In the middle of a cruel February snowstorm in 1993, after taking the day off of work, I trudged into my favourite bike shop (Ontario Honda in Toronto) and informed the Sales Manager that I wanted "that one" in black. It was, after all, my birthday and what better way to celebrate than to buy myself a brand new CBR600F2?
Since then I've put over 75,000km on my F2 and am still extremely fond of it, despite its feeling a bit like a big pig when compared to modern 600s like the F4 and R6. Having developed a taste for more "edgy" bikes over the years, I thought that my next bike would be a Fireblade; that is, until I recently found myself aboard the 2001 CBR600F4i.
Way back in 1987, Honda introduced its Hurricane F model, which evolved into an F2 in 1991, an F3 in 1995 and an F4 in 1999. This bike has proven to be THE best selling 600 of all time, with a small amount of stylistic and mechanical changes between model years.
2001, however, saw the introduction of a truly revamped CBR F4, with the application of fuel injection, a shorter wheel base, a lower dry weight of only 370lbs and an 18 litre fuel capacity. All of this adds up to a leaner, meaner CBR that feels much more like a smaller Fireblade than its predecessors ever did.
|New front end has lost that "nice girl next door" look. She's now a bitch and she's going to pop a cap in your ass.|
The F4i that arrived for CMG's perusal was the pearl while/red version with the red/black and metallic silver/black being the other 2 choices for 2001. A first glance brings back memories of the white/red CBR F2 that Honda produced in 1991.
The F4i is quite a sharp looking bike, especially since Honda opted for a racier look with separate rider and passenger seats, and a new dual headlight design giving it a more aggressive appearance. (The headlights operate together on high', but only the left one operates on low' giving a bit of a lopsided look head-on with the ignition turned on).
Other new design features (besides the bodywork) include: a black anodised frame and swingarm and a new instrument cluster that features an analogue tach, with white numerals and needle against a black face, but a digital display for your speedometer.
The digital speedo numbers are huge and easy to read when riding (although I still prefer analogue to digital), and there's also a handy reset button, which instantly changes kilometres into miles - a very handy feature for North American travel. One really, really, cool thing about the digital display is what it does when you turn the key on. The speedo counts down from 280 to 0! You've gotta see this!
The fuel reserve display came on for me only after 215+ km of travel and disappeared after I fueled up (it presents itself as 4 bars with RES on the bottom).
Okay, enough about the instruments. The bike, in general, looks close to an F4, but changes like the mean looking front end, separate seats and redesigned bodywork all go towards making it look harder than any other CBR ever.
The big news this year is the fuel injection system for the F4i. Gone are the four flatslide CV carburettors of 2000. It's supposed to provide immediate throttle response, and quite honestly it does; however it still has that nice Honda feel of user friendliness (unless, of course, you don't happen to be feeling too friendly, at the time).
Unless you've experienced other attempts at motorcycle fuel injection, you won't realise just how well Honda's done with the smoothness of the F4i's. You will realise the power through, and there's lots of it up to 7000rpm, and even more after that. It's smooth, the throttle feels tight, and it goes like stink. (Those big speedo numbers will come in handy because you'll be well over the legal limit before you even come close to feeling it.) I was very impressed with how little strain the F4i seemed to be under at aggressive' highway speeds. (My old F2 works a lot harder to get up to those speeds).
At start-up it uses an auto enriching system integrated into the PGM-FI module, so don't bother looking for a manual choke or fast idle lever, cause you won't find one. The F4i will rev high upon starting, but once you get going it settles right down into an aggressive growl.
|Front stoppers do the business quite nicely.|
Stopping all of that power comes via almost the same brakes as last year: dual 296mm floating discs with four piston calipers up front, and a single 220mm disc with single piston caliper at the back, with one change, that being that the pistons have a molybdenum/anodic-oxide coating and Teflon-coated roll back seals to enhance braking feel under repeated hard use this year.
What this means is that these brakes provide superior braking power. Superior. You'll be able to do stoppies no problem. And good ones too. Trust me. You'll also be able to stop your bike very, very quickly as an unexpected pickup truck rounds a blind corner into your path during your photo shoot (trust me on this one too).
So, it goes, it stops, but what about the curvy parts of life? Well, the F4i's handling is awesome. Just plain awesome. Actually it corners much like a Fireblade and should be ridden only after having ridden a 20 year old beater, so that you can truly appreciate what this bike is capable of. The chassis and suspension are improved over last year's F4, and it will truly make you feel like the superstar that your mother always told you you were.
|Just in case you forgot what you were on.|
Unfortunately, it's not all milk and honey with the F4i. There are some things that could stand a tweak or two. Firstly, the chassis improvements are supposed to increase lateral and torsional frame rigidity. Well rigidity is one thing that Honda has achieved cause this F4i is just plain hard on the bumps. Unless you're coming back from fast ball practice, I suggest you find some way to protect your nether regions. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Similarly, although the racy' new seat looks great, racy' translates into hard, and long distance comfort gets sacrificed for style here.
One other unusual point of dislike was the routing of the clutch cable over the instrument cluster. Maybe it was just our test bike, but it impeded vision of the numbers and went against Honda's usual attention to detail.
I love the new F4i. It's like a 599cc Fireblade, and provides an excellent all around ride.
Although there are many similarities between last year's F4 and this year's F4i, the F4i has been put together with some sizeable changes that make it feel much harder than any other CBR600 ever has, and make it a real contender in today's 600cc super sport market.
|Hey, that almost looks like a professional shot. Smart.|
For left brain types like the good Editor 'arris, the aesthetics of a motorcycle are not paramount (it's true, I had my right side removed, although the urge to kill is still present, I just don't care if I look good doing it now - 'arris). I imagine however that the type of person interested in purchasing a motorcycle in the 600 super sport category will definitely put the look, feel, and the sound of his/ her bike high on the priority list. The fact that your ass and wrists hurt after a half hour in the saddle is of little or no consequence.
With this in mind, Honda seem to have got it right. The look is aggressive, the lines are sharp and clean, the graphics are bold, but tasteful (no multi coloured Ninja-like stickers or faux body work tears, Kawasaki please take note!). Staring the thing the face, you'd swear it looks angry.
This anger is not immediately evident when you sit on the bike for the first time. In fact, when turning the key on, the gauges will dance for you. Squeezing the front brake lever you feel the fine taper towards the ball end. Hit the start button, and the engine springs immediately to life - the sound is almost non mechanical - as if the bike were powered by a substantial electric device. The function and feel of all the controls are crisp and precise. A conservative loop around the block left me with the feeling that the bike is more surgical instrument than motorcycle.
I'm sure that after years of making perfectly competent and competitive 600cc machinery and continuing to get the "ho hum" from much of the North American press (CMG excepted), the marketing department at Honda gave the go ahead to its design and engineering departments to say (insert Japanese accent) - FOOK YOU!!!
These years of pent up anger can be felt as you wring the throttle past four digits to a violent 14,000 rpm crescendo ROAR - yellow light staring you in the face - daring you to go for it again in the next gear . That is, if you've got the balls for it!
You know what, I think I'll leave that to the twenty-somethings whose "fear of death" extension has been disabled.
It is interesting to note that those same magazines which complained about Honda's lack of edge in it's previous offerings now are saying, "gee its not as user friendly." Honda, feel free to kill them, its justifiable homicide.
|Barb's F2 is top with the comfortable looking seat.|
Okay, I just have to add my two cents to that although I had very little saddle time with the F4i.
I think Honda have done the right thing by dropping their more user friendly stance on the CBR6 and going for the race replica/Yamaha R6 market. Personally I much prefer the real life ergonomics and ride of the old CBR but I'm simply not a target customer. The people who do buy the 600's want it to look mean, put them in a racer pose and have as much peak horses as possible (with little regard for the low to mid range).
The older CBR600 stood out to me above the others because it went against the impractical race trend and gave the customer a bike that you could actually tour with. Unfortunately that doesn't sell and the Canadian market is simply not big enough to import the 'other' F4i (currently sold in Europe) that is basically the older model with the fuel injection update.
Oh well, progress I guess ...