2014 Honda CBR650F ABS Review

When Honda replaced the CBR600F4i with the Supersport World Championship dominating CBR600RR in 2003, racers and track day riders rejoiced, while those who appreciated the street-friendliness of the CBR600F series shed a silent tear or two.

In a sales climate where hardcore supersport bike sales are falling and upright sport bikes are experiencing a revival, it was only natural that someone at Honda looked back at the F4i for inspiration.

Hardly a revivalist machine, the new Honda CBR650F borrows from both the much-missed F4i and the current CBR600RR to create the inviting street-going, real-world sport bike that had become all but extinct.

The recipe is no secret, of course—build a bike with clip-ons above the triple clamps, relax the pegs a bit from race bike positioning, retain the full fairing, and add a dash of torque for increased streetability.

Honda did just that, and the CBR650F is a sportbike for those of us who have an ample taste for speed, but want to be reasonably comfortable while going fast, and don’t plan on routinely hanging it out at 10/10ths on the street. To get there, Honda mixed some old with the new.

The engine is certainly familiar, with the same DOHC inline-4 layout as both the F4i and RR. In fact, the 67mm bore is common to all three bikes, with the additional displacement courtesy of a 3.5mm stroke increase—a move designed to bump up the torque and lower the maxi- mum engine speed.

Taking the CBR650F into the canyons, the less frenetic engine is instantly apparent. Decent power begins to develop around 4000 rpm, with the really good stuff starting to happen at 7000 or so. The LCD tach is imprecise above 11k, but you hit a soft redline a bit past that, which is much lower than the CBR600RR’s limit.

Much fun can be had by keeping the CBR650F’s rpm in the vicinity of 7-to-10k, prodding the smooth gear lever as often as needed. Missed shifts are non-existent, and you won’t find any gaps in the ratios when working in that rev range. Power is not up to supersport standards, but you’re on the street, not a track.

To make that possible, Honda had to give the CBR650F a chassis that is suitable for the task at hand, and this is where the F and the RR most significantly depart. No question about it, the 650F chassis was built to a price point nearly $3000 lower than the RR.

The CBR650F has a steel frame, rather than aluminum, and suspension that is non-adjustable, except for rear pre-load. There’s no linkage for the shock, and nothing even remotely like the CBR600RR’s Big Piston Fork. In many ways, the CBR650F is built for simplicity rather than simply cheaply, and we say that because the bike works so well when pushed through the twisties.

Honda made the conscious decision to relax the handling to match the friendly ergos. The rake is kicked out nearly two degrees from the RR, and the wheelbase lengthened by three full inches — those are meaningful numbers. Oh, and the weight of the F we tested is up 35 pounds over the RR, when both have ABS systems (which we like). Add that all up, and you will expect to be underwhelmed.

As is often the case with Honda engineering, some sort of magic was injected into the CBR650F. Despite the spec sheet’s dire outlook, the bike gets the job done far better than you could possibly imagine.

Much of the credit has to go to the suspension team. While they didn’t have the latest technology to work with, and they didn’t give you the ability to tweak the settings beyond rear ride height, they nailed the damping and springing for a wide variety of riders.

We had some of our fastest test riders come back enthusiastically praising the CBR650F’s handling, as well as its ability to take on the irregularities of sometimes poorly engineered and maintained mountain roads. The bike didn’t wallow when pushed to the limits, and there is a ton of cornering clearance — replacing peg feelers will not be a common occurrence unless you are a big, and fast, rider.

Acknowledgement also needs to be given to Honda’s frame crew. The bike is tightly packed, with much of the weight carried very near the center of gravity. This helps reduce the effects of that extra poundage come time to change direction.

When it comes to fast sweepers, tight hairpins, and switchbacks, the CBR650F is happy to oblige them all. As much as your brain tells you this is a long bike with a raked front end, the machine responds with performance far above reasonable expectations.

Braking is strong, even though the Nissin calipers aren’t radially mounted. Initial bite is non-intimidating, so you feel the confidence to get on the binders hard, when necessary. ABS is at the ready, though rarely needed on dry pavement.

Tires are, as always, a large part of the equation. Again, the bike-specific Bridgestone Sportmax D222 rubber doesn’t promise much. It is the same tire model found on the CBR500R twin, which is a much lower spec machine. Yet, somehow they work shockingly well. Edge grip is fine and there is plenty of feedback.

Being a sport bike, the CBR650F isn’t the greatest in-town bike. Power is lackadaisical off idle, and you can find yourself put out when you need that quick low-rpm roll-on power to squirt through traffic unexpectedly. Keep the motor spinning about 4000 rpm and you will be fine, which isn’t always practical. Also, the ergonomics are not as comfortable in traffic as more upright bikes, yet remain superior to the 600RR.

Far surpassing expectations, the 2014 Honda CBR650F is a dream come true for a certain demographic of rider—one who wants comfort along with the supersport styling and street-focused performance. Many people have complained that they don’t make bikes like this anymore; well, now they do.

Riding Style:

Photography by Kevin Wing

Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.