The little CBR could only muster the fourth-quickest lap time at Buttonwillow but drew praise-and high scores-by virtue of combining a light, user-friendly chassis with a potent engine. "It's difficult to find fault with the Honda," wrote Holst in his notes, which rival War and Peace for length. "It does nothing wrong. Everything about the bike feels immediately familiar and confidence-inspiring. It goes exactly where you point it, and the steering response is tight, linear and nicely weighted. You can't ask for more in a track bike at any price." The stable chassis may not be as precise as the R6's, but steering is just as quick, and that stellar chassis is coupled with forgiving suspension and the highest-rated brakes. Likewise, the engine may not have the top-end rush of the Yamaha or the midrange torque of the Triumph, but it has the best spread of linear, usable power and scored highest in the engine-power-delivery category. As a bonus the throttle response from the single-butterfly EFI is quite smooth, and the transmission rated highly with our testers.
There is little to complain about with the CBR, leading Reeves to comment simply, "This is a very nice motorcycle" after his first-ever ride on a Honda. The clip-ons are a bit high for track work, and when push comes to shove the CBR would definitely benefit from a slipper clutch. The Honda is less stable than the other bikes under heavy braking, and at Buttonwillow the finesse of a hand surgeon was required to ease it into the decreasing-radius sweeper turn smoothly. The Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha could all be fired in almost with abandon and little thought to downshifting.
More importantly, our testers all noted that the performance of our test unit at Buttonwillow was distinctly off compared with our test bike from last year. The engine didn't seem quite as crisp, the suspension didn't have quite the same combination of plushness and firmness, and the chassis was not quite as composed. Perhaps one year of production has taken the edge off the molds, or perhaps our test bike didn't benefit from the care and attention Honda typically bestows upon new-model test units. In any event, the discrepancy definitely showed in this year's scores and lap times and illustrates just how minor a change can make a huge difference in the class.
+ Light, user-friendly chassis
+ Strong, linear power is easily accessed
- No slipper clutch
- Busy engine, more so than last year
x Can we get last year's test bike back?
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front Spring preload: 10 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 2 turns out from full stiff; ride height: 5mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
Rear Spring preload: position 4 from full soft; rebound damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 14 clicks out from full stiff
With the highest scores in five of 10 categories and the quickest lap time, the Yamaha was a unanimous favorite with our testers for track use. "I was most surprised by the improvements in the R6 that seem to fill in most of its shortcomings without dulling its traditional sharp points," wrote Holst. "It's still an intense, not particularly forgiving bike, but when you get it all right it feels like the fastest thing on the track." The tiny Yamaha's scalpel-sharp chassis rewards precision on the track and scored top marks in the chassis and handling as well as suspension categories. "The suspension feels stiff initially," noted the Boss. "But once you really get going it comes into its own and absorbs everything in its path. It's definitely track-oriented."
That brilliant chassis is mated to a screaming engine that benefits enormously from the additional midrange power Yamaha engineers have found. Along with the still-present top end (the Yamaha posted the highest peak-horsepower number) that was the old bike's strong point, the R6 now pulls hard from much lower in the rev range. You can feel-and hear-the intake stacks changing position, and while keeping the engine spinning into five digits pays dividends, the powerband is much more flexible and forgiving. Adding to the overall package are well-sorted details that allow the R6 pilot to make the best use of that power: The off/on throttle response is smooth (although not as buttery as the Kawasaki's), the slipper clutch allows for banzai corner entries (although again, not quite as banzai as on the Kawasaki) and the transmission is crisp and requires just a light touch on the shifter. The only fly in the ointment is the Yamaha's numb brakes, which, although providing good stopping power, require a he-man pull on the lever and give little feedback. Still, even carding the lowest score in the braking category couldn't derail the R6 train at Buttonwillow, and the Yamaha is a clear step ahead of the other bikes at the track.
+ Most powerful engine now has midrange
+ Scalpel-sharp chassis a joy on the track
- Not such a joy on the street
- Wooden brakes
x Most track-focused middleweight yet
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front Spring preload: 2 lines showing; rebound damping: 19 clicks out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping: 17 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff; ride height: 10mm fork tube showing above triple clamp
Rear Spring preload: position 3 from full soft; rebound damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; low-speed compression damping: 22 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping: 3 turns out from full stiff