First Rides

Test Ride Review: Honda CB1000R, the cafe racer inspired CB

CB1000R

Honda have kept it old school with the new café racer inspired CB1000R but is it tea and toast or champagne and foie gras?

Images by Honda
  • CB1000R
  • CB1000R

It’s easy to think that a fairingless, street bike with big handlebars and a Fireblade engine is nothing new. And with as thriving a ‘super-naked’ sector as there currently is, who is going to get hard over an updated Honda CB1000R? Well, not me, but thankfully erectile dysfunction, on this occasion, isn’t going to be a problem as Honda haven’t just thrown ABS and a few new colour schemes at an outdated model, they have gone back to the drawing board and completely reinvented the wheel.

Okay it’s still the running the same 2006 ’Blade engine as its predecessor, but that’s where the similarities end (and even that isn’t that similar); in fact the Big H haven’t just gone down the already well blazed trail of the naked sports bike. Instead, they have created a sort of hybrid machine that is somewhere between a café racer of the past and a hyper naked of the future, a theme they have christened ‘Neo Sports Café’. We went to Malaga in the south of Spain to find out what the guys from Honda were smoking when they came up with the idea, and to see if they have pulled it off.

The Honda CB1000R is a looker

You don’t need to be up close and personal with the CB1000R to see it’s a good looking bike. It’s a meaty looking thing with trapezoid proportions that give it a real planted look. It comes in three different colours: Matt Bullet Silver, Candy Chromosphere Red or Graphite Black (so that’s silver, red or black) although in all fairness the only part of the bike in coloured paint is the fuel tank. Now even more naked than the day it was born, Honda have stripped right back when it comes to frilly bits of plastic bodywork, claiming only six pieces of plastic on the entire bike’s external get-up, going for smart looking brushed aluminium instead.

“The LED headlights have been given cooling fans on the back, the like of which you would expect to see on something 40 years its senior”

Up close you can see the lengths that the designers have gone to in hammering home the retro, café racer style without compromising on modern looks or build quality. For example, the LED headlights have been given cooling fans on the back, the like of which you would expect to see on something 40 years its senior. The machined surfaces on the engine cases are a nice touch and a subtle nod towards something a little special while the bulky exhaust pulls off its size with a mixture of sleek lines and curves. It’s clear to see that form has been just as big a consideration as any in the development of this new weapon.

Testing, testing

In Spain, the bikes we had at our disposal were the slightly tricker ‘+’ version, which although they are only available in black (well, with a black tank) do come with some extra ally trims, heated grips and a ’shifter. Perched upon its high seat the ground feels reassuringly close, thanks to the mono backbone frame facilitating a narrow saddle. It’s a comfortable yet unique-feeling position. Switched on, there are no fireworks from the LCD dash but fired up, even on tick-over, the exhaust note sounds way more aggressive than you might expect. Thanks, if Honda are to be believed, to the special connecting line between the dual link-pipes.

“Once rolling though, the power was impressively smooth. In fact it was impressively smooth all the way up through the rev range”

Naturally, my first job after firing the CB up was to switch it on to full-fat sports mode, which I did with ease. It is definitely one of the more straightforward user interfaces I have come across, which I think goes a long way these days. Rumbling through the quiet back streets of Malaga, I almost started to regret my previous boy-racer influenced decision as, in the really slow stuff, the first little bit of unadulterated throttle sometimes seemed a bit snatchy and aggressive. Once rolling though, the power was impressively smooth. In fact it was impressively smooth all the way up through the rev range.

A raucous exhaust note and a 11,000rpm redline

Up on the fast open mountain roads the motor’s character started to shine through, and it wasn’t what I expected. It didn’t have that typical inline-four top-endyness, nor did it have a flat, detuned almost castrated feel to it that some sub-150bhp thous could be accused of. Instead, the CB has strong power that starts wherever you want it to start and keeps going with no hesitation whatsoever, all the way to 10,500rpm. And if that’s not enough to make you to want to take the needle to its 11,000rpm limiter in every gear, then wait till you hear the howl of the exhaust on full song; it’s not a full on superbike scream – it’s a slightly more refined yet raucous note that suits the bike’s character and styling to a tee.

The ‘+’ model we rode came fitted with quickshifters which worked both up and down the box. Up and down functions worked well on the road although a more aggressive blipper function would have been nice with an engine and exhaust combination that sounds good, but maybe that’s just me being a bit of a show-off. After having a chance to wring the R’s neck on some big open roads we found a twistier mountain pass which took some proper concentrating. At slow, comfortable riding pace the CB ate anything you could throw at it for breakfast, but when the pace got a little fruitier, the going got slightly harder work.

There was certainly nothing awful about the way the bike coped and with the big ’bars I never had a problem changing direction but it did feel a little heavy once or twice mid corner – and this wasn’t helped by the supersize hero blobs hanging from the pegs, seriously impeding lean angle. There were a few instances where the rolling undulations in the road seemed to send the bike into a bit of a weave but it was never anything to write home about and probably something that could be dialled out by adjusting the left fork leg (the left leg can be adjusted for damping, while preload is adjusted in the right) if you plan to ride like a menace as a matter of course.

“In all fairness, the CB1000R’s natural habitat is never going to be on track but that’s not to say they aren’t more than capable of tearing up a race track near you”

Getting on track with the Honda CB1000R

And for riding like a menace, there is no better place than a track. Which is why we called in to Ascari Circuit to see what the bike could really do. In all fairness, the CB1000R’s natural habitat is never going to be on track but that’s not to say they aren’t more than capable of tearing up a race track near you. The problem is that those pesky hero blobs are so long most circuit owners would be worried about them ploughing a trench through their tarmac at every apex!

Like Pretty Boy, Honda seem to have a fascination with enormous blobs, something that started with the SP-1/2 models. But there is a reason for them and they aren’t just there to massage egos and show off about touching down as very quickly after the blob, you start to get tarmac/exhaust interference issues, which can lead to a lifted back wheel and a gravel-trap-soiled, custom shaped CB1000R. It is due to this, not so much its handling, that the CB1000R’s track ability is slightly curtailed in standard trim. Well, in right-handers anyway…

“You can get your knee down just before metal starts to scrape, which is good, but there is never much more left and it would be a shame to cartwheel such a pretty bike into a gravel trap”

Up the ante and on track the CB displays the same planted feeling in bends as it does on the road. It’s no lightweight, but its wide ’bars give you a decent amount of leverage to haul it into bends and drag it up and over when you want to flip-flop from side to side. You can get your knee down just before metal starts to scrape, which is good, but there is never much more left and it would be a shame to cartwheel such a pretty bike into a gravel trap just for the sake of mullering a set of sliders. I have a feeling a pair of mega sticky tyres would be wasted on this bike, although it’d certainly up the game slightly further than the standard Bridgestone S21 tyres, which did feel a little too firm for track shenanigans.

Surprisingly, the standard road suspension settings seem okay on the track, although to be fair we only got a few flying laps in before the heavens opened and the rain in Spain fell mainly on the CB1000R launch. The fact you can adjust the damping in the beefy forks and shock certainly bodes well for summer trackdays in the UK, but I’d be a little cautious when it comes to the ABS system – the problem being that, like so many modern bikes, you can’t disable the ABS.

“This is an ace looking retro bike that can tolerate moderate track use, not a full-on arse whooping!”

Even in the few flying laps we got before the heavens opened, the CB1000R’s anchors did start to get a little upset. Used hard on track, especially one with lots of serious braking, would undoubtedly cause you some grief. The brakes aren’t bad – there is plenty of power there, but this is a bike predominantly designed for road use and that generally means the ABS gets a little perturbed when you start to hammer it on a track. The same thing happens with the Suzuki GSX-S1000, so you may need to work out where the ABS fuse is if you are planning on trackdaying the CB…Overall, if you are a medium group trackday rider the CB is certainly capable, but don’t assume it is a full-on track super naked such as the Aprilia Tuono V4, KTM 1290 Super Duke R or BMW S1000R. This is an ace looking retro bike that can tolerate moderate track use, not a full-on arse whooping!

Price and rivals

The natural thing to do with any new bike is to draw comparisons with other models that are on the market, but in all fairness there isn’t really anything else like the 2018 Honda CB1000R. There are those that’ll say it’s just a super naked, which it sort of is, but it sort of isn’t, too. Yes, it’s a big, fast 1000cc naked, but it’s 20bhp down on the likes of the BMW S1000R and 30bhp down on the Aprilia Tuono V4. And at Rs 11 lakh for the base model, it’s not as though it’s a cheap alternative. But that’s because the CB1000R is so much more than just a super naked street bike. It isn’t just about being as good on paper as the next thing, it’s a package deal that’s as much about performance as it is history and technology, and one has been designed and crafted with passion by one of the best motorcycle manufacturers in the world. The new CB1000R isn’t like anything we have seen before, and for that reason there will be people who turn their noses up, but they’re welcome to their opinion. I think it is a seriously cool motorbike.

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