Honda’s new CBR600RR has been one of the most eagerly awaited motorcycles in recent time. So it was with more than a little excitement that I first lifted a leg over their new weapon.
My first thought was that even though the machine looks small, it doesn’t really feel that tiny from the riders perspective. In fact there was noticeably more legroom than some of the supersport opposition. The reach to the bars was comfortable, and all the controls felt immediately comfortable and familiar. I felt at home right away, all up, the riding position seemed just about perfect for me.
We then set out for a 350 kilometre road ride that afternoon to put that first impression to the test. We took in some of the best roads that skirt around the North of Melbourne, before continuing east, and then south to eventually approach Phillip Island from the north-east. My first impressions as to the amount of room the machine offered had been spot on. But the reach to the bars had caused myself, and the other testers, to complain a little of sore wrists after a highway section. The seat is reasonably firm, but I found it supportive, with just enough firm cushioning to provide the right amount of support.
We did travel through a few showers, and I was glad to find the weather protection reasonable. I found this quite surprising considering the diminutive size of the machine. But the fact remains that in moderate showers my visor remained reasonably clear, and my lower legs did not get soaked by puddles etc.
So, sore wrists aside, the CBR600RR can be toured on by a hard-core sportbiker. Adding to the nice detail touches that make this possible are the luggage hooks provided under the rear ducktail. These are of course invaluable to the occasional tourer who does not want to strap some ugly looking rack contraption to the back of their new thoroughbred. I did not test the pillion accommodation, but needless to say, the machine does not appear to be passenger friendly. There is enough underseat storage for a u-lock or some very small wets but nothing more.
The 18 litre fuel cell incorporates a 3.5 litre reserve. Only a very small amount of fuel is directly under the tank cover as the vast majority of the volume of the fuel load resides down towards the middle of the machine. The reason for this, apart from the obvious centre of gravity benefits, is the cavernous 15 litre air-box. This is where the race technology in the new RC211V starts to show through.
The quartet of 40mm throttle bodies each have conventional 12-hole injectors mounted in their bores, in addition to this, another row of four injectors reside in the roof of the airbox and spray fuel directly over each intake trumpet. These act in a similar way to how an accelerator pump aids a conventional carburettor, this ensures instant response at any revs. These extra injectors come in to play when the revs are above 5,500rpm and spray their fuel a fraction of a second before the main injector during each intake stroke.
All this sequential control demands more processing power, a new 32-bit processor provides that grunt. Another side effect of the airbox injectors is the fact that they serve to cool the intake charge resulting in a more dense mix. Starting from cold is a no hassle affair with the injection system’s auto enriching capabilities meaning that no choke or fast idle lever is needed.
So how does all this translate to the road?
I tried to provoke a hiccup or cough from the induction system but no matter how purposefully ham-fisted I used the throttle, smooth drive was the only response. However as I got very tired at the track I did get an abrupt surge a couple of times when transitioning from a closed to an open throttle. But in all honesty I think this was due to me being physically drained from many laps of Phillip Island, rather than a niggle with the bike as it only happened towards the end of the day.
The touring range from the tank is over 230km, even with the occasional spirited strop through your favourite set of bends. The machine also seems to run fine on standard unleaded, for those times when premium is not available.
A bar style fuel gauge is displayed on the comprehensive instrument panel. On the previous F4i model a gauge only showed when the machine was displaying a reserve countdown. But the new CBR600RR sports a proper fuel gauge to the left of the large conventional tachometer. The LCD below and to the right of the tachometer is the larger LCD which displays the vehicle speed, odometer, tripmeters and clock.
The 599cc engine pulls well and revs hard. Redline is set at 15,000rpm on the 17,000rpm tachometer, the rev-limiter cuts in a little over 15,000. Best results are gained by shifting at around 14,000rpm. While the engine is stronger than the previous F4i machine, from my seat of the pants it felt no stronger than the current crop of supersport machines available elsewhere. It does rev the hardest, and had good top end pull, but it does suffer a little in the mid-range. However I have also ridden a machine with an aftermarket exhaust system which felt considerably stronger in this area of performance.
Honda claim the engine is all new. After some CAD calculations Honda found that the bore & stroke was ideal in the same ratio as that seen on the F4i, so these measurements remain the same. Engine width has been reduced at the crankshaft through the repositioning of some components. For example, moving the crankshaft starter gear has realised a 3-degree improvement in available lean angle.
The engine is also shorter, allowing for a longer swingarm while moving the rider closer to the steering head. A higher countershaft and more triangular gearbox layout reduced the distance from the crank to the swingarm pivot by 30mm. Shortening the layout even further was achieved by positioning the engine 9mm more forward than before. This was enabled the new exhaust ports which angle 30-degress downward compared to the previous engine, this means that the header pipes occupy less space. Combined with extra length saved by the new fuel cell these measures add up to move the rider 70mm closer to the steering head.
The engine runs new skirtless slipper pistons. These forged items are much shorter and 15g lighter than before. Very thin 0.8mm top rings are more resistant to high rpm ‘flutter’ when running in the aluminium/ceramic composite cylinder sleeves. More weight has been trimmed from the piston pins, 8 grams each.
The carburised conrods borrow some design cues from Honda’s VTR World SuperBike machines with their ‘nutless’ design. Threaded bolts screw directly into tapped holes in the body of the conrod instead of the conventional bolt/nut combination which saves around 35g per cylinder, amounting to another 140g overall. That doesn’t sound like much but it can make quite a difference to the inertia of the engine internals when they are spinning at 15,000rpm.
Cosmetically, the quality of finish is generally excellent. However we did find that wearing leathers caused the black paint on the tank to scuff and lose lustre. Some clear ‘contact’ sheets will need to be fitted here to prevent this from happening.
The front forks have grown to 45mm with an HMAS cartridge configuration similar to that used on the Fireblade and SP-2. As you expect, full adjustment to preload is available, as is adjustments for rebound and compression damping.
A new Yagura braced box section swingarm is lighter than the much smaller swingarm it replaces. Based on the RCV, the new CBR’s Pro-Link rear suspension is self contained within the swingarm. As you can see from the above pictures this is an extremely neat way of doing things.
On the road the suspension is just about perfect. Turn in is sublime and stability is fantastic. Only once when charging particularly hard over a bumpy set of bends did the CBR600RR wiggle a little, and I mean a little. The rear suspension was also fantastic on the road, quite clearly Honda have spent considerable time tuning the suspension package for the ultimate balance of comfort versus real world performance.
With this in mind, it brings me to think that the Honda is a particularly ideal mount for an eager young rider to move up to after graduating from their first machine. The way it steers is so natural and responsive that it really is quite amazing that Honda have managed to engineer such a high degree of stability in to an extremely light machine.
At the track I found the suspension a little too supple for my liking. But you can’t expect to have such a user friendly machine behave as impeccably on the road as it does on the track without turning some attention to the clickers.
During the morning session I circulated on a machine with standard settings and got my head up to speed with just how fast things happen at Phillip Island. Riding the Island is the closest thing I have found to finding religion, but the first couple of hours always involve me trying to get my poor old brain to keep with the pace.
In the afternoon session we stiffened the suspension up a little and the benefits were immediately obvious. Where during the morning session I had some trouble with the rear suspension out of turn 11, on the stiffer machine no such problems were evident. We also let some air out of the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres which aided things along a little further. Ground clearance is excellent.
All up I would say the CBR600RR has the absolute best balance of road and track performance for the vast majority of riders. On the road the machine handles brilliantly, and given a few tweaks the CBR600RR also performs highly at the track. It is rare to find a machine which behaves so perfectly sure and stable on dodgy roads, while also managing to take full advantage of the smooth surfaces provided by a racetrack.
The fastest CBR600RR buyers will want to firm things up a little more than what the standard adjustment offers, but only if they are really getting stuck in at the racetrack and have a high level of experience in that arena.
Honda claim the new die-cast frame is based on the RC211V. The sub-frame is also die-cast and an impressive piece of engineering itself, the new sub-frame aids the routing of the new underseat exhaust system.
Braking performance is as you would expect, excellent. The bite is smooth, progressive and user friendly for riders of all skill levels. This enables even the inexperienced rider to take full advantage of the stoppers.
Four-piston calipers clamp on 310mm disc rotors up the front while a single 220mm disc handles the duties at the rear. Some riders would prefer perhaps a little more strength from the rear brake.
In summary, I found the CBR600RR to be a much finer all round package than I had expected. From the marketing hype and build-up to the release of this model, I was expecting some fire breathing monster with rock hard racetrack biased suspension that punched the kidneys over every bump.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this bike is a far cry from that.
The new CBR600RR is more suited to the vast majority of supersport buyers than I had expected. Once again, Honda have not gone all out aggressive to ensure their machine can record the ultimate lap time on standard settings out of the box at the cost of road manners and any semblance of practicality.
Wisely, they have put together a finely balanced machine with plenty of user friendly features for the average road rider. And let’s face it, the vast majority of people putting their hard earned down for one of these is never going to get near the limits of the machine.
And as for ‘horn’ factor, go and have a look at one as the pictures don’t quite do it justice. It looks horn!
The price of admission is $15,190 plus the usual array of on road costs. Below is the specification list while on the next page are some details on Shannon Johnson’s Australian Supersport machine, which Castrol Honda kindly let us ride. Also some wallpapers and onboard video footage from the new machine.
Engine – Liquid Cooled, 4-stroke, 16-valve, DOHC, in-line 4
Capacity – 599cc
Bore x Stroke – 67 x 42.5mm
Compression Ratio – 12:1
Claimed Power – 86kw @ 13,000rpm
Oil Capacity – 3.5 litres
Induction – PGM-DCFI electronic fuel injection, 4 x 40mm throttle bodies, two injectors per cylinder
Fuel Capacity – 18 litres, including 3.5 litre reserve
Ignition – CDI, 3-D mapped for each individual cylinder
Clutch – Wet, multiplate
Gearbox – Six speed
Frame – Diamond; Fine Die-Cast Aluminium
Length – 2,065mm
Width – 685mm
Height – 1,135mm
Wheelbase – 1,390mm
Caster Angle – 66°
Trail – 95mm
Turning Circle – 3.2m
Seat Height – 820mm
Ground Clearance – 135mm
Dry Weight – 169kg
Front Suspension – 45mm fully adjustable cartridge forks, 120mm travel
Rear Suspension – Unit Pro-Link with remote reservoir shock with adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping. 120mm travel
Rims – 17″ x 3.5″ (F) – 17″ x 5.5″ (R)
Tyres – 120/70 (F) – 180/55 (R)
Front Brakes – 310mm dual discs with 4-piston calipers, floating rotors and sintered pads
Rear Brake – 220 single disc with single-piston caliper
Warranty – Two years, unlimited kilometres
Servicing – Valve adjustment every 26,000km
RRP – $15,190
In what was a special experience I took to the track on Shannon Johnson’s Australian Supersport race machine.
This bike had the optional free breathing exhaust, HRC wiring loom, aftermarket Ohlins shock and stiffer springs at both ends.
The difference from the standard machine was all in the handling. The race bike was extremely taut and responsive with an incredible amount of feedback, allowing the rider to feel every ripple in the track surface.
While the engine was not particularly stronger up top, it did have a much better mid-range than the standard machine and drove off the turns much better as a result.
Shannon will use this machine to defend his Australian Supersport Championship this year.
Also on hand for the day were Australian racing legends Malcolm ‘Wally’ Campbell and Wayne Gardner.
We strapped a camera to the tank of a stock CBR600RR on standard settings, and Michelin Pilot Sport road rubber, for a lap of Phillip Island with Australian Supersport champion Shannon Johnson. In front of him is Australian road racing legend Malcolm ‘Wally’ Campbell.