2014 Honda CBR650F First Ride Test – Honda Goes Back to its Roots
The all-new 2014 Honda CBR650F fills a gap in Honda’s mid-weight sportbike range for the rider who wants more than the parallel-twin CBR500R, and yet doesn’t need (or want) the fully committed supersport CBR600RR.
At a highly affordable $8499, (ABS is $500 extra) the CBR650F is less than two grand more than the 500R ($6299), and yet it is a whopping three grand cheaper than its 600RR ($11,490) sibling.
Although the 2014 Honda CBR650F is not as hardcore as the 600RR, make no mistake, this new 650cc inline-four is very definitely a sportbike, and based on a day of thrashing it hard around Southern California I came away impressed. Actually, make that very impressed.As an, ahem, “older” rider, I well remember the F2/F3/F4i series of the mid-1990s and, indeed, my Willow Springs Supersport and Mod Prod racebike was an F3. This new CBR650F is very reminiscent of that successful model; and coupled with Honda’s new VFR Interceptor, I distinctly get the impression that Honda is looking to its successful bikes of the past to broaden appeal and bring new riders into the sport.The 650F certainly has the looks to pull off the full supersport image, and it’s only the integrated dual seat and more upright handlebars that give the game away. Any further confirmation that this isn’t a racetrack refugee needs a much closer look. The full bodywork has been designed in modern style with less overhang at the front and rear, and it is available in Red, Candy Blue or Matte Black Metallic (that has an attractive silk or eggshell-type finish to it).The ergonomics are very sporting yet also relatively upright, and sitting astride the bike for the first time I was struck by how very natural the riding position feels. The seat height is a pleasant 31.9 inches, and the mild rear step up for the passenger is enough that as a rider I felt nicely planted. It is wide enough for comfort, and although firm, it is more than good enough for day-long rides. Despite its somewhat budget nature, the CBR650F is very well finished and as with all Hondas, it’s clearly a high quality machine.The specifications are modest, and if you’re a suspension or brake snob then you’ll turn your nose up when you see the spec sheet. For instance the front fork is non-adjustable and not ‘upside-down’; the rear shock is only adjustable for preload, and the two-piston brakes are not radial mount. Yet if you’re in the market for this price of bike then I would urge you to put aside your prejudice because I found the 650F to ride at least as well as other much higher spec machines out there.The stock suspension setup is ideal for one-up riding, and increasing the rear preload will only be necessary if you’re over (say) 200 pounds or carry a passenger. Although the 41mm fork seems softly sprung, the suspension damping is excellent, so both the fork and shock absorbs road bumps incredibly well and seemingly nothing will upset the chassis. With a 57.0-inch wheelbase the bike is a bit longer than the RR’s 53.9 inches, and the 25.5 degree rake is two degrees lazier than the RR’s also.However, don’t get the impression that the CBR650F is a sluggish turner, because it absolutely is not. It turns precisely and consistently; in other words it doesn’t flop into the corner, nor does it need any muscle to turn in either. The handling is very neutral and the bike feels extremely stable, so it’s incredibly confidence inspiring.Riding some pretty gnarly surfaces and very twisty roads didn’t cause any weaves or wobbles whatsoever. A couple of times, I went into decreasing radius corners too hot and, to save myself running over the double-yellow, I had to hurriedly re-adjust my line while on the brakes and dial in some extra lean. The CBR650F soaked it all up without complaint and kept me smiling.The credit for this goes beyond well-designed suspension. The steel spar frame has elliptically shaped tubes that are tuned for the right amount of flex, and the engine is incorporated as a stressed member to help with weight reduction. Honda’s obsession with mass-centralization is noticeable. Looking at the bike from the side I could see a great deal of thought had gone into keeping everything as compact as possible and in the middle of the machine.For instance, the neat looking stubby exhaust and its catalyzer are tucked neatly underneath and out of sight, and the engine cylinders are canted at a 30-degree angle to keep the weight forward and in the middle of the bike. So the CBR650F feels as though it has a low center of gravity, and combined with a claimed curb weight (including fuel) of just 461 pounds (6 pounds more if you add ABS) plus the excellent ergonomics, the bike feels incredibly light, very flickable, and supremely easy to ride.There are seven steps of preload adjustment on the rear spring, with position two as the factory setting. I don’t like cranking up suspension preload to try and eliminate wallow, so I decided to keep the rear shock on its stock setting and see how things would feel.To my surprise I rode all day without needing to touch the shock at all. The damping was excellent; there was zero wallow and not much squat at the rear even on hard corner exits in a low gear. I also never touched the peg feelers down, although I heard some of the other larger riders than me (I’m about 185) say they had managed to do so a couple of times, and upped the preload by two clicks.I was very happy to see that the cool looking cast-aluminum turbine-style wheels carry full size tires with a 120/70ZR-17 front and a 180/55ZR-17 at the rear. Although I had no problem with the stock Bridgestone rubber, it means owners will have a choice come replacement time, and I’d fit a nice set of sticky Dunlop Q3s to improve confidence even further.The brakes look fairly underwhelming, as we’ve all got used to the cool looking radial set ups that are now de rigeur on all sportbikes with any street cred. The CBR650F’s front brakes are dual twin-piston calipers biting down on wave-style 320mm discs, with a single-caliper and 240mm disc at the rear.The brakes have plenty of feel and, with the caveat that I was street-riding, they don’t lack in stopping power at all. Optional Honda ABS is another $500 and adds about six pounds to the weight of the bike — it is insurance that’s more than well worth having. If it saves a tip-over even once (which it will), it will have more than paid for itself.The dual-overhead camshaft, liquid-cooled motor has an identical bore to the CBR600RR, but a longer-stroke, hence the increased capacity of 649cc. So although the engine isn’t quite the screamer of the RR model, it produces almost the same power as that sibling, only it’s at lower revs. Featuring Honda’s Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) system and 32 mm throttle bodies, the fuel-mapping is flawless and on/off throttle response is smooth and easy to modulate.Low-down torque via the slick six-speed gearbox is a little more muscular than the RR, and the excellent mid-range power really comes in nicely around 4000 rpm. The motor is tuned for good acceleration from a standing start and strong midrange roll-on throttle response, and so I was very pleased with the power exiting 30 to 40 mph corners. Amazingly, the 2014 Honda CBR650F is capable of returning around 52 mpg, according to Honda, and depending on how you ride. Even with my banzai riding the included computer readout told me I was averaging 41 mpg, and that equates to a decent range of about 175 miles from the 4.5-gallon gas tank.Instrumentation is handled by a pleasant, but slightly cheap–looking, LCD pod, with a sweep rev-counter and digital speed readout. Tripmeters are included, as are a fuel gauge and clock. The instruments can also display average and instantaneous fuel consumption.Several Honda Genuine Accessories are available, and at press time, items such as a Sportscreen, color-matched Passenger Seat Cowl, Rear Tire Hugger, locking Rear Trunk, Rear luggage Carrier, Heated Grips, Wheel Stripes, Carbon Fiber Tank Pad, and a Cycle Cover can be purchased through dealers, and a three-year warranty on each one begins on the day of purchase. Otherwise, the CBR650F has a fully transferable, one-year, unlimited-mileage limited warranty; and extended coverage is available with a Honda Protection Plan.In summary, there isn’t anything I could find wrong with the 2014 Honda CBR650F, and I believe it will be a huge hit if people are willing to give it a chance. This is a very impressive, real-world motorcycle that re-entry riders will immediately feel comfortable on and entry-level riders could consider. Interestingly, it’s also capable enough that expert level riders will not get bored, and I think it’s going to take some seriously extreme speeds before any weaknesses in this motorcycle come to light. So Honda seems to have hit that golden sweet spot where almost everyone will have incredible fun riding the 2014 Honda CBR650F — I know I did.Photography by Kevin WingRiding Style: