Back in the 1990s, superbike racing was growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, and because the racebikes had to be based on production machines using many of the stock parts, the manufacturers soon began releasing “homologation specials.” These were very limited-production sportbikes featuring higher-spec components in the engine and chassis than the standard model to allow race teams to hopefully gain an advantage over the competition. The “limited production” term was no misnomer; superbike homologation rules specified a minimum of as little as 500 units worldwide, so if you were lucky enough to own one of these specials, you were part of a very exclusive club.
Honda was an unabashed participant in the homologation wars, producing two particularly memorable V-4-engined models that became legendary in superbike racing lore: the RC30 (known in Europe and Asia as the VFR750R, produced from 1988–1990) and the RC45 (known elsewhere as the RVF750R, manufactured from 1994–1999). But since that time, Honda hasn’t seen the need to produce any special limited-production models, for racing or otherwise.
So it was a bit of surprise to see the CBR1000RR SP unveiled for 2014 and for a number of reasons. First, the SP isn’t really a homologation special; total production will number 5,000 units worldwide, far more than the mandated 1,500 minimum, and it doesn’t feature much of anything that will be of real use to professional race teams (especially a ride-by-wire throttle system, which luckily for the World Superbike PATA Honda team is allowed to be retro-fitted). And second, the SP features Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes; this is a break from Honda tradition that has always been to use Showa suspension and Nissin brakes exclusively (since those companies are owned by Honda).
We published Alan Cathcart’s riding impression of the CBR1000RR SP from its world press launch in Qatar in the last issue (“More Than the Sum of Its Parts,” May), which included an extensive tech discussion of the changes to the Honda, so there’s no need to go into detail on them here. He was only able to ride the ABS version, however, and American Honda will only be importing the non-ABS model SP into the US. So when we were given the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with a non-ABS US-model SP, we were already grabbing our gear by the time the bike arrived.
The More Things Change…
The first thing you’ll notice when throwing a leg over the new CBR is the revised ergos. The footpegs are moved 10mm, and the clip-on bars are 34mm wider, spread out 5 degrees more, and angled 5 degrees lower for a more aggressive riding position. These might seem like small numbers, but they make a huge difference in how the latest Honda feels; the footpegs almost feel like accessory rearsets compared to the previous-generation model. The CBR SP just felt more at home on the track, with the more aggressive riding posture putting your body in a more natural position to make the forceful steering inputs required at that venue’s speeds.
Honda claims the seat on the SP is firmer than the standard model for better feedback, but to tell you the truth, we didn’t notice that much of a difference. The windscreen on both 2014 CBRs is also slightly taller for marginally improved wind protection. Everything else in both CBR cockpits is the same as last year’s version, with the exception of the aluminum top triple clamp and Öhlins fork of the SP.
One area where you could definitely tell a difference with the SP’s handpicked balanced pistons and rods was during any cruising or partial throttle acceleration. The engine vibration was noticeably more subdued than a standard CBR we had alongside for comparison, which should make longer stints in the saddle more pleasant. The SP averaged about 38 mpg, with the low-fuel warning coming on around 150 miles, meaning 170 miles is about all you’ll get from a tankful.
Despite all the internal changes aimed at improving midrange power, we couldn’t really tell if there was that much of a difference in the new CBR’s power output. Although that’s really not anything bad, per se, the Honda still has that strong and revvy midrange punch that rockets you out of corners. Unlike most other inline-fours, the CBR won’t fall flat on its face if you happen to let the revs drop to 5,000 rpm—it will happily pull through quickly and get into the meat of its powerband once past 7,000 rpm. Get it right, and the Honda simply digs in and drives hard enough to stay with most anything off the corners—despite a lack of traction control.
Unfortunately the other thing that hasn’t changed is the CBR’s somewhat flat top-end. The powerband climbs hard up to just past 10,000 rpm, where it then trails off and just sits there. This means you need to shift just before 10,500 rpm in order to maintain momentum; trying to rev the engine out to its 13,000-rpm redline only wastes time and effort. This is less of an issue on a tight course (like Buttonwillow where our track test portion was conducted) where there are a lot of stop-and- go turns, but any big straights expose the Honda’s one major weakness in the company of stronger bikes.
Thankfully the CBR hasn’t lost its other main strength when it comes to performance: agile, balanced handling. And the Öhlins suspension front and rear only adds to the Honda’s competence in the corners. Both the NIX30 fork and TTX36 rear shock perform superbly, offering nice compliance on the smaller pavement irregularities and excellent control on the bigger hits. Well-sorted spring and damping rates allow you to make full use of the CBR’s lithe and sharp steering habits since the chassis isn’t dancing around underneath you, translating to confident quick-flick corner entries that enable you to exploit the Honda’s responsive engine.
We had a standard 2014 Honda CBR1000RR alongside at the racetrack for a direct comparison, and it was easy to feel the difference in suspension action and how it influenced the rest of the chassis performance—and it should be remembered that the Showa BPF and Balance-Free rear shock are some of the better stock components available. Although competent in its own right, the Showa suspension had an overall harsher feel than the Öhlins pieces when tightened up for track use; the Showa fork and shock were comparatively firm throughout their range of travel, while the Öhlins units had an almost adaptive feel to them, combining compliance with control. A suspension’s ability to retain compliance when firmed up for track use is a sure sign of higher-quality internals.
Traction feedback from both ends was first-rate, giving the rider a clear indication of what was happening at the tire/pavement interface. We also were impressed with the feel of the CBR’s chassis when leaned over, with good communication and bump absorption and none of the harshness we’ve often found with some European sportbikes. Although a good part of that could be the exceptional performance of the stock Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires; as we’ve gained more time with these Pirellis on various bikes, we’ve grown to like them more and more. They not only provide outstanding grip on the street, but the Supercorsa SPs lose very little on the racetrack compared to full-on DOT race rubber, with good durability to boot.
Also adding to the CBR SP’s performance repertoire are the Brembo M4 monoblock calipers. While it can’t be said that the Brembos are any more powerful than the standard model’s Nissin calipers, where the Brembos excel is in feel under very hard braking. The Nissin calipers and pads have a comparatively strong initial response, followed by a very progressive ramp-up in braking power as more braking pressure is applied. This requires care as you approach the limits of braking in order to avoid overpowering the front tire. The Brembos, on the other hand, have a slightly softer response, but their feel is much better, and the braking power is more linear, meaning the performance envelope you have to play with is much wider. We also found the SP’s slipper clutch to be much more amenable to aggressive corner entries than previous CBRs, with less movement under rapid-fire downshifts.
There’s no doubt the addition of Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes have created a better and much more capable CBR, and in typical Honda fashion, these components weren’t just slapped on. Honda worked closely with both companies to ensure the pieces were tailored specifically for the CBR1000RR (in fact, the Öhlins NIX30 fork and TTX36 shock feature external construction differences that make them unique to the Honda). We were hoping for a little more top-end power improvement over last year’s model though, and we’re a little disappointed the SP is actually a few pounds heavier than the standard model. But if you’re a CBR fan, those complaints are minor in the overall picture.
The bigger issue is that American Honda will be bringing only a small number of the CBR SPs into the States (judging by the Honda dealer talk around the US, we’re guessing only several hundred at most), and all of the units have already been snapped up by the dealers. If you’ve got $16,699 burning a hole in your pocket, you’d better get down to your local Honda dealer to see if he (still) has one…and quickly.
+ Excellent Öhlins suspension
+ Superb Brembo brakes
- No real power improvement
- A bit heavier than standard
x A rather exclusive CBR, but you better hurry if you want one
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload—10.25 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping—16 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—13 clicks out from full stiff Rear: Spring preload—5 turns out from maximum (hydraulic adjuster); rebound damping—8 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—11 clicks out from full stiff
Type Liquid-cooled, transverse inline-four
Valve arrangement DOHC, 4 valves/cyl., shim-under-bucket adjustment
Bore x stroke 76.0 x 55.1mm
Compression ratio 12.3:1
Induction PGM-DSFI, 46mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
Front suspension Öhlins 43mm NIX30 inverted fork, adjustments for spring preload, rebound, and compression damping, 4.7 in. travel
Rear suspension Öhlins TTX36 shock absorber, adjustments for spring preload, rebound, and compression damping, 5.4 in. travel
Front brake Dual 320mm rotors with Brembo M4 monoblock radial-mount four-piston calipers
Rear brake Single 220mm rotor with single-piston caliper
Front wheel 3.5x17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel 6.0x17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP, 120/70ZR-17
Rear tire Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP, 190/55ZR-17
Rake/trail 23.0°/3.7 in. (96mm)
Wheelbase 55.5 in. (1410mm)
Seat height 32.3 in. (820mm)
Fuel capacity 4.6 gal. (17.5L)
Weight 450 lb. (204kg) wet, all fluids; 422 lb. (192 kg) dry, all fluids no fuel
Fuel consumption 29–37 mpg, 35 mpg avg.
Quarter-mile 9.83 sec. @ 143.75 mph (corrected)
Roll-ons 60–80 mph/3.0 sec.; 80–100 mph/NA
Engine Balancing—How Much Is It Worth?
The CBR1000RR SP sales brochure touts the engine’s “hand-selected parts like pistons and connecting rods for weight and balance to improve track performance.” When you have an engine spinning at five-digit rpm, the weight of every single reciprocating component gets magnified tremendously, so not only is less weight desirable, but matching those weights as close as possible to reduce uneven loading on supporting rotating parts can be of major importance. If you’ve ever felt the vibration from running an out-of-balance tire/wheel at high speed, then you can imagine the forces that are generated by a crankshaft spinning at 13,000 rpm.
Reducing that imbalance results in a smoother-running engine—but what about other benefits? We asked HyperCycle proprietor Carry Andrew [hypercycle.com, (818) 988-8860]—who has extensive experience building both AMA championship-winning roadrace engines and wildly modified sportbikes that have graced the pages of Sport Rider in the past—for his opinion on the benefits of the CBR’s matched pistons and rods.
“For a stock engine, matching pistons and rods is not going to result in more power,” Andrew stated. “It will mostly benefit engine vibration and extend component life. The only time it really offers advantages is when you’re constantly turning really high rpm like a roadrace bike, and even then, you’d have to be talking about a very high-horsepower modified engine to see a real power difference.”
With racing regulations evolving more and more toward using stock engine internals to reduce costs, the CBR’s balanced pistons and rods should benefit superbike racers as they try to squeeze as much power as possible out of less-modified engines. But Andrew said that manufacturing tolerances with most OEM engine component companies is already pretty good, as they need to demonstrate durability with stock engines turning five-digit engine speeds for the life of the motorcycle. “It’s been pretty rare when I’ve found stock pistons with more than a gram of difference between them,” Andrew recalled.
I’ll have to admit I was surprised how well the CBR SP works with the addition of Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes, but I guess I shouldn’t have been; Honda isn’t a company to just slap on some aftermarket parts to one of its flagship models and call it a day. You can tell the suspension and brakes were specifically dialed in to the CBR’s chassis, as they complement its handling forte in the right areas without overdoing it. And for just $2,700 more than the standard model, you’d be hard-pressed not to make the step up to the SP. That is, provided you can find one, as there will only be a comparative handful imported into the States.
That said, almost $17K buys you a fantastic-handling machine. But for that much money, I can’t help seeing a blue/white or green-colored brand of literbike wandering its way into the picture that would allow extra accessories with the spare cash and provide even more satisfying performance.—Kent Kunitsugu
I didn’t look at the CBR1000RR SP’s price tag before throwing a leg over the bike but figured the advantages garnered by its new bits wouldn’t be enough to offset the sure-to-behigh costs. Imagine my surprise when I found out the SP was just $2,700 more than the standard model and that Honda’s efforts during the development stage had resulted in suspension that’s way better than the stuff you’d find in some parts catalog.
I’d really like to see Honda build an engine capable of running with the BMW S 1000 R or Kawasaki ZX-10R, but unless you’re going racing you’ll hardly be disappointed with the CBR SP’s powerplant. And what it lacks in top-end power, it more than makes up for with its agile handling and composure as the pace picks up. For $2,700, I’d definitely make the jump! —Bradley Adams