If you envy the way motorbikes slip in and out of traffic and think to yourself, “That’s way cool,” the re-launch of Honda’s CBR600F, the bike that created the sports bike category in 1987, is ideal for starting out, yet sophisticated and punchy enough to delight seasoned bikers. By LANCE ROTHSCHILD.
One of the problems with motorbikes is that egos get seduced by numbers. The more cc’s, the more it appeals to our testosterone-fuelled sense of power. Unfortunately, legislation in South Africa has not kept up with developments in motorcycle technology, making it possible for anyone with enough money to get more bike than they can handle. The issue is, irrespective of riding experience and ability, one can walk into a dealership and ride out on a top-of-the-range 300km/h superbike. The motoring equivalent would be a driver who has just got a license getting into a Formula 1 race car.
Honda’s CBR600F is the sensible option. It has retained the fully-faired sporty and sexy good looks of its family, yet is less edgy and more user-friendly than the CBR600RR superbike. It has plenty enough power to get you out of trouble when you need it, yet is more docile making it far more useable on a daily basis.
Several tweaks and developments have taken place over the last almost 25 years with increases in power, innovations in chassis design and materials, the introduction of the “Ram Air” intake system and the incorporation of technological developments in engine and frame components. With a focus on track usage and performance, Honda introduced PGM-Fi fuel-injection technology to their 600s in 2001 with the CBR600RR becoming an iconic sports bike, built for aggressive performance.
The rebirth of this icon comes at an excellent time for the motorcycle industry as a sensible, yet serious option for motorcycle enthusiasts. Featuring a flexible RR-derived engine and an advanced die-cast aluminium mono-backbone frame, the CBR600F is ideal for the daily commute, yet will not leave you wanting on a track day or a breakfast run.
Combining supersport styling and performance with comfortable riding, Honda has walked a fine line in the development of the 600F. Instrumentation is state-of-the-art and the digital meter gives the rider loads of information. Other supersport elements include using the same tank as the 600RR, upside-down front fork and sporty, separated handle bars. While Honda didn’t want to compromise on the rider experience, it did want to offer a serious contender.
What Honda has cleverly done here is produce a bike that carries its sports pedigree with class and refinement, yet has the power and agility to get going and provide one hell of an exhilarating ride. And the CBR600F has great looks to boot, with black, pearl white, red or blue trim as colour options.
Performance is delivered from Honda’s legendary 599cm3 75kW (100HP) motor, and handling dynamics are enhanced by an aluminium swing arm, 180/55 rear and 120/70 front tyres, twin disc brakes up front and a single disc at the rear. Although it delivers 9kW (12HP) less power than the “RR”, the power delivery has been refined to be more tractable and less aggressive. This means the bike has loads of torque and pulls well right through the rev range. It will take a highly skilled rider to eke any significantly improved lap times on the “RR” as opposed to the “F”.
Ergonomics are important on the bike too, with the comfortable riding position giving you the feeling of sitting “inside” the bike rather than perched on top of it. The riding geometry is such that you will not have sore wrists and a stiff neck, even after a long ride. On the launch ride, we managed more than 200km in the saddle and felt comfortable and quite relaxed. We could have spent even more time riding this excellent machine. The seat is contoured and the pillion seat is more involved than those found on out-and-out sports bikes making the bike far more pillion-friendly than its sportier sibling.
The CBR600F is an easy bike to ride. The electric starter quickly fires up the motor which soon burbles away with a pleasing, if somewhat understated, exhaust note. The electronic fuel injection manages the engine doing away with the need for a choke, even on cold days. Twist the throttle and you’ll be rewarded with an exhaust note that is not too loud or overstated, but unapologetically lets you know this bike is not a kitten.
The bike’s electronic control unit works in conjunction with the engine’s digital electronic ignition to ensure accurate fuelling. This results in better performance, excellent throttle response and low fuel consumption. Exhaust gases leave the engine via a low-slung 4-2-1 exhaust system. A catalyser is incorporated into the exhaust and this virtually eliminates harmful emissions. Clean combustion is further ensured by the PGM-Fi system which works with the exhaust system’s oxygen sensor to maintain ideal air/fuel ratio.
The clutch is smooth as is the six-speed gearbox. Testimony to the broad torque band on this bike is the fact that it pulls easily through the rev range. In fact, don’t be surprised to find yourself looking for a seventh gear. Like all four-cylinder bikes, torque comes in at higher RPM, and from about 5,000 revs onwards this bike accelerates at a tremendous pace. It was quite comfortable at about 80km/h in top, and would pull from there, right through the rev range, well north of the 200km/h mark, which I must confess to having seen on the digital speedometer on a few occasions on the test ride. We would prefer to see an analogue-type rev counter rather than the digital bars across the top of the instrument panel though.
The bike’s stopping power is also critical and the brakes are most certainly up to the challenge. ABS is not available on this model, but with the twin discs in the front and the single disc at the back, bringing the CBR600F to a halt was not difficult at all.
The bike tracks smoothly through the twisties, turning in well and holding an excellent line. We also rode through some typical Cape Town commuting traffic and proving it’s a great bike to use as everyday transport. Fuel consumption was reasonable on the test ride at less than 6-litres/100km. (Remember that on the odd occasion I was twisting the throttle a little aggressively and conditions were not the same as every day.) But 300km on a tank of fuel is well within range.
Honda has set service intervals at 12,000km so maintenance isn’t inconvenient. The basic engine has been around for two-and-a-half decades and has proven reliable and consistent, although Honda’s extensive dealer network will be able to provide parts and support when needed.
So the CBR600F is an all-round bike that will appeal to many riders. We recommend it as a logical choice to anyone considering getting into biking or even getting back into biking, as well as a good upgrade from the smaller CBR125 and CBR250. The height and weight make it a good option for women too, and the bike’s manners will rapidly set the rider at ease. It is, however, not a limp-wristed compromise that will underwhelm you. This is the mature, sane and sensible choice for someone looking for a 600 and, priced at R85,000.00, it offers a viable new option to a rider considering a second-hand bike in this class. And with rising fuel prices and increasing traffic congestion, we think the Honda CBR600F is an excellent option for the rider who wants power, comfort and manners all in one bike. DM
See Honda’s Specifications sheet:
Photos: Honda South Africa
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