12,000 miles on Honda’s CBR650R,
Back in the August issue deputy editor Mike Armitage said of the CBR650R: ‘for grown-up supersport junkies, it’s spot on’. A massive 12,000 miles later we still love it…
12,000 MILES IN six months is a lot: commuting in all weathers; exploring Europe with everything but the kitchen sink piled onto the back; Snetterton trackday and a knee-down school. Honda’s current CBR650R, and me, have been through alot together. And looking at it now there’s scant evidence it’s been ridden at all.
As we know manufacturers sell their bikes by lauding massive power, technology, racing pedigree, and their ability to go scale mountains and conquer deserts. Sexy selling certainly doesn’t include high-quality finish and mechanical reliability. Consequently Honda market the CBR650R as a ‘born on the racetrack ultra-sharp beast with sporting intent, fierce power, and exceptional torque’. Which is, frankly, ridiculous.
Don’t get me wrong this CBR is not slow, but its main strength lies in the fact that whatever the conditions, whatever you want to use it for and whatever you did the day before it’ll fire up when you push the starter and go about its work. However, the clever bit is this doesn’t make it a boring bike, as 12,000 miles has proven…
Engine and transmission
Let’s face it a new bike capped at 94bhp is never going to light up the internet, however the CBR650R isn’t slow as deputy editor Mike Armitage attests: ‘it’s not as revvy or outright fast as a Kawasaki ZX-6R,’ he explains. ‘Instead it’s a rounded road bike with a spread of usable shunt. Quick enough? Yes.’
The engine does need to be revved to make meaningful progress, but with peak torque of 47.2 lb.ft coming at just 8500rpm you’re not left feeling like you’ve broken down if you leave it in too high a gear, because the 650 will pull you through… just about.
This bike has Honda’s optional quickshifter fitted and it makes gear changes at the redline a joy. Just wait for the white shift indicator light to activate, feed in the next gear and repeat. At lower rpms the system is clunky and prone to false neutrals, especially if the chain is due an adjustment and I tend to opt for traditional, clutched up-shifts in town or heavy traffic. Luckily, because of the velvety-smooth way the bike delivers its power, chain adjustment isn’t frequent: I can go two weeks between adjustments (about 600 miles) and I’m not the most fastidious cleaner and lubricator.
The bike has had two scheduled services (800 and 8000 miles) and hasn’t used any oil between. The engine sounds and feels the same the day before its service as it does after. By which I mean quiet; despite the exhaust being angled at the rider the CBR lacks the aural drama of a more hardcore supersport, even at high revs. Aftermarket pipes are still thin on the ground but are starting to trickle through.
Handling and ride
‘If you want a bike to boost your confidence, look no further,’ says Bike contributor, Jon Urry. ‘The CBR’S handling is so neutral and balanced, thanks to its forgiving chassis and surprisingly competent suspension, that you can’t help but love riding it.’ The non-adjustable Showa forks aren’t class-leading, but they are more than adequate for this weight and power and it feels light and nimble on track without sacrificing road comfort. Carrying speed through very bumpy corners can get things rocking back and forth a little, but it never feels out of control. The rear shock is manually adjustable for preload but the standard factory setting seems to handle everything just fine. The ride quality improved by swapping the OE Dunlop Sportmaxs for Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa IIS.
The brakes don’t bite immediately, but the lever gives plenty of feedback and once you start to squeeze them on, there is no lack of power. The single-piston rear brake is quite weak right up until the point the rear wheel begins to lock but it is fine for low speed manoeuvring.
My only gripe with the braking system is with the hazard lights which flash under emergency braking, but the threshold is set too low and triggers at almost every braking point on a spirited ride. And you cannot switch off this function, even on track. The pads needed changing at around 10,000 miles by which time braking ability had seriously diminished in the wet. On circuit the ground clearance could be better and it’s very easy to scrape a peg (or even the sidestand lug on the frame). Despite this the CBR took numerous supersport scalps on track and although I’d love to take the credit, the truth is as a less experienced track rider it is easier to extract more from the CBR the more focused R6, or ZX-6R.
At just under £8000 (or just over with the quickshifter) you wouldn’t expect a smorgasbord of electronic wizardry included. Which is a good thing, because it isn’t. Honda Selectable Torque Control takes care of traction, but the only time I’ve managed to get the rear to move was by taking a handful of throttle at lean on a cold tyre, and the bike found grip before the system kicked in anyway.
The ABS system isn’t intrusive on the road and only deploys when a wheel locks – I haven’t managed to lock the front on the road but I have on track at a wet Snetterton and although I instinctively released the brake I suspect the system beat me to it. The upshot of this simplicity is a more pure riding experience and more connection/feedback than you get from more techreliant machines.
You also get Honda’s Ignition Security System (HISS) and a Datatag as standard. Peace of mind then.
Controls and comfort
One of the first things you notice when you ride the CBR650R is how light the clutch is. In fact, it’s the lightest cable-operated lever I have ever used, and gives some hydraulic units a run for their money. And it feels the same now as it did 12,000 miles ago, without any adjustment. The CBR automatically increases revs as you let out the clutch to prevent stalling and this coupled with a fast throttle can lead to some quite revvy getaways as you acclimatise.
There’s not much in the way of switchgear, the trip etc is controlled through large buttons on the dash unit. The indicator switch is reachable without relinquishing your grip on the bar, but it is easy to get mixed up with the horn if you’re used to other bikes. Which can be embarrassing. It took me a
‘As a less experienced track rider it is easier to extract more from the CBR than the more focused R6, or ZX 6R’
few days before reaching the indicator switch became completely natural, but now I’m used to it the placement on other bikes feels awkward and annoying.
Although the digital dash layout is clear and easy to interpret, it isn’t bright enough; when I discovered it’s adjustable I suspected I had been using it on its dimmest setting. However, in actual fact it was on maximum. On a sunny day it can be tricky to read at all.
A quick anecdote: I was delayed by bad storms on my way home from a 3500-mile trip in Europe and ended up having to ride the CBR 12.5 hours straight to get home. Despite this, I felt fresh enough the next day to take my own Suzuki SV for a blast to the coast without a second thought. Comfort levels are unimpeachable.
You can confidently throw luggage onto the CBR and head for the horizon. I took this one to Porto and back with full camping gear and it handled motorways, A-roads, B-roads, cobbled city centres, mountain passes, blazing sunshine and pouring rain without putting a foot wrong. Yes, a purpose-built tourer would be more comfortable on the motorway as the CBR’S wind protection isn’t enough for full days at motorway speed, but if you can grit your teeth the bike will handle it just fine.
Plus, even carrying all of my luggage and my own 95kg heft I was able to manage around 50mpg, even stretching the tank to over 200 miles at one stage. One small annoyance is that instead of a fuel light you get a flashing bar on the fuel gauge, which I’ve failed to notice more than once. The dash then displays gallons used and distance covered since the reserve was triggered. That’s right, gallons. I would much rather have an estimated range in miles than a reading of how many tenths of a gallon I’ve burned, although having to try and do the conversion maths in my head can be a welcome distraction from the clammy panic of searching for a garage.
Another small issue is that the sidestand tang (the bit you put your heel on) is in a slightly awkward position between the selector and the footpeg and if you wear riding jeans they often get caught on the peg as you put the stand down. I’m also paranoid that I might knock the bike into gear if I’m putting the stand down without killing the engine.
Quality and finish
After 12,000 miles the Honda hasn’t put a dust cap out of place and has only needed standard servicing. The finish is good, but the magnetic tank bag I used on the Portugal trip scuffed the decals on the tank.
If you ride the CBR650R back-to-back with the lower spec CBR500R there is a palpable difference in plushness and substance, but then there should be as the 500 costs around £2000 less. But the really interesting thing is the CBR650R doesn’t feel completely outclassed when compared with a £13,395 Ducati Supersport S as Jon Urry discovered after a day comparing the two. ‘I struggle to find any real faults with the CBR aside from a slight lack of grunt and a crap dash,’ he says. And after 12,000 miles I completely agree with him.
Naturally this is not a perfect bike and there are small niggles. So small I hesitate to go into them here. But for the sake of balance here goes: the screen has gone milky from cleaning; there’s a scuff on the swingarm where the heel of my right boot makes contact while riding, and then there are the aforementioned scuffs on the tank which suggests the decals might be on the delicate side. Finally the welding on the clip-ons looks like it was attempted by the work experience crew at the Honda factory, but that completes my niggles list. For a sub eight grand bike that is impressive.
‘You can confidently throw luggage onto the CBR and head for the horizon. I took this one to Porto and back with full camping gear’
‘It is comfortable over long distance and easy to ride at pace – this sort of balancing act is difficult to pull off’