When that question was put to a crowd of journalists waiting to get out on the racetrack on the new Honda CBR600 at the Barber Motorsports complex in Birmingham, Alabama last week, nearly everybody thrust their hand in the air, me included. I've owned several of these machines, from a lightly-raced 1993 F2 model to a pair of salvage-titled F4is that I re-assembled for immoral purposes. All my friends have had at least one, and the plastic-encased machines seem almost an inch shorter than before -- although 2.7mm of trail is added to keep things stable.
The swingarm pivot is moved upwards 5mm to heighten the effect of a fashionably longer swingarm.
A smaller chassis will need a smaller motor, right? Honda knows this, and the motor has been totally re-designed from the bottom up. The crank is a whopping two pounds lighter, and it's connected to nutless con-rods that are also lighter. The slipper-type pistons are 3.5 percent lighter too, while producing a slightly-higher compression ratio (12.2:1 from 12.0:1).
A lighter crank and lighter con-rods means lighter -- and smaller -- everything else, so the entire package -- capped off with 11-ounce lighter magnesium valve covers -- measures up as 27.5mm shorter than the 2006, all the while making more power and torque and weighing in at 3.7 pounds less.
"The clutch is lighter, smaller and stronger, and the transmission gets closer ratios and a redesign to reduce driveline lash."
Engine improvements don't stop there. We didn't complain about last year's clutch or transmission, but Honda improved them anyway. The clutch is lighter, smaller and stronger, and the transmission gets closer ratios and a redesign to reduce driveline lash. There's also a new gadget called the Intake Air Control Valve (IACV), which smoothes throttle response, avoiding the jerky fuel injection-induced response some other motorcycles are cursed with.
The airbox -- which now sucks air through a hole in the front of the frame like the RC-51 -- gains seven percent of additional capacity, and the radiator is 40mm narrower, but 34.2mm taller so not too much frontal area is lost. The exhaust now has titanium baffles; they could have put that bling-bling on display like some OEMs do, but they put it inside where it would do the most good.
Too bad 90 percent of them will get sold on eBay for $30. Maybe Honda can buy them back and recycle them. It would make a great flask (please send royalty checks to MO).
"The tires stuck to the track like a remora with separation anxiety."
Suspension and brakes are standard, if effective, fare. In front, a fully-adjustable (except for high-speed settings) 41mm inverted fork and four-piston radial-mount calipers get the job done, (although Toland said the new braking components offer more sensitivity) and in the rear the Honda Unit Pro-Link is bolted to the three-way-adjustable shock. The Unit Pro Link shock linkage is GP-tech for the street; it isolates the suspension almost totally from the frame to ensure the smoothest possible ride.
A Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD) that's half the size (and 20 percent lighter) of last year's damper keeps the compact chassis -- with a steeper rake than the old machine's -- under control by adjusting damping force according to speed.
To wrap up the package, the Honda stylists added a thicker seat (although it's roadcourse as a DOT race tire on dry pavement would be. I say "probably" because I didn't want to be that guy who pushed it too hard in the rain and crunched a brand-new bike: I was happy at an 8/10ths pace.
The increased traction meant I could settle down and really get a feel for the machine's suspension, braking and other qualities. With a team of Honda technicians on hand to ensure a perfect set-up, the suspension felt spot-on, even though they misunderestimated my weight by 20 pounds. Although the track is very smooth, there are some pavement ripples in one high-speed braking zone (thanks, Grand Am cars!) that translated into some choppiness, but I imagine any motorcycle would get bounced around there.Accelerating off of Turn Six down the back straight, the front end gets light but the HESD damper works fine and there's no drama.
The brakes are very good, with solid feel and enough power for two-finger braking in most situations, but you can still feel those rubber lines mush and bulge. [Editor's note: Honda responded by saying that my test unit must have needed a brake bleeding; they don't think that should have happened] I've mentioned this to Honda before, but seriously, would it kill you guys to put stainless lines in there? Triumph can do it and their middleweight bike -- which they produce in far smaller numbers -- is $500 less.
"A ride on the 2006 600RR illustrates just how good the new bike is."
The 2006 was no slouch; we called it "an incredible-handling, balanced bike that has enough power to win races with a competent rider aboard". The RR always endears itself to riders by virtue of its solid, smooth, precise feel that gives the rider total confidence. But compared to this 2007, the '06 feels top-heavy and slow, with marked vibration and slightly-sloppy shifting and driveline lash. It's also less comfortable, with a harder seat and lower bars. The top-heaviness must be due to the 18 pounds the '07 has lost, and the more-precise transmission feels noticeably better as well.
Back on the 2007, I have more confidence than ever, even though the rain is heavier than it was at lunchtime and there are little puddles forming in some of the turns and a small stream in one spot. No matter; I can rail through the apexes with these tires, using the brakes and snapping into turns as if it were an 80-degree day at Buttonwillow.
A lot of that is thanks to the tires, but the CBR is still a bike that imparts great confidence to a rider, regardless of skill or road condition. If Honda does one thing well, it is imparting a consistent feel to a product over years, if not decades, even while a product improves and changes beyond recognition.
The CBR600RR is an improved product, but it's still unmistakable as the heir to the CBR F-series crown. It's a balance of high performance, excellent handling and an ease-of-use that will endear it to newbies and champion-level roadracers alike. At $9499, it's spendy for a 600, but the price isn't completely out of line with the rest of the class and the value is there, if not glaringly obvious.
Is it good enough to beat the pumped-up R6, the hot new ZX-6R or the transcendent Triumph 675? I can't say it will beat them outright, nor can I say it will be roundly defeated, as riding one bike around a smooth racetrack is a poor way to compare it to its classmates. However, I do know the Honda will have a much better showing than last year, which should make for an exciting middleweight comparison. Stay tuned.
*OK, disclaimer time. Alabama is a lovely state filled with very friendly people, and Birmingham is a surprisingly sophisticated, cosmopolitan area. Too bad it's in Alabama. Please send hate mail to email@example.com
|** Specifications Courtesy of Honda **|
The 2007 Honda CBR600RR Features & Benefits
|The CBR®600's most radical redesign since the introduction of the RR in 2003 is highlighted by a whole new engine, frame and bodywork that results in a smaller, lighter, more powerful CBR600RR with a class-leading power-to-weight ratio and unparalleled performance.|
|New for 2007|
|Engine Type:||599cc liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder|
|Bore and Stroke:||67mm x 42.5mm|
|Valve Train:||DOHC; four valves per cylinder|
|Carburetion:||Dual Stage Fuel Injection (DSFI)|
|Ignition:||Computer-controlled digital transistorized with three-dimensional mapping|
|Final Drive:||#525 O-ring-sealed chain|
|Front:||41mm inverted HMAS cartridge fork with spring-preload, rebound and compression-damping adjustability; 4.7 inches travel|
|Rear:||Unit Pro-Link HMAS single shock with spring preload, rebound and compression damping adjustability; 5.1 inches travel|
|Front:||Dual radial-mounted four-piston calipers with 310mm discs|
|Rear:||Single 220mm disc|
|Rake (Caster Angle):||23.7°|
|Trail:||97.7mm (3.8 inches)|
|Seat Height:||32.3 inches|
|*Claimed* Dry Weight:||345 pounds|
|Fuel Capacity:||4.8 gallons, including 0.9-gallon reserve|
|Colors:||Pearl White/Silver, Ultra Blue Metallic/Silver, Red/Black, Black|
Meets current EPA standards.
California version meets current CARB standards and may differ slightly due to emissions equipment.