Honda CBR1000RR

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Words: Editor ‘Arris Photos: Rob O’Brien/Colin Fraser/Honda Canada

It’s mid-January. One day it’s minus 30 out, the next you’re here on a brand spanking CBR1000RR.

Sometimes it just all comes together.

After spending the first day of our Las Vegas launch on the track (with the morning being coached by Freddie Spencer and team), I was feeling ready for a good road blast. In fact it was the end of the day – bikes had been swapped, pictures taken and I found myself with Mr. Bond on a pair of 1000RRs, riding along the smooth ribbon of fresh pavement, towards the setting sun and our home base. The road below us was seemingly made for this bike, as it switched from short straight to perfectly arcing curve, all the while cresting and dipping over the red rocky ranges of the stark Nevada desert.

I too was in the zone – confident of my own skills and familiar with the characteristics of the bike below me. I picked third gear and gradually wound it up with each successive bend, the underseat exhaust growling loudly as if egging on my flight of fancy. Road ripples were felt only by a sharp butt slap at the back – thanks to the stiffly sprung rear – but na’er a peep from the front. As the power was wound on, light steering was the only indicator that the front end was on its way up, yet it felt fluid and predictable.

“eeeeeaaaaarrrrrhhhhhhaaaarrrrr”

I soon gave up trying to keep an eye on the digital speedo, preferring not to notice the silly numbers flashing before me, concentrating instead on timing the application of brakes and setting up my line for the next corner. A glance in the mirror showed that Mr. Bond valued his licence a bit more than myself, but I didn’t care what anyone else was doing behind me, I just kept both eyes firmly on the unfolding road ahead.

The only surprise came as the road finally straightened out – as we approached home-base – and I reflected how I hadn’t once felt like I was not 100% in complete control, such was the friendliness of the 1000RR. That was fun.

But alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. The CBR1000RR is a very important model for Honda, so it would seem only sensible to take a look at what this one litre sportbike class is all about and what Honda have done to the bike in order to try and win the crown back …

BACK TO THE INTRO

Full marks for styling, but will it be enough to beat the competition?

The one-litre sportbike market is perhaps the hottest segment in the motorcycle market today. Not in overall sales (sportbikes account for only 23% of the Canadian market), but in attention paid to them by the big-four Japanese manufacturers. It seems that updates to their flagship supersports happen on an annual basis, with major overhauls every other year.

It’s also an area that Honda have fallen behind on since their heady days of the ground-breaking CBR900RR Fireblade back in 1993, when they simply owned (even arguably invented) the class. The introduction of the 929 in 2000 and 954 in 2002, failed to keep the crown, currently held by Suzuki’s GSXR1000 with 42% of the market (that’s 18% more than the 954). It appears that Honda’s much toted philosophy of trying to keep all their bikes usable for the real world was costing them.

Let’s get naked.

With this in mind they approached the CBR1000RR as a race bike first, to be modified for street use before it reached the end of the production line (much like the CBR600RR). Indeed, it will also serve as Honda’s new works-racer, replacing the RC51, with race-ready features such as programmable shift light, a cassette type gearbox (quick replacement) and the mother of all radiators (for the additional cooling capacity). There’s even going to be HRC race kits made available at a “reasonable price”.

TO ALL THINGS TECHNICAL

Much like 2003’s CBR600RR, the 1000 uses the same technology of mass-centralization, dual-stage fuel injection and unit pro-link rear suspension – all garnered from Honda’s experience in GP racing with their all-winning RC211V race bike. However, there are a few new tricks employed on the 1000RR, the most significant being the Electronic Steering Damper (ESD).

The motor is based on the 954 but essentially all-new, with the additional capacity garnered by increasing the stroke but not the bore. This is a bit of an oddity in today’s world of ever-rising redlines (requiring short strokes), but one that Honda justify with a big emphasis on torque and acceleration rather than pure top-end, going on to claim that as a result, the power is very usable. There’s also an exhaust valve and a cat in that lovely underseat pipe and 2-stage ram-air – which combine to give one of the sexiest growls found on a bike.

Excellent usability but a few extra pounds? Sounds like a girl I once knew. But fond memories aside, will it be enough to satisfy the fickle spec-sheet buyer?

Although they have yet to publish maximum horsepower figures, some current dyno figures floating the web suggest it to be around 153hp @11,000rpm, which is about the same as Suzuki’s Gixxer, but a chunk down on the claimed figures for the ZX10 and R1. There’s also a bit of a weight disadvantage to the 1000RR, with a significant additional 10Kg on the direct competition. Although at first this might seem that Honda are missing the mark, since it’s being built for racing they’re saying that they’re opting to overbuild it so that it doesn’t require additional beefing up to be competitive on the track.

AND THEN TO THE TRACK …

A cautious start …

I must admit, I was reluctant to take the beast out on the track at first because I simply find one-litre sportbike power to be far too easy to get into trouble with. So much so that I usually end up doing much quicker lap times on something almost half the capacity.

Although the power deliver is the usual one-litre arm-stretcher, it’s almost completely linear, meaning there are no surprises that can quickly get a rider into trouble. It also means that you can choose the amount of drive you want on tap merely by selecting gear. Want a slow lap to check the track lines? Slap it in sixth. You have all the power you need (it will pull from idle in sixth, although it’s a bit sad until you hit the2,500 rpm mark). As you get more confident, merely slap it down the box and bring it up the power curve steadily until you’re scaring yourself silly.

.. but a thrashing finish.

The motor is only one part of the equation. The adoption of the Unit Pro-Link suspension allows for the use of a super-long swingarm that makes up 42% of the wheelbase. This helps to keep any wheelying tendency under control, as well as keeping all the suspension forces in the swingarm and not the frame where it can upset overall handling.

After a couple of laps I was thinking beyond the bike and exploring my track abilities, confident that I wasn’t going to be the first journalist to scrap the new 1000RR. Even slapping the throttle wide open at the start of the main straight only pulled the front end slightly off the ground, and trying to get a wobble from the steering was almost as difficult as getting Mr. Seck to pay for dinner, or anything for that matter (yes it was that good!).

In fact I’d go so far as to say that the 1000RR is more track friendly than the 600RR, and that Honda might not just have made their most powerful sportbike to date, but, in an oxymoron sense, one of their friendliest. However, I’ll stop my track impressions now before I spoil Mr. Bond’s 2 cents coming at the end of this article.

AND AGAIN TO THE ROAD …

Who’s that fat bastard? Hey, it was chilly!
Getting comfy on the 1000RR

The ride home on that second day proved to my highlight of the trip, but I did have a good few other times with the 1000RR where I was able to check some of the specifics of the bike’s character.

For starters, although bar height has been dropped and pegs raised (for the more sporty styling) I didn’t actually find it too bad – or at least not as radical as some of the other sportbike offerings. My lanky legs even fitted within the cutaways in the tank and there was plenty of fore & aft room on the seat. Still, I reserve judgment till I’ve had chance to try it in rush-hour traffic, followed by a day’s ride in the country … and a massage … and Scotch.

The gearbox is quite positive but not as slick as the 599, making clutchless shifts a bit of an effort. I had also read that some journalists found the throttle to be a bit on/off in feel. I did notice this a bit, but only coming off idle and more so the lower the gear I was in. All I can think is that it’s gear-train lash, as in sixth it was not there at all. Still, I wouldn’t like to claim this to be a problem until I’ve had the chance to ride the 1000RR for a while in the real world.

Radial stoppers!

Honda has finally opted to use radial brakes on the front (four pot Tokico’s clasping 310mm rotors) offering fierce braking capacity, sufficient to scrub off plenty of speed at the end of the back straight … or short straight followed by a perfectly arcing curve for that matter. the rear is not oversensitive and can be pressed into action if you’re foolish enough to exceed the capacity of the fronts

The suspension is on the stiff side – especially at the rear. Even with the pre-load fully backed off, hard bumps would kick my arse off the seat, although the front USD forks could be dialed-in with much better success. Talking of bumps, the ESD was impressive. I would follow other riders so that I could see by the degree of bounce, and thus the severity, of any upcoming bumps. Initially I loosened my grip on the bars, then I hovered my hands over them, then I sat back and crossed my arms. Only on the most severe of craters did I get a slight twitch – although being kicked out of the saddle by the harsh rear suspension (with arms crossed) did get interesting for a moment.

Mark Orchard (Inside Motorcycles) gets the holeshot on ‘arris on the (seemingly supercharged) VT750 Aero.

It’s stuff like this that builds confidence on a potentially very scary bike – something not to be underrated. In fact it leads me to suspect that by focusing on making a usable race bike, Honda may have unwittingly made a much more usable roadbike to boot. I never pushed any of the previous big RRs anywhere close to this, as I doubt I would still be here to spew my tales of danger and daring (humour me).

However, in doing so they can’t seem to help but to keep one eye on usability, at the price of lower dry weight and higher horsepower figures. To date this seems to be the main selling point for bikes in this class and may yet prove sufficient to stifle what is appearing to be one of Honda’s best sportbikes ever.

But pray, what did Mr. Bond have to say about the CBR1000RR on the track? Click ‘ere to find out.

Bike

Honda CBR1000RR

MSL

$TBA (but expect around $15,000)

Displacement

998 cc

Engine type

Inline dohc four, liquid cooled

Carburetion

Dual-stage fuel injection

Final drive

Six speed, chain drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

190/50 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 310 mm discs with four-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 220 mm disc with single-piston caliper

Seat height

820 mm (32.3″)

Wheelbase

1405 mm (55.3″)

Dry weight

180 Kg (396 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Red/Black, Metallic Silver/Black, Black

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