It’s autumn in Japan, the best time to visit this techno-centric country. The trees have begun shedding leaves, the weather’s gotten cool and crisp, and the people smartly cocooned in overcoats and woolens move about their business with a purposeful briskness. This is a relatively small country by physical mass, yet one that disproportionately houses several of the world’s most cherished two-wheeler giants, including global leader Honda, a company that has established its footprints and winged logo around the globe. This is where a contingent of Indian journalists, digging into their pockets to ward off chilly Japanese winds, enters the picture. A lucky few of us have flown into the land of the rising sun to sample the CBR1000RR, which Honda will shortly make available to Indian buyers via the CBU import route.
The Fireblade is a direct descendant of the RC211V Moto GP low-flying surface-to-surface missile as guided by the likes of Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa. It’s also a landmark for a new direction superbikes are now taking. While the past decade has seen Litre-class superbikes striving to get increasingly track-focused, with more peaky power deliveries, radical riding postures, sharpening handling and unforgiving road manners, the CBR1000RR breaks the mould and blunts its blade a bit.
This even looks less sharp a motorcycle with controversial softer lines. Love or loathe it as you please, it’s easy to spot Honda’s efforts to keep mass centered and weight down to a bare minimum with its new bike, using lightweight materials for its cycle parts and engine. The frontal view is dominated by the mean stare of twin headlights peering out of an aggressive, aerodynamic snout. This bike houses its front indicators within its mirrors. Instruments are typical of Race Replica superbikes, with a clear tachometer occupying prime real estate below the low-set visor.
Much of the 1000RR’s engine and curved radiator sit tucked beneath a distinctive fairing, while the bike’s frame exposes itself just below its voluminous tank. A highlight on the CBR is its striking low-set silencer, sitting just ahead of a substantial black swingarm that clamps in the bike’s large 190/50-section rear tyre. Visible above this is the 1000RR’s stepped seat, tail fairing and extended rear mudguard.
The CBR1000RR uses a 999.8cc, in-line, four-cylinder, four-stroke engine with 174bhp on tap at 12000rpm. This engine integrates its lower sump section and cylinder block, with sleeveless cylinders packed closely and bores plated by nickel silicon carbide. Electronic fuel injection is well sorted and experienced via a nicely weighted throttle, and the bike deploys a smooth, cable-pulled clutch and positive shifting six-speed gearbox.
Honda, unfortunately, limited us to a brief six laps aboard the CBR1000RR on a miniature, dew-damp track within their impressive Twin Ring Motegi facility. This was better suited to go-karts than this fast a motorcycle, and we were regulated to slow speeds in a safety car-led convoy. Try as we might, the longest straight on this track lacked the tarmac to allow the 1000RR — with its 874.3bhp-per-tonne power-to-weight ratio — to nudge red-line in even first gear, so there’s little to write back home about with regards to high speed performance. What was apparent from our brief encounter was an easy, linear flow of power, which means ease of riding on Indian roads. It doesn’t call for a Nicky Hayden to harness all those horses and the gearbox doesn’t need a pro to have the RR — with 11.4kgm of peak torque built at 8500rpm — exploding out of corners. This is thanks to a really wide spread of low, mid-range and top end performance. And this is a CBR1000RR highlight, for we can’t say the same for many bikes in its league, most of which call upon grappling with their scruffs to tame vicious power deliveries, and often feel like the machine is taking the rider for a ride, rather than the other way around. And this is the forte of the CBR1000RR, a virtue that sets this Honda apart in its segment. Don’t get us wrong, for the RR is still frighteningly and violently fast. It’s just that it’s so refined, it makes it relatively easy to transfer all that power to the tarmac and doesn’t demand as much skill when pushed to its limit.
It’s amazing just how compact and petite the CBR1000RR feels for a litre- class motorcycle once you’re aboard. Even the tank disguises its considerable bulk, feeling perfect between a rider’s thighs while on the move. The CBR1000RR provides a weight-forward riding stance, yes, but still maintains an overall docile nature that feels a shade more relaxed than its rivals. My six-foot frame fit it impressively, and it’s sometimes easy to forget this is a 1000cc motorcycle because of its easy — close to feather-light — handling and cornering ability. The CBR1000RR is an easy bike to get used to, and uses a state-of-the-art electronic steering damper that makes the bike light to steer when slow and progressively adjusts damping as speeds build up. The whole package is held together by a meaty alloy frame and swingarm. Beefy upside-down front forks and Honda’s Pro-Link rear suspension are employed, as are monobloc calipers that chomp on 320mm twin discs in the front. The RR uses a single 220mm disc at rear. The CBR1000RR’s brakes feel progressive, with a controlled feel at the lever.
Honda has achieved a lot with the latest CBR1000RR. And while most will agree it has been softened to some degree, the upgraded CBR is still as capable of devastatingly fast performance as any fiercer feeling rival. Except the Honda is so amazingly rider friendly, well-engineered, refined and useable that it sweats buckets and manages more of the hard work on its own to lift a lot of load off its rider’s back.