First Ride: Honda CBR650F

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Photos by Bill Petro

It’s been a few years since Honda has offered a street-friendly middleweight sport bike. Sure, the CBR600RR is a street bike, but it compromises comfort and practicality in the interest of quick lap times. Honda’s last sporty all-rounder middleweight was the F4i, which was introduced in 2001, though ultimately the trend for the fastest track times meant it was replaced by the more aggressive RR in 2003. It made a brief reappearance in 2006, as a milder alternative to the RR, but that was the last we saw of it.

Thankfully the trend now is back to more usability and Honda has finally introduced a bike that slots in between the CBR500R beginner bike and the track-ready CBR600RR. It’s the all-new CBR650F, which I sampled earlier this week during a press intro held in Ontario’s Renfrew County.

WHAT’S NEW

While the CBR650F is an entirely new machine, it’s not a showcase of new technology but is rather a simpler design that uses a steel frame, with modest engine and suspension specs. There’s no slipper clutch, no quick shifter, or any other track-day features, but there is standard ABS. Its 649cc liquid-cooled inline four is surprisingly not a revised version of the F4i mill but rather a new design, with new crankcases, cylinders and head.

The CBR650 is all-new, but uses old-school technology.
The CBR650 is all-new, but uses old-school technology.

Although the engine has the same 67mm bore as the F4i and the current CBR600RR, it has a longer 46mm stroke (up from 42.5mm) to get the additional 50cc, and is tuned with an emphasis on low to midrange torque, as opposed to being a high-revving screamer. Claimed peak torque is 46.5 lb-ft at 8,000 rpm. And although Honda Canada is guarded when publishing horsepower figures — basically they don’t —European specs put it at 85 hp.

In keeping with the simplicity of the bike, there are no selectable ride modes, traction control, or any other such electronic doodads. Four header pipes with a distinctive 400-Four classic appearance dump exhaust gasses into a single muffler mounted beneath the bike. Of note for home mechanics, despite the bike’s full fairing, the oil filter is accessible without removing any body panels.

There’s no Canadian fuel consumption numbers available yet, but the European model claims 4.75L/100 km, which means you could theoretically travel about 360 km on its 17-litre fuel tank.

That's a steel frame; it keeps costs down, and the bike still isn't too portly. It weighs in the same ballpark as competitors like the Ninja 650.
That’s a steel frame; it keeps costs down, and the bike still isn’t too portly. It weighs in the same ballpark as competitors like the Ninja 650.

A steel frame uses elliptical-tube spars, and the die-cast aluminum swingarm is banana-shaped on the right side to clear the muffler. A conventional 41mm fork is non adjustable and a single, preload-adjustable shock is mounted to the swingarm without linkages –again, nothing groundbreaking here but known, reliable technology.

Chassis geometry is on the sporty side, with a 25.5-degree rake, 101mm of trail and a 1,450mm (57.1 in.) wheelbase. Claimed wet weight is just 211 kg (465 lb), which is the same as the Kawasaki Ninja 650R, a kilo lighter than the Yamaha FZ6R, and 34 kilos lighter than the rather portly Suzuki GSX650F.

Wheels are 17-inchers and tire sizes are supersport-spec 120/70-17 in the front and 180/55-17 in the rear. There are twin 320mm discs and two-piston calipers up front and a 240mm disc with a single-piston caliper in the rear. In a trend seen on other new Hondas — and a departure from their traditional set-up — the brakes are not linked.

Honda didn't include linked brakes, but ABS is standard.
Honda didn’t include linked brakes, but ABS is standard.

Not too long ago Honda swore by linked brakes, but the company seems to have reverted to a more conventional, separate braking system. When questioned about it, the reasons given for the lack of a combined braking system ranged from cost-cutting measures to improved ABS to customer feedback – in other words, no one seems to really know why.

THE RIDE

The CBR650F looks quite sporty, and from the side it bears a family resemblance to its two smaller siblings, the CBR250R and CBR500R. It has a unique face, however, using a single headlight that is very close in design to the headlight on the CB500X. Overall the styling comes together and it looks sportier than its spec sheet suggests.

The riding position is relaxed, with a slight forward lean to the clip-on handlebars, which are mounted somewhere between a supersport and a naked bike in height. There’s a modest amount of legroom (there’s actually more legroom than on the new VFR800F, which was also ridden during this launch), and the seat, although firm, is flat and relatively comfy.

The exhaust is reminiscent of the classic 400 Four pipes.
The exhaust is reminiscent of the classic 400 Four pipes.

There’s minimal info available in the LCD instrument panel, which has two screens. On the left display is the digital tachometer and speedometer, and on the right there’s the odometer, twin trip meters, time and fuel gauge.

Clutch effort is light, but the lever is quite far from the handlebar; not a problem for my XL-sized hands but some riders might find the reach a stretch. Unlike the brake lever, which is adjustable in six positions, the clutch lever is not adjustable. Mirrors offer a decent rear view, which is only partially obscured by your arms.

There’s not much remarkable about the engine; it sounds nice and feels nice, and it’s mostly smooth. At highway speeds the bike is free of vibration (the engine spins at 5,000 rpm at 110 km/h) but it begins buzzing at about 140 km/h, or about 7,000 rpm.

Costa says it's a bit slow-turning for a middleweight, but it's stable and handles trail-braking and decreasing-radius turns well.
Costa says it’s a bit slow-turning for a middleweight, but it’s stable and handles trail-braking and decreasing-radius turns well.

Power delivery is relatively linear for an inline four, and it pulls hard enough in top gear that a leisurely pass is possible without downshifting. If you want to get past slower traffic in a hurry, the CBR will do it effectively but you have to drop two cogs and let the engine spin up to do so.

Although not disappointing, I was expecting the engine to feel more muscular at lower revs, especially considering its longer stroke. Torque-wise, it’s not as strong as the Ninja 650R but it has longer legs, and it feels more powerful off the bottom than the Yamaha FZ6R. I can’t make a direct comparison to the Suzuki GSX650F because it’s been too long since I’ve ridden one, but if I recall it was quite torquey.

Steering is neutral but on the slow side for a middleweight; it’s not supersport-flickable but it is stable. It’s easy to tighten up in a decreasing-radius turn, and it even responds well to trail braking, without exhibiting a tendency to stand up. Even the suspension, which isn’t adjustable for damping, is well sorted and a fine compromise for most street riding, even at a spirited pace. I didn’t miss the lack of adjustability, though I also wouldn’t take this bike on a serious lapping session during a track day.

There's a digital speedo with an LCD tach around the top.
There’s a digital speedo with an LCD tach around the top.

After lunch, on the return trip to Calabogie Peaks Resort where we were headquartered, we unintentionally turned onto some dirt roads, which further demonstrated the versatility of its chassis and suspension. On the gravel roads we actually picked up the pace we were keeping on the pavement and the CBR just railed along, steering effortlessly on the gas with surprising grip from the Dunlop D222s. Even the ABS proved effective and not too intrusive, especially in the rear, which also helped with cornering.

Although we only rode about 15 kilometres on gravel, it revealed more about how competent the chassis is than the rest of the day spent on pavement.

CONCLUSION

The CBR650F is a middleweight aimed at both newer and seasoned street riders on a modest budget; if your priority is lapping a racetrack, a Honda sales rep will gladly point you towards the 600RR.

An unintentional detour down a gravel road revealed just how stable the chassis is.
An unintentional detour down a gravel road revealed just how stable the chassis is.

It’s non-intimidating and easy to ride, yet powerful enough that more experienced riders can consider it a serious option if they find a true middleweight supersport is too focused and compromising. It does everything well (even flat-tracking on gravel fire roads), and with a few aftermarket accessories like a taller screen, heated grips and saddlebags, it would make a great, lightweight sport tourer (Honda has not yet revealed what accessories will be available for the 650F).

There are no extra frills on this bike that you won’t find on the Ninja 650R or the GSX650F, though at $9,499 it costs more than any of its direct competition – $600 more than the Ninja, $1,300 more than the GSX and a significant $1,500 more than Yamaha’s FZ6R, though it lacks ABS.

Despite the added cost, it’s a sensible offering that’s finally been added to Honda’s line-up, and that certainly merits a good look if you’re pondering a middleweight all-rounder with a sporty penchant.


GALLERY

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SPECIFICATIONS

Bike  2014 Honda CBR650F
MSRP  $9,499
Displacement  649 cc
Engine type  Liquid-cooled inline-four, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Power (crank)*  N/A
Torque*  N/A
Tank Capacity  17.3 litres
Carburetion  EFI
Final drive  Chain
Tires, front  120/70ZR – 17
Tires, rear  180/55ZR – 17
Brakes, front  Dual 320 mm discs, two-piston caliper, ABS
Brakes, rear  Single 240 mm disc, ABS
Seat height  810 mm
Wheelbase  1,450 mm
Wet weight*  211 kg
Colours  Silver, blue
Warranty  12 months, unlimited mileage
* claimed

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