Honda CBR600/1000RR – press launch

Bondo tries out Honda’s new ABS system that’s been fitted on the CBR600/1000RRs. Is that V for Victory or for Vice?

title1.jpgWords: Steve Bond. Pics: Honda, Rob O’Brien, Didier Constant … not sure which are which.

You’re flat out on the Roebling Road racetrack’s 1000-metre straight, the digital speedometer indicates 165 mph and a third-gear corner is fast approaching. You sit up and grab the front brake lever as hard as you can.

Which of the following is likely to happen?

a) The front wheel locks, then tucks and you land face first.
b) The front wheel almost locks, the back wheel flips over your head and you land butt first.
c) None of the above.

If you’re riding anything but a 2009 Honda CBR600RR or CBR1000RR (with the optional ABS), feel free to choose between a or b. With either Honda, sorry but your only choice is c.

The motorcycle slows like you’ve hit a glue pit; you grab a few downshifts and easily make the corner – with the new Honda ABS system, it’s that easy.



CBR600RR gets some engine and exhaust tweaks for 2009.

Other than the optional electronically combined ABS (C-ABS in Honda-speak) both CBRs enter the 2009 model year relatively unchanged. The 600 gets revised portwork and a modified exhaust for more mid-range while the 1000 (completely new last year) gets different rear turn signals.

Both bikes are easy to ride quickly right out of the gate, especially on the fast, flowing Roebling Road circuit, located about 20 minutes from Savannah, Georgia. I hadn’t ridden there for three or four years and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had been repaved, eliminating the bumps, cracks and divots I remembered from last time.

First up was the CBR600RR. The chassis feels tight with an easy turn-in, and it’s rock solid once committed to a line. The motor revs willingly to the 15,000 rpm redline but max power occurs at 12 to 13 thou. The extra rpm provides a welcome over-rev capability that might prevent an unwanted upshift in certain corners.


The 600 is tight and easy to turn-in.

Power was really good and, although I hadn’t ridden a 600 on a track for a while, the midrange was quite useable … once you remember that with a 15K redline – midrange is 8,000 and up. The light, short throw on the shifter made clutchless upshifts a snap, and wailing down the long straight, the motor has a definite howl to it.

Honda flew the CBR1000RR under everyone’s radar last year – for a motorcycle that’s so good, it arrived with relatively little fanfare. Yet, the CBR1000RR won the International Bike of the Year competition in 2008.

Yep – conservative Honda produced a sportbike that blew away the competition in the eyes of various motorcycle magazine editors from around the world – a group notoriously difficult to please.

cbr1000_repsol_lhs.jpgRepsol colours remain for ’09.

With a tankful of gas and all fluids topped up, this year’s 1000 tips the scales at a claimed 209 kg (461 lbs) – only 13 kg (29 lbs) heavier than the CBR600RR ABS.

It may be down a horse or two from the competition, but the midrange grunt is amazing and the top end hit ferocious – I saw 165 mph on the digital speedo numerous times. That being said, it’s a very easy motorcycle to ride fast – it’s stable, forgiving and for most of Roebling, I could leave it stuck in third gear and let it tow me around.

The motor feels raw and the exhaust has a definite growl to it. The only downside was a somewhat balky transmission when doing clutchless upshifts. More preload was required on the shifter before snapping the throttle – a marked change from the light, effortless shift action on the CBR600RR.


CBR1000RR suffers slightly from a balky transmission.

The chassis is really solid, the steering is light, turn-in is exceptional and during side-to-side transitions, it felt more like a 600 than a litre-bike. Lack of lard certainly has its advantages – think about that the next time some wanker tells you they like a heavy bike because it “hugs the road.”

Both bikes were fitted with the latest Pirelli DOT race compound Diablos and suspension adjusted to suit. Results with standard street rubber likely would show a degradation in handling characteristics as well as less ultimate grip.


During the morning, I rode a number of 600s and 1000s, both with and without the ABS option, and was surprised to note that there was no discernable difference in feel or feedback between the systems when going at a good track-day pace.


Who’d have thunk that they’d see a sportbike wheel with an ABS ring on it?

After the lunch break, Honda staged a demo of the ABS on the front straight and this is where it got interesting. Traffic cones were set up and I was asked to get up to around 70 mph, pull the clutch (to take engine braking out of the equation) and grab only the front brake lever as hard as I could when I got to the cones.

Having visions of a front end tuck firmly in mind, I only gave it about 80 percent and was surprised that the bike just stopped. No pulsing at the lever, no wheel lockup and no decrease in braking power.

Well! Next time I gave it the Full Monty with all four fingers on the lever. Same result. The next time I grabbed a mittful AND stomped on the rear pedal and the bike stopped again, only quicker.



Takes a leap of faith but the Honda ABS system did its job.

Then, to make it interesting, Honda personnel dumped a couple of buckets of water in the braking zone and, using the front brake only, I was able to loft the back wheel while the front was on wet pavement in a rolling stoppie.

Bloody amazing. And again, with no lack of feel or feedback.

During the afternoon track sessions (and double-checking to make sure I was on the ABS-equipped bikes) I started experimenting by going two full markers farther off the end of the straight before grabbing the brakes as hard as I could.

Again, the bike just decelerated and remained stable. There was no twitching, no pulsing of the lever and when down to the right speed, it felt quite normal to slowly release the lever and trail-brake into the apex.


Rear brake.

(Be aware that the C-ABS can’t help with lateral grip. You can’t just bury the brake lever at the apex of a turn and expect to stay upright.)

I was impressed with the behaviour of both CBRs on the racetrack. Didn’t get a chance to ride the litre-bike on the street but from track sessions and just sitting on it in the pits, it seems as if the ergos aren’t as compromised as those of previous generation CBRs or its competition.

I did ride the CBR600RR from Daytona Beach to Savannah, Georgia, a distance of about 370 kilometres and, while it certainly wasn’t an ST1300, my lanky frame wasn’t overly compromised like on the last R6 I rode. I wouldn’t say “comfortable” but for those less than six feet, it’d be okay for day trips.

Honda’s C-ABS Sidebar – How it Works.


For the techies amoung you, here’s the meat and two veg.

Unlike with previous ABS systems, pulling the front lever or pushing the pedal on Honda’s new C-ABS doesn’t hydraulically activate the calipers – you’re actually sending brake fluid to remote valves monitored by an ECU making hundreds of calculations per second, then the appropriate braking power is transmitted to the calipers.

To oversimplify, it’s a “brake by wire” system.

The system is activated once the motorcycle reaches 4 mph so when moving the bike around the garage or rolling it off the trailer, the brakes are non-ABS. Likewise, if one of the components happens to break, the system has a fail-safe provision built-in that reverts back to non-ABS braking until you can get it to a dealer.


And dessert.

I’ve routinely tested other ABS systems and in each instance, I felt a pulsing through the lever and the brake “feel” went numb – I could squeeze the lever harder but no more braking was available.

The Honda system negates that. Under no circumstances — even when almost stopped during the panic stop recreations — was there ever a hint through the lever that anything was different.

And even when I instinctively knew that the ABS was working (because the front wheel wasn’t locked and I wasn’t gripped with fear), I could still squeeze harder on the lever and get a smidge more braking.


ABS gubbins where your tool kit used to be.

While the C-ABS system is linked to a certain degree, it’s not like the
Wing and VFR where activating either front or rear automatically causes
one or more pistons in the opposite end’s caliper to start squeezing.

When using only the front lever, the C-ABS sneakily dials in a bit of rear caliper to cut down on front-end dive and thereby stabilizes the chassis.

I can testify that it works surprisingly well and the amazing thing is that it’s totally transparent to the rider – even when riding at an aggressive track day pace, you’ll never know it’s there.


Bondo reckons that the ABS will be an asset to all except the top racers.

Will the top racers opt for this new ABS? Probably not in dry
conditions but I bet if it’s raining, there’d be a scramble to uncover
the secret bike in the back of the garage. How many times have you seen
someone go down on a paint line while braking?

However, I can’t see any disadvantage of the C-ABS to club racers or track day warriors.

The only downside as far as I can see is that the system adds about 10 kg (22 lbs) but then Honda add that the components are centrally located for optimum weight distribution.

It also adds a little over $1,000.00 to the price but if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have to price up bodywork, a set of forks, or even the pain of broken body parts, it would seem to be well worth it.

Seems to me that the bar on sportbike safety just got raised a significant amount.






CBR600RR ABS [non ABS]


$13,799.00 [$12,499.00]

999 cc 599 cc

Liquid-cooled dohc inline four Liquid-cooled dohc inline four
17.8 litres

Dual stage F.I. Dual stage F.I.

Final drive
Six speed, chain drive Six speed, chain drive

120-70ZR-17 radial 120-70ZR-17 radial

190-50ZR-17 radial 180-55ZR-17 radial

Dual 320 mm discs, radial 4-piston
calipers. Electronic combined ABS
Dual 310 mm discs, radial 4-piston calipers. Optional electronic combined ABS

Single 220 mm disc with single-piston
Single 220 mm
disc with single-piston caliper

820 mm (32.3″) 820 mm (32.3″)

1,407 mm (55.4″) 1,369 mm (53.9″)

Wet weight
209 kg (461 lb) 196 kg (432 lb) [186/410]

Winning Red, Graphite Black, Repsol Graphite Black/Heavy Grey Metallic
months unlimited mileage
months unlimited mileage


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