2003 CBR 600 Track Test - Motorcycle.com

Yossef Schvetz
by Yossef Schvetz

Where's the Honda you may still very well ask and rightfully so. The fortunate answer this time is right here. Here meaning not good old Fontana but good old Monza, Italy. Not a bad place to test the track prowess of 2003's king of Tecno, eh? To face this year's escalating middleweight conflict, Honda decided to really take off the gloves and go for bare-fisted yet highly engineered blows.

Not that there was too much wrong with the F4i, a bike that brought Big Red it's first-ever World Supersport Championship. But in a world where specialization is paramount, the F4i, the comfy all-rounder (even in Sport version) was spreading itself thin by trying to keep Ricky-racers and Sunday gadabouts happy at the same time. Time to go mission oriented.

MO, streaking behind the pack with our CBR600RR coverage...

Dear and ever wonderful JB has already covered in detail these changes in his CBR600RR preview, you will find there the whole technical sheebang. Since I am about to test at last their effectiveness, it might be worth noting only those that should make a real difference. The whole plot seems to revolve around mass centralization and loading the front end. Everybody's running circles around the similar design parameters, so Honda turned to fine and not so fine, fine tuning to milk racier behavior from the 600 formula.

First shock arrives by way of analyzing a fairing-less RR standing in the pits after a high side (more on that later). By stacking the tranny shafts in full vertical fashion, the gearbox of the CBR power unit got much shorter. This allows for a much longer swing arm that supplies same wheel travel with less angular movement. My books say that this reduces chain tension input to the rear suspension. Good.

Our man in Italy, Yossef Schvetz, getting some Honda luvin'....sigh

"A light cast rear subframe, lighter wheels, lighter brakes, lighter everything."

The most radical departure from run of the mill technology appears in the rear RC211V inspired suspension. By fixing the top of the rear shock to the swing arm itself rather than the frame, plenty o'room opens up between the rear part of the frame spars. This allows the fuel tank to morph into a totally vertical one that fits snugly to rear of the engine, almost touching the gearbox's top. The intimate closeness of heavy parts such as a full gas tank, cylinder block and gearbox reduces the rotational inertia of the RR, producing less resistance to direction changes.

Going back to the tricky rear suspension, how does the thing work for chrissake? A progressive linkage compresses the shock from the bottom so that although the top eye moves indeed with the swingarm the unit still gets compressed. Is there is any additional virtue besides the freed real estate for the fuel tank (and room for the rear bank exhaust pipes in the RC211V)? Well, I recruited all my dormant brain cells last used at my 5 year stint as an engineer in the air-force, proceeded to lose a few nights sleep over that too and here are my two cents.

Retro sheik, no? (Think: Naked Bike Revival) Yes, it's the machine that launched Honda to the performance forefront: The CB750.

Yes, no forces are fed to the non existing frame shock mount but then the bottom linkage has to feed bigger loads to its anchoring point in the frame and the swingarm pivot bearings are going to carry an additional load too. CG of shock travels down, but with its full mass being suspended in the swingarm there should be a slight increase in unsprung weight. Tough one that one, a nice topic for long chats at the pub.

There are plenty other details, some major some minor that should enhance the CBR's lethality on the track or street. 45mm diameter rwu forks, up 2mm from last year, a frame that's cast with a technology that allows for extremely light and thin walls and uses the engine as a stressed member.

A light cast rear subframe, lighter wheels, lighter brakes, lighter everything. So how come the RR weights at the end of the day just the same as the old F4i? Blame must go to the sexy under the tail exhaust. Cool lookin' but the few feet of stainless steel pipe needed to route gases all the way up to the seat must have cancelled the weight gains made elsewhere. The crashed fairingless bike is slowly taken to pieces (It will be track ready by the end of the day) and I can appreciate the airbox mounted secondary fuel injectors that squirt into action above 5000 revs. Pretty impressive.

And then the first, great all-conquering 600cc sportbike: The Hurricane.

Time to move on to a non crashed bike. Visually, the RR is quick to make you understand that this is no face lifted F4i, oh no. From side view it is smartly sharp, aggressive and speedy looking and the snug fitting, under seat pipe, looks super cool. My only real design complaint is that the RR's face is somewhat dull compared to the sexy side and rear angles.

The red color scheme with the black stripes is a killer while the yellow and black schemes, well, ahem, my guess is that the red version will outsell the others 10:1. Regardless of color, things get really interesting upon sitting on the RR. Uhhh! Smallish like...tight and compressed.

For the first time ever on a 600 CBR, clip-ons are bellow the triple clamp, footpegs are almost racer high and the whole riding position is shifted so much forward that you feel like seated on the front wheel, or almost. 2.5 inches shift forward in overall body position are a sizable amount and are very much felt. There's just not so much bike in front of you and I like that. The beauty of the riding position is that my 6'4" fit in pretty nicely and that I can tuck well in. Could it have something to do with lessons learnt from Valentino's 6' frame?

"It certainly introduces to the honored CBR600 fraternity an edgy member with twice the testosterone level."

Yeah yeah, you meet the nicest people on a Honda. But (claiming) 200 mpg? (Read the original ad text)

I leave the pit area with the central can growling under my bum, zig-zaging to get some heat into the Pirelli Diablo Corsas and things are looking up. Even with the lowish clip-ons the thing is ultra responsive and predictable. Same thing happens at the ultra slow first chicane, a place that usually requires some adaptation time on a bike to be handled right.

Half way through the lap I am already throwing the RR down to knee grounding angles without any fuzz.

Yeah, we all know the prehistorical proverb about Honda user friendliness; it just that the CBR is even extra quick in giving you that confidence. Things get even better in places where speed picks up and there are plenty of them round Monza. I hope the G's weren't distorting my perception, but this thing can rival a 999 for front end planted-ness.

All the mass shuffling and a riding position the puts your face almost above the triple clamp load the front end and allow for a a very solid feeling. On Monza's long long sweepers this works wonderfully, urging you to feed ever more throttle.

There is no comparison really to the old F4i, which would lose precision in the real fast stuff thanks to its wide and tallish handlebars. There is a real nice mixture of fast turning in ability without any skittishness here. And this is where those high-sided RR's in the pits (there were more than just one) come into play. You are perched so all over the front, decoding the welcome info from the bars, that you forget somewhat about the back-end or at least I had a hard time gauging its limits. The same forward weight bias caused me to break into some Valentino like tail waving while braking hard from high speeds. It looked cool but I never meant it, tail was just getting really light.

Still grumbling, the fork though better than the F4's, still took a beating on the harsh 150-45 slowdowns before the chicane. It seemed set-up for fast road use rather than fast track use, a stiffer spring might also help to alleviate the strong weight transfer while on the binders.

Brakes themselves were pretty impressive to begin with, plenty of feel and reverse-thrust but as the day wore on they lost their initial brilliance. On a braking intensive track like this, racing pads are the order of the day and to be fair, I have experienced pad melt down on either R6 or GSX600R around here How about the motor? Kissing 155 by the end of the straight is darn good for a 600. Don't think I ever got quite there with any of the 2002 Supersport crop and its damn close to what I clocked with the stronger Mondial here just a few weeks ago.

Contrary to the overgeared F4, the RR with its 15,000 revs ceiling allowed me to stay much longer in each gear, saving me from time consuming time shifting in a few places. Just like with the trade off accompanying the front end weight bias, the revvy motor suffers a bit when it is not in its sweet spot.

Cool shot of the RC51 engine, eh? Sorry, no cutaway of the RR.

Bellow 7K there is nobody home and things get serious only above 9K+, a bit like with the R6 really if memory serves me right. It's a fun rev-feast as long as you keep on the manic tap dancing with the left lever. As race oriented as the new incarnation of the CBR is, I was left with the feeling that in stock form, the cycle side of the equation is going to shine even more on the street.

This thing is so planted yet fast to change direction that it could easily introduce many an unsuspecting soul to the joys of puck-dragging on the street (not that I endorse it).

It certainly introduces to the honored CBR600 fraternity an edgy member with twice the testosterone level. Welcome to the 600 Animal House.

Yossef Schvetz
Yossef Schvetz

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