By Kit Palmer
Honda might be focusing a big chunk of its attention on bringing new or returning riders back into the motorcycle fraternity these days, but it hasn’t completely forgotten about those who have never left it. But many moto veterans probably haven’t been feeling that way, though, and long-time fans of the 600cc Supersport class in particular haven’t had much to get excited about lately - not until they got a jolt when Kawasaki re-introduced the 636 recently and now with Honda releasing its revamped CBR600RR.
We can’t quite call it “all-new” yet, but the latest edition of the CBR600RR is changed enough for Honda to host a formal one-day riding introduction for the press on what is one of the company’s most prized products. Or was it just an excuse to get out of the office and go riding? Heck, I didn’t care. I was just glad they did because I got the chance to tour some of So Cal’s best back-canyon roads on what is, inarguably, one of the finest production middleweight sportbikes ever built. Doesn’t get a whole lot better, really.
It pretty much goes without saying that the CBR600RR, which made its debut in 2003 and was redesigned in ’07, was already a great bike but it was in need of some freshening up. After all, it’s been a while. Knowing it already had a fantastic package on its hands, Honda was careful about what they did to it when came time to make changes. Any alterations would have to be without question an improvement. No “ah, we think this will be better” with the CBR600RR.
One safe change they made was swapping out the old fork with the company’s new 41mm Showa Big Piston Fork, which made its debut on the CBR1000RR in 2012 and it was met with approval from the big-big sportbike crowd. So, naturally, it found its way on to the 600, as did other similar improvements that the 1000 got last year - such as split-spoke wheels, similar EFI and ABS programming updates, and a more efficient ram air-intake system with a revised Intake Air Control Valve.
But the most revealing update of all has to do with the CBR600RR’s appearance, which Honda also didn’t take lightly. In fact, it was one of their number-one priorities when it came to spiffing up the CBR. It got all-new plastic and with it a new shape that gives it a more modern, edgy look that resembles the company’s MotoGP bikes. From what we can tell already, some of you like the new design, some not so much.
The CBR600RR will come in three flavors: all red; red, white and blue; and Repsol team colors. Good luck choosing one because, in our opinion, all three look tasty.
Looks, however, aren’t everything. Honda says that the new bodywork is also functional. They say the new shape makes the CBR far more aerodynamically efficient than before, thanks to many hours spent testing in the wind tunnel. In fact, some of what they learned while testing the CBR600RR’s bodywork was passed on to the race team (usually it’s the other way around). The end result, Honda claims, is a 6.5 percent reduction in drag, which is a big number and a huge accomplishment.
So what does 6.5 percent really mean to you and me? For one, better fuel economy. Honda tells us that the CBR600RR’s estimated mpg has gone up from 40 to 44 miles. Let’s see, that’s roughly a $2 savings per tankful where I come from. Honda also claims there is less windblast on the rider, which reduces fatigue and improves comfort. And I’m certainly all about comfort, especially now that you’ll be traveling further on a tank of gas.
Unlike mpg, one good thing that hasn’t gone up, however, is price. Despite getting the upgraded fork, better wheels, and updated plastic and ram air, the MSRP for the base model has actually dropped $50 to $11,490! That’s not much, but it’s far better than what it could’ve happened. You can, however, add $1000 for ABS and another $500 for the Repsol edition. (The all-red CBR600R is only available with ABS.)
I can tell you right from the get-go that the new CBR600R is an improved machine. Not drastically, but noticeably. We had a 2012 model at our disposal and I was able to make back-to-back comparisons and a few things stood out in my mind - one of which was the fork.
The ride up front is more solid and compliant overall compared to the ’12 model, and the new fork does a better job soaking up the smaller bumps and ripples. On the 2012 CBR, it was almost like you were feeling every little nook and cranny in the road, while the new fork seems to ignore all the little stuff (you don’t even feel them anymore) and focuses all of its intentions on the important stuff - like the bigger bumps and jolts. But you don’t lose any of that important front-end feedback whatsoever. In fact, the opposite seems true. Straight up or leaned over, the front end feels just plain solid and confidence inspiring.
The shock, which has also been re-valved to match the new fork, provides a cushy yet solid ride in the back, too. Overall feel is a very well balanced one.
Unfortunately, to get to the good stuff, we had to endure some time droning along on the California freeways, which haven’t seen new asphalt in over a thousand years (at least that’s how long it feels), but the Honda still manages to produce a smooth and comfortable ride.
Throttle response is also improved, more so at high rpm than anywhere else. Slightly rolling on or off the throttle in the 9000-rpm range and you’ll feel very little abruptness compared to the ’12 CBR (which really wasn’t too bad in the first place). Even at lower rpm, the ’13 feels smoother when it comes to rolling on and off the throttle.
Power is still very CBR-ish. It makes excellent power off the bottom like before, which is great for relaxed, city riding, or everyday commuting, but seems to pull a little stronger in the middle, while still revving to the moon where the CBR really likes to be ridden. Rpms build quickly from midrange on up, making it an absolute blast and very exciting to ride on canyon roads.
I ended up spending a lot of time on the ABS model and had zero complaints when it came time to haul it in for the corners. The CBR’s braking system works so well and is so strong and predictable that you don’t even know ABS is even there. It feels like a standard braking system until you really get on it (usually on purpose just to see if it’s still working). Even then you can hardly tell that ABS is doing its thing, but it is. Some day (and you know it’s coming) all streetbikes (most likely from 250cc on up) will be fitted with ABS, but if they all work this good, I won’t be too concerned.
The reduction in windblast seems to be indeed reduced, albeit slightly. But with my 6’1” frame, I’m never going to escape it completely. I did ride one version that was fitted with a Honda-offered taller windscreen, which I would consider getting if this was my bike. Visually, you could barely tell the difference between it and the stocker. For me, every little bit of wind protection is a bonus.
Everything else about the new CBR600RR is pretty much the same, which is all good. It’s still fast, handles incredibly sharp, feels extremely light and flickable, has outstanding suspension and brakes, and is comfortable and versatile enough to be ridden every day as a back-and-forth commuter and every weekend on the twisties.
What didn’t I like about the new CBR600RR? Nothing, really, but the seat sure was slippery. But it did make for some quick side-to-side transitions (even if some of them were unintentional).
Luckily for us, this intro isn’t completely finished yet. Honda is planning another day out of the office. This time, however, they’ll be loading up a handful of CBRs and taking them to the track, where we’ll be able to bump it up a notch or two and see how the other half of the new CBR lives.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of CycleNews.com.