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Tue, 09 Apr 2019

Honda’s CBR650R – a motorcycle for every day of the week?

The sporty mid-capacity market is seeing resurgence as manufacturers make the smart move of producing bikes that look sporty, go well and more importantly, are available to the new generation of A2 licence holders. And one of these machines in particular bares more resemblance to its sportsbike heritage than any other. So we thought we’d let our Marketing guy, James loose with it to see what it’s really like day to day. Enter Honda’s CBR650R…

Personally, I don’t think you need much more than 100bhp on the road. I owned Kawasaki’s popular Ninja 650 and absolutely loved it. The thing that I enjoyed most about was riding the bike hard without feeling like I was constantly going to kill myself or lose my licence. It’s satisfying in a world full of rider aids and 200bhp missiles that there are bikes that still provide smiles for the simple pleasure of riding alone and not how powerful they are.

So, when Honda announced the sporty CBR650R back in Milan last year, I got excited. Add into the mix, that it uses a ‘proper’ sportsbike-esque inline four motor and not the parallel twins that are often found in most other machines in this market segment. Couple it with dashing good looks that ape those of the CBR1000RR Fireblade, a semi-sporty, but still comfortable riding position and a decent price tag and it all adds up to a winning combination, right?

Well it should at least, but if it doesn’t perform well, or excite like a sportsbike then it’s not worth squat. So, I borrowed our demo to find out what it’s all about and found that a first impression can sometimes mask a hidden gem.

It’s a real head turner

By looks alone, the 650 gets a solid 10 out of 10. Taking its design cues directly from its CBR1000RR Fireblade bigger brother, the CBR650R looks absolutely stunning. The fairing apes the Blade so closely in its design that you could be mistaken for initially thinking that the bike is far more menacing and focussed than a first look would suggest.

Sit on the bike though and it suggests something else though; the riding position is comfortable and roomy enough for long stints in the saddle and more than capable for some decent motorway stints too thanks to its fairing and double-bubble styled screen to hide behind.

I think it’s fair to say that the CBR650R is an excellent machine, it’s especially well-suited to those who ride every day and don’t want to hide their machines in a garage when the weather gets wetter or cold. It’ll do the commuting duties admirably but don’t think of it in such a way, this is a bike that loves to be pushed. Find an open stretch of road and wind the throttle on though and you’ll be rewarded with a snarl as the inline 4 entices you to push on, it sounds absolutely fantastic! The quickshifter is a really nice addition to this bike and is something that other bikes in this price point can only dream of!

When first impressions fail you

Heading on a ride out bound for Exmouth with a few mates, the CBR led proceedings with a first impression that didn’t quite like up to the hype I’d held for it. Slow rush hour traffic and a group of us all with machines of varying capacities meant that progress was slow and the road was jammed. Our motley crew turned up at the chippy for a break and I honestly wasn’t too sure what I felt of the 650 so far – it was good, but had so far failed to wow me. I felt that my expectations might have been too high for the humble CBR, but this was actually where the fun began.

With hopes out of the window for the perfect dreamboat ride, I left for home without my comrades and without any glowing expectations for what I was going to experience, and it’ completely changed my perspective on the bike.

The turning point…

No longer was it just a good machine, on the sweeping (and now clear) roads back to Exeter the CBR changed into a completely different animal. No longer did it simply just do the job, it excelled and enticed. The fitted quickshifter allowed me to effortlessly click through the gearbox; and as the corners approached, the slipper clutch kept the rear in check as I dropped into the lower gears.

I don’t understand how a motorcycle with so many road manners through town can become such a snarling, grin-inducing beast so easily when the asphalt turns twisty. It’s mightily impressive from Honda, and in my mind marks the CBR650R as one of the finest and most fun all-rounders currently going. If your budget won’t quite stretch to that of something like Triumph’s Street Triple R, or Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-6R, you will definitely find yourself more than just content with the CBR, and with a hell of a saving to boot!

Between riding it through the city and along with winding national speed limit roads is almost like riding two completely different motorcycles – one that does the business as a daily machine, and the other that likes to show its horns when you want to go play.

Through town, it’s machine that’s easy to manage, it doesn’t overwhelm or intimidate in any way, and thanks to its narrow profile, is also easy to maneuverer through the hordes of distracted drivers while they’re sat in traffic. It doesn’t set your pants on fire here, or even tempt you with the match, but this is a fantastic trait for a machine that can be used within the city limits.

Take it to the open road though and the fun really begins. Wind on the throttle and the mild manners disappear and are replaced by bike that really wants to go. It’s incredibly capable too! The suspension, though only adjustable for preload on the rear, make the bike feel very well planted and is set up very well for the road.

The USD Showa forks work well to help the bike to feel really well planted through the corners. Sure, they might lack the adjustability of those found on more expensive machines, but they work really well for the road. And, without really knowing exactly how to set them up properly, or spending more money to get them set to your weight and riding style, it won’t make the world of difference to the ride, especially on the road. I’ve absolutely no doubt in my mind that it’ll work well on the odd track day too.

Work the engine harder and it rewards, it’s so easy to manage at lower revs, but the real reward comes when it’s pushed a little closer to the realms of its 12,000rpm redline. Being an inline four engine makes it feel really smooth as it ascends through the rev range too helping it to feel that little more manageable and predictable when you get a lick on too.

So, just what is it?

Stump up £9,499 and you can have the full bodied sportsbike experience with the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R. It’s designed for the track; hitting apex corners with precision and getting those lap times down, but put it in everyday situations and it won’t be anywhere near as comfortable, as easy to live with, or as smooth around town.

On the other side of the equation, you can get Honda’s CBR500R for a little over £6,099, but you get an engine that, while good, won’t be anywhere near as rewarding or as exciting as the more powerful inline four that features in the 650R, nor will the bike be able to excite in the same way as the 650 bigger brother.

It’s fair to say that the CBR650R sits nicely in between a ‘proper’ sportsbike and an everyday commuter machine while also being a great bike for both newer and more experienced riders alike. It’s impressive to say the least and currently stands on its own between the two market segments. Honda have really seen a gap in the market here and exploited it.

I honestly think that Honda should be applauded for the CBR650R, it addresses the needs of so many riders and makes an absolutely fantastic all-rounder. And, thanks to its capable nature, it’ll reward newer and more experienced riders alike regardless of how, or where, it’s ridden.

If you’re after a bike that will excite on the weekend, and do the business on the commute, then the CBR650R could well be the machine you’ve been looking for.