When Honda’s CBR650F first made it to US shores back in 2014, its goal was to try and close a gap in the market between the beginner-friendly CBR500R and the aggressively sporty CBR600RR. Now that the CBR650F has spent some time on the market, touting its somewhat mild-mannered 650cc inline-four engine and commuter-friendly ergonomics, Honda has decided to strip it of its plastic garments. Following the addition of a wider handlebar and a new, poignant stance that stirs up memories of the 599 Hornet, the new naked CB650F finds itself alongside its full-fairing brother in Honda dealerships for 2018.
I’ll admit, Honda sure got the looks of the CB650F right. The aggressive styling reminds me of the older Hornet generation, while the beautifully flowy headers sweep elegantly to the right side of the engine in a way that mirrors Honda’s 400 Supersport from the late ’70s. The frame does well to show off the impressive inline-four engine, which settles into an incredibly smooth rhythm after a quick press of the starter.
A pretty new face is great and all, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The CB650F shares most of its technology with its fully faired counterpart, starting with a 649cc, liquid-cooled, inline-four engine. The airbox has been redesigned with power in mind, rerouting cables and wires that were previously in the way of crucial airflow. A change from a three-phase to a two-phase muffler means less backpressure and a small bit more horsepower, as well as a more aggressive sound and smoother throttle response, according to Honda. Gears two through five in the six-speed transmission in both models have also been altered for lower, closer gear ratios and better acceleration.
You’ll still find a twin-spar steel frame that utilizes the engine itself as a stressed member; however with the new CB650F model, more of the engine and frame is on display. A nonadjustable Showa fork that features a new “dual bending” valve is also new, imitating damping characteristics of more expensive cartridge-style forks. The rear shock is the same as it was before and is only adjustable for preload.
New for the CB650F model is a straight, rubber-mounted handlebar that places the rider in more of an upright riding position than the CBR650F. The CB650F will weigh in at a claimed 454 pounds, while its sportier brother will weigh a claimed 465 pounds. The same two-piston Nissin calipers on each of the two front rotors are shared between both models, as is the single-piston rear. An identical instrument cluster is utilized by both models, but the CB650F drops the windscreen found on the CBR650F for a more streetfighter-esque stance.
Sweeping along through endless switchbacks in the Angeles National Forest, I was able to let the CB650F loose amid the seemingly endless rows of pine trees that emerged following a brief stretch of stale freeway riding. The Angeles Crest Highway connects central Los Angeles to the inner desert by way of the San Gabriel Mountains and offers relatively well-maintained asphalt that’s perfect for fast-paced riding—as long as you keep your eyes peeled for rogue wildlife.
The wider handlebar makes it a bit more difficult to hang off the side, as opposed to the ergonomics of the CBR650F’s faux clip-ons which allow for further degrees of upper-body adjustment. They do, however, give you more control over the somewhat chunky CB650F in tighter urban environments—helpful as well as comfortable for the commuter. The gauge cluster, while easy to read, felt as if I were staring at a cheap digital watch from the late ’90s—lacking contrast and character.
I was impressed with the response and feedback from the newly designed fork internals. The new Showa Dual Bending Valve fork mimes the feel of a more expensive cartridge-style fork, giving the bike a solid, planted feel in fast corners, yet keeping your slower-paced city riding comfortably sprung. Brake feel is very positive, thanks in part to the dual front rotors and accompanying twin-pot calipers. The included ABS works well to bring the bike to a safe stop in the event of an emergency. The seat is comfortable and is well suited for longer trips on the highway.
Riding in a straight line on this bike is easy and carefree; the inline-four settles into a nice, melodic hum and there’s still some power left on tap to make a quick pass. Neither of the two bikes is what I would consider uncomfortable, and even the sporty-themed CBR650F retains more of an upright posture that’s helpful on the lower back thanks to the raised clip-ons.
Freeway riding is one thing, but the bike really woke up when we made the transition to the canyons. If kept up in the higher range, this strong freeway commuter will begin to come alive, rewarding the rider with a spirited and surprisingly lively show of power and gusto. Despite the redesigned intake and exhaust, however, the engine still suffers a bit from “inline-four syndrome” and is somewhat sluggish off the line before hitting its 8,000 to 12,000 rpm sweet spot.
It wasn’t upset by cracks and irregularities on the road’s surface and responded predictably to throttle and steering inputs. I’ll be honest—it did feel a bit slow to transition between opposite corners, but it also never got to the point where it felt like I was out-riding the bike itself.
After hours of riding some tight switchbacks, I didn’t find myself as fatigued as I thought I might be. The CB650F and CBR650F both seem to be able to find a nice cadence, and settle into it comfortably. Riding this bike through challenging sections of road is like moving from one apartment to another with help from a reliable friend—they know what they need to do to be helpful and aren’t constantly asking about the free beer and/or pizza.
Sure, Honda’s new naked version of its CBR650F might be a little more docile than expected, but that doesn’t mean that anyone should gloss over it while shopping for a “blue-collar” middleweight. Honda has made a name for itself by building reliable bikes and tends to side more with this mentality as opposed to going for all-out raw power. If you're into the naked bike thing and like your bikes with four cylinders but don't need anything as big or fast as the CB1000R, then you’re in luck. The CB650F is a solid commuter platform that’s also relatively comfortable taking a lashing through tight, twisty roads.
The CB650F, at a claimed 454 pounds wet, is almost 60 pounds heavier than Yamaha’s FZ-07 yet almost identical to Kawasaki’s Ninja 650. It’s a little bit cheaper and one cylinder richer than Yamaha’s FZ-09 but down on power in comparison. At $8,249 for the CB650F, it’s a few hundred dollars more expensive than the FZ-07 and Ninja 650, and adding the extra bodywork for the CBR650F model will bump that up to $8,749—a little on the steep side. Personally, I’d be quicker to choose the twin-cylinder FZ-07 over the CB650F, if it came down to cost per dollar for a midsize commuter—the FZ gets better mileage, weighs less, has better brakes, and can be just as fun when ridden hard. The Honda, on the other hand, does have more power and is a little more comfortable for longer-distance riding.
I see Honda’s CB650F and CBR650F as best suited for those who are looking to make a start in motorcycling a little later on in their lives and aren’t necessarily interested on what’s fastest or has the best suspension components. It’s bigger than other “beginner” bikes, but it’s also very easy to ride and wouldn’t take long for someone to be able to pick up and have a great time with. If you decided you wanted to take a weekend morning up through some canyons or winding roads, the CB650F and CBR650F would be happy to oblige—just don’t expect to keep up with the 600 sportbikes you’ll come across.
|Engine type:||Liquid-cooled, inline-four|
|Valve train:||DOHC, 16v|
|Front suspension:||Showa Dual Bending Valve 41mm fork|
|Rear suspension:||Showa shock, adjustable for spring preload|
|Front brake:||Dual Nissin two-piston calipers, 320mm discs|
|Rear brake:||Nissin one-piston caliper, 240mm disc|
|Seat height:||31.9 in.|
|Fuel capacity:||4.6 gal.|
|Claimed curb weight:||454 lb.|