki’s Z1000 and the slightly more expensive Triumph Speed Triple. Which is impressive considering Honda is producing the CB1000R in Italy.
Originally published in the April 20th, 2011 issue of Motorcycle.com ®