2011 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout
Honda CB1000R vs. Kawasaki Z1000 vs. Triumph Speed Triple
2011 Honda CB1000R $10,999
If there’s one word Troy, Editor Duke and myself used time and again in reference to the CB-R, it was agile.
“The CB is exemplified by its light-effort responses, from its switchgear and clutch effort to its freakishly agile chassis,” said Kevin.
Where the Speed and Z1000 have hulky, muscular stances, the Honda’s ultra-narrow waist and overall waifish appearance is directly reflected in its handling. The CB flips from corner to corner with the lightest-by-far steering effort in this group – it transitions so easily between turns that it feels like a bike half its size.
After completing a circuit each on all three bikes, we had guessed the CB weighed tens of pounds less than the others. Then we were blown away when we learned the Honda’s 485-lb curb weight made it the heaviest bike. The Honda weighs 4 lbs more than the Z1000, and gives up 14 lbs to the Triumph. Sure, those are comparatively small amounts, some might say indiscernible.
But what’s impressive isn’t so much the Honda’s ability to hide the extra 4 to 14 lbs, but that it somehow hides what feels like double or triple those amounts.
Further confounding us, and belying the Honda’s cat-like maneuverability, is that its 25.0-degree steering angle is 0.5 a degree more than that on the Kawi – which isn’t so much – and is loads lazier than the Speed Triple’s crazy shallow 22.8-degree rake.
The Honda tightens up handling with 3.9 inches of trail (4.1 inches for the Kawasaki), but that’s still 0.4 inches more than on the Trumpet. Each bike has a 56-point-something-inch wheelbase length, with no more than 0.4-inch diff from the longest to shortest.
With the most weight to cart around, and relaxed-in-comparison steering geometry, how does the Honda manage to feel like a supermotard according to Troy, or similar to the smaller but long-gone 599 in Kevin’s eyes, or GP-bike-like to me?
The engine’s forward placement in the frame lends to narrowness at the seat-tank junction, which not only makes the seat feel low to the ground, but also gives the rider the sensation of an overall skinny, lightweight bike. However, it is perhaps the CB’s narrowest rear tire that’s most responsible for the bike’s ultra-agile responses.
Spinning on the Honda’s single-sided swingarm is a 180/55 tire (Bridgestone Battlax BT015) whereas the Z1000 runs a wider 190/50 (Dunlop Sportmax D210) and the Triumph a 190/55 (Metzeler Racetec Interact). While the Triumph has the raciest geometry and should steer as quickly as the Honda, we can deduce that it’s the CB’s narrower tire that makes the bike feel as though it weighs less when hustling between corners.
The Honda’s steering impressed Kevin enough that he suspected he could “go quicker over a tight canyon road, and especially on downhill sections,” than he could on the more powerful Z and Speed.
A fully adjustable inverted 43mm fork and shock with rebound damping and spring preload adjusters keep the CB rolling smoothly down the road. As delivered, our CB was set up for a plush ride. Its shock’s ramped preload ring (the only one of the group with the easy-to-adjust system) was set to one of its lightest preload settings, making the other two bikes feel tauter overall.
Suspension action is perfectly suited for typical, everyday use, with good damping during freeway stints. Aggressive riding revealed an unsettled back end on a couple of occasions, but adding more rear preload and rebound damping can dial that out.
The CB seemed to have the most upright/shortest reach to its gold-colored, tapered handlebar. And while it offers a roomy span from seat to peg, it also seemed to have the lowest seat height despite its stated 32.5-inch height mirroring the much taller-feeling Speed Triple that also is claimed to sit 32.5 inches off the tarmac. While the seat was comfortable, the bumper, for lack of a better term, on the pillion cover does a good job of holding the rider in place during hard launches, but it also restricts sliding back in the saddle, which might have tall riders feeling cramped at times.
As noted earlier, the CB’s engine comes from good stock. Give the throttle a healthy twist and the front tire goes skyward in no time. Despite smooth, trouble-free fueling, a linear powerband, light-effort clutch and seamless shifting, the CB-R engine ultimately failed to give us the Wow! factor.
“The CB gets the nicest streetfighter honors,” said Kevin with a smirk. “For a bike that can fit into the streetfighter class, the CB’s relatively docile engine lacks the power and the verve of the other two ‘fighters here. It’s the key missing ingredient for fully qualifying as a proper hooligan bike.”
If you’re a Honda devotee, or are looking for a liter-class streetbike that’s easy to ride thanks to light steering, but is also good mannered and every bit as agile as its slender figure suggests, than look no further than Mr. Nice Guy CB1000R.