Honda CB650F: Review

Honda's new CB650F could slip under most riders' radars. At a glance it is easy to assume that this is simply a Hornet with a new set of clothes and a capacity increase but nothing could be further from the truth. Although the CB replaces the Hornet in Honda's model range, the two bikes are chalk and cheese and share virtually no components - not even the engine.

A whole new thing, not just a reimagined Hornet
A whole new thing, not just a reimagined Hornet
Hence the keenness to drop the name and put distance between the two. Most riders associate the Hornet with a rev-happy and buzzy supersport engine, something that is about as far removed from the CB650F's design ethos as possible. According to Honda, the CB is a 'step-up' bike, aimed at younger riders who want hassle free commuting in a good-looking naked bike. If that is the target, then Honda has hit the nail on the head.

Sting like a...
For a start the CB is a great looking bike. Hunched up and aggressive, it is a far cry from the dowdy CBF600 commuter while also appearing more modern than the outgoing Hornet. The bike is loaded with quality touches and nods to classic CB models such as the side-swept header pipes and twin split LCD clocks. Neat metal bungee hooks come as standard, as does a tank pad (you can choose if you want to have it fitted or not) and ABS. The colour schemes are, unusually for Honda, vibrant and the whole bike feels fresh and spirited. However while it looks quite aggressive, the engine is anything but.

Handsome, dependable, cheap ... enough about Jon
Handsome, dependable, cheap ... enough about Jon
Although an in-line four that can trace its roots back to the CBR600RR, the CB650F's motor is totally new. Designed to deliver low- and mid-range torque thanks to a longer stroke, new valve timing, revised intake and exhaust ports and long, narrow, intake funnels, it makes a reasonable 87hp with 46lb ft of torque. While not earth shatteringly fast (it is actually less powerful than the Hornet), it is beautifully smooth, fairly vibration free and loaded with low-end grunt. Unlike the old Hornet, there is no need to go hunting out revs on the CB; you can keep the needle below 7,000rpm and it will pull happily, meaning you aren't continually tap-dancing on the gear lever.

Working 9-5
If you want relaxed riding then it's a lovely motor with a feeling of refinement that extends to the smooth throttle response, light clutch and slick gearbox. Newer riders will appreciate ABS being fitted as standard while commuters should find the claimed 59mpg and 215-mile tank range to their liking. Anyone familiar with the Hornet's legendary peanut sized fuel tank (later models were slightly better) will find this music to their ears...

A hint of the Hornet's sting has been preserved
A hint of the Hornet's sting has been preserved
Explore the upper end of the rev range and the engine does have a bit of a buzz about it as the power builds up, but that adds a dose of character to what could otherwise be accused of being a bland bike and is no bad thing. The CBF600 was lethargic to the point of tedium, so I'm all for a few vibrations here and there. And just because this is a 'step-up' bike, don't think Honda have sacrificed the old Hornet's famous sporty handling.

Despite the slightly budget looking suspension, Honda has made every effort to ensure the CB handles well. The tubular steel chassis and aluminium swingarm are fairly agile in their set-up and the extra weight the in-line four has over lighter parallel twins help give it a reassuringly solid feel in bends. On smooth roads the soft suspension is very good, however throw in a few sharp bumps and it can get a touch overwhelmed. This is a bike built to a budget so while the forks are unadjustable, you do get seven-stage spring preload adjustment on the shock.

Fast, fun and affordable - PH2 approves
Fast, fun and affordable - PH2 approves
Fit for purpose
Surprisingly for a bike aimed at less experienced riders, the CB has loads of ground clearance while as you would expect, the ABS was excellent. OK, the brake calipers may be two-piston sliding units but they work perfectly well and the lever even has a span adjustor, a small detail that is so often missing in budget middleweights.

As a bike designed to encourage new riders onto two wheels it is hard to fault the CB650F. It's easy-going, sporty when required and great looking. Priced at £6,399 it is about £1,000 more than the lighter parallel twin models such as the new Yamaha MT-07 and Kawasaki ER-6, but by the same token it is cheaper than the sportier Suzuki GSR750 and Kawasaki Z800. Theoretically its main competition is the £6,499 XJ6, however the Honda feels and looks more modern than the Yamaha and you get the feeling that with the arrival of the MT-07, the XJ6's days must be numbered.

While the term 'step-up' bike conjures up images of a rather dull and uninspiring commuter, the CB650F is anything but. It may not be quite as thrilling as the MT-07 but if you are after a solid, practical, easy-going and very well built first big bike that you won't 'out grow' for a number of years, the CB is well worth considering.

2014 Honda CB650F
649cc 4-cyl, liquid cooled
Power: 87hp@11,000rpm
Torque: 46lbft@8,000rpm
Top speed: 135mph (est)
Weight: 208kg (wet)
MPG: 59mpg (est)
Price: £6,399



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Comments (32) Join the discussion on the forum

  • smilo996 06 May 2014

    Hinda appear to be trying to breath some bonkers into the range. Though it is still quite conservative. The CB1000 seems to be further along the scale of trendy. However it will go well and not fall apart.

  • Prof Prolapse 06 May 2014

    First question that springs to my mind for all these affordable bikes is "where is it built?"

  • RocketRabbit 06 May 2014

    As a CB600F owner I am a little disappointed by the ideology of new bike.

    I really like the buzzy nature of the current bike and it seems to be better equipped too.

    I understand Honda want an upgrade path from the CB/R500 A2 models, but they are somewhat alienating their current customerbase frown

    Looks like they have done the same with the CBR600F too frown


  • srob 06 May 2014

    smilo996 said:
    Hinda appear to be trying to breath some bonkers into the range.
    Is this you?

    Sounds like a code from Allo Allo hehe

  • Chicken Chaser 06 May 2014

    It appears that manufacturers naturally assume that riders who want some top components on a naked or street style bike will want a 1000cc rather than sticking with a lighter fruity middleweight.

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