For 20 years the Honda CBR600 has enjoyed unrivaled success on the street, the track and the sales floor. This latest version has the potential to continue that trend and elevate supersport class performance to the next level.
Honda's design team had a goal: Build the fastest 600 for street or track while retaining Honda reliability and meeting strict new emission standards while keeping the cost at a level that won't scare away consumers.
The previous CBR600s, despite originally being designed as streetbikes, have been adept at winning racing championships, 8 AMA Supersport titles to be exact. That design philosophy worked wonders for the first 15 years, but it took a back seat in 2003 with the introduction of the track-focused CBR600RR. But even though the 600RR has dominated the FIM World Supersport championship in every year of its existence, winning 4 consecutive titles to go along with 3 consecutive AMA Formula Xtreme titles, it gets a clean-sheet redesign performed in conjunction with the development of the RC212V MotoGP machine.
Just take a look at the new bike and tell me it doesn't ooze Honda from tip to tail. Starting with the RC51-inspired centrally located ram-air intake duct nestled between the line-beam headlamps, the open-air look of the Formula One inspired bodywork that exposes the engine and its stylized covers. Matte-black frame spars draw attention from discerning eyes, then across the faux fuel tank to the svelte pillion perch and rear cowling. The lighter center-up underseat exhaust features titanium internals. A black Unit Pro-Link swingarm and black three-spoke wheels ensure this bike stays true to the CBR600RR heritage. Add into the equation a wicked new motor and even better chassis supplemented with a healthy dose of MotoGP technology, and it's easy to understand why Honda is so excited about this bike.
Hell, I was excited too. The introduction was being held at the technical Barber Motorsports circuit, a track I have always wanted to experience, so I was barely able to sleep the night before. I had attended the introduction of the 600RR in Vegas some four years ago and have been a fan of the bike ever since, so the opportunity to sample the CBR goods once again had me giddy with anticipation. Unfortunately, the weather was not very accommodating so our test ride took place on a wet track. The slippery surface did put an emphasis on the new bike's surprising stability and near-seamless power delivery, although full-tilt lean angles and late-braking heroics were not really an option.
Honda was thoughtful enough to provide a trio of '06 models for us to compare on back-to-back rides which made detecting improvements rather straightforward. As soon as you tip the bike off the stand it feels smaller and significantly lighter than the last 600RR. Width has been slimmed down, pegs are slightly closer together, bars are raised 10mm, the seat is a bit more-supple and it retains a 32.3-inch seat height. By comparison, the '06 feels downright dated with its wider girth, lower bars and harder seat. The ergonomic changes are geared directly at enhancing the commuter experience which, according to Honda, comprises a significant percentage of CBR owners.
Full of fuel, Honda claims the '07 CBR600RR weighs in at 412 lbs compared to 430 lb for the '06, revealing a significant 18-lb loss. If these figures are correct then, sans fuel, the '07 should tip the scales at a petite 383 lbs, making it easily the lightest in class. (The flyweight of last year's Supersport Shootout IV was the Triumph Daytona 675 that scaled in at 390 lbs.) On the track, the new bike feels light and responsive despite batting through the precipitation while trying to tap into this bike's potential.
Getting up to speed on the 2007 CBR600RR is not a problem because of its all new 599cc four-cylinder motor that is smaller, lighter and more powerful. It sets the tone for the whole light and compact theme of the new bike. Overall engine length is reduced by 28mm, while the new crankcases, magnesium valve cover and internal components combine to purge 3.7 pounds from the engine alone. As impressive as these diminished digits look on paper, they are merely a sidebar to the story once the motor is uncorked. If you prefer on-demand muscle to a peaky power delivery, then you are going to love this motor.
It makes competitive supersport class power from the moment you twist the throttle, coming into its own at 7000 rpm, then continues to pull harder and harder as the revs climb to the 15,000-rpm redline. Peak power is reached at 13,500 rpm, according to Honda literature, but by then this baby is really moving. Power is readily available in the often-used mid-range; just row up and down the slick-shifting 6-speed gearbox and you will be hard-pressed to find anything to whine about. If you do, it will be the only sound you hear because the bike is very quiet compared to the raspy note emanating from the '06.
It's important to know that the CBR does not have a top-end-biased power curve like the R6 it will do battle with over the next few years. It offers up a much broader curve that should make it both a better street bike and a more competent race bike. Working on a wet surface should've accentuated any power delivery shortcomings, but it stayed composed under acceleration. The CBR easily pulls as hard as any of the bikes from Supersport Shootout III, and the power delivery is so rider-friendly that it should easily give the entire field a run for its money.
As if the newfound chutzpah isn't impressive enough, it's my pleasure to report that the motor is unbelievably smooth, a notable improvement over the buzzy '06 mill. Throttle response is much improved, too, thanks to a trio of race-proven components. A centrally located ram-air intake on the front cowling allows for a more direct flow of cool, dense air to funnel through the steering head into the redesigned 0.7 liter larger airbox where a new air-intake control valve (IACV) works in conjunction with the latest version of Honda's two-stage fuel injection (PGM-DSFI) system to offer up seamless on-off throttle response. The IACV purportedly smoothes out throttle response by moderating incoming air flow at the moment the throttle is opened or closed. This helps to alleviate the tendency of many FI systems to be abrupt when getting on or off the gas.
Complimenting Honda's most powerful and compact CBR600 motor to date are some first-rate chassis components. The Fine Die Cast (FDC) frame design features four hollow 2.5mm-thick pieces versus the 11 pieces necessary to create the frame of the '06. It starts at the new steering-head casting with integrated ram-air port, relocated 10mm further away from the crankshaft than the '06 bike. Then there's the two main frame spars and the one-piece U-shaped rear swingarm pivot and motor mount. The entire frame weighs in 1.1-lb less than the '06, and when combined with the smaller motor, aids in the effectiveness of the mass centralization concepts applied to the entire redesign.
Suspension components include an inverted 41mm Honda Multi-Action System (HMAS) fork with spring preload, rebound- and compression-damping adjustability. The outer fork tubes are anodized black so they look as good as they work. The fork is complimented by the latest rendition of the Unit Pro-Link rear suspension and now longer swingarm that continues to provide one of the greatest rides of any production sportbike on the market. At the 15-turn Barber circuit, the CBR had me feeling much more confident than I had anticipated despite the adverse weather conditions, which allowed me to push the Dunlop rain tires harder than I ever thought was possible. Sure, the tires were great, but they weren't the sole reason for surviving hours of soggy track time.
Even in the wet it was easy to tell the bike was very responsive to rider input. Although it has seriously aggressive chassis geometry numbers, it feels particularly stable. (Again, this comes with the caveat that I couldn't push the limits like it deserves to be on a dry surface.) Its stubby 53.8-inch wheelbase (reduced from the 54.7-inch '06 version), more-acute 23.7-degree steering head angle (reduced from 24.0) and decreased 95mm of trail (down from 98mm) points towards toward a potentially nervous chassis, but that's not the way it feels. Credit the new, more compact HESD (Honda Electronic Steering Damper) and repositioned steering head point combine to keep the handling characteristics from feeling sketchy. Steering is very neutral in feel.
Hauling this new CBR down from speed is the responsibility of a slough of radial technology braking components. Up front, a pair of 310mm discs and four-piston radial-mount Tokico calipers actuated by a new vertical-piston radial-mount master cylinder performed flawlessly in the wet. I am sure there is more to learn about them, but they offer excellent feel and power without being too abrupt initially, making them a perfect set-up for riding hard in a variety of conditions. A single-piston rear caliper and 220mm disc keeps the rear of the bike in shape when pulling off wheelies during photo shoots.
From the saddle the 2007 CBR600RR feels all new. Its revised riding position is still well suited to the track, but it will also be less taxing on the backside and shoulders of street riders. For the racers in the crowd, a deeper recess at the top of tank means you can get further behind the windscreen than before, and the bike feels thinner between the knees. When you are tucked in you might not even notice that the fairing is narrower and wraps tighter around the front of the bike.
You have to be committed to being tucked in if you want to maximize the improved aerodynamics of the bike, and if you do then you are more flexible than I am. Outright wind protection when riding around in the standard street rider's perpendicular riding position is typical for a contemporary sportbike. The forward field of vision is unobstructed, which I prefer in a sportbike.
The rest of the bodywork follows suit. The gap between the upper and lower cowling has a very Honda-like explanation. Having two separate surfaces, the two smaller areas thus allow for easier side-to-side transitions in fast-moving air. You might recall a similar explanation of the perforated bodywork of the venerable CBR900RR when it was released. I found the new bodywork to be very appealing in person. Take a look at the profile images and note that you can see light peeking through everywhere, helping make the bike appear lighter.
The slim instrument cluster features a central black-faced analog tach with large, easy-to-read numbers. To the right of the tach is an LCD display for speed, temperature, tripmeters, odometer and a clock. To the left is the fuel gauge. The entire cockpit is very clean and it even has a small cover between the top clamp and the tank that keeps the HESD unit concealed.
In the end, I am hard pressed to find a fault in the 2007 Honda CBR600RR. It is lighter, faster and looks better than any CBR to date. If it's able to back up the hype associated with it, then you could very well be looking at history in the making. The motor addresses the needs of street riders and should be more than competent for racers, the brakes and suspension are billed as racing quality, and it is, of course, a Honda.
There are four colors to choose from if your interested is piqued: standard black; red and black; white and silver; and a white-and-blue combination. It is due to be released sometime in March with a $9499 MSRP, now the most expensive in the class.
The world asked for a lighter and more powerful CBR and we got it. Mission accomplished, Maeda-san. Now, it's up to consumers to take advantage of the most technologically advanced CBR600 ever made. Have fun