When Honda released their 2009 sport bikes (the Honda CBR600RR and Honda CBR1000RR) with optional C-ABS, I have to admit I had some skepticism. Although a fan of ABS for large motorcycles and sport touring machines-the value being appreciated when riding on unfamiliar, questionable road surfaces and/or in foul weather-I had to wonder if the application on a serious sporting machine would be of any real significance-especially in a race track application.
I recently had the opportunity to flog both of Honda’s C-ABS equipped sport machines around California Speedway’s AMA course on invite from Fast Track Riders. The results were surprising.
In the case of the Honda sport machines, the only visual elements that give away the C-ABS system are the wheel sensor rings and a small canister bolted to the sub-frame. The system adds some weight, about twenty pounds, but engineers have managed to keep this additional bulk situated near the center of mass of the machine so the nimble handling of the CBR600RR and CBR1000RR are virtually identical to their non-ABS counterparts.
Honda’s C-ABS system is testament to just how rapidly technology is evolving. Traditionally, most ABS systems, although doing a decent job of keeping the wheels from locking, have done so with unwelcome, uneven oscillations and spongy, inconsistent feel being transmitted through the front and rear brake levers. The first revelation of Honda’s new technology was that neither machine exhibited any of the oscillations. This is due to the advanced on-board computers that monitor front to back wheel speed rotation responding four times faster than previous Honda ABS systems. This allows the nano-second adjustments that altar fluid pressure to the Honda front and rear calipers, relieving braking pressure on the wheel that is locking, and transferring the pressure to the opposing wheels, to be pretty much imperceptible to the rider.
Completely absent on the Honda sport bikes is that horribly disconcerting aspect of ABS brakes becoming inconsistent under heavy braking. Both Hondas were capable of surprising stopping power without the gremlins that traditionally haunt ABS technology. The best test I was able to give the Honda CBR600RR was over-cooking the entrance to a corner. I realized I’d gotten a little too ambitious on the throttle approaching the turn and immediately checked up ahead. Reassured there was plenty of clean run-off and no immediate concern for safety (just an embarrassing off-track excursion) I used the opportunity to grab an inordinate amount of front brake to see if I could keep things in check.
Amazingly, the Honda slowed at an incredible rate and I found myself at a safe speed at my normal turn-in point, leaned the bike in as I gradually trail braked, and stayed on line through the corner. On a standard bike I doubt I ever would have been able to get the bike slowed with enough control to responsibly make the corner.
The only negative aspect of the Honda C-ABS was an occasional wood feeling in the brake lever, where it seems to revolt at being pulled in under extremely heavy braking. The brakes continue to work, slowing the bike down with incredible efficiency, but the lever feels frozen in place. Other than that one complaint I have to say that technology is evolving to the point where I believe ABS-equipped sport machines, even bikes with a track focus, will be the norm in the coming years, as opposed to the exception. Honda has made a true believer of me.