Platinum Weapon

The year 1987 ushered in two well-known lethal weapons. One was a celluloid roller-coaster ride starring Mel Gibson as a lunatic LAPD officer in the quintessential cop/buddy flick. The other was equally audacious—Honda’s introduction of their groundbreaking 600cc supersport machine. Both of them—one in the realm of movie theaters, the other in the realm of pavement—were enthusiastically received by the public and became unmitigated hits, blossoming into iconic franchises with sequels in their respective arenas. Unlike the subsequent movies, however, the motorcycle has continued to improve.

AGV Stealth Arabesque Blue
Leathers: MotoGP 1-Piece Kangaroo Hide Compression Suit
Gloves: MotoGP RPM
Boots: Sidi Vertigo Corsa. (Click image to enlarge)

In the intervening years Gibson transitioned through various roles in pursuit of quality, ultimately collecting some fine statuettes for his mantel. By contrast, since the welcome tempest of its introduction, (with the aptly named Hurricane) Honda has stayed the course with its prized CBR600 in a continuity of meteoric refinement. Romancing the middleweight category through milestone anniversaries, the CBR arrives at the significant platinum 20th. Along the way it has amassed an astonishing 83 individual Supersport race wins in AMA competition and the powerhouse manufacturer keeps the flame burning for 2007 with an all-new CBR600RR.

Just like Honda’s MotoGP effort for 2007—a new breed of smaller, more nimble racing machine—the latest CBR600RR has been shortened and compacted into a highly responsive, maneuverable motorcycle. The bike shed a full 16 lbs for its 20th birthday. Over 12 lbs were lost by the completely reworked chassis, while another 3.7 lbs were shaven off the redesigned engine. Bottom line, the CBR weighs in at a claimed 345 lbs, dry. (Click image to enlarge)

The CBR’s wheelbase was shortened by almost one full inch, dropping it to 53.8 inches. The engine has been compacted as well, resulting in the smallest front-to-rear dimension in the 600 class. Despite the tightened wheelbase, the swingarm has been lengthened, a direct design rollover from MotoGP that increases stability. All of this reflects Honda’s continuing focus on mass centralization to render a more agile, responsive motorcycle.

The shortened wheelbase has been augmented by a steeper steering geometry, from 24.0 to 23.7 degrees. These dimensions would suggest an extremely twitchy disposition, and potentially unmanageable handling, if it were not for the latest-generation Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD). The unit is mounted to the frame at the steering head and connected to the top triple clamp by an articulating arm. When the front end is turned, the arm operates a damping vane inside an oil chamber. As speed increases, oil passageways are systematically constricted by an electronic sensor to damp sudden handlebar movements. As velocity decreases, the electronic signal reopens the passageways, reducing resistance. (Click image to enlarge)

On the track at Barber Motorsports Park, where speeds vary from slow, second-gear corners to flat-out straight-aways, the system worked flawlessly. The damping effect is minimal at slower speeds; front-end feel is unencumbered and turn-in is easy. As speed climbs, the damping is gradually (and imperceptibly) increased. Even under hard acceleration and cresting over Turn 3—a fast, sweeping uphill right-hander—the Honda’s front end stays rock solid, without the slightest hint of instability. This remarkable solidity was then replaced by an easy, neutral feeling turn-in when the damper seamlessly reduced its influence for Turn 4, the following low-speed hairpin.

Likewise, the in-line 4-cylinder engine has undergone extensive modification. Intake and exhaust ports have been reshaped along with the taper of the intake velocity stacks. The two-stage fuel-injection has been refined, and a new lightweight stainless exhaust system has been fitted with an in-line valve that adjusts chamber pressure to aid mid-range performance. An RC51-style ram-air induction system scoops air in at the lead point of the fairing, then channels it through a passageway in the frame’s steering stem. The airflow increase allowed Honda to boost the airbox capacity.All of this adds up to improved mid-range power, while maintaining the punch all the way to the revlimiter. Although the motor has decent low-end response, the CBR600RR prefers healthy engine speeds. The sweet spot is 13,500 rpm, with a claimed peak of 118 hp and redline arriving at 15,700 rpm.

The 6-speed transmission has been redesigned for compactness with closer tolerances and delivers crisp, positive gear changes. On the track, under extremely hard acceleration, there was occasional reluctance between second and third gears. This was easily remedied by ensuring a smooth throttle chop while shifting. Unlike other bikes in the class, Honda chose not to install a slipper clutch on the 600RR. Regardless, the rear end stays securely planted under aggressive downshifts without any surprise rear wheel hop or chatter. (Click image to enlarge)

In what is becoming status quo with modern sportbikes, the Honda’s front brakes are dual radial-mounted four-piston calipers mated to 310mm discs. A single 210mm disc handles the rear. Solid stopping power is achieved with  minimal lever effort. The progressive action and predictability of the front brake, combined with the precise feedback of the front end, allows the rider to execute the delicate nuances of trail-braking deep into corners and at serious lean angles, with absolute confidence.

Front forks are 41mm inverted cartridge-type units. Rear suspension is the Honda Unit Pro-Link design carried over from the all-conquering RC211V MotoGP machine. These components render a plush, compliant ride for the street, while at the same time delivering rigidity and high-end performance for track outings. (Click image to enlarge)

The all-new bodywork is more than just sexy; the new wedge design evolving from serious pounding in the wind tunnel. The main fairing is comprised of two seperate panels that create a gap that reduces air resistance. Traditionally, the large side plane of a full fairing can act like a sail and affect handling, especially at higher speeds. By breaking the fairing into two smaller surfaces this resistance is reduced, making the CBR less susceptible to these influences and improving handling response.

With 600cc supersport machines making up a staggering 82 percent of the sportbike market, Honda is intent on retaining its position as the class leader. In the process, Honda has managed to take it omnipotent middleweight to yet another level by sharpening its edges and honing its attributes. The 2007 CBR600RR represents a culmination of 20 years of blissful evolution.

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