By: Arthur Coldwells
Honda’s remarkable CBR600RR has currently sold almost 100,000 units since its launch 10 years ago – a considerable achievement for any model of motorcycle.
That may be down to its impressive eight World Supersport titles, and its success in MotoGP, where such is its power and reliability that it was chosen as the Moto2 spec motor. Thereby lies the secret to the Honda 600RR – somewhat contrarily, it is a superb street machine that simultaneously powers the machines at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing.
With such spectacular dual-purpose success, it is no surprise that Honda has chosen to evolve the 600RR carefully, so the 2013 model has received some worthwhile upgrades but has otherwise been left alone. The most obvious upgrade on the version pictured is the Repsol livery from the MotoGP circuit, but it is what’s under the skin that counts.
The biggest change for 2013 is the adoption of a Showa 41mm Big Piston Fork (BPF) that features a larger damper area at lower internal pressures. This makes for more responsive and smoother suspension action, and also a reduced tendency to dive when hard on the brakes. The BPF is adjustable for spring preload, plus compression and rebound damping, and the chassis is noticeably more stable under hard braking. At the rear, a revised Unit Pro-Link HMAS single shock with just over five inches of travel has full adjustability, as well.
Riding the new CBR600RR through the Santa Monica Mountains is an ideal testing ground, and one where the smallest Honda four-cylinder superbike thrives. Decker Canyon Road is tight and twisting, typically taken in the first two gears. Decker’s switchback nature requires a neutral handling bike that can transition super-quickly and flick through corner combinations with ease.
Mulholland Highway, which bisects Decker Canyon Road, is marginally faster, and tests the same attributes; the new 600RR took it all in stride.
The bike feels well balanced with plenty of weight on the front, and that weight translates to exceptional confidence at corner entry. It is easy to carry mid-corner speed and still complete the exit without running wide. The new fork and revised shock handle the bumps superbly; I didn’t try different settings as the stock settings were ideal for street riding and my 185-pound weight, although it will need stiffening if you take it to the track (which I strongly recommend).
Riding up through Malibu’s challenging canyons, the 180 section rear Dunlop tire gripped well, even over rough or soiled pavement; not once did the 600RR get knocked off line or spin up the very pretty new 12-spoke wheels. I just adjusted my line a little to avoid the dirt and barely bothered to slow down. That really is the secret to the smallest Honda superbike; it’s incredibly well balanced and easy-to-ride.
Redlined at an eye-watering 15,000 rpm, the power from the smooth-as-silk 599cc mill is impressive, and slingshots from slow corners are great fun. A recalibrated ECU and revised fuel mapping also boost mid-range power and improve throttle response tremendously. The ECU optimizes air intake volume not only when the throttle is slightly open, but it also optimizes combustion at high-rpm.
Off- to on-throttle transitions, mid-range power, and quicker throttle response are all noticeably better. While the 2012 was smooth enough in mid-rpms, the 2013 is noticeably stronger, especially on slow, low-rpm corner exits where it is possible to pull a taller gear than expected.
Despite the powerplant’s willingness to rev to the moon, it was actually unnecessary; the 600RR engine delivers strongly and smoothly between 6 and 8000 rpm, and so that is where I spent most of the time.
Formula 1 fans will be familiar with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) – essentially, the science of slipperiness. CFD analysis is responsible for everything from the aerodynamics of an F1 car, to the bottom and keel of an America’s Cup yacht.
Honda worked hard to refine the new ram-air intake ducting where a highly sophisticated inlet system uses two baffle plates to equalize the density of the airflow and the distribution of the air pressure along the length of the duct.
The baffles’ length, shape and combined positioning were optimized through simulations and testing, and this attention to detail has also helped improve the feel and response of the engine.
CFD analysis was also used to improve the 600RR’s bodywork and, coupled with knowledge gained from the RC212V MotoGP race program, a claimed 6.5-percent decrease in drag was found. In aerodynamic terms, this is enough of a find that the advancements were in turn passed to the MotoGP team and have now been incorporated into the new RC213V MotoGP racebike.
Not only do the aero improvements help with handling at speed, it also has the nice side effect of improving fuel consumption. Behind that new fairing, the CBR is compact, as is every 600. Yet the controls are in just the right places and the riding position is comfortable, even for my six-foot frame.
For 2013, linked C-ABS is again offered as an option, and it’s the best anti-lock braking system out there. When the ABS kicks in there is no pumping at the lever, and the tire doesn’t lock and unlock rapidly; the system is almost completely undetectable other than perhaps a little numbness at the lever when it’s working.
Although there is a 22-pound weight penalty for the C-ABS system, it is well worth it. The rear pedal brings in a little front brake, and that has been reduced on the 2013 for better track feel. The brakes on the 600RR are superb, and the C-ABS never had to cut in. Unfortunately, only the red version is available with C-ABS, so if you want a Repsol or the white/blue/red version, you’ll be left with a difficult decision.
The Honda CBR600RR just keeps getting better and better. Although it is track-focused, Honda has managed to make the 600RR a capable street bike. A dual-purpose machine that doesn’t feel like one, the 600RR operates brilliantly at both ends of the spectrum.
Originally published in the May/June 2013 issue of UltimateMotorCycling.com.