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.
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...
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.
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
Engine: 649cc 4-cyl, liquid cooled
Top speed: 135mph (est)
Weight: 208kg (wet)
MPG: 59mpg (est)