This might not be the Honda that you were expecting or even waiting for, but it’s here. A simple, smooth, and fun-to-ride entry-level middleweight sportbike that Honda originally introduced alongside its naked counterpart, the CB650F, last year at the EICMA show in Milan. Enter the all-new 2014 Honda CBR650F.
Honda has clearly targeted entry-level and step-up riders with recent additions to their lineup that include last year’s 500cc CB and CBR, new CBR300R, and even the VFR800 Interceptor, which, displacement-wise, drops neatly under the CB1000R in Big Red’s Sport line. But unlike the Interceptor, which returns with a frame and engine that are basically carry-overs from the previous VFR model, the 2014 CBR650F is all-new and shares almost no components with previous or existing models in the lineup. Purpose-built as they say, and Honda’s purpose was to provide a mid-displacement sportbike with supersport styling and a level of performance above the parallel-twin 500cc engine. Honda’s product planning guys refer to it as “step-up performance.”
In that respect, they’ve succeeded. But is it “remarkably affordable,” as Honda puts it, or comparably priced for middleweight newcomers and small-bike graduates? That depends. If you’re comparing price points within the Honda line, the CBR650F falls slightly on the lower side of the gap that it fills, coming in at $3,000 less than the CBR600RR and $2,200 more than the CBR500R. But compare the Honda’s base $8,499 MSRP with retail pricing of the Kawasaki Ninja 650, Yamaha FZ-07, and Suzuki SFV650, and you might say that the CBR650F needs to justify its place on the Big Four scale.
To get acquainted with the new CBR-F, Honda invited motojournalists on a one-day ride through the canyons above Malibu. The endless maze of winding roads above the famous Pacific Coast Highway is where LA-area sportbike riders and cruisers go to unwind on Saturdays and Sundays, and weekend traffic is almost always a challenge if not a downright hazard. Luckily, our press ride took place mid-week and we had the Mulholland twisties all to ourselves.
With a 67mm x 46mm bore and stroke yielding its 649cc displacement, the CBR650F’s inline-four engine delivers what it promises with smooth acceleration and useable torque in the low 4,000 to 6,000 rpm range and its strongest pull coming on noticeably as the LCD tach bars sweep up to 7,000 rpm before starting to flatten out just above the 10,000 rpm mark (the red zone starts at 11,400rpm on the LCD tach). A cable-actuated clutch disengages with a very light pull on the lever and shifting through the six gears is faultless.
The engine is a stressed member of the CBR-F’s steel twin-spar frame bolted into place with aluminum hangers at a point that achieves close to a 50/50 distribution of weight between the axles. A cast aluminum swingarm is suspended by a single shock with 5 inches of rear travel. Up front, the 41mm right-side-up fork is non-adjustable and provides 4.3 inches of travel. The rear shock is valved on the heavy side with a light spring but the main drawback is the lack of rebound adjustability. The only adjustment that can be made to the suspension is at the rear with seven detents of spring preload.
A seat height of 31.9 inches is not necessarily low, however a nice taper where the inner thighs rest makes it easier for shorter legs to reach the ground.
At two clicks up on the preload (factory setting), the ride around town was plush enough for daily commuting without feeling unstable or unpredictable as we worked our way into a curvy section of road. Once we were up in the fun section of the ride, we pulled into a turnout and added two more clicks of preload, which enabled the CBR650F to handle the tight, narrow roads with a slightly sportier feel. There is no dive into the corners and steering is not super-light by supersport standards, which is a good thing for less aggressive riders who want a more predictable feel. Mid-turn bumps did not upset handling, a characteristic that we found to be a nice compromise for daily commuting and weekend rides through the twisties.
Dual 320mm wave-type rotors up front provide strong stopping capability with easy one-finger modulation on the lever. The brakes remained consistent throughout the day under heavy acceleration and stopping. The rear brake on our test bike grabbed quickly making it a little more difficult to modulate. For an additional $500 over base, you can get Honda’s ABS system for added panic-stop confidence. (The ABS model is available only matte black.) Fortunately, there was no discernible difference in lever feel or stopping performance between the ABS and non-ABS bikes that we rode. Aside from the optional ABS upgrade, there are no sophisticated electronic rider aids to drive up the price. The LCD dash is basic and easy to read with excellent day and nighttime visibility. With the CBR650F’s more upright sport-touring rider position, airflow coming off of the top of the small windscreen was a buffeting factor at 60mph and above. A seat height of 31.9 inches is not necessarily low, however a nice taper where the inner thighs rest makes it easier for shorter legs to reach the ground.
Overall sport-oriented ergos with above-the-tree clip-ons and a slight rise to the bars offer a comfortable, semi-upright seated position with all of the controls where they should be. While the seating position is more upright than a 600RR, the CBR650F puts the rider at a slight forward tilt that helps to keep you positioned closer to the front-hinged tank for a sporty feel and better weight distribution. Honda offers the CBR650F in two eye-grabbing colors, red or blue, along with a stealthier matte black for the wicked, low-key look. The new bodywork is clean and angular with more of the engine visible than most fully faired sportbikes. A short list of Honda accessories include a rear trunk or rack, heated grips, rear hugger, color-matched solo seat cowl, wheel stripes, carbon fiber tank pad and a sport windscreen for buyers who need to add some personal touches.
Stay tuned for a comparison test between the CBR650F and its most obvious competition, the Kawasaki Ninja 650 and Yamaha FZ-07 included!
|2014 Honda CBR650F|
|MSRP:||$8,499 ($8,999 with ABS)|
|Type||Liquid-cooled DOHC inline-four cylinder, 4 valves/cyl|
|Bore x stroke||67 x 46mm|
|Induction||PGM-FI, single-valve 32mm throttle bodies, single injectors/cyl.|
|Front Tire||120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D222F|
|Rear Tire||180/55ZR-17 Dunlop D222|
|Rake/trail||25.5 deg./ 3.98 in. (101.3mm)|
|Wheelbase||57.0 in. (1448mm)|
|Seat height||31.9 in. (810mm)|
|Fuel Capacity||4.5 gal. (17.0L)|
|Claimed wet weight||461 lb. (209kg); 467 lb. (212kg)|