Honda blazes a bold new trail with its retro-futuristic CB 1000 R, but it’s classic Honda traits that make it such a great machine for any rider
Photos: Jonathan Lim, Derryn Wong
Street fighters are big on the essence of motorcycling – performance, styling, technology – packed into a more practical body. If racing is a martial art, then street fighters are exemplary of urban brawling, purposeful and practical.
The Japanese models tended to have slightly less performance and tech along with a lower price to match, in comparison to the European ones, which were often superbikes sans fairings.
Honda’s CB 1000 R street fighter was caught in-between, with a near-European premium price and not quite Euro performance, and its sport-derived looks didn’t pluck enough heartstrings to move real numbers.
This is the antidote, and it’s quite obvious. It calls the new design direction ‘Neo Sports Cafe’, and it’s already something of a success.
At least, if you judge from the number of CB 125 R’s running on the road now. That bike is from the same ‘Neo Sports’ family, including the CB 650 R though there’s currently no indication on if or when the latter will come to Singapore.
There’s lots of metal on display, including the engine with its detailed covers, the swingarm sprocket cover. That, together with the round headlight says ‘classic cafe’.
But the rest of the bike, and the details, are all firmly futuristic: There’s a fully digitised display which gives even more info, plus LED lights all round, from the headlight to the horseshoe-shaped running light, to the rear lights and indicators. The short, almost vestigial tail section is an injection of muscle-sport genes, as are the upswept double-barrel muffler and single-sided swingarm.
Honda’s expected build quality is on full display here, there’s absolutely not a single detail out of place, from the finely-wrought metal parts to the solid switchgear and bead-blasted finish of the bars and triple trees. The deep metallic red of the finely-shaped fuel tank, with its single aluminium highlight, looks good enough to match a Lexus LC 500.
On the whole it’s a clever move from Honda, going away from the previous-gen bike (which had a gas-mask style headlight and little else to remember) and the ‘RR’ genes, like the Ducati Scrambler 1100 it’ll resonate well with a market that’s turning away from sportbikes in general, while still keeping a streetwise edge.
Swing a leg over and you’ll find a sporty but not sadistic riding position. The engine takes pride of place because of the steel backbone frame, unlike an aluminium beam frame that would block it, and another benefit is that the bike’s body feels slim between your knees.
Firing up the 998cc inline four it delivers the sort of tone you’d expect from an aggressive straight-four, but it’s a smoother, subdued purr that cues you in to it being a Honda.
Despite the bike being almost box fresh, and with less than 500km on the odometer, the engine is silky smooth with a ripping purr to match. Honda’s throttle tuning is flawlessly smooth, old-timers won’t lament the loss of carbs.
Of course it’s all techno-wizardry, because it’s ride-by-wire, like every other modern motorcycle. Electronic aids encompass traction control (Honda insists it’s ‘Honda Selectable Torque Control’), variable engine braking, and variable power outputs.
Those are filtered through four riding modes – Rain, Normal, Power, and a custom ‘User’ mode. Normal already has leeway for tiny rear wheel slides, which we did certainly feel thanks to the almost-new tyres.
With 140hp from the Fireblade-derived engine that can scream to 12,000rpm, the CB 1000 R might seem like a red-mist monster on paper. Honda even says it rips through the first three gears quicker than a Fireblade does – the bike’s lighter and the engine more powerful thanks to more compression, and forged pistons.
But it really isn’t a street-fighting maniac, and that is in fact, the best thing about it.
Its chief weapon, like with so many other Honda models, is that a rider can hop on and almost immediately feel at home even with the considerable power at his or her disposal.
The modern performance motorcycle experience is typically to hop on and immediately feel that X isn’t doing Y, then diddle the electronics to solve it. On the CB 1000 R, I rode it for a good half day before remembering there were indeed different modes. In other words, there was almost nothing for me to nitpick on.
It feels very compact, agile and immediate, but also very neutral and responsive to inputs. Damping from the Showa SFF-BP (Separate Function Front Fork – Big Piston) forks and rear shock was very good. After firming up the rear compression (it and the forks are adjustable for compression, rebound and preload), the CB 1000 R’s handling became even better.
The good handling, plush ride, and as-you-like-it power deliver a package that isn’t just good at dealing with a wide variety of conditions, it also feels like you’re going slow all the time.
That’s not a bad thing, because you peer down at the speedo and realise the bike’s already made you a smoother, faster rider. That sort of rider-machine magic doesn’t happen very often at all.
It’s not a bike free of faults of course. Not everyone was a fan of the styling, though that is a eye of the beholder sort of thing. There’s almost no wind protection, since it’s a naked, and the gearbox threw up one or two false neutrals, but we fully expect it all to improve after run-in.
The CB 1000 R is the sort of motorcycle that reminds us why Honda is such a powerhouse in the two-wheeled world.
A new-styled performance machine that would look totally at home on the streets of Neo Tokyo (or just flying past MBS), but with the sheer ride-ability of a Honda, it’s a brilliant machine that delivers a little bit more of subtle, smooth art to a rough-housing segment.
|Engine||998cc, inline 4|
|Power||140hp at 10550rpm|
|Torque||204Nm at 8250rpm|
|Top Speed||Not revealed|
|Agent||Boon Siew Honda|
|Price (OTR)||S$36,300 with COE|