I witnessed one of the most significant model upgrades back in 2003 and it represented one small step for man but one giant leap for Honda. Remember this is a solid and consistent line that produced a string of Supersport wins in the 80’s and 90’s and had started to suffer (in race trim) by not garnering the Supersport championships in typical HRC conquering fashion. The 2005 later nabbed a make over that included a weight loss program, a set of inverted forks and some radial calipers. Both renditions (2003/2005) were typical Honda but with an angrier side – I loved it and so did you apparently with over 26 billion sales under the Honda belt.
It used to be that Honda had their wicked way with that Supersport class until Yamaha introduced their revised R6 in 2003 and Kawasaki their ZX6R, between Jamie Hacking and Tommy Hayden the class has been owned by those two riders for the last four years. Make no bones about it, and although they’ve been racking up F/X championships, Honda wants to retake this Supersport class and with its 20 year anniversary coinciding with the typical four year development cycle it seemed rude not to give the bike it’s most radical make over yet.
First off I better make you all happy knowing this won’t be at the expense of a grumpy bum. Honda knows that they shouldn’t mess around with the bike’s creature comforts so they are not ignored and you regular street guys can still rejoice in the fact that it’s still a very easy bike to get along with and street-ability is not compromised.
All this seems to be a slight contradiction though, with Honda admitting to only 5% of its buyers hitting the track (not literally) on the little six, yet this rendition offers far superior track manners for those 5-percentile.
Ergonomics have never been an issue for the CBR series and this year’s model has a slightly reshaped seat area that reduces seat height somewhat and a 10mm raised clip-on in an effort to get the weight off of your wrists.
Ultimately this bike was indeed pretty comfortable, and for a big guy on a little bike, I always felt in it, rather than on it. My thighs grumbled a little at the end of the day, so the seat peg relationship might be compromised a little (was that a flip-flop?).
Oh, and what a little bike it is… The class winning design targets (as always?) were to best the best in its class, simply put – lighter and faster. Honda has always been good in the nip/tuck department and this bike has once again enjoyed a 15-blade here and there. The motor for instance is now the smallest in the class. Honda knows the Kawasaki is an unknown quantity this year, with its own redesign so the target was firmly established with the Yamaha R6 and the Suzuki GSX-R right in their cross-hairs. Incredibly the CBR6 see’s an 18lb wet weight reduction over last year’s porke... I mean bike. The weight savings are everywhere, nearly 4 pounds from that shrunken motor and 12-1/2 pounds from the chassis.
The frame for the CBR6 is now fully manufactured using FDC (Fine Die Cast) technology. It’s an organically engineered frame that went from 11 sections to only four for the 2007. It stronger, slimmer and have I mentioned compact?
The slimmer motor hangs quietly from it with its casings, contributing 2lbs to the liposuction procedure. Further skinny related stuff includes Magnesium head covers, redesigned nut-less connecting rods, lighter clutch, and one-pound lighter electronic peripherals.
OK, so it’s a light weight skinny minny – how does it run? Very well, indeed. The venue for this soirée was George Barber’s personal playground in the heart of Alabama. This 15 turn track boasts 60 feet of varying elevation changes – Think of it as Road Atlanta with wider asphalt (45 ft everywhere) more run-off, no red clay and just lush green acreage. First up though I elected to run the RR that represented last year’s model. Seriously, I actually really liked this bike but chasing journalists on the new one quickly reminded me how disposable modern day sportbikes tend to be. I was off that thing so fast it was comical.
The newer bike was set up for our individual weight, mine’s a class secret but I’ll give you a hint by telling you that it took two Honda engineers riding tandem to replicate the 2Dub belly. Riding the new bike around Barber’s fantastic 2.3 mile road course, I’ve got to say I was impressed with what I could get up to and away with on the CBR6. The suspension on this bike was excellent in most places, and I never adjusted my settings at all – very unusual for me. The forks are pretty standard Honda-Multi-Action-System (HMAS) units with the MotoGP inspired Unit Pro-Link rear. Those set-up boys certainly got my weight (Porky.) and riding style (Scary.) spot on. I did have a little chatter on the car bumps going into turn one but with potential rain looming a line change was easier than getting the tool kit out.
Dimensionally the bike’s axles are closer together by some 23mm, Rake and trail is adjusted with the steering head being steeper at 23.7 degree’s (over last year’s 24), trail is increased slightly (97.5mm from 95mm) to match the more aggressive steering. A potential stability problem is neatly solved with Honda’s very own HESD (Honda Electronic Steering Damper). I never had any issues with stability and in a couple of outbound corners at Barber a very minor wag is quickly calmed down with zero pucker factor – regardless of heavy handed input. This is a classed as a second generation unit (first seen on the big 1000) it’s smaller, actually half the size, and 25% lighter. Pit lane turn-arounds showed no low speed drag either. Figure this system to get incrementally better still as future Honda models get sharper and sharper geometry.
That sharp steering also brings about a confidence in maneuverability – when you know you have a mid corner correction in your back pocket, you soon find yourself extending your typical limits at the track.
Without resorting to a bunch of well worn clichés, I could put this bike where I wanted, especially when coming up against lap traffic and I swear I never had to use my middle finger once (Miguel will be so happy).
Stepping off the bike for a mo’ gave me a chance to assess the style points. The fairing now sports a ram air intake on the nose (cool air, baby) and is further similar to the R6 with a skeletal design that shows more of the motor whilst maintaining aerodynamic efficiency. Honda claims an easier side to side transition at speed due to the split between the upper and lower panels. I don’t know how true that is, but it looks very clean and swoopy in style. The clocks are very logical in layout with a centered tachometer (I do wish it was white though) and a large digital speedometer on the right and a fuel level meter on the left. The longer and 5mm higher mounted swing-arm is now black to match the frame, and looks and performs better because of it. (The length and mounting position offering the performance upgrade, not the paint).
It’s strangely familiar to me, but not in a Honda way. The best way I can describe this is that it’s an R6 with midrange. Sure I would prefer a slipper clutch, especially when I upped the pace, but if anything the bike made me ride tighter, being less lazy and bringing out my best race face. I did whine like a girl to Honda about the lack of slipper clutch, their response was the fact that it weighed more than a stock one and that they wanted to stay true to the weight loss cause. The power to weight of the bike is evident in a couple of places on the track and I could not stop the bike from wheelieing – I’ve never had that problem on a Supersport before and my Honda rep swears that this bike had stock gearing too.
Another pooh-pooh was Honda’s answer to abrupt on-off throttle inputs with their acronym friendly Intake-Air-Control-Valve (IACV). Basically it’s a bypass valve that squirts a dab of air in a closed throttle body to smooth input.
Did it work? Yes and no, at mid-range speeds I thought it was seamless but at low throttle openings and at a max lean angle (say for example you just blew through your corner apex mark) it was a little nervous coming back in. I couldn’t blame this on drive-line lash as Honda’s also taken the liberty of tightening up the tolerances down below. That tranny, by the way, now has under-cut gear dogs and the increase in motor power sees the rear sprocket down one tooth to 42.
I’m a big fan of radial brakes and these didn’t disappoint either. How good were they? Well how’s this? Remember the scene in the Matrix where Neo slows down reaction time and dodges bullets? Well these were nothing like that – but boy they worked really well.
The radials alone were a great upgrade on the 2005 bike, the addition of the radial master cylinder for 2007 is the icing on the brake cake. I’d like to claim two-finger operation but on review of the action photos I was using all four, the feel was brilliant though. Trail braking with these felt safe all the way through to the apex, a sure way to bring down those lap times.
All in all, this bike is a significant leap in design and ride-ability from last year’s bike. It’s got a brilliantly powerful motor that I think will set the standard in Supersport performance. It’s got a great spread of power, and a mid-range kick that belies its size - probably in part to the new inline exhaust valve. Counting gears around the track (sorry, no gear indicator) kept me second guessing myself as to what gear I was actually in, what was a third or fourth gear drive felt like a second or third. Quite frankly, it pulled so well even if you inadvertently let the revs drop – that my two-wheel-freaks will dig you out of a lot of holes and corners, street or track.
If you have a 2003/5 CBR6, I really don’t want you to think that the bike you love is a pig – but get out your Honda polish, sell it on eBay and go get a deposit on the 2007 –At $9499 it’s pretty big money but cutting-edge is not cheap, and Honda has definitely set a new standard for the 600cc class.