Riding the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP and Honda CBR1000RR ABS at Algarve Circuit, Portimão

2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review (ABS and SP): The RR is Back
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

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The 2017 Honda CBR1000RR, the long-awaited new sporting flagship from Honda, hurtled down and through the long, sweeping final turn before the straight at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão, Portugal. It’s a very fast triple-digit speed corner and yet, as I came on the throttle heading up the hill on to the straight, I was shocked at how fast the CBR1000RR’s new engine felt.

I’m used to liter-bike power and my personal motorcycle puts out a real 167 horsepower at the rear wheel, as measured by John Ethell on his Jett Tuning dyno. Given that, I can tell you the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR is considerably quicker.

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Cresting over the gentle brow of the hill, the thrust in fifth gear was so strong that I knew I had to load the rear brake a tad to keep the front from lifting too far. The Honda CBR1000RR was in the meat of its powerband, and I could tell that a big wheelie was on the cards unless I held it back and, no, I didn’t want to come out of the throttle.

I was riding the CBR1000RR ABS model (the standard non-ABS RR model saves $300) with excellent Showa suspension and Honda’s optional quickshifter. Incidentally, the gearbox is as smooth and positive as can be, so adding the quickshifter makes for flawless gearchanges both up and down. The quickshifter also allows for three levels of pedal pressure depending on preference. Awesome!

Down Portimão’s front straight, the speedometer nudged 299 km/h. At the end of the straight, the track drops down a short hill and runs through a fast right-hander; it’s the crest of that hill that I used as my braking point.

Coming hard on to the Tokico four-pot brakes, the lever has plenty of feel and smoothly linear power—simply squeezing harder increases slowing with no nasty surprises or grabby initial bite. The higher-spec CBR1000RR SP model has Brembo calipers, but, frankly, both sets of brakes perform pretty much the same, as far as I could tell.

The front of the bike did, however, have a mild vibration/shuddering through the bars and into my arms; it was not a big deal, but it was definitely there. It wasn’t a pumping at the lever as if the ABS was interfering—the excellent Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21 tires that come on the standard RR offer huge amounts of grip and stability.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR Parts
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

Rather, it was just some chattering that let me know I was braking very hard from very high speed. I also felt the rear of the machine wiggle a little, which I expected due to the dramatic weight transfer from wide-open throttle to hard braking.

That really sums up the new CBR1000RR—it is blisteringly fast; feels incredibly light, agile, and responsive; and it stops well, with absolute predictability.

Make no mistake, with around 90% new components this is an all-new CBR1000RR and not just a lightly revised version of the old one. Almost everything on the model has been significantly changed, and there are almost no parts in common between the old and the new versions. The level of analysis and subsequent detail development that went into this new CBR borders on the obsessive, and it shows.

Honda offers a distinct number of choices for the best overall package for each customer depending on their usage, so the new superbike in offered in three flavors: the standard CBR1000RR (with or without ABS) that comes with conventional Showa BPF suspension and is a great all around sportbike; the definitive street and track-ready weapon  CBR1000RR SP with Öhlins Smart EC semi-active suspension and Brembo calipers (and other detail parts); and the limited edition CBR1000RR SP2 that is available to the public but intended for racing thanks to engine modifications and Marchesini wheels. I rode the CBR1000RR ABS and the SP at Portimao, and came away incredibly impressed.

The outright speed comes from an all-new inline-4 motor that is slimmer and 4.4 pounds lighter than its predecessor. New pistons, con-rods, crankshaft, valves, and cylinder head, are coupled with an updated intake system, revised airbox, and 48 mm throttle bodies (a 2mm increase) to produce an 11-horsepower increase to a claimed peak of 189 horsepower at 13,000 rpm. Torque peaks at 84 ft/lbs at 11,000 RPM.

The rev-limit increases by 750 rpm to 13,000 thanks to a revised valve-train and a raised compression ratio to 13:1. The motor is noticeably smooth, with almost no vibes reaching me at all; it simply produces amazing, turbine-like power throughout the rev-range, all the way to the soft-limiter.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR track speeds
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

However, the new Honda’s impressive turn of speed is not just down to its motor. The Japanese have a saying: “With enough dust you can make a mountain.” It seems the Honda engineers have taken that sentiment to heart.

With an exhaustive focus on saving weight, the standard CBR1000RR weighs (with a full tank of gas) an astonishing 430 pounds—some 35 pounds lighter than the previous generation. The SP2 is the lightest version, at 429 pounds, with the ABS hitting the scales at 433 pounds and the SP knocking two pounds off that.

That makes the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR platform considerably lighter than pretty much all of the current crop of supersport liter-bikes. The focus on weight saving comes from items such as a magnesium oil pan, valve and generator covers, redesigned gears with cutouts, hollowed out shafts, a smaller radiator, and a shrunken oil pan. The engineers even analyzed and optimized the length of every screw and bolt throughout the bike, and minimized the thickness of each of the hoses, and the fairing panels.

Of course, the rest of the chassis has seen the same level of analysis and weight savings as the motor. The main frame thickness has been reduced by 10 percent, the new aluminum subframe is nearly two pounds lighter, and a new swingarm that is lighter, yet 10 percent more rigid.

The dimensions of the CBR1000RR have also been compacted. The bike is nearly one inch narrower at the upper fairing, almost 3/4 of an inch narrower in the middle fairing, and over a half-inch narrower at the knee. The new radiator is lighter and more than an inch narrower. All this helps make the 1000RR feel more like a supersport 600.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR Wheelie
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

Although the SP comes with Öhlins semi-active suspension that adds a bit of weight, it recovers some of that gain with an industry-first two-piece titanium fuel tank that weighs just four pounds, a lithium-ion battery, and lightweight Brembo Monoblock calipers.

The new motor is fully ride-by-wire, and that allows for a suite of electronic rider aids. These include five power levels, nine choices of traction control intervention, and three levels of engine braking (the lower the number, the less electronic interference). These aids are all packaged into three Honda-supplied riding presets, plus two empty presets that can be fully user-defined.

Of the three Honda-defined modes, the first one is for track use, the second for fast winding roads, and the third for street (urban) riding. The modes are childishly simple to operate, and can be changed on the fly simply by using the button on the left handlebar.

I make no secret that I’m a fan of ABS. It’s less useful on track, although it does help with confidence when braking from very high speed at the end of the straight). Still, for any bike on the street, it’s a must-have piece of insurance for those inevitable panic-grab emergency braking situations—and yes, we’ve all had them.

Honda’s ABS is a neat system that uses a Nissin modulator and bank-angle data to control front-wheel lock-up in corners, as well as when upright. It operates on both front and rear brake independently, and it adds rear wheel lift mitigation control as well, to keep the tire on the ground under hard braking.

The 9-level (plus off) HSTC traction and wheelie control are combined, and derived from the RC213V-S which in turn inherited them from the MotoGP racer, so the electronics are well tested.  Essentially, the lower the number, the less interference, and that applies to the wheelie control as well. I rode in TC3 setting for most of the day, but towards the end I experimented a little just to see where the differences lie and tried both TC5 and TC7 levels to see how intrusive it could be. I found that the differences in levels were nicely incremental, so if you’re unsure what level to begin with, start from a high number and work your way down one at a time until you’re comfortable. It can be done on the fly, and there are no big jumps from one level to the next. For me, 3 was the right level of intrusion and definitely made itself useful coming through that fast sweeper on to the straight. Seeing the TC light flickering in my peripheral vision is reassuring to me; I’m not a guy who slides intentionally, and knowing the TC was holding the rear tire made me feel secure and allowed me to focus on the track.

The combined wheelie control is a little more complex to assess, and for some reason Honda chose only to use the difference in wheel speed and acceleration to gauge wheelies, and so the CBR does not use any pitch (back and forth) data coming off the IMU. Essentially, if you’re in a flat or reasonably level type situation and accelerating hard, the wheelie algorithm will interfere based on which TC level you’re using, and it will float the front wheel nicely to keep you very happy and give maximum drive from a corner. I rode the RC213V-S at Valencia last year and this system worked brilliantly. However if something rapid happens such as ham-fisted wrenching of the throttle or a big bump in the track, then it’s possible to defeat the system fairly easily. So don’t just yank the throttle in first gear, dump the clutch and then start complaining because you end up on your butt.

The circumstances at Portimao were a little unusual as the rise over the brow of the hill on to the straight is fairly extreme, and unloads the front so quickly that wheelies are inevitable if you stay hard on the gas. I found that if I wanted maximum thrust on to the straight without tempering my throttle input, I had to drag the rear brake a tad to keep the front wheel at a reasonable height; the electronics are not designed to cope with that sudden unloading of the front combined with the huge thrust from the rear wheel. The bottom line is that the CBR does have wheelie control and it works very well under normal circumstances; however if something extreme happens then you will need to resort to coming off the throttle a little, or dragging the rear brake a bit, or both. Personally, I prefer this option as too much wheelie control is highly irritating and can make the bike pogo at the front. For me, leaving a little bit of control in the rider’s hands is a good thing; I like a safety net, but I also like to leave the final decisions in my hands. With the CBR1000RR, Honda don’t nanny you–kudos for allowing us some freedom I say! So the wheelie control works well as designed; it aids rider control instead of interfering with it.

There’s a new color TFT instrument display that is clean and super-easy to read; it can be switched between street and circuit readouts. The revs are displayed as a sweep bar across the top of the screen, with the speed or lap time below it. Other information includes an easy to see gear indicator and other items along the bottom of the screen such as temperature and mileage etc.

The bottom left quadrant of the screen is devoted to the riding mode, and it is very readable with power, traction control, and engine braking settings displayed next to each other. All warning lights are presented conventionally around the screen.

The biggest difference between the standard RR and the SP models is Öhlins’ new Smart EC semi-active suspension that electronically controls the compression and rebound damping functions at both ends of the bike. Spring-preload remains conventionally adjustable.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR exhaust
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

Honda has worked in partnership with Öhlins to create an incredibly simple system that effectively eliminates the complexity of modern suspension for the rider. Essentially, Öhlins realized from its enormous 40-year library of racing data that there is a huge commonality in suspension tuning, no matter what the level of rider.

Most people can tell how a motorcycle is behaving, but they do not know how to adjust the suspension to change it. Typically, a rider ends up accepting minor problems and riding around them; I for one am occasionally guilty of that.

The Honda and Öhlins engineers split the act of riding a corner into three parts: braking (how the bike behaves at corner entry), cornering (how the bike behaves once it’s leaned over), and acceleration (what happens when you come back on the gas). There is also a fourth parameter—general—which simply either stiffens of softens the whole bike as desired. However, it’s the main three actions of braking, cornering, and acceleration that are semi-actively changed.

The suspension-relevant data is sampled 100 times per second, and the Öhlins 43mm fork and TTX36 rear shock damping characteristics are adjusted multiple times a corner, and up to 80 times a typical lap. This is done to ensure the correct weight transfer on braking, optimize the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR’s turn-in, maximize stability in the middle of the corner, and then control the weight transfer and maximize grip on the corner exit.

As with the three riding modes, the same naming convention applies, with A1 mode for ultimate stability and fastest lap time on track, A2 for winding roads (fast street riding), and A3 for maximum comfort on the street.

Öhlins realizes that we all ride differently. So, as good as they believe the default parameters are within each mode, it is possible to adjust them by plus-or-minus five increments from default. In other words, if you feel the front of the bike is diving a little too much under braking, then try +1 or +2 on the braking parameter and see if there’s a difference.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR top speed
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

For the latter part of the Portimão test, after I’d done a lot of laps on the SP model, Honda allocated a 45-minute session. I was instructed to do a couple of laps, and then come in to the pits where they would make some changes to the settings. The idea was to experiment with the suspension, get my feedback after a couple more laps, and then change the setting yet again to see if I could tell a difference in the motorcycle’s behavior.

Holy moly, yes, I could! My first two laps were as before—the CBR1000RR SP behaved very well indeed. Perhaps it handled a little better than the standard RR, but both machines are remarkable bikes and share handling that is exceptionally light, neutral, and intuitive. I pulled back into the pits wondering what on earth they could do to improve it.

“Fast” Freddie Spencer (1983 and ’85 500cc Grand Prix World Champion) was on hand to help out. Spencer came up to me with an Öhlins engineer to ask what I was feeling. “Pretty good” I responded. “Actually, the bike is damn near perfect, I’m really not sure what you can do to improve it.”

I did mention the mild chattering I was getting at the front end under braking and the mild wiggling at the rear. Frankly, though, those are pretty typical behavior on any machine if you’re late on the brakes from high speed, so I almost didn’t bother to bring it up.

Spencer gave me a smile, added +2 to the braking parameter and told me that would stiffen it up a little. I headed out to see what changed.

Astoundingly, the chatter under hard braking had all but disappeared! I simply couldn’t believe it. I did two laps as instructed and came back in.

Spencer then told me he was going to +4 on the braking parameter just to see, again, if I could feel the change. Needless to say, I could, and it was a tad too much. The bike was now a little reluctant to turn in; clearly there wasn’t quite enough dive at the front end. Furthermore, the rear was starting to wriggle just a little coming back on the gas in that fast sweeper leading on to the straight.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR profile
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

In response, Spencer split the difference. He pulled the braking parameter back to +3 from default, and went to +2 on the acceleration parameter, and I headed back out on to the circuit again.

The result—the CBR1000RR had literally become a perfect handling machine for me, and my pace. I was astounded that easy to understand and simple to make changes had completely eliminated a couple of mild handling quirks—inconveniences I’ve dealt with across multiple machines for many years.

The CBR felt completely stable on the brakes and allowed me to shift my braking points several yards later on almost every corner on the track. Coming back on the power, the rear felt absolutely solid, allowing me to get on the gas harder. I didn’t take any lap times, but I’d be willing to bet that the changes had taken seconds off my time at Portimão. Needless to say, I have been converted. Of course, the Showa suspension on the base models could be tuned with a few clicks here and there to perform the same magic as the Öhlins-equipped bike, but the CBR1000RR SP package is impossible to beat. It turns the CBR1000RR into an everyman superbike, where you don’t need a WSBK suspension tech to help you with personalizing the handling—if you can click a handlebar switch, you can make it your own. If you experiment and don’t get it quite right, you can always change it back to default in a few seconds, and it’s easy to remember what changes you made.

This all new CBR1000RR is a quantum leap over its predecessor; it is at a whole new level, and not only gorgeous to look at, but it absolutely delivers. This is an all new motorcycle and not a gently warmed-over version of the old CBR; nearly all the parts are new, and redesigned to be lighter yet stronger. Honda has taken its flagship sportbike and developed a CBR1000RR that is considerably more powerful, dramatically lighter, and more agile. By relentlessly pursuing its concept of ‘total control’ Honda’s CBR is also more sophisticated and safer as a result. It is completely intuitive to ride, and that information won’t come as a surprise to Honda fans. However, to the rest, I can tell you, the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR is the complete package. It is a beautiful machine to look at, and a fantastic machine to ride.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR
2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review

Riding Style

2017 Honda CBR1000RR Specs:

ENGINE

  • Type: Inline-4
  • Bore x stroke: 76.0mm x 55.0mm
  • Displacement: 998cc
  • Valve train: DOHC; 4vpc
  • Compression ratio: 13:1
  • Cooling: Liquid
  • Induction: EFI; 48mm throttle bodies
  • Ignition: Digital transistorized w/ electronic advance
  • Transmission: Six-speed
  • Final drive: Chain

CHASSIS

  • Front suspension: Fully adjustable inverted 43mm forks; 4.7 inches of travel
  • Rear suspension: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable shock; 5.2 inches travel
  • Front tire: 120/70-17
  • Rear tire: 190/50-17 (standard); 190/55-17 (ABS, SP, SP2)
  • Front brakes: 320mm discs
  • Rear brake: 220mm disc
  • ABS: Standard (ABS, SP, SP2 only)

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

  • Wheelbase: 55.3 inches
  • Rake: 23.3 degrees
  • Trail: 3.8 inches
  • Seat height: 32.3 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 4.2 gallons
  • Curb weight: 430 pounds (standard); 433 pounds (ABS); 431 pounds (SP); 429 pounds (SP2)

2017 Honda CBR1000RR Colors:

  • Victory Red (standard)
  • Matte Black Metallic (standard and ABS)
  • HRC Tri-Color (SP and SP2)

2017 Honda CBR1000RR Prices (MSRP):

  • $16,499 (standard); $16,799 (ABS)
  • $19,999 (SP); $24,999 (SP2)

2017 Honda CBR1000RR Review | Photo Gallery