To say that we’re excited for the forthcoming 2012 literbike comparison would be a sheer understatement. BMW, Yamaha, Suzuki and Ducati all have new or updated packages this year, plus Honda has decided to make things interesting by alas updating its ever-consistent CBR1000RR, something it had yet to do since the bike was overhauled back in ’08. A recent chance to throw a leg over the bike at the tight, technical Infineon Raceway in scenic Sonoma, California during the bike's official launch would give us a chance to see if the reworked Honda has what it takes to regain the crown in the literbike category.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
The past few years have seen a surprising number of manufacturers turning to traction control, with everyone from BMW to Yamaha now offering some form of electronic trickery. Despite the shift in trends, Honda has once again chosen to stay away from added electronics. That’s right, no TC, no variable riding modes and no ride-by-wire throttle on the reworked CBR1000RR. That’s not to say, however, that the new CBR won’t put up a fight in this year’s literbike shootout. The main reason being this: new Showa suspension.
...the new Showa suspension absorbs rough patches of road with all the comfort of a Tempur-Pedic mattress "
The Showa BPF (Big Piston Fork) that replaces the ’11 model’s cartridge-type fork uses the same technology as the fork Kawasaki and Suzuki have been using for a few years now. Out back is a new Balance-Free shock, which has been developed with help from Honda’s technical partner, Showa, and tested in the Suzuka 8 Hour race and the MFJ Superbike All Japan Road Race Championship. What sets this twin-tube shock apart from a single-tube shock is its solid piston and valves that are in the shock body, but separate from each other. More linear damping is the benefit since the lapse between compression and rebound damping caused by cavitation is eliminated.
The twin-tube Balance-Free...
The twin-tube Balance-Free shock uses a valve-free piston. Damping force is generated as oil flows through damping valves that are placed separate from each other.
Cavitation within the shock...
Cavitation within the shock is eliminated by separating the valves. The result is more linear action between compression and rebound.
Showa has designed the Balance-Free...
Showa has designed the Balance-Free shock to be easily tuned. Here you can see how accessible the clickers are.
The new CBR1000RR has a lot more going for it, and that includes new 12-spoke cast aluminum wheels, an LCD dash and styling refinements that make it feel at home in the 21st century. We covered most of the updates in brief here, but will recap for those opposed to jumping links.
The aggressively designed front cowl with new headlight design is matched to a new layered fairing design that Honda reps claim “creates a large pocket of calm air around the rider to improve comfort while also helping draw air through the cooling system.” Honda engineers have also incorporated a chin spoiler aimed to reduce aerodynamic lift at high speeds. Sitting in the pits at Infineon Raceway, with 12-spoke wheels glistening in the sunlight, it’s clear that the new Honda will be a head-turner on showroom floors.
Honda has also reworked the CBR1000RR’s EFI settings with the hope of providing a smoother off/on throttle transition at smaller throttle openings. We noticed the change right away, and compared to the 2011 model (which Honda had on hand at the press launch to compare to), the transition from off throttle to on is even more seamless. So seamless in fact, you’d swear the twist grip is connected directly to the rear wheel.
On the track, the biggest advantage the 2012 model has over the 2011 model is its new suspension. The Showa BPF provides a soft (but not too soft) feel over ripples in the road, and excellent feedback to the rider. It’s so compliant in fact, that it makes the once-poised ’11 model feel like a jackhammer. As we’ve noted in the past, performance on the brakes is improved with the BPF as well, which dives significantly less when aggressive with the lever.
The many rises at Infineon Raceway also highlight the plus points of the new Showa Balance-Free shock. The biggest difference is that the rear doesn’t unload as the shock begins to rebound. Overall, it’s a much more fluid, linear feel. Riders will also notice a difference on the street, where the new (more-cushioned) suspension absorbs rough patches of road with all the comfort of a Tempur-Pedic mattress. Honda claims rear grip has been improved with the Balance-Free shock, although we didn’t notice much difference between tire grip on either the 2011 or 2012 CBR. That superb grip could, of course, be attributed to the Dunlop D211 GP-A tires Erion Racing had previously mounted on each of the steers (a number of the CBR1000RRs shipped to the states will be fitted with Dunlop Q2 tires, while the others will utilize Bridgestone’s new S20 rubber).
Honda says the layered fairing...
Honda says the layered fairing design creates a large pocket of calm air around the rider. We say they look good. The same radial-mounted four-piston calipers biting on 320mm discs are used, but notice the new, more-rigid 12-spoke cast aluminum wheels.
The 2012 CBR uses this chin...
The 2012 CBR uses this chin spoiler, which is claimed to reduce aerodynamic lift at high speeds. We didn't notice a difference.
The new LCD dash is brilliantly...
The new LCD dash is brilliantly laid out and features all the desired information. Speed, rpms and gear position are all easy to read at a glance thanks to the screen, which isn't affected by glare.
We were fond of the new LCD dash on both the street and track since the unit is easy to read at a glance. Alas, there’s a gear indicator too. The tachometer can be set to display rpms in four different modes, plus the unit provides average fuel numbers, coolant temperature, speed and more. Above the horizontal tachometer readout lies a set of programmable shift lights.
At the end of the day, we were extremely happy with the new CBR1000RR. It’s not a clean-sheet design, nor does it have sophisticated new electronic trickery, but Honda engineers have done an excellent job of making the package as a whole much more refined.
The CBR will be available January ’12, and will come in three different color options: Red, Black and White/Red/Blue. MSRP is set at $13,800 (add $1000 for ABS).
Be sure to check out the April 2012 issue of Sport Rider Magazine for an even closer look at the 2012 CBR1000RR, and stay tuned for what promises to be the most thrilling literbike comparison in some time.