Here at CMG, we’re not afraid to speak our mind. If we don’t like a bike, we’ll say so and tell you why. Life’s too short and your time is too valuable for us to cozy up to manufacturers as some other web sites do. Most of us are members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and all of us adhere to its rigid code of ethics.
This means that when we ride a motorcycle that we really, really like, we’re free to tell you about that as well, and it actually means something. It’s not faint praise. Our endorsement is hard-earned and you can take it to the bank.
So if you’re looking for a hatchet job on Honda’s $14,999 CB1000R, you’ve come to the wrong place because we all really, really liked it.
It was my job earlier this year to assign motorcycles to the five of us who rode on the CMG Days of Summer tour, and the choices were fairly easy: a smallish Ducati for Matt, the newbie; a naked Kawasaki for Dean, the track-day rider; a retro Triumph for Jeff, because he once owned a Triumph; a Harley bagger for Dustin, because somebody had to carry the beer.
For me, though, I settled on the bike I actually wanted, the Honda CB1000R, because those guys had to be reminded who was boss.
What is it?
The Honda was not new for 2019 and will not be changed for 2020. It was however, significantly overhauled for 2018 from the kinda dull, kinda meet-the-nicest-people CB1000R of the previous six years. This current bike looks aggressive with its stripped-down naked appeal, but not so Transformers-like as most of its competition. And being a Honda, the fit and finish is superb. There are no ugly weld spots or sticky-out bolts to rust, and the switchgear feels like quality kit.
The inline-four has large 44 mm throttle bodies, with high-compression forged pistons and a link-pipe on the 4-2-1 exhaust that boosts midrange torque. That midrange is what makes this bike all the better. You don’t need to rev the snot out of it to get power, nor will you find yourself lugging down at lower revs. Everything pulls progressively and predictably all the way to the 11,500 rpm redline, but you’ll be happiest around 6,000 rpm, where it all hums along smoothly and there’s plenty more power on tap.
The bike weighs about 8 kg less than the old model, thanks to a lighter exhaust and a lighter steel mono-backbone frame, among other new parts. It has a significantly improved suspension, with a fully-adjustable upside-down 43 mm Showa front fork, and a lighter spring and new settings for the Showa shock at the back. The brakes were not changed, but they didn’t need to be. ABS is standard.
What’s so special about it?
The bike itself is a well-set-up unit, with 143 hp and 77 lbs.-ft. of torque on tap. So are most of the competition. Where the CB1000R excels is with managing that power through the three preset electronic Ride Modes of the ride-by-wire system, which control the levels of power, engine braking and traction control. They’re similar in principle to the ride modes found on other Hondas, like the Africa Twin and the Gold Wing, though each are custom-tailored to the machine.
Sport mode loads it all on with maximum power, some traction control and minimal engine braking. Standard reduces the power and bumps up the safety features. Rain mode reduces the power even farther and maximizes the traction control. I spent most of my time in Standard, which was less snatchy at the throttle than Sport while still pulling like a freight train.
There’s a custom mode too, which lets you set those three parameters just as you like them. You can even turn off the wheelie control that’s part of the Honda Selectable Torque Control, so you can impress your friends with your prowess. I only discovered this after the Days of Summer tour, however, so those other guys never got to see what a macho stud I really am on one wheel. Probably just as well though, since wheelies are prohibited under Ontario’s anti-stunting laws, and they’ll get the bike impounded, earn you a $10,000 fine and a suspended licence, and cripple your insurance.
How does it ride?
Back to the task at hand. The CB1000R is a great bike for older guys like me because it has a more forgiving upright stance for the rider. The footpegs are relatively high, so you feel well-poised, and it’s got higher bars as well, which means you’re not crouched over the tank like Marc Marquez. There’s no screen or fairing, not even a fly screen – this is a naked bike, don’t forget – but I was never bothered by wind blast. A bike that’s too upright, like the average cruiser, will wear out your forearms with hanging on, while a bike that’s too forward, like a full-on sportbike, will kill your wrists and shoulders at road-legal speeds. The CB1000R I could ride all day, at any speed.
At this point, without seeing a picture of the bike, you might criticize it from my description as too Plain Jane, too Vanilla. Maybe, even, too … Honda. But take a look at it. That engine looks huge and all business; the muffler is sort-of weird, but I came to excuse it as “edgy”. The LED headlight is distinctive and very effective. The single-sided swingarm is about a centimetre shorter and 2 kg lighter than the previous version, despite the wheelbase being about a centimetre longer.
Somehow, through good math and plenty of trial and error, Honda’s engineers found the sweet spot for the chassis dimensions and the CB1000R returns all the research and development by handling exactly as you want it to. It turns in and pulls out just as you expect, and if you change the ride mode on the fly, there will still be no surprises.
Is it worth it?
The CB1000R was not the favourite for everyone of the five bikes we rode on the Days of Summer tour, but if it wasn’t in top spot, it was never lower than Number Two. Jeff preferred the Kawasaki because he’d just bought one and needed to justify his judgement; Matt was wary because he’d never ridden anything so powerful. Dustin felt silly on the Honda because his jacket yelled “Harley-Davidson” on its back, and Dean couldn’t make up his mind.
The Honda was definitely my favourite, though. It was quick when I wanted it to be, compliant when I needed it to be, and always comfortable. Everything worked well to create a bike that’s stronger than the sum of its naked parts. I took the scenic route up to Muskoka to meet the others because I just wanted more time on the bike, and while we swapped around the machines, I was always happy to reclaim the CB1000R. When I left for home, I took the scenic way again.
As for the cost, fifteen grand is a very fair price for all that ride-enhancing and ass-saving technology. Of course, once you’ve added the $795 Freight and PDI, and the sales tax, you’re looking at almost $18,000 in Ontario. If I was buying the bike (and I’ve been seriously thinking about it), I’d add the $450 factory heated grips and the $690 quickshifter kit, which works both up and down. That would all come out to just under $20,000 before thinking about insurance, but I know I’d then have a bike I’d be happy to ride day in, day out, for years to come. And isn’t that what it’s all about?