Motorcycle Reviews : HONDA 600 and 1000 CBR
By Nicholas Frankl
A trusty old friend and a new best one!
The 600 category is made up largely of shrink-wrapped sports machines, with power and weight below the big super bikes but agility that allows you to ride extremely fast in practically any conditions and in any surroundings. They are the kitchen mixer equivalent of the motorcycle food chain. Highly capable, highly adaptable and good at everything you throw at them. They may not be able to achieve the highest, class finish, the lowest lap time or the lightest soufflé but only the really fanatical would miss that. Honda’s F4i has been around a few years. In 2004 the engineers introduced a more comfortable and shapely seating position and the bike is comfortable, either solo or two up. The power is smooth and although you do need to stay in the right cog for brisk pick-up - the bottom line is that this is a fast and fun machine. I saw 155-ish on the speedo a couple of times and that wasn’t even with a concerted effort. Yeah, there is a little buffeting, and I would personally prefer a bigger bubble, but as Honda explained, most owners like to customize various bits and it’s pointless trying to please everyone. That said – if’ you’re 5.11 or above you’ll probably want a bigger screen or at least a Gurney flap to send the air clear over you.
Apart from the seat, nothing else has really changed. The bike was in a great black and yellow colour combo that suited my Furygan jacket perfectly. Running with an R1 and a 1,000 Aprilia in the hills, I didn’t want for much more power or stopping performance. It is, however, a little tiring running up to the redline all the time and the power is more keenly accessed above 10,000 or so. The net result is that you end the day with tingling hands, though I must say that my wrists were in good shape, so the revised position must be good.
The real story here is if you want a 600 – buy the RR. It’s not that much more expensive and with the numerous upgrades and fantastic single link swing arm is a better bike to ride and no doubt own. Either one won’t disappoint, but I hear that there is an all new 600 coming soon…
Talking of RR’s, just when you thought you were comfortable and acclimatized with the whole speed and acceleration thing, Honda shove you on a 1000 and send you off into the speed vacuum abyss. The 1000 is a bigger, wider, heavier and altogether a more chunky bike than the 600, and its predecessor the 954 as well. It looks menacing from any angle and once on you can immediately feel that this is not just another new model. The 1000 is the new model for 2004. I picked up the RR at Torrance heading for the Fontana speedway to catch some NASCAR action. Fontana is some seventy odd miles from Torrance, and even with traffic, it took me just over 35 minutes door to door. No I wasn’t racing, but yes this bike is that good and instills an unsurpassed level of confidence that I have not previously experienced on any machine. The last time I remember a new bike being such an advancement was when they launched the Hayabusa. The RR, using the revolutionary new HEDS damping system is a whole new story. Along the I-10 running East out of LA there is a great, flat, smooth and well-partitioned car pool section for about 4 miles. I don’t use it much, but I did remember it from a previous Blackbird XX experience a few years back and this time – like then – it was clear for me to allow the fuel injectors to breathe a little. When you’re traveling at high speed and still accelerating hard, you tend to judge your speed by either other vehicles’ relative speed or the sensation of the actual speed itself. I can only say that I didn’t intend to do 172mph on that hot Friday lunch time – but the bike just felt so stable that I simply didn’t realize. Fortunately I didn’t have to explain this advancement in motorcycle design to any smoky bears!
Every part of this bike is just so damn good. The CBR 1000 RR is the result of a totally fresh ground up design. There are no carry over components from the 954. Honda has gone to great lengths (that’s competition for you) to create a race machine that can be ridden safely by the non- professional, but contains many elements of street bike overkill, like the magnesium oil pan which is 375 grams lighter than the aluminum equivalent, but performs better at extreme temperatures, like in racing. The 998cc in-line four is totally new, as is the 6-speed silky smooth gear box. Much time was spent on centralizing the weight and lowering the center of gravity of the two heaviest components – the fuel tank and the rider. Using the unique swing arm assembly and a smaller engine configuration has allowed them to achieve just that.
As hard as I tried I couldn’t find a material fault. The pull even from the lowest revs in the wrong gear is smooth and very strong. Above 7,000 new life stirs again and the speed begins to really rise. The seating position is one of the best I’ve tried. It is particularly good on the highway, as your knees create a very comfortable resting position for your elbows and you can really get into a great tuck and stay there. Of course none of this would mean so much if the HEDS system didn’t play such a pivotal role. Using a multitude of sensors, including G force, acceleration, speed and throttle position, the electronically controlled damper is able to dial in as much resistance as it feels is needed. It takes a little getting used to. After the super light and sensitive F4i, you do need to actively think about steering when at high speed, but once acclimatized, the riding experience is taken to a whole new level. The bike can effectively be thrown into corners with the same aplomb as a 600, but has the shove of a jet turbine. Speed builds up at a phenomenal rate and it’s therefore rather fortunate that the brakes are as good as the rest of the bike. Using just a single finger you can haul off the speed like a parachute deploying on a dragster, the light weight radial-mounted, four-piston front brake calipers (squeezing 310mm floating discs) being the best brakes I’ve tried outside of a F1 car.
I let a few of my colleagues ride the RR; I wanted to gauge fair opinion. It was useless. They all came back with broad smiles and stories of untold speed, agility and feats of progress previously unknown.
The CBR has come along way since it created the concept of lightweight super bikes. Since 1993 the other manufacturers have caught up and some might say overtaken Honda in specific years and with specific goals of appealing to the very hardest-core rider. Honda took the broader approach and lost sales to the likes of the R1 and GSX-R1000. Tadao Baba was the LPL (Large Project Leader) for that 1993 model and the ensuing Fireblade offspring, straight through to the CBR954RR, which the no-compromises 1000 now replaces. Baba, a slight and humble Japanese engineer, is the cult figure worshipped around the world by the intelligentsia of motorcyclists. He once again can collect his Oscar for the best performance in motorcycle engineering and design. Yes, the CBR1000 is that good.
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