Apples to Apples
The 2012 Honda CBR1000RR:...
The 2012 Honda CBR1000RR: No traction control, wheelie control or variable riding modes — and we like it.
The changes to the 2012 Honda CBR1000RR seem minimalistic at first, but like our parents (also) taught us, never judge a book by its cover. Point in mind, we headed to Infineon Raceway in Northern California, site of the CBR press launch, to see what the laundry list of changes added up to. Infineon Raceway has long been a stop on the AMA Pro Road Racing circuit, and is hands down one of the most physically demanding tracks the series visits, with minimal straights, blind rises and a cherry on top. What makes the track such a challenge, however, also makes it a great place to test the new suspension components and the overall handling of Honda’s new package.
Typical Northern California weather delayed the first session, and it wasn’t until the fog cleared that the U.S.-spec Dunlop D211 GP-A race tires (the bike will ship to the States with either Bridgestone S20 or Dunlop Q2 tires) were taken off the tire warmers that had coddled them all morning. The ambient—and track—temperature eventually rose, and consequently our comfort level did as well, allowing us to get more aggressive with the bike. Aggressive riding doesn’t faze the new CBR though, which is one of the most composed, compliant bikes we’ve ridden in some time.
What makes the 2012 1000RR better than its predecessor (and we can assert this since Honda had a handful of ’11 models at the launch to compare) is the new Showa BPF, which keeps the bike completely poised when hard on the brakes. Entering the second-gear turn seven we noticed the biggest difference: compared to the ’11 model, we were able to brake both deeper and harder. The new Honda doesn’t hiccup under the increased load either, and feels more composed than its predecessor, whose rear end moves around entering equally tight corners. Bump absorption mid-corner is worth noting too, and we noticed this in the famed Carousel (turn six), a large-radius downhill left-hand corner that’s made more challenging by ripples in the pavement. In contrast to the superb feel of the BPF, the cartridge-type fork of the ’11 model feels harsh and provides less feedback to the rider.
Equally as favorable is the new Showa Balance-Free shock, although the difference between it and the standard shock is not as easy to discern at speed. Where we noticed the biggest difference is cresting Infineon’s many rises, over which the 2011 CBR would unload and unsettle in its transition from compression to rebound. Feel from the rear of the new bike is more linear over the same crests, which allows the bike to drive off the corners better. Honda also claims the Balance-Free shock provides more rear tire grip, although we weren’t able to spin the rear much on either the 2011 or 2012 model thanks to the sticky Dunlop D211 GP-A tires.
The changes to the fuel injection settings are minimal, claims Honda, but the change is drastic on the track. This is especially the case in a tight chicane, where you have to transition from right to left and pick up the throttle all in one fluid motion without upsetting the chassis or compromising grip. It’s not to say the Honda of yesteryear was abrupt, in fact we’ve always raved about the smooth transition from off throttle to on. It’s just that, with the 2012 model, it literally feels like the twist grip is connected to the rear wheel.
There’s much more for Honda to be proud of, and the one thing that sticks out is the new LCD instrumentation; it could be the best we’ve used on a production bike to date. What makes the unit stand out from that of the Ducati or Kawasaki ZX-10R unit (which is a slightly different setup, of course) is the screen and high level of contrast that makes visibility a nonissue no matter where the sun is. And not only does the gauge look drastically better than the analog unit of yesteryear, but it finally has a gear position indicator. It’s a small addition no doubt, but we’ve been waiting (impatiently) for the indicator these past few years!
Even with its improved suspension and trick new LCD dash working well for us on the track, we still can’t help but wonder how much the Honda would benefit from a bump in top-end power? Midrange power is clearly not a concern, and there is still gobs of it anywhere past 6000 rpm, but the bike begins to peter out past the 12,000 rpm mark. On a tight track like Infineon, the lack of top-end power doesn’t hurt the CBR, but get the bike on a faster circuit, and the BMW or Kawasaki will simply walk circles around it down the front straight.
A Mixed Bag of Tricks
The dual radial-mount four-piston...
The dual radial-mount four-piston calipers biting on 320mm discs go unchanged. The brake’s initial bite is unimpressive, but power ramps up through the pull. New layered fairings give the bike a more aggressive look and Honda reps claim they create a large air pocket around the rider for improved aerodynamics. We didn’t notice a difference.
That midrange power is, however, what has long made the Honda an excellent performer on the street, which is where we spent the remainder of our time with the bike. Unfortunately, the street ride was affected by wet weather, which left us testing the the C-ABS model’s reworked ABS package more than anything. The calibration on the ’12 model is most noticeable when using the rear brake by itself. Because less pressure is applied to the front calipers when the rear brake is applied, however, we actually noticed the 2011 model comes to a stop much quicker than the 2012 model during a rear-pedal-only panic stop. It’s worth noting though that the new CBR comes to a stop in a more controlled manner during said stops. Feel at the lever is still on the numb side.
The Balance-Free shock and BPF front end turn the CBR into an even more pleasant street bike, with above-par bump absorption qualities that make the bike much more compliant and comfortable over any stretch of road. The fuel injection changes are welcomed too, providing near seamless throttle transitions, and there’s only a small amount of driveline lash.
Neither on the track, nor on the street did we feel the layered bodywork “create a large air pocket” around us, but that’s not to say that the bike doesn’t benefit from its makeover—it’s a damn good looking machine, in either the Red, Black or sure-to-be-popular White/Blue/Red color. And thanks to formidable ergonomics, a relatively buzz-free engine and usable mirrors, the CBR1000RR is equally as comfortable on the street as it is on the track.
More Like Apples to Oranges
Honda’s goal with the 2012 CBR1000RR wasn’t to give it gobs of power, more electronic aids (traction control) or variable power modes. The manufacturer’s goal was simply to improve the handling; to make the bike easier to ride and consequently easier to go quicker on. After a full day on a demanding track like Infineon, and a half day on the street, it’s clear that Big Red has accomplished its goals. Kudos to Honda then for not jumping on the traction control bandwagon, but instead working with an already proven package and making it work that much better.
The 2012 CBR1000RR will be available by the time you read this, and at $13,800 (add $1000 for ABS), it’s only $400 more than last year’s model—an insignificant bump if you ask us. Stay tuned as we gather the clan and see if the Honda has what it takes to keep up with the new Yamaha, Suzuki, BMW and Ducati. SR