Test Ride: Honda CBR600RR

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HONDA MIAMI LAUNCH 2005

Keep an eye out for the other journos!

Coming around corner four, I took a glance behind me to see Oliver Jervis from Canadian Biker and Le Guide de Moto’s Bertrand Gahel closing in fast behind me. Before I have time to think of a suitable blocking maneuver, they’re either side of me.

Then there’s a bang! And I’m sandwiched between them without any steering capacity as they lead me into a sharp left-hander. There’s no way that we’ll be able to make this one – tires squeal and the three of us slide and spin out of control as we enter the corner amidst a cloud of smoke and chorus of laughter.

The event was a good natured romp around Moroso Motorsports Park’s go-kart track – a day off for ‘group two’ at Honda’s 2005 product launch in southern Florida, while ‘group one’ took the two-wheelers around the main track.

Karting – a contact sport?

It’s the expected turn of events when you release a group of bike journos out on these glorified bumper cars, and we exploited every minute of it! I suspect the kart’s owners may have wondered what they’d let themselves in for – as most every kart came in at the end of the morning session with some new clank, rumble or reshaped piece of bodywork.

But this was a warm-up session prior to the following day’s track session with Honda’s revamped middleweight supersport – the CBR600RR.

STYLE & TECHNOLOGY SELLS

2005 CBR600RR – USD forks, radially mounted front calipers, more midrange and sharper styling.

There’s no disputing that the 600 sportbike is a super competitive market. What used to be an every-four-year update schedule for company’s premium supersport bikes, has now become an every-two-year update – each manufacturer vying to catch the market’s eye with the latest in trick suspension, braking, weight drops and/or power increases.

For 2005 Honda have done the makeover treatment to their CBR600RR which, according to Honda, is the third best selling supersport bike in Canada.

The 600RR’s styling has been updated to reflect more of the CBR1000RR/RCV GP-bike with a new front cowl, shorter tail fairing and black side covers. The overall effect is suitably more aggressive, with the black side-panels giving the seating area a more removed, floating look, and a general overall sharper edging. Nicely done.

Radially mounted brakes are now standard equipment on 600 supersports.

With all the current 600 stock now coming with USD forks and radially mounted calipers, it was a no-brainer for Honda to fit this technology to the 2005 CBR600RR. It’s interesting that they admitted it would be unlikely for anyone but the most-skilled of riders to truly appreciate these updates – I’m inclined to agree.

I’d like to think that I might be one of those “most-skilled” riders, but after a day with the new bike on Moroso’s main track I had to admit that all I could proclaim was that the front suspension leveled the bumpy sections as it should and a goodly squeeze of the front brake hauled the whole thing to a stop when needed.

The latter was a rather vital property of any bike on the Moroso track – due to a rather short run-off at the end of the home straight – terminating in a water-filled ditch full of the local gators. Thankfully, corner one was a wide forgiving sweeper, but I had to wonder whether Honda had paid a little extra to get the gators there, as it rates as one of the best methods to date to keep a group of over-enthusiastic journos in check. They’d be no running three-wide into that corner thank you very much!

Keep the brakes covered to avoid being gator bait.

With this segment of the motorcycling market being decided on by fractions of Kgs difference, a 4Kg weight loss (thanks to thinner frame members, swingarm, chain adjusters and a lighter pipe – that now comes fitted with a cat) is a significant improvement, helping to keep the bike flickable and responsive.

There’s also an increase in its mid-range oomph – achieved with narrower intake ports that speed up airflow, although apparently these restrictions do not compromise top-end flow and thus maximum horsepower. Fuel injectors have also been updated, as well as the injection and ignition mapping.

More mid-range!

Honda’s original plans to bring down an ‘04 600RR for comparison purposes were unfortunately scuppered when one of their employees managed to wad it prior to the launch. With a two-year gap between riding the two bikes, I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions as to how the weight loss and power redistribution have improved the bike, suffice to say that the ‘05 will pull in top gear from as low down as 2,000 rpm (albeit slowly), with a noticeable step in power around the 6,500 rpm mark.

Looking back at my 2003 600RR ride report I noted that the ’03 model was the usual 600 woolly response up till 4,000 rpm, with surges in power at 7 and 10. That would help to conclude a boost in low to mid-range power, with the new model seemingly stronger at off-idle with a smoother delivery of power. All good for a category of bikes that tend to sacrifice power until at least 7,000 rpm.

ON THE ROAD

Black side panels and sharper lines help clean-up the 600RR’s rear end.

Okay, I have a confession. I hate trying to draw conclusions from riding a bike solely on a track. Granted, you get to ride the snot of it in relatively safe conditions, and what better way to test its handling, braking and acceleration? Agreed, it’s a good idea, but invariably in the world of the moto-journalist a chunk of that time is allotted to getting to know that new track, freshening up your skills after a long winter’s nap and then, er, what’s that front end doing?

One thing that makes Honda’s launches so much better than most is that they spread them over a few days and always throw in a mix of track and road time for their sportier models. However, a return to Florida this year (it’s been Vegas for the last two) meant that the on-road testing part would be somewhat limited to a ride down the Keys and back.

Although the 110 mile ride from Key West to Key Largo is a scenic route, it’s not CBR600RR territory. It’s just one road, relatively straight, with a low speed-limit, lots of traffic and heaving with itchy cops.

New cushy seat!

There’s a great temptation to open her up whenever a gap in the traffic allowed, and a surging roar from the RR’s tailpipe eggs the rider on, but the digits of the LCD speedometer flash by awfully fast as the front end lightens up and the local gendarmes reach for their radar.

With warnings of the intolerant nature of Floridian cops, I relinquished my need for speed, and sat back to test the only thing I could – the comfort side of the new CBR and its new, plusher seat!

I managed about 80 miles before I felt some derriere discomfort but was still relatively pain free on my arrival at the hotel. The bike’s a bit on the cramped side, though more roomy than most 600s (though I am 6′ 4″!). I did find that after the relatively slow progress up the Keys the seat was a tad on the warm side – thanks to the close proximity of the underseat exhaust.

A JOB WELL DONE?

A makeover well-done.

Does the CBR600RR really need USD forks and radially mounted calipers to perform properly? A somewhat academic question – the market demands it, and that trumps everything else. That said, I was rather happy to know that – fashion dictated or not – the CBR was fitted with the cutting-edge braking technology on the unforgiving Moroso track.

A boost in midrange power is always welcome on the 600 supersports too, making for a more rideable bike on the road and a more forgiving one on the track (as they’re not so sensitive to botched gear selection coming into corners).

All in all, although the 2005 makeover job on the 600RR is minimal, they’ve really only done what was really needed to keep the bike firmly in the 600 supersport pack.

THANKS TO

Honda Canada for putting in the effort to make this launch happen, and for getting a good cross-section of Canada’s moto-journalists to attend (the luscious Dagmar Midcap for the piercing Mr. Booth swap being particularly brilliant, although I did miss the Boothian anti-vegetarian jabs … no I didn’t). Also to Don and Gene for keeping the bikes in tip-top condition, despite lashings of journo-abuse (the bikes, not D & G).

Dunlop Canada for supplying the new 208 road and race tires for the CBR600RRs and CBR1000RRs. It was a pleasure to shred them, and a relief to know that we had a good contact patch between corner one and the gators.

Stay tuned to CMG next week when we take a gander at the new Silverwing 600 and Big Ruckus scooters.


MOROSO MOTORSPORTS PARK

Map has been updated to show turn numbers and croc location …

I don’t think I’ve ever ridden such a grippy track as this one. Apparently the surface is made up with some crushed shell material that will shred tires pretty quickly and rip (instead of shave) your racing-leather’s knee pucks.

The course is a total of 2.25 miles, with 13 turns, 6 of which make up the three chicanes inserted in to the long straights to keep top speeds down. And with little run-off on any of them, the chicanes are probably needed, although they do have the adverse effect of making it very difficult to get into any kind of rhythm.

Note – we rode it in an anti-clockwise direction, which is the opposite from the map’s layout (i.e. ignore the corner numbers)

However, once you’re past turn one and the tricky turn two (which always seemed to fook me up for some reason), and the two subsequent chicanes, you’re treated to a series of sweeping corners that are guaranteed to bring a smile to any track aficionado. Turn seven is a 90 degree left followed by a short straight and then another 90 degree left of turns eight/nine. Both of them require a goodly amount of attention, especially the latter as there’s a wall on the inside, which obstructs the view ahead until you’re at the apex.

The Repsol CBR1000RR was also made available for the track. Lovely bike it is too.

Once you’re past these, you have the best two corners back to back.

Turn ten is a 200 degree double-apexed left hander, which will not be easily mastered, as any deviation from the right line and speed means having to pick the bike up mid-corner and reposition it for apex number 2.

A short straight follows, and gives you just enough time to slide yer bum over the seat and pull out the right knee in preparation for turn eleven/twelve – a 200 degree turn, this time to the right. For some reason I seemed to be able to nail it almost every time, my knee planting onto the ground quite early into the corner, and staying planted all the way to the last apex. Glorious.

No Photoshop here – yes, ‘arris did get his knee down!

Bike

HONDA CBR600RR

MSL

$11,999.00

Displacement

599 cc

Engine type

Liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder

Carburetion

Dual Stage Fuel Injection (DSFI)

Final drive

Six speed, chain drive

Tires, front

120/70ZR-17

Tires, rear

180/55ZR-17

Brakes, front

Dual 310 mm discs with four piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 220 mm disc with two piston caliper

Seat height

820 mm (32.3″)

Wheelbase

1,384 mm (54.5″)

Dry weight

164 Kg (361 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Red/black, Black Tribal

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