Quicker than a ’Blade (to a point). Looks terrific. Smells of avocado.
Two factors are crucial to a bike either succeeding or failing – looks and feel. You can build the best performing machine on the market, but if its aesthetics aren’t up to scratch it will bomb. And by the same token, if its ride is lacking that certain spark of excitement, it is also almost certainly doomed to failure. Sadly for Honda, the outgoing CB1000R model managed to fall flat on its face on both these counts.
On paper there was nothing that wrong with the CB; it was a Fireblade-powered naked that promised to propel Honda into the emerging full-on super naked class. But far from the rip-snorting ride that everyone expected, the CB delivered turbine-like power that somehow made over 120bhp feel lackluster and mundane. And then there was the look, which was too ‘safe’ and failed to push the boundaries or excite.
With this in mind, I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting a great deal from the updated CB1000R and approached it rather expecting to be disappointed
– as it turned out I was very wrong indeed…
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Up close and personal, you have to hand it to Honda as a tremendous job has been done with the CB’s styling. The marketing waffle says the look is based on a ‘neo sports café’ theme, but I’m just hugely impressed by the classy feel and upmarket impression the new CB delivers.
Everywhere you look on the bike there are lovely styling touches and extensive use of quality components – something I have to say Honda’s models have been lacking of late. During the presentation the Honda man claimed only six parts of the bike were plastic (headlight ring, two key covers, mudguard, air cleaner cover and sprocket cover) so wanting to pick fault I looked at the valve caps – they were metal. Fair play, one nil to Honda…
I love the subtle details such as the machined engine cases and brushed aluminium covers, but moreover I think the whole modern café racer look is fantastic. Honda has managed to build a bike that isn’t ‘just another café racer’ and instead has produced a machine that is interesting, cool and yet still loaded with modern technology such as radial brakes, a single-sided swingarm and LED lights.
But styling can only get you so far; would the new CB1000R also deliver on feeling and performance?
Honda’s big naked gets a neo café racer makeover for 2018, injecting a whole heap of style not to mention a good dollop of extra performance…
A CHANGE OF HEART
Within just a few yards of getting on the CB1000R you know this bike is chalk to the cheese of the outgoing model. It may share the same older generation Fireblade motor, but far from lackluster and flat, the modifications Honda has made within its cases have transformed how it responds. This is a CB1000R that now has some serious balls.
But, and here is the best part, through clever use of technology Honda has managed to inject this wild spirit without removing the bike’s user-friendly nature.
Having listened to criticism about the CB’s flat power delivery, Honda has responded by not only increasing the new model’s peak power and torque but also by focusing on giving it a kick in power in its mid-range and better acceleration. The first three gears are shorter, giving excellent initial drive, while a ‘ramp’ in power between 6000 and 8000rpm has been introduced. Yep, Honda has actually created a mini power band and given the CB a deliberately aggressive throttle response! But this is where it gets even smarter.
At low revs and small throttle openings, this aggressive response could have resulted in a terribly snatchy throttle and unrideable bike, but by using the ride-by-wire system, the CB’s designers have smoothed out the low end of the rev range, effectively giving you two bikes in one. When you are pulling away and riding below 6000rpm the CB is wonderfully gentle and refined, which is exactly what you want in town or when you are just cruising, but get that inline four spinning and its character changes completely…
JEKYLL AND HYDE CHARACTER
The first time I let the CB off the leash I was genuinely a bit taken aback.
Not only does it accelerate with real ferocity, the engine even has a lovely vibration and naughty exhaust note that is very un-Honda like. This is a CB that is now brimming with spirit and is a real hoot to ride.
If you want to get your pulse racing, just cog it down and go searching for that thrilling power band and the CB will certainly get your blood rushing. It’s seriously fast and will happily wheelie off the throttle in its first two gears, which is exactly what you want on a naked bike. I have no interest if a naked bike does over 120mph, what I want is that buzz of acceleration and thrill of getting to not quite legal speeds before the wind blast becomes too much and my neck starts to hurt.
The CB1000R more than delivers this rush. But, conversely, should you wish to chill out a little, all you have to do is short-shift it through to the top three gears and as the revs dip the bike’s character responds beautifully by offering a more relaxed ride. It’s a neat character trick and as you would expect on a Honda, there is also some clever electronic trickery ensuring nothing gets too wayward.
While the CB lacks an IMU, meaning it doesn’t have any angle-sensitive tech, it does have some excellent electronics. The ABS system works very well on the road and I was also really impressed by the traction control and power modes.
You have three different pre-set modes to play with and within each one you can also alter the level of traction control, engine braking and power when the bike is stationary.
Not that you really need to, but it’s nice to know you can.
The various modes, which are easy to swap between via the switchgear, make a noticeable difference to how the CB responds because they directly affect that ‘ramp’ in power, taming it in the lower modes such as ‘rain’ while giving you the full kick in ‘sport.’ And surprisingly for a Honda, should you opt to turn off the traction control in the ‘user’ mode (which stores your own custom set of criteria) you can actually turn the traction control on and off while on the move. This, on a closed road, allows you to pull massive wheelies on the CB! But if wheelies aren’t your thing, with the traction control turned on they are gently electronically curtailed (after a pleasing bit of lift) before it all gets a little too exciting…
TURNED A CORNER
To be fair, there wasn’t much wrong with the old model’s chassis, but Honda has certainly improved the CB’s agility by giving it a bit of a diet. While it remains a bigger and heavier beast than the likes of some of the latest super nakeds, on the road the CB’s extra weight delivers a feeling of security in bends, which again suits its purpose in life. This isn’t really a track bike (although we did test it on a circuit), it is a stylish road cruiser that relishes a set of bends, but isn’t expecting you to be getting your knee down everywhere. Or demanding it.
Through some lovely Spanish road the CB was a delight to ride with a strong braking set-up and planted suspension. It’s set slightly on the firm side as standard, which I liked but won’t suit everybody, however this feeling can easily be dialled out via the adjusters if you want a more comfortable ride. And while some may look at the huge hero blobs and worry about them scraping, you have to be pretty committed to get them down on the road, so ground clearance isn’t an issue. Well, not unless you are really going bananas.
Overall, the CB’s handling delivers exactly what you would expect, no surprises, a good level of agility and a quality feel from its suspension. And it is all backed up by a lovely initial throttle connection that ensures powering out of bends is a case of rolling on the gas and giggling as the drive picks up and you surge forward.
With the CB1000R, Honda has been quite clever in offering riders a genuinely different take on the retro theme. You get a machine that is uniquely styled with a classy and upmarket feel that you expect from a Honda product, not to mention a good electronics package, solid handling and user-friendly motor. But by the same token, get the CB’s engine spinning and it suddenly develops a whole new character with a raw exhaust note and genuine feel of spirit and character that was lacking on the older model. This split personality positions the CB somewhere between the super naked camp and the retro one, with a foot delicately placed in each segment but not fully committing to either, which could well prove to be its main selling point.
If you like the retro look, and want a bit of spirit in your naked, but aren’t prepared to give up too many of the modern bike creature comforts, try the CB1000R out for size. Its spirit and character certainly surprised and delighted me and I’m sure it will do the same to many other riders.
WORDS: Jon Urry PHOTOGRAPHY: Honda
ABOVE: The Honda’s look is impressive – and almost every part is made of metal, not plastic.
BELOW: Riding position is more relaxed than before.
ABOVE: The CB responds well when pushing on but smooths out beautifully when you’d rather take it easy.BELOW: Clever electronics and subtle changes make the Honda’s engine a real peach.
ACCESSORIESHonda sells a large range of accessories for the CB1000R and anything the + model has can be retrofitted to the stocker. In addition you can buy a 12V socket, Alcantara rider and pillion seat, wheel rim decals and more. ELECTRONICSThe introduction of a ride-by-wire throttle has allowed Honda to add three riding modes to the CB1000R – Rain, Standard and Sport – plus one ‘user’ mode that can be tailored for engine power and torque control. MOTORBased around the 2006 Fireblade motor and not the current model’s. It has the same 998cc capacity as the outgoing CB1000R, but has higher-lift cams, 8mm larger throttle bodies and bigger inlet ports to boost performance. CHASSISNew single-sided swingarm is 14.7mm shorter than before and weight bias is further forward to improve agility. Overall it’s 12kg lighter than before. Riding position is more relaxed with 13mm higher bars and 5mm higher seat. STYLINGHonda says it designed the CB1000R under the theme ‘neo sports café.’ This means the number of plastic parts has been significantly reduced and a lot of aluminium detailing has been added to give it a quality feel. CB1000R +The CB1000R+ model costs £12,299 (£1070 more than the stock bike) and comes with a selection of bolt-on accessories as standard such as heated grips, a flyscreen, seat cowl and an up and down quickshifter.