When I arrived at Laguna Seca for the 2008 CBR1000RR intro these memories of my youth were quickly brought back to mind. Honda had put together a small presentation video that was playing footage of the original CBR900. The video showed the procession of the CBR over the years from 1993 to present and it got me thinking. While the CBR1000RR has been a great bike near or at the top of the literbike class over the last few years it was no longer the wild child of the class that it used to be. Looking at the 2008 CBR1000RR with it\'s all new motor, lighter weight and compact styling I couldn\'t help but wonder if this was the year "Wild Thing" returned.
A quick look over Honda\'s new creation and you see a host of changes over the previous model. The bodywork has a more compact aerodynamic design with a very compact front and tail cowl. The undertail exhaust had been replaced with a new low-mount exhaust system positioned almost entirely under the engine to follow the concept of mass centralization. The frame is also all new and 5.5 pounds lighter thanks to fewer, slimmer and lighter parts with less welds. The new frame is also stronger with lateral rigidity increased by 13 percent and torsional rigidity up 40 percent and vertical rigidity up 30 percent. To provide clearance for the new exhaust system the swingarm was also redesigned with a gull-wing shape and is now 12mm longer. The end result is a bike weighing 435 pounds fully wet. This is almost 20 pounds lighter than the 2006 version.
All of these changes make for a very compact design and the overall appearance has very little resemblance to the previous generation CBR1000RR. Seeing pictures of the new CBR over the last few months I wasn\'t really sure what to think of the styling but it\'s a look that really grew on me throughout the day. The bike is very tidy looking, something we have come to expect from Honda. One look at the new CBR1000RR with it\'s stubby front end and miniscule tail section and it\'s no surprise the CBR1000RR\'s project leader was none other than Kyoichi Yoshii, the same person that was in charge of building Nicky Hayden\'s championship winning RC211V. With all of the emissions restrictions that current sportbikes have to pass there has been some less than appealing exhausts on many modern production motorcycles but I think Honda has done a good job with a clean and modern looking design on the CBR1000RR exhaust. I know there will be some people who disagree with me on this one but hey, it\'s the first thing everyone pulls off anyways.
Taking my first few laps on a cold morning at the Laguna circuit I was immediately surprised at how quick the new CBR turned in. It caught me off guard more than once in the early laps as I was trying to get the Dunlop Qualifiers fitted to the bike up to temperature. Going into turn two early in the session I decided to step up the pace slightly to get some more heat in the tires and promptly had a front end slide that seemed like slow motion and must have lasted a good 15 feet. Thanks to the great front end feel of the new CBR and of course my vast experience of riding CBR\'s around in the snow on the farm, a personal blunder was diverted. I decided that it might be best to quicken the pace in the afternoon sessions when we would have the bike fitted with Dunlop\'s new D211 race DOT tire and the temperature would be much warmer.
The CBR equipped with the new race oriented Dunlop tires was a much more confidence inspiring package. Now that I was able to push the pace harder the CBR really started to shine. The turn in on this bike is quick, effortless and precise, just pick a line and the CBR will put you exactly where you need to go. Many bikes with stock suspension ridden on the track seem to float a little on corner entry and seem unsettled but the CBR felt very settled allowing you to pitch it in at the very last moment.
Once through the corner the CBR was equally well-behaved on corner exit. The Honda was hooking up everywhere and pulling some monster wheelies exiting Laguna\'s turn 2. This soon became my favourite part of each lap seeing how long I could loft the front end before flicking it into turn 3. These are the types of things that make a literbike an absolute rush to ride. The ride on the Honda was just stiff enough to allow you to push hard without tying the bike into knots and the spring rates and damping seemed pretty spot on for my weight (160 pounds).
Honda has introduced an Ignition Interruption Control system on the CBR1000RR which is brand new technology to Honda motorcycles and this reduction of shock forces may have helped with the CBR\'s composure when getting on and off the throttle. This system uses ignition mapping to help reduce abrupt transitions as gearset and driveline lash happens during throttle openings. The amount of interrupt is programmed specifically for each of the gearboxes six speeds allowing for a more gradual buildup of power.
The Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD) was also doing it\'s job with no wag at the bars when the front end would get light on corner exit or over the ultra-fast turn one. I personally like to see a steering damper with some adjustability for track use which the Honda system does not allow but I\'m sure most riders will find it works fine at speed with no real negative effects at slower speeds.Handling-wise the new CBR1000RR is nothing short of excellent. The bike transitions with ease and is very light and flickable. With the size and weight of literbikes now rivaling the smallest of 600\'s we often hear how the big bikes feel like 600\'s. This is the first literbike I\'ve ridden that I can actually say has the feel and agility of a 600. Normally a day of muscling around a literbike at the track has you quite fatigued by the final laps but the new CBR transitions with such ease that I actually felt pretty fresh at the end of the day and could easily have put in plenty more laps. The ergonomics seemed to fit me very well and I found it very easy to get tucked in tight beneath the bubble out of the wind.
The CBR1000RR\'s engine is both lighter and more compact than the previous-generation CBR1000RR and the Honda people are claiming a 10hp increase as well. The new forged-aluminum pistons are 1mm-larger but maintain the same weight. The engine has a 1.5mm-shorter stroke and the compression ratio is increased slightly from 12.2:1 to 12.3:1. There are also now lighter, higher-revving larger-diameter titanium intake valves (29mm to 30.5mm). Crack the throttle and the motor comes to life with a healthy dose of low-end and midrange grunt. The motor really drives off the corners nice with the power coming on seamlessly with no real big hits just a steady build-up of power. This new generation CBR surely feels more lively than the previous CBR when you put it to the pins, but still remains it\'s composure. While the power came on hard all the way to the top there was no big surge in top-end power. While it may still not be the horsepower king of the class I think the useability of this motor with it\'s excellent midrange punch will win it more than a few fans. Some of us whiny racers might ask for a few more top-end ponies however.
The radially-mounted four piston caliper brakes had good feel and bite and are good enough for any last second oh-crap-that-wasn\'t-my-braking-marker moments. Contributing to the braking is the superb slipper clutch which Honda has finally decided to install. It seemed to have just the right amount of resistance on corner entry allowing me to back the bike in with ease and precision and most importantly with no chatter. This smoothness combined with a very light feel at the lever produced what might be the best clutch I\'ve used on a production motorcycle.
As if our day was not complete enough already, Honda had a few more surprises for us. They had on hand a new track-tuned Honda S2000 CR "Club Racer" and HRC kitted CBR600 for us take a few laps on. I had never been on a racetrack with a car before so I don\'t have much to compare it to but the S2000 was quite a blast in the limited laps I did. The suspension was very stiff and the short shift pattern and top end rush of the 237 hp motor made it an exciting and capable track weapon.
The HRC CBR600RR was a little more familiar to me although the GP shift pattern on the bike had my mind confused on more than one occasion during my 3 laps on the bike. Trying to remember the opposite shift pattern had me so consumed I swear if I would have been chewing gum at the same time there is no way I would have completed a lap! The bike was set up noticeably stiff and had a much different feel from the more street oriented bike I had just stepped off. The motor seemed to have pretty good pull and the quick-shifter was absolute perfection making full power upshifts effortless. I only wish I could have had a few more laps to get accustomed to the GP shift and really see what the HRC kitted CBR600RR had to offer.
Although I was a big fan of the previous generation CBR1000RR due it\'s great all-around ability the new version is definitely a sharper tool on the track. With a more powerful motor, significantly lighter weight, sophisticated slipper clutch and a more compact chassis the new CBR1000RR has transformed into a literbike that reminds me more of the original CBR that was the benchmark in power-to-weight ratios.
Against the competition? There is no doubt the new CBR1000RR will be in the hunt for top literbike in 2008. In the handling arena I believe the new CBR will be very hard to beat. Couple this with a motor boasting a healthy midrange grunt and you\'ve got the makings for a class leader. While it may not trounce the class like the original CBR900 in 1993, the competition now has a serious fight on it\'s hands.
Now if only Honda would equip the CBR1000RR with hand warmers and sticky snow radials for our riders up north!