2017 Honda CBR650F review, first ride
21st Feb 2018 6:00 am
We have elusively ridden the new Honda CBR650F, the only fully faired, four-cylinder sports bike available in India for less than Rs 10 lakh.
When Honda first launched the CBR650F in India in 2015, it was the only fully faired, four-cylinder sports bike available for comfortably less than Rs 10 lakh on-road. But times have changed significantly since then, and we’ve had many fresh and exciting new big bikes launch in India since the original CBR650F debuted. So it comes as some surprise then, that nearly three years later, the CBR650 remains the only fully faired, four-cylinder sports bike available for comfortably less than Rs 10 lakh on-road…
On the bright side, India has finally received the significantly upgraded CBR650F and it has the same Rs 7.3-lakh ex-showroom price as before. That means the new CBR650F, on paper, is now considerably more motorcycle, but it still commands a relatively high price. So what we’re going to do here is delve into whether this Honda has earned more relevance at this price point.
Nip and tuck
The CBR650F’s design remains true to the original, but there are a number of revisions all round. For starters, the headlamp is now full LED and the fairing also gets smaller side panels. This shows off more of the engine cases which gain a bronzed theme inspired by the new Fireblade. Toward the rear, you’ll notice that the swingarm gets a new blacked-out finish and that the simple rectangular LED tail-lamp swaps the old red lens for a clear one.
The otherwise traditional CBR650F design highlights continue, with a gap in the right side fairing that gives a glimpse at the neatly arranged four exhaust header pipes. There’s also that clever, wheel-mounting system for the front disc brakes which removes the need for a separate disc carrier. This doesn't just result in a cleaner look, but also offers the benefit of lower unsprung mass.
Overall fit and finish are excellent and just what you’d expect from a Honda big bike. Switchgear is also top quality, but the placement of the indicator and horn buttons will take some getting used to and they don’t fall naturally to hand. The full-LED headlamp is a nice addition but the level of lighting offered is good and not great. We also wish Honda gave the bike new instruments instead of carrying over the previous dual digital meters which feel too simple for the application and miss out on a gear position indicator.
Overall, the CBR continues to cut a familiar figure with handsome proportions, but the smaller LED headlamp has brought a fresh air of aggression to the design. Unlike last time where the 650 was only available in red, Honda is now offering two colour schemes - Millenium Red and a new shade of Matt Gun Powder Metallic Black (pictured here).
The changes to the new CBR650F go a good deal beyond design. Honda’s smooth 648cc, four-cylinder motor now receives shorter gear ratios from second gear to fifth and it also gets a louder exhaust note thanks to a freer flowing exhaust end-can. The old exhaust can had three chambers which resulted in a muted and underwhelming exhaust note. The new bike uses just two chambers, enabling more of that sweet four-cylinder scream. It may not be the loudest of stock exhausts, but at least now you can be sure you’re listening to a proper inline-four soundtrack.
With this update, the international CBR650F gained a bump of a few more horses to a total 90hp. The Indian-spec model, however, has been slightly detuned to account for our fuel quality and emissions norms. The result is the same 86hp as before and a total 60.5Nm of torque. What the CBR continues to offer is a thoroughly smooth and accessible power delivery. The engine makes its peak power high up at 11,500rpm, but the revised gearing provides a slightly harder acceleration. This motor is one of the sweet-natured ones you'll ever meet and there are no spikes or surges anywhere in the rev range. And that means the bike will never surprise the rider in a nasty fashion. In fact, it's so friendly that I quickly found myself looking for a bit more aggression and theatre when the throttle was whacked open...
But make no mistake, this is a seriously quick sports bike and it can hit a top speed of over 230kph. Refinement levels are impressive too, but as with the old model, it’s not quite as smooth as the legend of Honda four-cylinder engines might have you expect. The bike we rode had just finished its run-in period and we were told that it became significantly smoother after the first service. Still, there are some vibrations felt in the seat and pegs at around 5,000rpm, but these are minor enough not to sour the experience. Nevertheless, if it’s an ultra-smooth and creamy four-cylinder experience you’re after, the Kawasaki Z900 is what you should be looking at in this price range. In fact, even the new Triumph Street Triples are slightly smoother overall.
Along with the mild visual updates, Honda also slightly lowered the clip-ons for a dash more sportiness. The result is a more committed riding position than the likes of the Kawasaki Ninja 650, but it’s still far more comfortable than a full-on supersport. The riding position is a good relationship between sport and tour, but with a slight bias to the former. This helps keep the rider involved when the mood arises, but can also quite comfortably sustain long days in the saddle. At 810mm, the seat height is quite friendly too, and the contouring of the single seat means it should be quite easy for most riders to get their feet down.
However, one of the biggest updates is the new Showa dual bending valve fork. This setup is non-adjustable but it introduces a noticeably improved damping quality and does a great job of balancing out comfort and support under aggressive riding. Ride quality is quite supple for a sports bike and rough surfaces are managed reasonably well. However, the handling manner perfectly matches the sweet nature of the engine, and the CBR650F never puts a foot wrong. Outright stability is unshakeable and the bike is a very encouraging handler without feeling overly agile or reactive. Cornering clearance is generous and we never scraped anything on the road. The CBR650F’s intentions as a fast road bike are clear, but this is also a machine that should quite happily handle the odd track day as well.
At 216kg, it is a hefty machine, nearly 30kg heavier than the considerably more powerful Triumph Street Triple S. But the bike masks its weight well and is easy to manoeuvre at low speeds. Also new with this update are larger and more powerful Nissin brake calipers that do a fine job of slowing the CBR down with minimal intrusion from the ABS system. What we noticed, however, is that the front fork can bottom-out if you brake hard upon approaching a sudden bump or speed breaker. That’s something to look out for, as cracked rims are a common big-bike issue on our roads and are generally pretty expensive to replace.
In terms of electronic rider aids, the CBR650F remains a reasonably simple motorcycle. It doesn’t offer any advanced electronic rider aids like traction control or rider modes, but the engine's nature is such that you won’t really miss having them. What we would like to see are better tyres than the standard Dunlops; they take quite some time to build heat and even then the grip isn’t as good as the equivalent Pirelli or Metzeler.
A serious consideration?
Definitely, more so with this update. As we said earlier, the previous CBR650F was always an expensive bike, but Honda has done well to launch what is a significantly improved product at the same price as the old one. This, however, is not a bike to buy if you're looking for maximum bang for your buck – the Kawasaki Z900 continues to offer much more performance for not a lot more money, just as the old Z800 did with the previous CBR650F. That said, Honda’s spare parts and service costs are surprisingly affordable compared to the competition and you can even extend the warranty to five years for just Rs 2,500.
The reason to consider this motorcycle is that the new CBR650F offers much of the same experience as before, but with appreciable improvements all around. If you're among the admittedly big number of people who are looking for a sweet-natured sportbike that will excite but never intimidate, this bike makes a great companion.