2011 Honda CB1000R: MD First Ride-Part Two

April 19, 2011

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Honda has taken some flak recently for a relative dearth of new US models. But it has tried to redeem itself of late, particularly with the new CBR250R. “New” is a relative term. There was plenty of excitement when Honda announced the CB1000R back in 2007 in Milan, but the bike has been sold in Europe since that time without any importation to the US market. Should we get excited about Honda’s decision to bring a three-year-old model to the US for 2011?

Motorcycle manufacturers develop their own personalities. I’ve been riding long enough, and ridden enough motorcycles, that I sometimes feel I could identify a manufacturer if I could ride a new bike blindfolded (not recommended). I might be able to tell you it is a Honda, for instance, based on the sensations I get, some of which are hard to put into words.

Honda built a reputation with my generation, as well as many younger riders, based on thoroughness in both engineering and design. That quality came through when you rode Hondas. All other things being equal, there was a certain sense of refinement and ease-of-use. The bikes were not always the fastest, or the most exciting to ride, but the sense of predictability and seamless performance was more often appreciated on two wheels. A Honda Accord might bore an enthusiast automobile driver, but an open-class Honda motorcycle could blow a Porsche Turbo off the road, and the added sense of control was a big plus for most riders. So much so that Honda motorcycles developed fierce brand loyalty. An emotional state frequently expressed by our readers, although sometimes more recently in the form of frustration or disappointment (… “Honda doesn’t care about motorcycles anymore” or “Honda doesn’t care about the US market anymore …”). That loyalty is often grounded in riding experiences aboard Honda Standards, i.e., the “CB” family.

Is that heritage evident in the 2011 CB1000R? Somewhat to our surprise, and delight, it certainly is. First, let’s talk about the technical details.

Honda likes to purpose-build its engines. In the past, it rarely took an engine from a sport bike and put it in a different model, for instance, but that philosophy changed with the development of the CB1000R. The market was demanding standard-style motorcycles ( “nakeds”, if you will) with sport bike-spec engines and chassis elements. Honda intended to meet this demand with the introduction of the CB1000R.

The engine is directly derived from an earlier-generation CBR1000RR. Displacing 998cc, the fuel injected, in-line, four-cylinder features four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 11.2 to 1. Power is delivered through a relatively close-ratio six speed transmission.

A gravity die-cast aluminum frame designed specifically for this model carries a single-sided swingarm and, for Honda certainly, modern and somewhat daring styling that surprised enthusiasts when the traditionally conservative company unveiled the bike in Milan.

The suspension is also more sport bike than traditional “standard” in its specification. A 43 mm fork is fully adjustable for compression, rebound and spring preload, while the rear shock has spring preload and rebound damping adjustments. The brakes are beefy-looking 310 mm discs in front, clamped by radial-mount calipers, and a single disc in back. There is no ABS, and no link function between the rear and front brakes.

Honda claims the curb weight (with all fluids, including a full tank of gas) is 485 pounds. This is very close to the claimed 481 pound curb weight of the Kawasaki Z 1000. Not stellar, but not too bad when you consider that the four-an-a-half gallon gas tank means the bike starts out at a claimed dry weight south of 450 pounds.

The ergonomics of the CB1000R are again representative of careful development by Honda. We had three different test riders, ranging in height from roughly 5′6″ to close to 6 feet tall, and each of them commented on the comfortable ergonomics. None of the modern naked bikes have a completely traditional standard – style seating position. Typically, the pegs are much higher these days, but we were pleased to find more than adequate legroom on the CB1000R, and pegs that felt lower than some of the competition. The handlebar also put each of our test riders in a near perfect, semi- upright riding position for a fast un-faired bike.

Compared to many open-class naked bikes, Honda went with a smaller 5 1/2 inch rear rim with a 180- section rear tire ( as opposed to the 190s found on some of the other bikes in the class). We felt this had a beneficial impact on the bike’s handling. In keeping with the CB tradition, the CB1000R is very easy to ride. Clutch action while pulling away from a stop is smooth and predictable, and the bike has ample, usable low-end power that seems to build smoothly until the bike hits its power peak at roughly 10,000 RPM.

The superbike-derived motor has tuning for street use, and is plenty fast, but hardly intimidating. We did not put our test unit on the Dyno, but our seat-of-the-pants assessment lines up with several dynamometer runs we have seen for this model in Europe. Expect roughly 110 hp at the rear wheel. This is delivered below 10,000 RPM, however, whereas a very healthy 600 supersport might deliver similar peak horsepower somewhere north of 13,000 RPM. We certainly weren’t complaining about a lack of power when we were riding it. The smooth throttle response allowed us to get on the gas relatively early coming out of corners, and this certainly added to the fun we had carving corners.

It was the handling of the bike, quite frankly, that blew us away. The CB1000R has a very light, nimble feeling. It features a fluid, almost effortless transition from upright to full-lean in corners … seemingly reading your mind as you flip the bike through a series of bends. We don’t doubt that much of this has to do with careful mass centralization by Honda, and the purpose-built frame that, through the use of the special die-casting method, features variable wall thicknesses and relatively light weight.

It also has much to do with the suspension settings and tires chosen by Honda. The OEM Bridgestone BT-015 tires seem to have that perfect profile that allows the bike to roll side-to-side so smoothly, and predictably. The suspension was excellent. Once we slowed the rebound of both the fork and the shock slightly, and added one click of additional spring preload in the back, we were in heaven. One of our test riders owns the current model Honda CBR1000 RR, and he commented more than once that our test bike had suspension settings, compliance and control superior to that he found on his own motorcycle. The ergonomics and handlebar placement also play into the handling equation, of course. Slowing down for that next corner entry was a piece of cake with the responsive powerful brakes. Together with the nimble feeling on twisty tarmac, the bike was rock steady at higher speeds in a straight line.

Like any other open class naked, lots of motor and speed combined with a relative lack of wind protection to make the bike uncomfortable for long stints on the freeway. We found ourselves looking online for aftermarket fly screens (and there are plenty) to take that wind pressure off the rider’s chest.

So who is the CB1000R for? Is it for traditionalists, who are begging Honda to bring over the CB1100 and its twin rear shocks, complete with a near perfect retro design? Is it for aging sport bike enthusiasts who want a more comfortable riding position? Is it for all those “Honda guys” who have been dreaming about the perfect “Honda standard”? Or is it simply for all those riders who think they might like a new, fast CB with modern engineering and styling … hold the Retro?

We can’t answer these questions for you, or for other potential customers.  Nor can we counsel you on your sense of rejection, or that “jilted boyfriend” feeling you may have over Honda’s perceived recent neglect of your motorcycling needs.  We can only tell you that this is a fast, comfortable, fun motorcycle that made all of our riders smile and laugh . . . and that I could immediately identify it as a Honda if I rode it blindfolded.

Take a look at Honda’s website for additional details and specifications for the 2011 CB1000R.  It is available in one color (shown) at a U.S. MSRP of $10,999.

CB1000R With Aftermarket Slip-On Exhaust

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