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