In 2010 I joined the editorial team at SuperBike. I inherited a 2010 Honda Fireblade long term test bike, kindly left behind by a lovely chap that had recently departed the team.
When I called Honda to let them know it would be me writing about it for the rest of the year, they made a point of sending out a fresh contract for me to sign. One of the largest paragraphs detailed how I wouldn’t pull wheelies on the bike for photography as it was irresponsible and didn’t portray the bike or the brand in the light they intended. I signed the form and promptly ignored that nugget of wisdom.
Here I am, eight years later, pointing a beautifully designed LED headlight at the clouds and smiling for the camera on the launch of the Honda CB1000R. Honda has come a long way in the last decade, in more ways than one…
The Honda CB1000R was in dire need of an update. The outgoing model is a decade old and remains pretty much as it was when it rolled out the door in 2008. I can remember not being particularly taken with it back then. It wasn’t a bad bike, but it wasn’t light enough or strong enough to set any trends in the naked bike sector back then and was a bike that often did little more than make up the numbers on group tests. Of all the sectors that have been to bootcamp in the last five years, naked litre bikes is the one that is now stronger than it’s ever been. SuperDuke R, S1000R, Tuono, Z1000, MT-10 and a couple of others are all massively capable machines. A fresh coat of paint and a couple of horsepower wont be enough for Honda and the CB1000R to make an impact in such a cutthroat marketplace. Handily for you and for Honda, they’ve done plenty more than that.
In styling terms this new CB1000R is one of the boldest and best looking bikes Honda has turned out in over a decade. It started life on the drawing board at Honda R&D in Rome, however much wine they had at lunchtime along the way was worth it as the end result is striking. In a good way. Neo Retro means plenty of things, in short it means a modern take on a classic theme. Look at the fins on the back of the LED headlight, look at the machining on the cases and proportions between wheels at the bottom and bodywork at the top. It’s a stone cold stunner of a bike, naked or not.
In technical terms, I’m in danger of losing a few of you know when I say that the motor is based on the same 2006 Honda Fireblade engine as the previous CB1000R. Stick with me, it’s worth it.
The compression ratio is up, the pistons are forged, the valves have increased lift on both sides of the cycle and the throttle body has grown. Changes to the intake path, ports and combustion chamber compliment a new 4-into-2 exhaust that is 4.5 kilos lighter than it was and plays a part in the new figure of 143.4 bhp at 10500 rpm. You’ll find peak torque at 8250 rpm, 76.7 ft-lbs of thrust more than happy to show you time and time again how much faster and more willing this bike is than you might think if you only judge it under glass alone.
So power and torque are up and the EU4 box gets a good ticking as well. Hardly surprising when you look at the work they’ve had to do on the exhaust system. I actually quite like the look of the stock end can. The stacked over and under style exhaust pipes are housed in a one-piece end can. Yes an aftermarket system will shave even more than the sizeable 4.5 kilo weight saving Honda has made and I have no doubt that it will sound even sweeter with a fruity pipe, but I’m a fan of not drawing attention to my riding with a noisy pipe and would be more than happy to leave it as is.
Chassis, suspension and brakes are all-new and really compliment the motor. Radial mount, ABS supported four piston calipers at the front and a single piston job at the rear do a splendid job. Some people might find the action a little aggressive initially, but you’ll get used to them within ten minutes. Showa Big Piston forks are of the separate function variety and are very plush. A further 2.5 kilo weight saving has been achieved with the use of a mono-backbone steel frame and despite the marginal (10mm) increase in wheelbase, steering is surefooted and sharp.
If Honda hadn’t added any kind of electronic assistance to this bike, I’d be more than happy to say that the updates listed above do more than enough of a job to justify calling this bike all new. That they’ve added a RBW throttle, multiple riding modes, engine brake control, traction control and multiple power maps does even more to convince me (and hopefully you), that Honda are serious about the CB1000R and the competition it faces. One on that before we get into how the bike feels to ride. A quick chat with the team at Honda Europe cleared up who they view as the competition in the crowded naked big bike market. They’ve got their eyes on bikes like the RNineT, the Thruxton and other large capacity retro machinery and not bikes like the KTM SuperDuke R or the BMW S1000R. As cool as this bike looks, I’m going to disagree and say that this bike would give more than a solid account of itself if you dropped it into a group test with the performance focused bikes mentioned above. The fact it would run with the big dogs on the road no problem while looking as cool as it does makes me like it even more.
Our ride was a proper one. Dual carriageway leading to the amazing Ronda road near Marbella and up to Ascari racetrack was ideal for the bike. The first three gears are short, aggressive and really well matched. In fact Honda themselves were happy to admit that this bike will get the drop on the new Fireblade from the lights. The little bump stop for your ass comes in handy when you’re making the most of that initial drive. Fueling is precise and clean as a whistle. Changes to the chassis and suspension allow you to make the most of the available stomp and it didn’t take long to click with the bike in the twisty sections at all. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like the feel from the oe Bridgestone rubber. The front end felt numb at ground level and I’d have liked a bit more feel. If you put some faith in the front end it’ll go everywhere you want it to, but I’m convinced that the nature of the bike and the performance it has on tap would justify a set of stickier road rubber. We all rode the + model which meant quickshifter, heated grips, pretty aluminum panels and a little screen all came as standard. There’s a solid argument for not spending the thousand pound premium the + model carries. That said, you will not find aftermarket parts that are built to anywhere near the quality that Honda is able to achieve for the difference in price. Take a break from these launch words and check out our 1000 mile review of the Bell Moto 3 helmet here
Revisions to the motor and the long stroke nature meant it was in its element at the top of the rev range. When third gear peak torque would cover me at 8250rpm, I found I was just as happy to leave it in second and belt off corners nearer peak power at 10500rpm. Some motors aren’t worth revving past peak power but this one really is as there’s no noticeable drop off in drive and the whole thing sounds rampant when you’re letting it have its head.
Direction changes were one of the areas that I noticed a sizeable improvement between this new model and the old one. The combination of seat and peg position, coupled with the amount of leverage available from the bars makes light work of flip flop direction changes. A quick peak through the press pack shows that the crank centre is 5mm higher than it previously was, as is the rider triangle (ass, feet and hands touch points with the bike). So the centre of gravity has actually moved up (the opposite of MotoGP inspired).
Fast and fluid direction changes, coupled with that new motor and a healthy dose of new software puts this bike exactly where it needs to be in terms of the competition. We were able to stretch the legs a little more with a run out round Ascari for some pictures and video.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I wasn’t wearing leathers. Nobody was, so our track pace was tempered slightly. Handy really as the clouds moved in and wet weather got in the way within an hour or so. We managed three decent laps behind Steve Plater (Google him if you don’t know), which equates to about 15km. All that did was convince me that the CB1000R would make a capable track day bike as well. I’m sure with more time and a one-piece suit I’d have pushed until I found a limit in the bike or me, but as it was I was more than happy with the performance of the bike. Trademark Honda heroblobs touch down earlier that I’d have liked, but you’ll already have your knee on the ground by the time they touch down and I wouldn’t say they get in the way.
The track ride was another chance to highlight how good the brakes are and another chance for me to remind you not to get caught up in thinking that you just need to add power to make a better version of a previous bike. There is stacks of performance in these stoppers. I dare say if we focused on learning how to make the most of them, you could outbrake more powerful and lighter bikes from any sector, thus rendering power figures a little less important. Unfortunately the weather eventually called time on our track fun, not before we bagged a few wheelie shots and wobbled round behind the tracking car for pictures (Steve Plater in a Civic Type R, a lethal but effective combination). The run back down the Ronda rode did nothing but confirm the CB1000R’s effectiveness at going fast and looking cool, it makes both appear easy.
The new Honda CB1000R is a very complete package, it wants for nothing. Actually, scratch that, it needs the sweet Simoncelli paint job that the CB1100TR factory custom bike had a couple of years ago. In all seriousness, if you’re in the market for a super naked that packs more than just a straight line punch, the new CB1000R has something for everyone. Honda might be pitching it at the modern Café Racer crowd, but be aware its just as capable of rolling up it’s sleeves and getting stuck into your favourite road as it is rolling up the bottoms of its jeans and going out for expensive coffee.
Words: @Johnatsuperbike Images: Honda