First Ride: 2000 Honda CBR929RR
The Empire Strikes Back
Track Day: The Las Vegas Motor Speedway
As small drops of rain fell on our car en route to the track, we envisioned cool two-wheeled drifts followed by not-so-cool airborne antics straight into a concrete wall then two months of rehab while being fed strained peas intravenously. Will the sun come out? We'd pay down to our last dollar for just a few hours of sunshine to allow a decent surface on which to thrash Honda's latest and greatest.
About one hour later, the sun broke through the clouds and, despite chilly temps that hovered in the low-fifties, we were ready to ride. But, wait! There were 20-something riders and only seven 929s. This meant that three groups of riders would venture onto the track for only 30-minutes at a time with an hour of downtime between each session. Yuck. Even the two, one-year-old CBR900s Honda brought along for back-to-back comparisons in our downtime could only satiate so much nervous energy.
Once we watched the first group proceed onto the Las Vegas Speedway's tarmac (we were in the second group), all we could do was compartmentalize our frustrations and, instead, wait on the pit wall, drooling. When our turn came we didn't hesitate, and after only a handful of warm-up laps, we put our heads down and set about the business of turning in fast laps, taking note of what the new Honda did beneath us.
In the morning sessions, the stock Michelin Pilot Sports let us grind away fairly easily at the short footpeg feelers. For the afternoon session Honda removed the footpeg feelers and shod the 929 with the stickier Pilot Race tires and soon the fastest began to grind away at the footpegs themselves. This 929 stayed planted even while leaned extremely far over.
"The new 929 accelerates smoothly out of the bend and onto the next straightaway as cleanly as any bike we've ever ridden."
Erion Racing's Josh Hayes, who was on hand after completing a photo shoot a day earlier, told us that he ground down the left-side clutch cover through turn five at Laguna Seca with nothing other than a set of race slicks mounted on a stock bike. Josh is a nice kid and he may be embellishing a bit for the team, but after we achieved incredible lean angles even our cynical selves thought that it's possible Josh Hayes wasn't exaggerating.
No matter what, the new bike, it turns out, is very well sorted. The motor feels super smooth and the throttle response is, perhaps, the best we've ever experienced on a fuel-injected bike. Where many fuel-injected bikes -- and a few poorly carbureted ones -- transition roughly when opening the throttle mid-corner, causing the chassis to become unsettled, the new 929 accelerates smoothly out of the bend and onto the next straightaway as cleanly as any bike we've ever ridden. No muss, no fuss.
Coming off the corners it felt as though the Honda might not have quite as much power as the R1, but it does rev rather nicely and the extra power is appreciated on corner exits and down the straights.
We couldn't discern any real hit or peak in the powerband -- just a well spread out band of power readily available whenever we twisted the throttle. The smooth motor is very easy to control and never surprises you with a wicked hit when you least expect it. Then again, a little bit of that unpredictable character is what makes so many hyper-bikes fun to ride.
The 929 is so smooth and well-behaved that some might think it's too refined. This is a common, although picky enthusiast-press compliant about Honda sportbikes in general. A little bit of character wouldn't be bad, would it? Of course not. Just remember that a few sportbike journalists are frustrated racers with healthy egos, and it's often a testosterone thing -- who can tame the wild beast. This isn't to say that the criticism isn't necessarily valid. Just keep in mind the critics.
Needless to say, because of the high speeds we carried down the straights, we uncovered the 929's only significant flaw: the front brakes. They lack initial bite and don't start really slowing things down until well into the travel. We prefer something a bit more linear where two-percent more pressure equals two-percent more friction on the rotors. That's not the case here. Still, this is not to say the brakes are weak; they are not, although the rear brake was useless since while hard-braking into the corner it barely touched the track surface, if at all. The best approach was to just use a healthy amount of front brake and downshift smoothly into the next lower gear to minimize chassis pitch and keep things settled before bending the bike into the now not-quite-so-rapidly approaching turn.
While in the corner the new 929's chassis proved remarkably solid. After one particularly long straightaway, there was a tight second-gear left with a few bumps at the exit and, to compound things, the track fell away from the bike, providing an off-camber challenge to negotiate as well. The Showas sucked up the irregularities and the chassis never lost its composure.
The 929 stayed well-planted and, after opening up the throttle through the exit, when the rear wheel drifted, it did so completely in control. The 929 was very predictable, never once gave us a reason to make a mess inside our leathers.
The gearbox was smooth-shifting and allowed the flexibility to keep the motor singing where it made the most power. The gearing is excellent with no gaps, and we never missed a cog during either up or downshifts despite a few frenzied moments that were due to our lack of talent more than any shortcoming on the bike.
Taken as a complete package, Honda did their homework with the CBR929RR. They've made a motorcycle that feels, upon first impression, like a machine that sets the bar pretty high. But has the 929 set the bar higher than its competition?
Without back-to-back comparisons with the other open-classers, we can't yet say for certain whether or not this new CBR929RR will surpass the likes of the Kawasaki's ZX-9R, the Yamaha YZF-R1, or even the Ducati 996, which is often thrown into the liter-bike wars despite it's V-Twin disadvantage. Heck, we're not even sure if any of the aforementioned motorcycles surpasses Honda's new RC51.
What we can say with certainty, however, is that the new Honda CBR929RR is a well-designed and manufactured motorcycle, one that seems to meet all Honda's design goals. It'll be a close match, for sure; but there's no doubt that the new CBR929 will be in the hunt for top honors up to the very end.
Engine 929cc liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder
Bore and Stroke 74 x 54mm
Valve Train DOHC; 16 valve Carburetion PGM-FI with automatic choke
Ignition Computer-controlled digital with three-dimensional mapping
Transmission Close-ratio six-speed
Final Drive #530 chain O-ring-sealed chain
Suspension Front: 43mm inverted cartridge fork with preload, rebound and compression damping adjustability;
Rear: mono-shock with spring preload, rebound and compression damping adjustability;
Brakes Front: Dual full-floating 330mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear: Single 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Tires Front: 120/70ZR-17 radial
Rear: 190/50ZR-17 radial
Wheelbase 54.9 inches
Trail 97mm (3.8 inches)
Seat Height 32.1 inches
Dry Weight 374.8 pounds
Fuel Capacity 4.8 gallons, including 0.9-gallon reserve
Colors Pearl White/Red Pearl Yellow/Black
California version meets CARB 2004 emissions standard.