TWENTY-EIGHT years ago, Honda stunned the world when they launched the first CBR 600F in 1987. Back then, it was a revolutionary motorcycle that set the middleweight performance motorcycling scene aflame. Then, in 2003, came the more focused and goal orientated CBR 600 RR, a super sport bike that set the benchmark of the day. Unfortunately, these momentous events happened at a time when India was not even a blip on the performance motorcycle scene. So, no, we did not get to even see (forget ride) those brilliant machines. Thankfully, the scene has now changed completely with every global manufacturer worth their salt jockeying for space in this suddenly crowded market. Therefore, this time around when Honda launched the CBR 650F, we not only got to see it but also got an opportunity to get astride one and see what it was really like.
The CBR 650F, unlike the CBR 600F and the racier CBR 600RR, is not designed solely for thoroughbred-like performance. This time around, the winged motorcycle giant decided to go soft-ish and come out with a sport tourer instead. Now, before you start making those disappointed clucks, understand the strategy behind the move (especially from an Indian perspective). Despite the burgeoning performance motorcycle segment, the track-day culture prevalent throughout the developed world is still some time away here. Even those with the sportiest of bikes available in the world mostly go touring. Unless you have easy access to the racetracks in Greater NOIDA, Chennai or Coimbatore. That being the case, why not give Indian consumers the best of both these worlds and offer a sport tourer instead, comprende?
Moving back to the bike itself, the design is far edgier than you’d expect of a sport tourer. Whichever side you look at it from, the CBR 650F is a sharp-looking motorbike. It’s also a very compact bike, with the overall design holding a promise of sportiness that you wouldn’t expect in touring machines. The racy effect is also visible in the riding posture. The handlebar is a proper clip-on affair and not set too high. The foot-rests are set so that your feet are indeed properly tucked away behind you. As a result, you sit with a slight front bias. At this point you’ll suspect that this means a lot of weight on the wrist. Honda engineers have thrown in a surprise package here, for despite the slightly bent-forward riding position that allows you to tuck yourself in neatly behind the short fairing, the wrists don’t ache. Certainly not as much as you’d have expected. The touring element of the design comes to the fore when you look at the instrumentation. It’s an all-digital affair with three virtual dials giving out your info instead of the digital-analogue set up that is de rigueur on Japanese super sport bikes.
Swing a leg over the split, stepped seat and you’re in for the second surprise of the day. The CBR 650F simply doesn’t feel like a middleweight motorbike. It’s compact and light, which will keep riders, especially the new ones, from being intimidated. It feels more like a 300- or 350-cc bike. All right, exaggeration there, perhaps, but the point I’m trying to make is that this is a very light motorcycle and, therefore, it gives off an aura of being easily manageable without even having gotten started.
Start the engine and your ears are in for…hold your breath…no aural delight. There is no angry howl from the 649-cc liquid-cooled in-line four. Instead you get a relatively quiet buzz at idle. If you want to really hear the engine note, then you’ll have to wring the throttle until the tachometer shows around 7,000 turns. Otherwise there is no sound to set your heart racing and the adrenaline flowing. Sad smiley moment for your Instagram post there, but blame it on ever stricter emission norms. In line with its quiet nature, and like all Honda engines, this one feels smooth and refined. There are barely any vibrations and even on the move at a fairly decent clip no-one will sue you for ruining their siesta. Only when you touch the 6,000-RPM mark will you notice a faint buzzing flowing through the seat and the handlebar.
Power is available right from the get go and comes to you in one smooth flowing arc all the way to the bike’s peak output of 87 PS, which is attained at 11,000 RPM. There’s a healthy 62.9 Nm of maximum torque as well at 8,000 revs, which helps by the bucket-load to either crawl through the city on your way out or while overtaking on highways without having to work too hard. However, if you do want to work a bit harder for your own pleasures, then you’ll find this Honda immensely rewarding. Chin down on the tank, back crouched like a cat, wring the throttle as hard as you can and you’ll experience the thrill of the front end going light as the motorbike races ahead; 100…130…160…180 km/h, the numbers pile on before you have blinked thrice. It’s truly exhilarating. The bike is also very stable. There’s none of the nervousness-inducing skittishness or twitchiness that might catch you unawares when you wish to accelerate hard. In its place you get the smooth progression of ever increasing velocities, along with the accompanying whine of the motor. It’s a heady feeling, without doubt.
Hitting the brakes to set up the bike for the bend ahead, you’ll appreciate afresh the CBR’s stable nature as the pair of 320-mm dia front rotors with Nissin four-piston callipers bite with potent force. Not to mention, there’s plenty of progression from the brakes. Again, there is that remarkable lack of nervousness as the weight transfers from back to front with the bike shedding speed rapidly. At the rear, the bike gets a single 240-mm dia disc. ABS is standard kit.
Flick the bike into the turn and its dynamic capabilities truly come to the fore. I’ll digress here a bit and take you all back to the review of the CB650F (essentially the naked version of this one) done by our international correspondent and motorcycle guru, Roland Brown, that we had published last year. He had mentioned in that review that the Honda’s suspension set-up was softer than he would have liked. Indeed, the CBR 650F’s suspension set-up is on the softer side for a bike of this class. Even though conventional wisdom would suggest that a soft suspension set-up would affect handling adversely, on our far from perfect Indian roads it does the exact opposite. This softer set-up enables the tyres to be in constant contact with the patchy surface at all sorts of speeds, thus making the ride predictable, and, by progression, confidence-inspiring. If you’re the sort of chap who has access to a racetrack and would like to take this for a track day, you’ll find that despite its soft-ash nature, this Honda is quite capable around circuits too. For the particularly crib by lot, you can always increase the stiffness by adjusting the preload.
The soft suspension set-up also means a pliant ride. Again, a must if you intend to go touring on Indian roads. Ruts and patches go by without much fuss and only a deep pothole will jar your senses back to our Indian realities. Until then you can continue to enjoy the Japanese interpretation of refinement.
Nothing in the world, however, is perfect, and in the case of the Honda CBR 650F, the chink in its Indian arm our is its price-tag. At Rs 7.4 lakh, ex-Pune according to the Honda website, this sport tourer isn’t inexpensive. There are other bikes with similar capacities going for much less and only time will tell whether Indian consumers are willing to pay a high price for a good-quality product or whether they’ll prefer to enjoy their leisure motorcycling without compromising their retirement plans. However, so far as the product itself is concerned, there isn’t a shred of doubt that the Honda CBR 650F is a peach.