2006 Honda CBR 1000RR - Motorcycle.com

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander

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The 2005 CBR 1000RR was rock solid: Extremely stable if a tad slow-steering, which helped it inspire a lot of confidence in its erstwhile pilots. Indeed, all of our testers, short of expert-level racers, went faster because of that extra confidence. However, with our pro-level tester the CBR fell behind its rivals in outright speed.

It was slower on acceleration and heavier to turn, meaning, in short, the Honda got beat where getting beat counts: on the racetrack and in magazine shootouts. Yes, it can be argued it was a better everyman's bike, but losing anything sits poorly at Honda, and the fix was in: make the 2006 more flickable, harder accelerating and able to carve a tighter line.

Sure, this is just a 'little' wheelie. Read-on to find out why Sean is being so cautious.

They accomplished this; I would even go so far as to say that they exceeded the target. But herein is my problem: I just don't agree with how they got there; the ends don't, as we all say, justify the means. This bike no longer shines in the confidence department. True, it's more fun at the limit, but that reassuring CBR "feel" of being easier to ride and more stable than its competition was the first casualty of the new ride; it's just not there.

And I've avoided inking this story, today and every day for the past five weeks: I like Hondas, respect their engineering heritage, love their take-no-prisoners racing history (both two- and four-wheel I might add) and would say Sochiro Honda is one of my top five most-revered motorsport icons. Complicating this, I especially like the people I interact with at American Honda, and while I'm adept at being MO's problem-solver, I disdain being its problem creator. Yet, here I am, dissing my second-favorite (behind Ferrari) marque, and doing so six weeks late, at that. {Sigh} Well, then, nothing left now but to partake of the nitty gritty of what I liked and didn't, read on and feel free to disagree, MOFOs.

Honda's recent CBRs developed a reputation as dependable, stable and friendly, perhaps a tad boring even. They've fared quite well in MO sportbike shootouts for precisely that reason, allowing even our least experienced testers to gain confidence and feel at home on the racetrack.

Honda's #1 goal was to make the new CBR quicker steering. It only took two turns to discover that they nailed the target.

"Honda's engineers decided to make hundreds of subtle changes for 2006, redesigning fully 60% of the CBR's components."

However, with an expert racer at the helm, Honda's slightly heavier and relatively slower-steering CBR 1000RR wasn't quite able to match the outright pace or excitement levels of the other Japanese superbikes.

To address this slight performance gap, Honda's engineers decided to make hundreds of subtle changes for 2006, redesigning fully 60% of the CBR's components.

The huge grey engine covers are magnesium, does that mean Honda is showing off with the reduced fairing coverage?

Changes Include: A new magnesium accessory cover, a lighter fairing with redesigned profile to better expose those magnesium covers, new camshaft metallurgy and reduced shaft wall thickness for weight reduction and quicker revving, a lighter exhaust, new lighter weight forks and shock, a lighter and more compact radiator, new smaller ECU (black box) that's 100grams lighter, a compression ratio increase from 11.9:1 to 12.2:1, dual (nested) valve springs and a revised crankshaft alloy for improved durability, an increased redline from 11,650RPM to 12,200RPM, a 1-tooth larger rear sprocket that improves acceleration but doesn't sacrifice top speed, thanks to that higher redline.

There isn't a photo of his near-loop, and this is the closest Sean would come to a big wheelie for the rest of the day. There's no question this new CBR is a harder hitting motorcycle.

To quicken the steering (and make the ride more exciting), they decreased rake by 1/4°, shortened the trail by 2mm and shortened the swingarm by 5mm, brake rotors were increased to 320mm from 310 but their thickness was reduced to 4.5mm from 5mm.

And that's just the start, there are hundreds more tiny modifications for 2006, but you probably wouldn't have the time or patience to read them all if Honda published the whole set.

The changes netted a whopping (claimed) 17Lb reduction in wet weight -- even though the new bike carries the same fuel load as last year -- and a 3% increase in peak power, without sacrificing low-to-mid range performance. All these changes mean more money, right? Nope, the 2006 CBR 1000RR will cost the same $11,299 as the '05 model and they're already available at your local Honda dealer. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the downside to these changes is a decrease in the bike's stability with a direct impact on its ease of use for average riders.

If you'll allow me to get a bit selfish here, I'll write a few words to expose the new CBR's appeal to guys who can really use all that it has to offer. What follows is the story of my first day on the bike at Buttonwillow raceway.

After two guided warm-up laps to re-orient the anxious journos to Buttonwillow's three miles of twists, turns, humps, bumps and curbs, I decide to get a little aggressive with the throttle on the bump between turns six and seven. This is my first real goose of the new CBR and I'm nearly rewarded with a ride to the ER. One second I'm trying to carry the front tire over a rise, and the next second, I'm desperately trying to roll the throttle closed while hanging pull-up style from the clip ons and staring at the bright blue sky. Shit! I'm about to loop this thing at 90MPH! Say hello to quicker revving and a shorter swingarm. I get lucky this time and the front comes back down without too much drama, although I've already blown past turn seven and am deep into the escape road.

"The brakes exhibit outstanding power with excellent feel and the CBR's tail wags in the air as I get it stopped in time."

I sheepishly roll back to pit lane, where I'm greeted with curious glances and scattered chuckles from the assembled engineers, mechanics and Honda staffers.

They had a direct view of my attempted orbital maneuver and one mechanic says it looked "like that time Biaggi nearly looped his YZR-500 during a victory wheelie". "You were way up there", he chuckles. I was indeed. If you kind sirs would please excuse me, I think I'll just head on over to the restrooms.

It is sections like this one which highlight the increased respect demanded by the new CBR.

Shorts changed, I head back out on my own and start trying to string a few laps together, albeit with a more methodical approach to probing the bike's new characteristics. I quickly find that it's easier to upset the new chassis with clumsy steering inputs, since it now reacts to the slightest rider movement. This is easy to figure out however and once I start acting like a proper rider, the bike reacts like a proper motorcycle. At Buttonwillow, turns three, four and five are a tight right-left-right series of 90° turns, mixed with changing camber, lots of bumps and a slight elevation change.

This is typically a difficult place to get a 1000 through with any speed, as 1000s tend to resist these rapid transitions and line-adjustments. However, aside from a little squirm from the stock Bridgestone BT-015 tires, the CBR flicks through with effortless precision and encourages efforts to squeeze every last tenth out of this section.

"If you don't have the skill you're most likely to find your brain intimidated and your weaknesses exposed."

Once out of turn five, you're greeted by a series of short straights between turns six, seven, eight and nine. They're short enough that there is very little time spent on the center of the tire, since you're mostly finishing the previous turn or setting up for the next. You do all this while accelerating through each straight. It is sections like this one which highlight the increased respect demanded by the new CBR.

On the sticky race tires, the chassis seems a bit more stable and forgiving and the added grip makes it easier to exploit the sharper handling and harder acceleration.

The old bike would truck on through here hard on the gas, with a heavy-hand required to keep it turning inside the lines.

The new bike turns effortlessly through here and demands smooth inputs to both steering and throttle, lest you find yourself taking a ride over the highside, courtesy of the harder-hitting powerplant and responsive chassis.

In other words, it'll give you exactly what you ask for, but you'd be well-advised to ask for the right thing at the right time.

If you have the skill, it's like riding a scalpel with a hyperspace button.

We know they've become the signature leathers of MO, but Sean's Alpinestars clash with just about any color scheme. The results are often spectacular!

If you don't... you're most likely to find your brain intimidated and your weaknesses exposed. However, it's still a Honda and like most Hondas, it'll try to shepherd you through as best it can, so you'll probably come out the other side with all your fingers and toes intact. Honda claims the new CBR 1000RR has about 3% more power than the '05 model. However, when you couple this power increase with less flywheel effect, a shorter swingarm and a claimed 17Lb(!) weight reduction, it feels like the bike has an extra 20Hp and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between it and the wooly ZX-10R (Kawasaki modified the new ZX-10R's power delivery to make it more linear and manageable, but this CBR feels more like the old ZX-10R).

On Buttonwillow's front straight, the CBR elicits stupid giggles and produces unintended power wheelies and entertaining TZ-250 like speed wobbles. To put it simply, it feels fast and it is fast. However, those wheelies and wobbles are merely window dressing, because the new CBR doesn't actually shake its head or do anything you wouldn't want it to do in a straight line, it just lets you know you're hauling ass.

Sean Alexander
Sean Alexander

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