Honda CBR1000RR – The Art of Deception

Honda CBR1000RR…by Neale Bayly. Photos by Neale Bayly and FS Enterprises.

Firing the 2010 Honda CBR1000RR to life for the first time, slipping into gear and easing out onto the road next to my home, I’m amazed by the lack of drama. Slotting into traffic, picking up the Interstate and dialing the big, four cylinders on 75 mph, it’s the calm that’s most apparent. Effortlessly rolling along at law-abiding speeds, I can barely hear any engine noise or sound from the exhaust. Surely this can’t be a fire-breathing Superbike making close to 160 horsepower through the meaty 190 series tire. This is a machine that is capable of hitting around 180 mph in the right environment and shredding a quarter mile in 10 seconds or less? Surely I’ve got a restricted model here.

A few hours later, all doubts evaporated as I exited turn 8 with the throttle pinned in third gear and the big CBR hits the red line before I ease out of the throttle for the kink that leads down to turn 10. It’s taken me a few sessions to find the spuds to hold the throttle open on the tight, technical Beaver Run racetrack, I feel like I’ve been strapped to a rocket as the Honda feels so sadistically fast.

As the last of the current crop of liter bikes I’ve tested, the Honda CBR1000RR is unequivocally, without a shadow of doubt, the most deceptive. Like all Honda sport bikes I’ve ridden, quiet, reasonably comfortable on the highway and highly civilized, it reminds me of its smaller brother the CBR600RR when I tested it with the other 600cc machines in the class some years ago.  The Honda was the “Plain Jane” of the bunch in terms of noise and flash, but the one I recorded my fastest lap times on. And reading how the CBR1000RR has been winning multi bike shootouts over the last couple of years, confirms my feelings it is just the same as its smaller sibling.

Spending some time with the CBR on the road before we took it to the track actually changed one of my bigger prejudices that it’s pointless to ride a liter bike on the road. The riding position is not going to fold you up like some Yoga instructor in a weird pose, and it doesn’t get brutally hot when you are sitting at traffic lights or stop signs thanks to the low exit Moto GP inspired exhaust system. The clutch is light and smooth and shifting is as slick and effortless as any motorcycle produced. Brakes are nice and sensitive to road inputs, and the throttle not so sensitive that small inadvertent moves will have you hurtling forward by mistake. Mirrors do a reasonable job of letting you know what’s trying to keep up, and the gauges are easy to read, keeping you fully up to date on how close to being broke you are if you get pulled over by the law.

I’m not so impressed with the passenger carrying capabilities. My usual passenger is five foot two and weighs around 110 pounds, and it was still difficult. The higher seat put her too far away and feeling disconnected. With the extra weight up so high, it also compromised the bike’s handling on the technical roads around my home. Not to mention you really need to be extremely careful if you use any of the power. Also, the pegs are so close to the small, plank like seat that it wasn’t really that comfortable. So unless you regular passenger is a featherweight gymnast with buns of steel, this bike is better ridden solo.

One feature of the new CBR1000RR that I really like on the road is the new anti lock brake system, called “C-ABS” in Honda speak. Coming as a missive from Honda’s CEO and President, Takeo Fukui, a few years back that by 2010 all bigger Honda motorcycles will have ABS, it’s the first time I’ve used it on a sport bike, other than the new system on BMW’s S1000RR. Adding around 20 pounds of additional weight, it allows the brake system to operate like a conventional set up until used aggressively. At this point, the C-ABS electronics detects a sudden large increase in fluid pressure, and combined with readings from the wheel sensors, modulates the fluid pressure to prevent the wheels from locking. A high speed servo and a device called a “stroke simulator” removes any pulsing at the lever previous systems exhibited. And, apart from a slightly vague feeling at the lever when it’s doing its job, it’s as normal feeling as you can want. The brakes are also linked, and a little rear brake is added when you apply the front. This keeps the bike settled entering turns from high speed on the racetrack, and I’m not going to complain about having additional stopping power with no risk. This rear brake set up is a 220mm rotor with a twin piston caliper, while 320mm rotors get four piston Brembo calipers up front.

During my track test, I spent most of the day riding with my good friend Julian Taylor from All About Bikes on board a BMW S1000RR. As riders of very similar skill levels, once I learned his home track, it was interesting to be able to see how the two bikes stacked up against each other. While I immediately thought the BMW would have a big advantage with its dynamic traction control it was actually under braking where it got the best of the Honda every time. Talking with a good friend of mine who is an ex racer and current track coach on a CBR, he told me this can be fixed by changing to a set of Vesrah brake pads, which I plan to installt before the next test.

During our day out at Beaver Run, we lucked into an impromptu race with a large group of lightweight super bike racers. It had been an interesting day of testing, as we would crucify the smaller displacement machines on the straights, to find ourselves sweating in our helmets to get our bikes stopped for the turns, while the lightweight bikes went by on the gas. Trying to battle with them through the technical top end of the track left me extremely impressed with the Honda’s chassis and suspension. The bike turns and changes direction extremely well, and it must have shocked more than one rider to be passed in this section by a pair of large street bikes with mirrors and turn signals. Exhibiting total stability leaned over hard on the gas through the fast section, there was no drama scrubbing massive speed and tipping into the uphill right. This leads you to the left flick before the front straight really had me feeling comfortable on the big CBR, as I kept dialing in more throttle. Also, consider both Julian and I were on street compound rubber, so I know there is more to be had from the Honda as we upgrade the tires.

Suspension on the Honda is conventional, apart from the electronic steering damper. A 43mm inverted HMAS cartridge fork comes with all the normal adjustments, and throughout the day Julian’s mechanic made a few changes from the stock street settings to limit front end dive, slow the rebound some and firm up the rear. This is a conventional HMAS single shock, which is also fully adjustable.  A few weeks later, working on the next part of the article, we decided to set the bike up to Sportrider magazine track settings, and it was interesting to see how close we actually came during the day. The Beaver Run track is certainly a tad bumpy in sections, but the suspension did a fantastic job of keeping the tires in contact with the asphalt at all times.

The fact the Honda handles and behaves so well is no surprise. It’s been winning tests for years for this and its silky smooth engine. Pumping out close to 154 horsepower and 77.63 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, the inline liquid-cooled four cylinder displaces 999cc. Double overhead camshafts open and close four valves per cylinder and pistons run a 12.3:1 compression ratio. It’s a relatively short stroke engine with a 76mm bore and a 55.1mm stroke, which allows the big four a 13,000rpm redline. Fuel is delivered via twin fuel-injectors and from street to track this is nothing short of perfect. At Beaver Run it took a real act of faith to allow the engine to pull up through the gears this high as it makes so much power, and I was able to make faster progress by short shifting through the upper end of the mid range at first. This allowed me to keep my skirt down long enough to learn the track and eventually enjoy the supersonic benefits of using the upper end power to try and keep Julian off my tail.

The bike also uses a slipper clutch, which is pretty standard fare these days, and operation at the handlebars via a cable operated lever.  Like the ABS this is a feature you don’t really notice until the moment you need it, and once you’ve experienced how it works, it’s hard to get comfortable on a bike without one. It was certainly doing some work as Julian and I fought with our racing buddies and its operation is super smooth.

Style wise the Honda has taken me some time to get used to. It’s not, as Julian and I would say in England, “my cup of tea.” But as we know, opinions are like…well you get my point. My unit is as black as it could be, and actually this is the only color available for the C-ABS model. If you choose the standard CBR you can have Pearly Orange/Light Silver or Red/Black. This option will set you back $13,399 and the C-BAS model tested here will cost an additional $1,000.

Heading home from Beaver Run gave me some chance to digest on a full day at the track with the new Honda CBR1000RR. It worked so much better than expected on the short track I was pleasantly surprised, just like I had been after the road test.  I don’t remember feeling so much at ease on Yamaha’s R1 and can’t remember the GSXR1000 being so user friendly. It certainly doesn’t feel as sharp as the new BMW, but in fairness I haven’t tested one that wasn’t all pre-tweaked on race compound tires. Julian certainly enjoyed a small advantage on the BMW having the traction control, as the Honda requires an extra degree of concentration to make sure you don’t spin the rear tire.  Exercise a bit of caution though, and the Honda is without a doubt one of the, if not the, most user-friendly liter bikes on the market, and I can fully understand now why it usually wins all the multi bike shoot outs.
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