First Ride: 2017 Honda CBR1000RR

2017 HONDA CBR1000RR Honda taps into its re­sources and builds the best Fire­blade to date


Honda taps into its re­sources and builds the best Fire­blade to date

Honda’s story of mod­ern su­per­bike evo­lu­tion starts 25 years ago with the first- ever Fire­blade— the CBR900RR. At the time, the idea was sim­ple: Make a mo­tor­cy­cle as light and pow­er­ful as pos­si­ble yet easy to ride. Honda dubbed this con­cept To­tal Con­trol, and since its in­cep­tion it has been the back­bone to every liter­bike the Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer has pro­duced to date.

Fast-for­ward to to­day and to Honda’s next step in evo­lu­tion— the 2017 CBR1000RR. The up­dated Fire­blade is pre­pared to stab at the stiffest of its com­pe­ti­tion with a higher power- to- weight ra­tio than ever be­fore, a lighter chas­sis, and a rac­ing- in­spired elec­tron­ics pack­age to achieve the great­est level of To­tal Con­trol ever.

On pa­per Big Red looks bet­ter than ever, but be­fore jump­ing to con­clu­sions I packed my gear bag and jet­ted across the At­lantic Ocean to the su­per- tech­ni­cal Al­garve In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit in Por­timão, Por­tu­gal, to get a feel for my­self.

First in the ef­fort to re­turn the CBR to the top of its class was Honda’s mis­sion to ex­tract more out of the en­gine to im­prove out­right power and de­liv­ery through­out the rev range. The en­gine comes out scream­ing and pulls harder all the way up to the in­creased red­line of 13,000 rpm, where it now makes a claimed 189 hp at the crank­shaft. The ul­ti­mate re­sult is much bet­ter off- cor­ner per­for­mance— which ad­mit­tedly was an is­sue the Fire­blade needed fixed for quite some time— and wicked top- end speed that it didn’t have be­fore.

The best part? Honda suc­cess­fully kept the bike’s clas­sic smooth power de­liv­ery that many have been so fond of over the years.

Trans­mis­sion gear ra­tios on the new Fire­blade re­main iden­ti­cal to that of its pre­de­ces­sor, though the rear sprocket jumps from 42 to 43 teeth. This small change helps ex­ag­ger­ate the CBR’S im­proved midrange power, as it lit­er­ally jumps off of cor­ners, with­out the Honda run­ning out of gear­ing even on the 185- mph front straight­away at Por­timão.

The com­pany’s fo­cus on user-friend­li­ness be­gins with an elec­tron­ics pack­age de­rived from the RC213V- S Motogp replica bike that is host to a va­ri­ety of rider aids, in­clud­ing Power Se­lec­tor, Honda Selectable Torque Con­trol (Honda’s fancy way of say­ing trac­tion con­trol), and an En­gine Brake Se­lec­tor. In­ter­est­ingly, en­gi­neers de­cided to marry the torque con­trol with a wheelie con­trol fea­ture to help sim­plify it for the end user, mean­ing the se­lec­tion of the three lev­els of wheelie con­trol com­pletely de­pends on what HSTC level you have cho­sen— and it can­not be ad­justed in­de­pen­dently.

Tog­gling through the HSTC set­tings and set­ting the sys­tem to Level 3 proved the most prom­i­nent on the race­track, but there’s still room for re­fine­ment. At the ini­tial turn of the throt­tle the sys­tem al­lows for enough wheel­spin to help point the mo­tor­cy­cle in the di­rec­tion of cor­ner exit, but with­out pre­cise throt­tle con­trol it in­trudes just slightly, hold­ing the bike back from putting power to the ground and driv­ing for­ward. Although en­gi­neers sug­gest the sys­tem is meant to help ex­tract the bike’s true ca­pa­bil­i­ties, it’s hard to not ar­gue that it feels more geared to­ward safety than per­for­mance. The wheelie con­trol, too, was hard to spark love with be­cause of its un­pre­dictabil­ity over Por­timão’s blind rises, which can be care­fully chalked up to the sole use of wheel- speed sen­sors in­stead of pitch mea­sure­ments from the sys­tem’s IMU.

Over­all, the is­sues aren’t sig­nif­i­cant— ac­tu­ally, pretty easy to look past in the grand scheme of things if you aren’t af­ter lap records.

The rest of the rider aids in the elec­tron­ics pack­age, how­ever, help re­deem the CBR’S step for­ward in To­tal Con­trol. The quick­shifter— which is op­tional on the stan­dard Fire­blade— with­out a doubt is one of the best avail­able pro­duc­tion sys­tems on the mar­ket, pe­riod. Smooth­ness and pre­ci­sion are sec­ond to none, espe­cially dur­ing down­shifts where it very ac­cu­rately matches rpm by auto- blip­ping the throt­tle so you don’t have to use the clutch. That, in com­bi­na­tion with the EBS I set to Level 3 (most amount of free­wheel), makes the CBR one hell of a sta­ble mo­tor­cy­cle un­der brak­ing.

Also high­light­ing the em­pha­sis on ride­abil­ity is a steer­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic that is light and sta­ble as ever thanks to a 33- pound re­duc­tion in curb weight on the ABS model (13 pounds for the non- ABS model) and changes to chas­sis rigid­ity. Get­ting from left to right or vice versa through tran­si­tions is quick and takes hardly any phys­i­cal ex­er­tion, and the CBR con­tin­ues to cut down lap times by con­fi­dently steer­ing through the mid­dle of the cor­ner and al­low­ing line ad­just­ments al­most in­stan­ta­neously. It’s one of the more com­fort­able bikes too; the small fair­ing gives the mo­tor­cy­cle a much more com­pact feel than pre­vi­ously with­out tak­ing any wind pro­tec­tion away from my 5-foot-7 stature, and the re­designed fuel tank of­fers a bet­ter grip for your knees.

The Showa Big Pis­ton Fork and Bal­ance Free rear shock com­bi­na­tion pro­vides tons of sta­bil­ity un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion or de­cel­er­a­tion, but it doesn’t of­fer much front- end feed­back at max­i­mum lean an­gle to un­der­stand ex­actly where the limit of trac­tion is. This, how­ever, could be partly due to the stan­dard Bridge­stone

S21 street tires we tested the bike on, and with a more track- or race- ori­ented tire I wouldn’t doubt that the prob­lem could com­pletely vanish. Damp­ing set­tings also seemed slightly off as the bike strug­gled to cope with harsh bumps, but twist­ing a few sus­pen­sion click­ers in the proper di­rec­tion is a sim­ple fix.

Killing off speed at the end of long straight­aways comes quicker on the new CBR with help from re­designed To­kico four- pis­ton front brake calipers and higher- per­for­mance brake pads. These changes put the max­i­mum brak­ing power of the new CBR on par with that of its com­peti­tors, but the sys­tem is still at a dis­ad­van­tage due to the lack of feel through the lever. Grab the brakes ag­gres­sively and it’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand how much brak­ing force is hap­pen­ing at the caliper and how much more you can use be­fore it hits the limit. On the pos­i­tive side, the bike’s ABS sys­tem (equipped on the model we tested) never in­ter­fered as far as we could tell— and that’s ex­actly what you want on the race­track.

And The An­swer Is…

Honda’s 2017 CBR1000RR has taken the Fire­blade legacy to a whole new level with a big boost in To­tal Con­trol along the way. Sure, there are some bits that still could use up­dat­ing, but it’s dif­fi­cult to get around the fact that it’s prob­a­bly one of the most us­able, quick­est- han­dling bikes on the planet. I, frankly, can’t wait to spin a whole lot more laps on it this year, and you should be jump­ing at the op­por­tu­nity too.

Be ready for a bat­tle royale at this year’s liter­bike test.

The HSTC sys­tem does a good job help­ing steer the mo­tor­cy­cle by al­low­ing for small amounts of wheel­spin, but it can keep the bike (SP model shown) from driv­ing for­ward if you use too much throt­tle. The To­kico four- pis­ton brake calipers have been re­design

En­gi­neers were able save 4.4 pounds of weight off the Fire­blade’s en­gine by us­ing a mag­ne­sium ig­ni­tion cover and oil pan, as well as ad­just­ing the thick­nesses of other in­ter­nal com­po­nents. The new Fire­blade steers through cor­ners quickly with lit­tle ef­for

Showa BPF fork outfi ts the front of the mo­tor­cy­cle, do­ing a great job at main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity but lack­ing in feel at max­i­mum lean.

Although it turns quickly, the front end feeds the rider a vague feel­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally has is­sues han­dling large bumps.

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