This article was originally published in the March 2007 issue of Cycle World magazine.
Don’t think of the 2007 CBR600RR as an all-new bike; after all, it has been training for this occasion for 20 years. The bike you see here has been lurking in the shadows of Honda’s R&D department for a while, getting stronger, faster and more nimble. Its time has finally come.
Two decades ago, Honda stunned us with the CBR600F Hurricane, the first in a long line of nine models leading to the trim, toned and muscular machine of today. In that span, more than 400,000 CBR600s have been sold worldwide, half of those right here in the U.S. The Hurricane, F2, F3, F4, F4i and RR models have all made memorable impressions, both at the racetrack and on the showroom floor. Matter of fact, CBRs have won Cycle World’s Best Middleweight Streetbike category in our annual Ten Best Bikes awards seven times! This new bike is a culmination of all that knowledge, experience and a host of fresh ideas rolled into one.
Honda has always been known for innovation, and this motorcycle is a showcase for all the gadgets and gizmos its engineers could think up. As with the RC211V MotoGP bike that the RR aspires to be, designers sought to increase performance by dramatically improving the power-to-weight ratio through a drastic diet and hopping up the engine. Another goal was to reduce the physical size of the bike: Its wheelbase and aerodynamic profile both are much smaller.
When the first CBR600RR came out in 2003, it also was brimming with technology, borrowing multiple concepts from the Grand Prix garage and HRC. The bike was impressive but had an Achilles heel: It was a porker. All that engine performance went to waste trying to overcome the bike’s heft. When the model was updated in ’05, engineers managed to shave 9 pounds off the bike, which then started showing its potential.
Not wanting to make excuses anymore, the ’07 RR has officially graduated from the fat farm. Weight is down a whopping 16 pounds. Slicing a massive chunk like that off of a modern sportbike isn’t an easy endeavor. It’s not like engineers could have success just by changing a part or two. Instead, they had to rethink virtually every single aspect of the bike, taking off a gram here and an ounce there until they pared it down to their goal.
The engine is brand-new and not only more compact, but 3.7 pounds lighter, the crankcase castings alone accounting for a full 2 pounds. The Fine Die-Cast frame is a pound-plus down, while chassis weight-savings contributed 12 pounds to the overall loss. These improvements were aimed at providing class-leading acceleration and better chassis response.
In the past, Honda has stayed away from building a no-holds-barred repli-racer, always making sure the bike was a good street performer first. At a glance it may appear those days are gone. This is the most aggressive CBR600 ever made; it’s ready for kickin’ ass and takin’ names.
Shortly after riding the new RR at Barber Motorsports Park, we took delivery in California of our test unit. We knew from our day on the track that the bike was going to be a great performer in that environment, but could it still retain the street credibility it always had?
Throw a leg over the CBR and it is instantly apparent that the bike is much more compact than before. Not only does it feel slim between the legs, but at just 415 pounds topped off and ready to ride, the lack of weight is obvious.
Honda went to great lengths to make the bike as small as possible. The task started right at the 600’s heart with the engine. From there it was a domino effect, with all of the other pieces falling into place. The engine is 1.1-inch shorter front-to-back than the previous unit. The biggest contributing factor was stacking the transmission’s input and output shafts in relation to the crankshaft so they now form a much tighter triangle and shorten the engine’s length.
By reducing the size of the engine by such a large margin, engineers were able to completely rethink chassis layout. Additionally, the engine could now be placed in the optimal position for handling and mass-centralization. The bike is shorter, measuring only 53.9 inches axle-to-axle, compared to the previous bike’s 54.7. That allowed the Unit Pro-Link swingarm to stretch to 22.6 inches–traction-improving technology derived from the first-generation RC211V.
You might think that with such a short wheelbase, the steering geometry would become more conservative for stability. Au contraire; Honda decided to make it more radical, with a steeper 23.7-degree rake angle and just slightly more trail at 3.8 inches. Sounds like a head-shaking nightmare to us, but this is where we get to talk about one of the many new gizmos we alluded to: the HESD (Honda Electronic Steering Damper).
HESD was first seen on the CBR1000RR, but this new damper is 25 percent lighter and less than half the size. In fact, it is so much smaller it’s barely visible from the cockpit, hidden below the leading edge of the tank. This active steering damper gives the CBR a split personality. At low speed, the orifices within the unit open to allow damping fluid to flow freely, but as speeds increase they constrict to give more resistance.
First impressions are usually the most valuable. Pulling out of the pit lane at Barber was our first taste of the Honda’s newfound agility. Turn-in was quick and responsive through the hairpin and over the track’s famous “Alabama Rollercoaster” section, where it dips, dives, twists and turns in quick succession.
We do have one complaint, although we have to admit that it wasn’t obvious until a week later when we sampled the new Kawasaki ZX-6R at the same track. The lack of adjustment on the damper allows steering to become fairly heavy at high speeds, by design. Thus, more handlebar input was required to get the CBR flicked through Barber’s 100-plus-mph Turn 9/10 chicane than on the ZX-6R. Apparently, this is the compromise that had to be made with such radical geometry.
Not only did we sample the Honda on the track, but back in SoCal we put it through its paces on some of our favorite backroads. On the street the bike is an animal, attacking corners like no CBR before it. If there ever was telepathy between man and machine, the RR’s sweet steering on an ultra-tight canyon road is proof. Here, very little input is needed to dive to the apex, with only a touch of damping provided. As speeds rise over about 80 mph, so does the bike’s stability level. That is the beauty of the HESD; it really works. The damper was much more welcome in this, the environment of potholes, bad pavement and gravel-strewn roads.
This lighter, meaner CBR utilizes its suspension like never before, the Unit Pro-Link working in harmony with the chassis to give the bike excellent traction exiting corners. Up front, the fully adjustable 41mm inverted cartridge fork keeps the front tire glued to the ground. No small feat considering the steep rake. For street testing, we left suspension settings in their standard positions, with the intention of fine-tuning them if needed. As it turned out, on a wide variety of roads the fork and shock provided firm but responsive damping, and we ending up leaving well-enough alone. Everything about the new chassis says performance, compared to the first-generation 600RR, which was often called a “nice, comfortable streetbike,” as though it were a sport-tourer.
Also upgraded is the RR’s braking system. A new radial-pump master cylinder sends fluid to the radial-mount four-piston calipers, which squeeze 310mm rotors. Feel at the lever is progressive, both on the street and track, and power is such that a single finger was enough to get the bike slowed in a hurry. But enough about stopping, let’s put the hammer down.
Think of the new motor as a tightly rolled firecracker: It may be small but sure packs a big bang! The CBR’s powerplant borrows technology from the arsenal of its big brother, the CBR1000RR. Not only did designers want to increase peak power, but more importantly wanted more useable midrange torque between 7000 and 10,000 rpm.
To help achieve this, higher-compression (12.2:1) forged slipper-type pistons fatten up the power, while lighter connecting rods reduce reciprocating mass, enabling the engine to rev more quickly. Stealing a concept from the RC51 V-Twin, the new through-the-frame ram-air duct stuffs fresh air through the headstock and into a larger-volume airbox. The charge is then fed into the narrower 40mm PGM-DSFI twin-injector throttle bodies with a new trick of their own: The new IACV (Intake-Air Control Valve), which could easily go unnoticed. The valve smoothes throttle input by injecting air into the throttle bodies and eliminating that off/on-throttle sputter we’ve come to hate on some injected bikes. A secondary function is to provide a small reduction in compression braking in lieu of a slipper clutch. For the first time on a Honda 600, the stainless-steel 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust system features an inline backpressure-control valve to enhance midrange torque.
Performance is useless if it can’t be put to the tarmac in a smooth, controllable manner. At the racetrack, Honda also provided 2006 600RRs for back-to-back comparison, and it immediately became obvious that the ’07 bike has a lot more grunt. Exiting Barber’s final corner and entering the front straight, the new 600 would take huge chunks out of the old bike’s lead, closing the gap with ease.
Power delivery felt strong on the track, but how does it stack up in the real world? In the canyons of Malibu and southern Orange County, we were very impressed with the engine. It was here, riding roads with corners considerably tighter than anything Barber has to offer, we were given a real dose of the bike’s power. Leaping from corner to corner, the RR pulls cleanly from as low as 5000 rpm, but at 7000 rpm the engine really sinks its teeth in, and at 10,000 rpm (still midrange, by the way) the claws come out, too. Hold the throttle open and the CBR screams toward the 15,000-rpm redline, making 106 peak horsepower at 13,850 rpm along the way.
The real beauty of the engine is the way the fuel-injection performs. The IACV provides smooth throttle response across the rev range. Below 4500 rpm, there is an ever-so-slight stutter; but once up into normal sport-riding revs–above 7000 rpm–the EFI is as good as it gets. Open the throttle from a closed position and the CBR simply accelerates; no pause, no hiccup, no drama, just clean power.
The slick-shifting transmission features revised ratios to exploit the engine’s new strength. Internal changes allowed final-drive gearing to be taller via a smaller, 42-tooth sprocket. The one missing feature we would like for the track is a slipper clutch. It isn’t necessary on the road, but at Barber the rear end would step out a bit if we weren’t careful feeding the clutch lever out after multiple high-rpm downshifts.
Vibration was almost non-existent. On the highway at 75 mph, the tach reads 7000 rpm and the engine feels as smooth as can be through the bars and footpegs, while the mirrors, which provide a nice view astern, are rock steady.
Good ergonomics have always been a Honda trademark. As radical as this bike has become from a performance standpoint, it remains comfortable. The bars are 0.4-inch-higher than on the ’06 model to improve the riding position but maintain the same reach from the saddle. Our only complaint is that they are angled back toward the cockpit too much and make the wrists cramp after an hour or so. Footpeg location is excellent, providing a good compromise between cornering clearance and comfort. The seat provides more cushion than last year’s without raising the height, and it’s narrower at the front to help riders get their feet down firmly at a stop. The new dash is excellent, providing plenty of info, but we wish it featured a shift light and a gear-position indicator.
Styling is modern, aggressive, sharp and chiseled, and shows off more of the engine than ever before. Not only is the new bodywork and small frontal area more aerodynamically efficient, it allows hot air to be pulled through the radiator more efficiently. The only knock against the styling is the use of the same turnsignals that have been around since the ’95 CBR600F3–we kid you not.
For all of Honda’s efforts to make the new CBR600RR the most radical 600 it has ever built, engineers never lost sight of the fact that only five percent of CBR buyers ever take their bikes to the track. Maintaining good midrange power and rider comfort mean that the CBR’s street appeal is still there. Sure, it’s packed with performance and snaps into corners like a GP racer, but as a weekend carver or weekday commuter it is one of the most enjoyable 600s we’ve ever ridden.
Twenty years of training has really paid off. Honda’s going to sell a lot more CBRs.
|Warranty||12 mo./unlimited mi.|
|Engine||liquid-cooled, four-stroke, inline-Four|
|Bore x Stroke||67.0 x 42.5mm|
|Valve train||dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment|
|Valve adjustment intervals||16,000 mi.|
|Oil capacity||3.7 qt.|
|Weight: Tank empty||385 lb.|
|Weight: Tank full||415 lb.|
|Fuel capacity||4.8 gal.|
|Seat height||32.5 in.|
|Ground clearance||5.6 in.|
|Load capacity (tank full)||361 lb.|
|Claimed wheel travel||4.7 in.|
|Adjustments||compression and rebound damping, spring preload|
|Claimed wheel travel||5.1 in.|
|Adjustments||compression and rebound damping, spring preload|
|Front tire||Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier 120/70ZR17|
|Rear tire||Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier 180/55ZR17|
|1/4 mi.||10.56 sec. @ 130.77 mph|
|0-30 mph||1.3 sec.|
|0-60 mph||2.9 sec.|
|0-90 mph||5.1 sec.|
|0-100 mph||6.2 sec.|
|Top gear time to speed:|
|40-60 mph||3.5 sec.|
|60-80 mph||3.7 sec.|
|Measured top speed||157 mph|
|Engine speed at 60 mph||5506 rpm|
|Avg. range inc. reserve||187 mi.|
|from 30 mph||28 ft.|
|from 60 mph||118 ft.|
|30 mph indicated||29 mph|
|60 mph indicated||58 mph|
Blake Conner, Associate Editor
I must admit, in the past I never would’ve considered racing a CBR600RR. Since the ’03 bike came out, it’s simply been too heavy to be competitive against the Yamaha YZF-R6 and Kawasaki ZX-6R, both of which I’ve raced the past couple of seasons. Every time I ride a new 600 at a press introduction, the selfish side of me kicks in. I quit worrying about what you the reader wants and start wondering: How good a racebike would this make?! I do care about you at times, but sometimes these intros become the ultimate test ride for, um, me. So there I was, spinning laps on the new ’07 RR, and all I could think about was, “How would it work at Willow Springs?” I’ve owned Hondas in the past. One an ’87 Hurricane, which I totalled into the side of a car on Mulholland Drive above Hollywood, and a ’93 CBR900RR that I shouldn’t have sold, but I never bothered racing them. Could this new RR be the bike for me? Guess I’ll wait for our shootout results and see.
Don Canet, Road Test Editor
I’ve always liked the CBR600RR a great deal. This despite the fact it never has taken outright class honors in any comparison test that the RR and I have both been part of.
It seems Honda has now delivered a middleweight that no longer requires an asterisk next to the comparative measured performance data. Good thing, too, because it’s not easy coming up with fresh ways to reiterate that while it may have lacked the peak power or cat-like finesse of the latest class darling, it still held a place in our hearts for its refined performance, balance and relative comfort.
Come shootout time we’ll know for certain, but the new RR is looking good. At 385 pounds without fuel, it is 9 pounds under last year’s lightweight Four, the YZF-R6. It’s also nipped the quickest quarter-mile E.T. set by the ’06 drag-queen Kawi 636.
Promising for sure, but testing on the same day under like conditions will be needed to settle the score with no explanations required.
Mark Hoyer, Executive Editor
Way back when the CBR600F4 made its debut, I was impressed with its chassis precision, braking power and the way its engine pulled on top. It felt like such a quantum leap from the previous F3 on the racetrack that I wondered if Honda hadn’t possibly gone too far in chasing performance–and Supersport titles–with that then-new 1999 version.
Too far? Certainly far enough, because some kid named Nicky Hayden won the AMA title with it. And while we lamented the passing of the more-street-friendly F3, I finally recognized progress for what it was: Bitchin’.
Riding the new RR makes the notion of the F4 “going too far” completely laughable. It is such a couch that it is hard to believe it’s related to this new bike in any way.
The thing is, I also feel that this is a better streetbike, too. The seat is comfy, damping is sweet and the bike jumps off the line on a frenzied wave of torque. Technically speaking, it’s more bitchin’.