2014 Honda CBR650F First Ride Review

Rediscovering the performance of the past

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2014 Honda CBR650F

Editor Score: 85.5%
Engine 18.75/20
Suspension/Handling 12.25/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 7.25/10
Instruments/Controls3.75/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 8.5/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 8.5/10
Overall Score85.5/100

Some of us remember a time when you didn’t have to be folded up like a preying mantis to ride a 600cc supersport bike. What Millenials, Generation Z, Plurals – or whatever the heck the media is calling the desirable, young market segment this week – may not know from personal experience is that something was lost in the sportbike wars over the last 20 years. Yes, we’ve seen some amazing technological advancement in power delivery and handling, but as the manufacturers went through their two year cycles of ground up reimagining of their hottest middleweights in search of the all-important racing titles across the globe, the relentless sharpening of the performance envelope has come with some costs.

EICMA 2013: 2014 Honda CBR650F

First, all that development costs money. As belts have tightened (on both personal and corporate levels), development cycles have slowed because sportbike unit sales just aren’t there to support the R&D like they were five years ago. Additionally, as the average retail price of 600cc supersport bikes has risen to around $11,500, the cash cow of the cruiser market hasn’t escaped the world’s economic struggles and isn’t able to make up the financial slack that it could for the OEMs only a few years ago.

Honda CBR650F Action

The CBR650F handles well even with non-adjustable suspension components.

The second – and possibly most pertinent – cost for riders who never plan to turn a wheel in anger on the race track is that the scalpel sharpness of hyper sports machinery may not lend itself to the varied uses of the street. A full racer tuck is great at 150 mph on the front straight, but it leaves a lot to be desired in the 45–65 mph commuter shuffle. Similarly, riders often find it easier to negotiate the 1st- and 2nd-gear corners on their favorite twisting roads in a more upright riding position than hunched behind the bubble. (For further discussion on this see our 2014 Super Streetfighter Smackdown and our 2014 Ultimate Streetfighter Finale.)

Honda is well aware of these issues, and following its current stated goal of growing the sport of motorcycling by creating bikes that appeal to younger riders, the introduction of the 2014 CBR650F should come as no surprise. On paper, the $8,499 CBR650F initially looks like it cheapens the CBR line which (until the release of the CBR500R last year) stands as the flagship designation for Honda’s supersport machinery. Instead, after sampling the 650F, I believe the key to Big Red’s newest sportbike is in the letter F – as in the CBR600F, F2, F3, and F4. They all won races and, in some cases, championships, but they still carried, to a point, a more real-world approach to sport riding.

2014 Honda CBR650F Colors

The 2014 CBR650F has three colors options, but the ABS model is only available in black.

In case you’re thinking that I’m jumping the shark with this train of thought, those previous F models were state-of-the-art for their time. The 2014 CBR650F clearly is not. However, it is looking back to the streetable performance that, arguably, was lost with the adoption of the RR designation. Honda then applied the same value for money approach that prompted our Top 10 Value-For-Money Hondas article. Had the CBR650F been available for a full test prior to our planning of those articles, it likely might have been included in that list.

So, how did the smart folks at Honda go about creating the CBR650F and what exactly makes it special? Let’s dig in a little and see.

CBR650F Engine

The CBR650F’s engine is quite compact. The headers were inspired by the 1974 CB400 Four.

The Engine Room

The CBR650F’s engine is a ground-up creation. Instead of going for maximum horsepower at stratospheric rpm, the design was directed at the low- and mid-range power delivery for street use. The goal was to build a beefy torque curve to be utilized off the line – as in from a stop light – that delivers instant roll-on power through the mid-range. Although the power would continue to build from 6,000 rpm to the relatively mundane 11,000-rpm redline, the emphasis was placed on the range that would give the most benefit to street riding.

2014 Honda CBR650F Coming To US

Since the 650F has no racing aspirations, there’s no need to stick with a 600cc displacement limit. So, to improve mid-range drive, displacement gets bumped up a bit. While you might not think 50cc would make much of a difference, it does. The 67.0mm x 46.0mm bore and stroke yield a pleasant 649cc of usable grunt.

2014 Honda CBR650F Exhaust Diagram

To achieve the 650F’s performance goals within the space allotted, the exhaust used air regulating panels to direct the flow.

The engine layout was structured to help achieve a centralized mass low in the chassis, helping to distribute weight evenly between the wheels. The block’s forward lean also helps in power delivery. Honda’s engineers created the straightest path possible for the air and fuel to travel through the engine. Long, narrow 30mm intake funnels lead to the 32mm throttle bodies. As the fuel charge enters and exits the cylinders, minimal valve overlap improves the power and fuel efficiency in the lower-rpm range. Aside from the headers being visually inspired by the 1974 CB400 four, the four-into-two-into-one exhaust system features “air regulating panels” that shape the performance characteristics while maintaining the desired system dimensions for mass centralization and visual design goals.

The 30-degree forward cylinder cant and the vertically stacked transmission help mass centralization and shorten the engine length. To further assist in compactness, the thermostat was moved to the front of the engine for improved coolant routing.

The engine includes numerous efficiency-improving items. For example, breathing holes between crankcase journals minimize pumping loss particularly at high rpm. Both the piston pins and connecting rods wear a coating to minimize frictional losses and increase longevity.

2014 Honda CBR650F Frame

The tubular steel frame uses the oval tubes to tune chassis flex.

Framed

One obvious cost-saving measure with the CBR650F is the use of a steel frame rather than a lighter, more expensive aluminum one. However, that doesn’t mean the designers didn’t have some fun with it. Rather than using round steel tubes, 67mm x 46mm oval tubes were selected. According to Honda, this allows for tunable flex with the tube being stiffer on the plane of the wider cross-section. The oval tubes also help to keep the bike’s profile as narrow as possible. Forged-molding pivot plates contribute to the strength and narrowness around the CBR’s waist, easing the reach to the ground from the 31.9 in. seat.

The engine bolts to the frame as a stressed member via aluminum hangers. While Honda did spend the money for a shapely aluminum swingarm, the shock that bolts directly to it only has a seven-position, ramped preload adjuster to modify its behavior over 5 in. of travel. The non-adjustable 41mm conventional fork has 4.7 in. of travel.

2014 Honda CBR650F Action

The CBR’s mid-range-heavy power curve pays dividends in the canyons.

Atop the triple clamp is a sign of the 650F’s real-world intent: The clip-ons are mounted on above the triple tree – with risers. This forward-most corner of the rider triangle is higher and more rearward than on a CBR600RR. The pegs are lower than the RR and have rubber pads and weights on the bottom – typical measures to quell vibration. The ergonomics feel like a good compromise for switching between urban commuter and rural sport duties.

The corner of the triangle played by the rider’s butt is slightly forward on the chassis to get his/her body closer to the CBR’s center of gravity (CG) when compared to the RR. According to the Honda representatives, this gives the feeling of being more at one with the motorcycle. It does make the 650F feel lighter than its fully fueled 461-lb. claimed weight might imply.

The rider triangle places the rider in an upright, slightly forward leaning position from which to control the vehicle. In low-speed situations or extremely tight turns on the street, this is preferable to a full tuck. The seat narrows at the front easing the reach to the ground while the remainder of the one-piece saddle offers room to move around when the road goes all serpentine on you.

2014 Honda CBR650F Beauty

A full tank of gas and a winding road…

Head to the Hills

Approaching the CBR650F, whether it’s the Honda Red, Candy Blue, or Matte Black Metallic, reveals the family resemblance – though less with the RR and more with the older F4i’s front end appearance (which as a former F3 owner, I really liked). The new, abbreviated tail section is sexier than the F3/F4 ever were. We expect the rich red on a Honda sportbike, but the Candy Blue is especially striking. The matte finish of the black 650F really shows off the various curves of the bodywork in direct sunlight.

2014 Honda CBR650F Brake

Although they are only two-piston units, the calipers have enough bite to rapid slow the 650F.

The engine has a pleasant growl at idle. The instrument cluster’s design is clean and utilitarian. The left LCD panel gives a bar graph for the tachometer and a large numerical readout for the speedometer. A small central panel has high beam and turn signal lights as well as the select and reset buttons for the right LCD panel’s readout. The right LCD contains a clock, fuel gauge, dual trip meters, current mpg and average mpg.

2013 Honda CBR600RR – First Ride Street Impression

Although the windscreen appears adjustable, like it is on the NC700X, looks here are deceiving. A taller accessory windscreen will be available. At freeway speeds, the wind blast is directed at the mid-chest of a 5’ 11” rider with the helmet being in clear air. The riding position is quite comfortable with the forward lean matching nicely with the wind. The grips feel moderately close and at a comfortable height for both urban and sporting duty. Unlike with many harder-nosed sportbikes and their narrow grips, the 650F’s are wide enough to offer strong leverage for directional changes.

2014 Honda CBR650F Dash

Clip-ons above the triple clamp! The instrumentation gives you just the essential information.

The leverage is appreciated when the road turns twisty, as is the ability to move around on the seat. Reaction to inputs is quick but not lightning fast as you might expect from a supersport spec 600. When the pace gets a bit too hot, the pegs that seem just right for most riding duties reveal they are just a tad low, dragging feelers a bit earlier than we would have liked. Part of this can be attributed to the standard #2 preload setting on the shock. Adding a notch to the preload gave a smidge more ground clearance, firmed up the rear suspension and quickened the steering slightly.

Honda CBR650F Engine

The engine and exhaust placement emphasize Honda’s mass centralization philosophy.

For a non-adjustable fork, Honda seems to have nailed the settings for a 180 lb. rider plus gear. Riders who are used to twiddling compression and rebound adjusters will miss the activity. However, our day riding in the Santa Monica Mountains on pavement ranging from brand new to cracked and chunked showed how well sorted the CBR650F is. Abrupt maneuvers coupled with large bumps could get the the chassis out of shape, but our elevated pace didn’t expose any major shortcomings in the suspenders. Since the entry price for the 650F is so reasonable, upgrading suspension components if you desire won’t seem like such a burden.

Core Strength

Compared to the peakiness of track-oriented 600s, the 650F’s engine could be run a gear (and sometimes two) higher in corners. In fact, corners that would normally require first gear could be taken in second, which softened the hitch in power delivery when reapplying throttle. Usable power is available from around 4,000 rpm all the way to redline. The mid-range tractability is so impressive that many riders may not mind the muted top end rush that comes as a consequence of the middle-heavy power curve. The clutch is easy to modulate, and the shifts were positive, slick operations.

2014 Honda CBR650F Action

The CBR650F loves to be leaned over in corners – all the way until its pegs drag.

The only two complaints I have about the engine are the slight Inline-Four vibration that makes itself apparent at certain rpm and the aforementioned on-throttle hiccup. The vibration never really becomes bothersome, and with measured application and timing of throttle roll-on, the abruptness can be ridden around.

The CBR650F’s brakes are more than capable for the performance street riding tasks we threw at them. The dual 320mm wave discs bolt directly – without carriers – to the wheels. The two-piston calipers offer plenty of stopping power, though not with the feel of monobloc units of pricier bikes. For $500, there is an ABS option which is only available in the black model. We were happy learn neither the standard nor the ABS brakes are linked.

After a day riding some of the best roads in the Santa Monica Mountains, I’m impressed with Honda’s sportbike for street riders – be they beginners, step-up riders from smaller bikes, or just fans of sporting street machinery. They can purchase a lot of bike to use in the real world for $8,499 or $8,999 for the ABS model.

2014 Honda CBR650F Action

Get outa town!

While it may lack the cool new technology and some components we’ve come to expect (like an inverted fork and radial brakes), the CBR650F is not a slouch on any scale. Ten years ago, a bike of this level of performance would have been close to cutting edge. Yes, Honda cut some corners in the suspension, but the reality is that the stock setup is more than adequate for most street riders. If an owner does outgrow the suspension’s capabilities, the aftermarket can always provide a fix.

+ Highs

  • Strong low- and mid-range power
  • Real-world sport-riding utility
  • $3,000 less than CBR600RR
- Sighs

  • Limited ground clearance for aggressive riding
  • $500 ABS option only available in black
  • Yamaha FZ-09 costs less
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  • Y.A.

    Very cool. Wonder how much HP this makes. I hope they bring the naked version over.

    • James S

      I have one and according to some specs it makes about 87hp at the crank.

      • http://muchadrift.wordpress.com Siper2

        That’s quite a good power number, I think!

  • DickRuble

    Why the reference to the fz-09, which is 900cc and is unfaired? Wouldn’t the fz6r be the direct competitor, at $7800 ?

    • Kevin Duke

      If a sport-minded rider has an $8500 budget, he’d be foolish not to consider a bike that’s significantly lighter despite having a much more powerful (and interesting) motor, has high handling limits and costs less.

      • DickRuble

        By your own magazine’s determination, the fz-09 suspension is not quite sorted out, the ride by wire is also off (you mention it in the fz-07 review). This is apple to oranges comparison. The fz6r is the equivalent from yamaha and the ninja 650 from kawa to a certain extent (2 cyl).

      • appliance5000

        You might be right, but the thing about Hondas is that the engineering is very very good. The bikes go about their business in such a way that all you have to do is think about the riding – not when that character full engine is suddenly going to kick in because you burped – or they couldn’t be bothered to get the mapping right.

        The cb500s are great fun – well underestimated because of this incredible competence – my guess is this bike will suffer the same strange judgement.

        • billy

          I own a CBR500R and it’s a LOT of fun to ride. There are loads of hilly, twisty roads around here and it flicks thru them like a champ!

    • dustysquito .

      This bike is really going to have a hard time gaining traction with the competition in that sector, and most of that is going to be due to its price. The people that buy these bikes are very price conscious, and Honda has put itself in a position where not only does it have to convince us that this bike is better than the FZ6R and the Ninja 650, but it has to show that it’s a full $1200-$1300 better. For a segment that thrives on newer riders, that $1200 difference means that someone can buy a new FZ6R and a full set of nice gear and still have more money than if they had just bought the new Honda.

      • DickRuble

        Using MSRP as the baseline, the FZ6R is $700 cheaper. Honda’s reputation for quality may make that difference. Hondas tend to hold their price better in the used market as well. It’s also a matter of looks and fit. If the FZ6r doesn’t fit you, and the 650F does, you would be silly not to pay the $700 to feel comfortable.

        • dustysquito .

          Sorry, I did some poor maths on the MSRPs (early morning for me). Still, a $700-$800 difference can be a big deal. Even though the FZ-09 and FZ-07 aren’t technically direct competitors to this bike, being less expensive and more powerful is still going to be a big draw, and might make a potential buyer start questioning if they really want that fairing badly enough to pay extra for it. I’m not saying everyone will, but I can say that I probably would have had that dilemma when I was first shopping for my Ninja 650R.

  • pdad13

    I think this would make a nice alternative to the Interceptor as a light sporty tourer/all-’rounder. Sure, no V4, but lighter, cheaper and certainly better looking. I imagine real-world performance is pretty comparable. Might make an interesting comparison, MO-tards. Light-touring, backroad scratching, commuting, 2-up and maybe even a track day.

    Not sure how Honda would feel about it, though.

    • dustysquito .

      That would look pretty bad if the shootout came back that the CB650F was as competent as the interceptor as a sport touring mount.

    • Old MOron

      Well, Evans did MO’s evaluation of the Interceptor and scored it at 86.5%
      I know it’s not a side-by-side comparo, but since it’s the same reviewer,
      maybe you can make some inference.

      Hey Evans, is it accurate to say that a buyer gets a 1% improvement for $4,000?

      • Ser Samsquamsh

        This 650 looks gorgeous and it would be an interesting comparo. In fact I wish MO would combine the “Church of MO” article with a comparison. 20 years ago when I wanted a nice first bike there was nothing remotely of this caliber.

        Anyway,

        You get a lot more equipment with the VFR: TC, ABS, heated grips, single sided swing arm, a bigger torquier engine, a nicer dash, center stand, pannier mounts, LED lights, better brakes, adjustable suspension. That’s probably worth 4K.

        So the verdict would invariably be “Both these bikes are super. It depends on what you are looking for.”

  • Piglet2010

    “The new, abbreviated tail section is sexier than the F3/F4 ever were.”

    I am waiting for this trend of cutting the tail off, then having to use an ugly truss to hold the lights and plate as well as serving as a fender to go away. Bringing back a proper tail would also leave enough space under the seat for a set of waterproofs.

  • Reid

    Yamaha FZ-09 has more power (bigger engine), more character (being a triple), weighs less (a lot less) and costs less. So this is the bike is for people who 1. absolutely have to have a fairing or 2. don’t live near a Yamaha shop?

    • DickRuble

      or 3. don’t live near any shop. It’s a Honda.. you won’t need to go in the shop :)

      • Reid

        lol true true. However, I find that no matter what it is – car, bike, bicycle, computer, camera, anything – I always need to go to the shop at least once. Something will go wrong beyond my ability to fix it.

        • The People’s Champion

          The FZ is capped at a 132mph while this lil Honda hits a 155mph easily with an 80kg rider.

          • Eric Peña

            If you want to go past 132mph this isn’t the bike for you. Get a supersport and go to the track.

          • The People’s Champion

            by that logic we can all buy a 500R or even a 300R and be quiet about it?

      • ‘Mike Smith

        You won’t ever need to go to the shop with a Honda? News to me. Maybe you are one of those guys that never maintains their bikes.
        Not everyone has the knowledge or tools to change the brake fluid, flush the radiator, change tires, etc.

  • sgray44444

    On paper this looks like a great real-world sportbike. They need to offer it with hard bags. Many would love a mid-displacement lightweight sport tourer. I know I would. The blue is stunning.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Looks like a nice real world bike with real world usable power. Over 11K for a 600 supersport is just ridiculous. Go find a clean used late model liter bike instead.

    Let a buddy ride my FZ1 and I rode his R6. Could not get off that thing quick enough. Being used to a good running 1000, I found the super sport 600 to be irritating to ride. Would probably enjoy this Honda fine, and love the punchy FZ09. Ya, the FZ may not have ABS as an option, but it will do sick wheelies with little prompting. I am more concerned about that than the availability of ABS ;)

  • Old MOron

    So Trizzle scored the FZ-07 at 87.5 and said it’s the best value of 2014.
    I think you guys need to do a comparo. I know one has a fairing and one
    doesn’t. So what? I want to know how they stack up. Is the Honda worth
    the extra $1,500?

    • Mark D

      Agreed, that FZ-07 looks great. I like twins on the street, anyways, and I believe Yamaha has a factor windscreen option. Soft bags are fine for light-touring, anyways.

  • JMDonald

    I grew up riding Hondas. My first street bike was a CL175 then on to a CB350 finally a CB750. This 600 would have been the perfect bike for me in my late teens early twenties. With modern features like ABS I would bet this bike will create a new gen brand loyal rider. A trusty steed indeed.

  • Steve Schamp

    At my local dealer the CBR 650 f, priced at $8800, is sitting right next to a new 2013 ZX 6R for $9500. Two bikes away, the FZ 07 for $6900. Apples to oranges, it would be hard to pick between these, eh?

  • BBunsen

    Honda needs to realize what they’ve got with the 650 engine and frame, and bring the CB650F to the US, along with heated grips, hard bags, and a decent windshield. I’d buy one in a heartbeat. I wonder how many people really want sportbike looks and handling, vs the number who bought sportbikes because there weren’t many alternatives.

  • Jimi

    How concerning are the pegs dragging? I’m a new rider with a CBR500R and it’s used for both commuting and canyons (no interest in the track). I was thinking the 650F would be the perfect upgrade, same comfortable position but more power. But if I’m going to be dragging in the canyons I’m not so sure now.

    • Evans Brasfield

      You are one of the target riders for the CBR650F. So, it would be a good choice, I think. About the pegs: they are higher than on the CBR500R, so unless peg dragging is an issue on that, you should be OK. You should also be able to find rearsets in the future to raise the pegs, if necessary.

      During my test, I was riding at a pretty elevated pace to find the street limits of the bike, and I only touched down often enough to require comment on the fact. Also, the pace that I was riding at for testing purposes is higher than the one I would on a street ride for fun. I find it much more enjoyable to pull it back a few notches on weekend blasts.

      If you’ve reached the point that you’re regularly dragging pegs on the street, it’s time to hit a track day or two to see what you and your bike can do together. You won’t regret it. I can’t tell you how fun it is to explore the limits of your ability in an environment where you don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic or road hazards. IMO, track days aren’t about becoming a racer. Rather, they offer a controlled environment to become a better rider – which pays off on the street.

      • Jimi

        Thank you for the reply. Very informative.

        It sounds like the 650F is back on my list of future, potential upgrades. In all honesty, I think I’m just starting to use the 500 to its full potential. So I may not need to upgrade so soon.

        You may have also convinced me to try out a track day (someday in the future). :-)

  • gjw1992

    In this day and age – and especially for this type of bike – ABS should be standard. And just the reduction in variants would save everyone a small but useful bundle.

    • Jimi

      Agreed!!! That blue is my absolute favorite color (not just on the bike, that is my favorite color period)…but I would love to have ABS!!!

  • JP

    I read a variety of online moto-journals, and have been reading this site for a few years. Lately, I noticed you guys have really done a great job with the reviews (thinking of this review and the Nine T). Keep it up!

  • Jon McLaughlin

    You mention the FZ-09 costs less as a “Low”, but is the 09 this easy to ride?