‘I think it’s about as per­fect a bike as there can be’ Nick Knowles

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature -

Few bikes de­fine an era so well, or are so sig­nif­i­cant to a whole gen­er­a­tion of mo­tor­cy­clists, as the orig­i­nal CBR600F. From the late ’80s and through­out the ’90s, Honda’s mid­dleweight four wasn’t just the UK’S best-sell­ing bike, it was also a win­ner on track and at the TT and so in­flu­en­tial it spawned a whole new bik­ing cat­e­gory – su­per­sports 600s.

No won­der then that, al­though dropped in 2007, the CBR6 re­mains hugely sig­nif­i­cant to many rid­ers to­day.

TV pre­sen­ter Nick Knowles is among them. “Yeah, the Honda CBR600 was great,” he told MCN. “I had a fair few of those from the ear­lier F mod­els and then the CBR600RR. I think it’s about as per­fect a bike as there can be.”

And the DIY guru is not alone. “Mine was my third bike af­ter my 125cc days,” says reader Kris Rex­ter. “It was my first full-power big bike and still holds my all-time high­est speed record; it was the bike I learned to stop­pie and the only one I've had a se­ri­ous crash on!”

Mike But­trick adds: “My father bought me a CBR when I moved to at­tend uni. It was my first big bike and the start of my adult jour­ney.”

Jim Bar­ron agrees: “It was the first bike I’d rid­den for 16 years. An amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter mis­be­hav­ing on the road for a while I started do­ing track­days. I loved that ma­chine, it be­came a part of me.”

That ver­sa­til­ity was key to the CBR’S suc­cess. Al­though pri­mar­ily con­ceived to usurp Kawasaki’s GPZ600R at the top of the mid­dleweight per­for­mance tree (which the CBR com­pre­hen­sively achieved thanks to its 82bhp and new 17in wheels com­pared to the Kawasaki’s 75bhp/16in combo), the Honda, cru­cially, was ver­sa­tile and af­ford­able as well. One of the rea­sons for the con­tro­ver­sial, all-en­clos­ing body­work was, af­ter all, to cover up the CBR’S ef­fec­tive but oth­er­wise unattrac­tive box-sec­tion steel frame when most sports­bikes of the pe­riod al­ready used more ex­pen­sive alu­minium items.

It worked, too. First, helped partly by a tele­vised, one-make, rac­ing series (the CBR Chal­lenge which op­er­ated in a sim­i­lar vein to the in­fa­mous RD350 Pro-am), the new Honda quickly be­came re­garded as both THE per­for­mance mid­dleweight and, by be­ing so, the most as­pi­ra­tional ‘first big bike’ of all.

Sec­ond, the CBR was a typ­i­cal Honda. It was so well bal­anced and easy to ride that it was also re­garded as a truly ver­sa­tile all-rounder.

And third, and the cherry on top of it all, was the CBR’S qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity. In re­sponse to the tech­ni­cal fail­ings of some of its pre­ced­ing V4s, Honda had over-en­gi­neered its new­comer to en­sure there wasn’t a re­peat. The re­sult, slightly un­usual styling apart, was a bike that could truly do it all – com­mute, race, tour and more. No won­der it in­stantly be­came so pop­u­lar.

Just as im­por­tant, though, was Honda’s knack of con­sec­u­tively up­dat­ing the CBR to keep ahead of a grow­ing band of im­i­ta­tors. So, three years later, no sooner had Kawasaki cre­ated a ma­chine that was at least the CBR’S equal (the first ZZ-R600) than Honda re­sponded with an all-new CBR F2, which moved the game on. The trick was re­peated with the first ram air CBR in 1995 and the first al­loy-framed ver­sion, the X, in 1999.

By then, how­ever, af­ter vir­tu­ally 10 years on top, the CBR’S lus­tre was on the fade. Al­though the Honda was still a great bike, the ar­rival of Yamaha’s first, more track-fo­cused, 120bhp R6 in 1999 grabbed the head­lines and stole the CBR’S per­for­mance crown.

Honda re­sponded with not one but two up­dated CBRS in 2001: the stock F and the sportier Sport (which was also avail­able in Rossi replica liv­ery) but the die was al­ready cast – full-bore sports 600s were the fu­ture. Honda came up with its own, the CBR600RR, in 2003 which, though great in its own way, is, re­ally, an­other story. The F mean­while car­ried on fit­fully be­fore fi­nally be­ing dropped in 2007.

That wasn’t quite that, how­ever. The CBR name was re­vived, if not com­pletely con­vinc­ingly, as a bud­get all-rounder in 2010 which grew into the CBR650F in 2014.

Bet­ter still, due to its pop­u­lar­ity, not to men­tion dura­bil­ity, the orig­i­nal CBR re­mains a de­cent buy. Ride one – and most of us have – and you’ll see why: the CBR still has a fine bal­ance of per­for­mance and use­ful­ness – and now they’re more af­ford­able than ever!

‘The CBR still has an in­com­pa­ra­ble bal­ance of per­for­mance and use­ful­ness’

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