Road Tests


Monday 25th March 2013


Are there more treats to discover behind the CBR's new look?

Honda’s CBR has been a mainstay of the supersport class since it was first launched in 1987. Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, the Japanese manufacturers threw everything at their disposal to ensure their 600 was the bike to have, and as a result you could guarantee that every two years a model would receive a small update or a major overhaul. Despite this four-year life cycle costing the Japanese a fortune in development it created a huge buzz around the supersport machinery. Then the bubble burst: not only did the 1000s hit back, but the financial crisis also curbed the manufacturers’ enthusiasm for spending vast sums of R&D money.

Miserable conditions tested the new CBR
Miserable conditions tested the new CBR
Which brings us to where we are now. The supersport class is on its knees as thousands are the bikes to own. In the last few years development of the 600s has virtually stopped and, almost overnight, the Japanese dropped their bi-annual update schedules. Believe it or not, the last time Honda significantly changed the CBR was back in 2007, when it gained a whole new engine including some much-needed mid-range and an altered look with a central air scoop. So what has prompted the 2013 revision?

Peeling back the skin
To be honest, when you view the spec sheet you may well wonder. Essentially the CBR has gained a new look, a set of funky hoops and altered suspension. Not exactly modifications that are likely to set the world on fire; however, while the changes may be minimal they do make their mark known.

New fairing is one of the key changes
New fairing is one of the key changes
For a start there's the look. Pictures don’t really do the new fairing and seat unit justice. There is certainly a slight hint of early R6 about the front end with its angled lights and central air scoop; however, it’s fresh and stylish with some great paint schemes. Interestingly, the CBR’s front indicators are now also permanently on as daylight warning lights, a move I personally think is dangerous and I’d recommend removing the wire so they only illuminate when they are flashing.

Moving downwards, you come to the most significant modification, the addition of Showa’s Big Piston Forks (BPFs). Already used on the Fireblade (although in larger 43mm diameter) the BPFs are there, Honda claims, to add a bit of strength to the front end under braking and reduce the dive of the old conventional forks.

New wheels more rigid, but barely lighter
New wheels more rigid, but barely lighter
And finally we have the wheels. In the marketing spiel Honda were busy calling them ‘lightweight cast aluminium’ – however, there’s virtually no weight saving. The design is slightly more rigid, but that’s it – a bit of a letdown.

So, we basically have little more than a new fairing, BPFs, re-styled wheels and a new fuel map. In other words, to properly evaluate how different the 2013 bike is to the 2012 model, we’d need to push the BPFs hard on track. Which was a problem.

Snow joke
You may have noticed from the pictures that the weather wasn’t exactly brilliant at the CBR’s launch, but even in the horrible conditions the modifications were apparent. We were given CBRs with Honda’s extremely clever Combined ABS system fitted. It is an incredible system and allows you to brake in a straight line as hard as you can in the dry without any fear of locking the front, something I tested several times per lap.

Donington has three hard braking areas and even in the treacherous conditions I saw nearly 120mph on the clock before grabbing the brakes hard for turn one, something that I simply wouldn’t be brave enough to do with a non-ABS braking system. This deceleration revealed the stiffness of the BPFs, which certainly seem to offer more initial resistance than the conventional forks on the 2012 model; however, more so, it highlighted just how good the ABS is.

BPFs are the major technical change
BPFs are the major technical change
Riding in such hideous conditions is a good test of a bike’s throttle response and in this respect I was disappointed with the CBR. Going from a closed to an open throttle was pretty jerky, and where I was hoping to have the power gently reintroduced, instead it was quite an abrupt transition. With the updated fuel maps I was surprised Honda hadn’t made things smoother, especially as the CBR has a different map per gear; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if emissions laws are a limiting factor.

Once over this initial annoyance, the engine felt exactly the same as the previous model, with a good, if not outstanding, mid-range and sprightly top end.

New CBR's changes aren't that radical
New CBR's changes aren't that radical
This is no radically different CBR, and to be brutally honest if you have a 2007-onwards CBR600RR and you get your forks properly re-valved by a suspension expert, it would be as good as the BPF units for 99% of riders. Other than this the styling is nicer, but that’s about it.

I grew up with the 600cc class and I’m a huge fan of supersport bikes but even as a supporter of the class I can’t help but feel its glory days are well behind. The economic crisis has seen 600s fall from grace and they now feel a bit static in their development. In the same way that BMW, Aprilia and Ducati have jumped on the Japanese manufacturers’ lack of activity and development in the litre bike class, Triumph and MV have done the same with the 600s. The new Daytona 675 will easily beat the Japanese 600s in group tests and, I’m sorry Honda, but a new fairing and redesigned forks isn’t going to stop that happening. The CBR is loaded with clever technology such as the electronic steering damper and amazing ABS system, but with a price tag of £9,500 I wonder how many will be prepared to stump up for what is essentially just a new fairing and stiffer front end.

However let’s not end on doom and gloom; there is a ray of light on the horizon. The supersport class may be on the decline, but look at the great selection of fantastically priced middleweights that are popping to replace it in the market. The supersport class may be on the decline, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some great bikes for younger riders out there

599cc, liquid-cooled inline four, DOHC, fuel injection
Power (hp): 119@13,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 50@11,000rpm
Top speed: 165mph (est)
Weight: 213kg (wet)
MPG: 36 (estimated)
Price: £9,500

Author: Jon Urry