Launched in 2004, the Honda CBR1000RR was a revelation to me; it was incredibly fast and confidence-inspiring. In 2006, Honda offered an improved, lighter version—a logical evolution of an already remarkable bike. What Honda did not reveal, was that the company was simultaneously designing this all-new 2008 version.
The unusually long four-year development period was time well spent. Kyoichi Yoshii—the celebrated designer who created Nicky Hayden's 2006 MotoGP World Championship-winning RC211V—and his team of 81 engineers, created 23 patented technologies in their quest to bring us sportbike Nirvana. This latest 1000RR also dropped a dramatic 17 pounds in the process, and at a claimed 435 pounds (wet), it is now a very light literbike.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the ideal proving ground for such a machine. The legendary MotoGP-homologated track in Monterey, California, twists and turns 11 times before returning to the start line. Although blessed with decent run-off in case you get it wrong, a committed pilot must ride with total precision. If you cannot turn the machine quickly enough for the speed you are carrying, you will miss the apex and run out of road at the exit.
At track days, I always leave just a teensy bit in reserve. The good old "slow-in, fast-out" maxim works just fine for me. And, yet, as this particular test progressed, it dawned on me that such was the stunning precision of this new 1000RR, for the first time in a long while, I had such confidence that I was riding at 100-percent. (Click image to enlarge)
It is striking how compact the CBR feels. The frame's upper beams are 30mm narrower—that might not sound like much, but it is actually very noticeable—and the redesigned engine with its new single-piece block and more-compact head certainly helps. Not overly tall, either, the 1000RR feels more like Honda's CBR600RR, and the ergonomics are comfortable for a sportbike.
Honda's three-time Grand Prix World Champion "Fast Freddie" Spencer had helped set the bike up for this test. The bike, of course, was stiff; but the Honda Multi-Action System (HMAS) fork and shock gave me confidence. I was immediately struck by how quickly the 1000RR turned into corners without being nervous. "Anyone can make a bike turn quickly," Spencer later told me, "but there's usually a trade off with stability." Yet, despite the apparent paradox, Honda appears to have conquered the problem. When I mentioned that to him, Spencer just smiled knowingly.Clearly, the short 55-inch wheelbase and steep 23 degrees of rake give the 1000RR its lightning quick turning ability; credit for keeping it stable largely goes to the second-generation speed-sensitive Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD), now smaller, lighter, and tucked under the tank cover.
With an additional 10 hp, the 1000RR is electrifyingly fast, with power delivered so smoothly that it is deceptive. Uncannily turbine-like, and without any flat-spots or hesitation whatsoever, the ride is effortless; the front wheel can be lifted at-will in the first three gears. Midrange and peak performance have been boosted by the muffler that now peeks out down low, MotoGP-style.
Another detailed piece of engineering contributes to this seamless power transitioning: 50 times per second, sensors compare crank and output shaft speeds with the throttle opening. If any difference is detected, a subtle ignition interrupt mechanism cuts in and eliminates any gearbox driveline lash.
The new slipper clutch is strikingly innovative. A simple cam-assist mechanism increases pressure as the plates engage, eliminating the need for ultra-strong clutch springs and the heavy hydraulic system necessary to actuate them. The 1000RR has a slipper that is not only reliable and works exceptionally well, but it is also cable operated and beautifully light at the lever. Incidentally, that saves nearly 2 lbs of weight off the handlebar. It is this level of detailed attention to mass centralization that makes the 1000RR such a outstanding performer.
Although the Honda's stock Dunlop Qualifier street tires were impressive, in the afternoon we sampled Dunlop's new N-Tec 211GP race tires. Much softer in compound, they are also a different construction. I was shocked at how much grip was available with the race tires. Even as I found myself running out of ground clearance, the tires and chassis maintained their razor-sharp predictability. The 211GPs elevated the bike's handling to a different level I simply could not have imagined before.
With unswerving attention to the minutiae, Honda seems to have found the Holy Grail of handling with its new CBR1000RR. Was there anything I did not like about the bike? Well, I suppose the shift light could have been a bit brighter.