When I tested the all-new 2017 Honda CBR1000RR last year in Portugal, I was immediately impressed with it. It is a completely new motorcycle, and some 33 pounds lighter with around 10 more horsepower than the previous generation CBR1000RR.After spending time on the track, I was intrigued to try the CBR1000RR SP on the street. Yes, it performed admirably around the twists and hills of Algarve Circuit, Portimão, but would the big Honda be difficult on the street and turn out to be a one-track pony?
Even though we’re reviewing the 2017 model in ’18, the 2018 SP version of the CBR1000RR is unchanged from this test bike, save graphics, and is priced the same as it was in 2017.It arrives with all the bells and whistles, and those include a gorgeously finished HRC Tri-Color livery with eye-catching gold wheels, a seamless all-titanium gas tank, and possibly the smoothest up and down clutchless quickshifter I’ve ever used. This is a deliciously good-looking machine and, judging by the big thumbs-up and knowing nod I got from the Porsche 911 GT3 pilot on the freeway, I’m not the only one who thinks so.The big differentiator for the SP model is the second-generation Öhlins Smart Electronic Control suspension system.Because the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR is also the first Honda to feature ride-by-wire fueling, the CBR’s interface, viewed and accessed via the beautiful color TFT display, consists of three factory user modes—Fast, Fun, and Safe—that move to progressively gentler settings across all the functions.There are also two user-configurable modes for this sportbike. There, each of the four parameters—engine power aggressiveness, traction control interference, engine braking, and electronic suspension setting—can be adjusted individually.Engine power includes five levels of aggression, with 1 being the maximum. There are also nine levels of TC interference, with 1 being the least, plus three levels of engine braking, with 1 being the least.The fourth parameter is the five suspension setups, with the semi-active Auto 1 (Fast), Auto 2 (Enjoy), and Auto 3 (Safety). There is also a Manual 1 and 2 static setting where the damping does not electronically adjust automatically while riding, and the rider can choose static damping as desired.The main user modes cannot easily have their individual elements changed, so if you’re not quite happy with one of the three, then it’s best to use one of the custom user modes to set each of the four values individually. Fortunately, they are incredibly easy to set and can be done on the fly very simply using the Mode button and the up/down toggle.Essentially, if you show a 1 across all four parameters, then you’re in the sportiest mode the Honda offers. In order to test the suspension, I put the bike into user mode (custom) 1 and set the parameters to maximum power, least TC intrusion, and least engine braking. That then allowed me to try the three different semi-active suspension modes with everything else consistent, and by toggling through the suspension modes while riding I could discern the differences.The Öhlins system divides the suspension’s job into three distinct elements—braking, cornering, and acceleration. The active control only adjusts the suspension damping (rebound and compression) using stepper-servo motors. Preload is not adjusted, and has to be changed conventionally using wrenches if desired. Unless you are either unusually heavy or light, the stock spring-preload can stay as it comes out of the box. We felt no need to adjust it, as we fit in the typical range of rider weights.Of the three semi-active automatic and two manual suspension modes, the latter two simply keep the damping in default factory settings. I didn’t bother with those. It seems to defeat the purpose of having advanced suspension if you don’t use the dynamic setting where it is constantly adjusting for riding surface conditions and rider aggression level.My typical 250-mile Saturday loop has a 30-minute freeway drone on rain-grooved LA concrete before I get to the twisties; it’s a good test of a suspension’s bump absorption ability.The Honda is immediately impressive; it is supple and controlled. The CBR1000RR SP’s suspension is, of course, sportbike firm. The freeway ripples were clearly making the Öhlins at both ends work pretty hard, yet the chassis stayed planted and level. Very little of the freeway unevenness came through to me at the controls, leaving the bike just floating along nicely.The Honda’s Öhlins suspension feels just a tad faster reacting, a little more responsive and compliant than conventional suspension on other literbikes; yet the damping reacts so very fast that the bike doesn’t wallow at all. Even in A1 suspension mode, the Honda felt a little smoother than other machines I’ve tested; clearly a lot of work has gone into making this semi-active suspension work so well.Because the spring preload is not adjusted, there isn’t a massive difference between the three different Automatic suspension levels on the freeway. However, the overall reactive level of the Öhlins system changes between the three levels, and that is noticeable; the CBR1000RR SP suspension feels softer going from A1 to A3; it’s just more comfortable in the third mode if the road is rough.Leaving our rendezvous point in Sunland and heading up the hill towards the Angeles National Forest, the road has a ton of sweeping turns—some very fast, others not so much. Trouble is, a lot of the pavement is in poor condition and there are ridges, ripples, and tar snakes galore through every corner, with most of them running perpendicular across the road. That’s not a great combination on any bike, and especially if a bump coincides exactly with a turn-in point. However, that’s where the Öhlins semi-active suspension really shines.Even in the stiffest (A1) setting, the rapid damping response of the Öhlins suspension ensured that the CBR1000RR SP absorbs bumps in an instant, yet the suspension settles so quickly the chassis gets less upset than conventionally suspended machines I’ve ridden on this road. The smoother ride translates to being able to maintain corner entrance speed—not to mention it’s a lot easier on the rider.Interestingly, even suspension mode A3—which is certainly a little more comfortable—still allows the Honda to handle well. If you happen to come across a set of fast twisties on a smooth piece of tarmac and find yourself caught in that softest mode, the CBR1000RR SP will still handle perfectly well and won’t wallow through the corners.Right from the get-go, the Honda immediately felt fast and very capable; the handling is neutral and the Honda is happy to turn-in on command. The CBR1000RR SP is also a beautifully stable motorcycle, and yet it feels quite light and agile. The lighter weight over the previous generation can be felt, and it makes this a relatively low-effort motorcycle to ride fast. The handling is smooth and predictable. Despite considerable speed on a gnarly surface, the CBR felt well within its limits and the suspension felt superbly controlled.The motor develops power in a similarly velvety way. The CBR1000 RR SP is liter bike fast and, unlike some of its other peers, it doesn’t have any uncomfortable raw edges to it. It’s a little deceptive how fast it really is.The motor itself is incredibly smooth with very little vibration; it spins up freely and quickly. The throaty exhaust note is beautiful and quite loud—actually I’m a little surprised that it’s street legal.In the softest power mode, the motor is tamped down with a very moderate power increase through the first four gears and high TC intervention. In combination with the TC, this setting is very mild, and coming out of a tight first gear hairpin the CBR1000RR was very held back when I hit the throttle hard. The other two riding modes unleash the Honda’s power a lot more aggressively in the lower gears, with power setting 1 being easily the most aggressive.Having said that, the power is very linear and the CBR1000RR just doesn’t feel like it has quite the punch of its peers. It’s not that it lacks horsepower—and you can’t use true literbike power on the street anyway. It’s more that the feeling is generated by the tightly controlled fueling and TC combos; the Honda just feels a little softer than other literbikes.In all of the modes there was a small hesitation at minimal throttle openings when coming on the power. It was most pronounced in the most aggressive mode and, although I hadn’t noticed it on track, on the street it can be felt. I suspect it is an emissions issue, and likely overcome with a Power Commander and JETT Tuning type dyno run.The CBR1000RR’s electronics suite has its origins in the MotoGP RC213V and subsequent street/track version, the RC213V-S that we reviewed a couple of years ago. The electronics do not contain dedicated wheelie control; it is linked to the traction control. However, the system also uses pitch data coming from the IMU, as well as wheel speed differentiation, to reduce wheelies.It works quite well, although even in the minimal intrusion setting (1) the CBR1000RR will interrupt a wheelie fairly rapidly in the early gears if you manage to defeat the system and get the front wheel lofted high. It intimidated me a little, as I didn’t feel the control I normally like when the front comes up. Those of you who don’t like wheelies will be delighted at the effectiveness of the combined CBR electronics.Likewise, the non-adjustable cornering ABS cannot be separated from the traction control function. Again, it uses data from the IMU and the rear-wheel lift mitigation is very good. It keeps CBR1000RR SP’s chassis stable during big weight transfer under heavy braking.Pro-level racers don’t like all these functions consolidated into one area. For mere mortals who do some track days and ride on the street, the electronics are ideal because they are so effective. Honda is particularly good at making smooth, sanitized machines that excel as streetbikes. The 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP is the perfect example of how well Honda’s engineers accomplish that objective.If I have a criticism, it is that the Honda is perhaps a little too refined. The CBR1000RR SP does not quite have that raw edge on some of the other literbikes out there.I don’t want to make that a bad thing as the CBR is so wonderfully capable in every area, and it is easy to ride fast. Truth is, if you’re a decently fast, expert-level track day guy, you’ll probably go faster on the Honda than on almost any of its peers. The 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP is that forgiving and easy to ride.Braking on the Honda CBR1000RR SP is handled by radial Brembo monoblock calipers with a radial master cylinder. The system provides linear braking with a street-friendly long and soft initial bite at the lever.Although I never had an issue with the front brakes, they’re not the best I’ve used. I’m still a little bemused as to why any factory still chooses to fit rubber brake lines on a high-end machine, especially this gorgeous CBR. To add braided steel lines would barely change the price, and I can’t see any owner not wanting them.At any rate, the brakes are aided by Honda’s ABS system that now takes lean-angle data from the five-axis IMU, as well as the wheel sensors. This allows for aggressive trail braking up to the apex of a corner. The system delivers an extra sense of security when braking hard on the road. Although I didn’t try to lock up the front wheel in a corner to test the ABS, it was nice knowing it was there for when the unexpected happens.The Honda CBR1000RR SP’s instrument pod is a modestly sized full-color TFT display that is easy and intuitive to read. The information is comprehensive and the mode settings in the bottom left corner are easy to read and figure out.The readout can be switched between a conventional street layout, and a circuit layout with lap timer (and pull switch on the left handlebar) if you decide you want lap times at a track day. There’s also a ‘mechanic’ layout that gives more technical information including the digital tachometer, gear position, twistgrip angle, coolant temperature, and battery voltage.I only used the street layout and I was very happy with it, except that there’s no fuel gauge—a little odd. There’s a conventional low-fuel light, and when that come on, the normal fuel information (consumption and avg. consumption, but no range) changes to a miles-to-empty readout. Clearly all the sensors are there, so I’d prefer to see Honda put a traditional fuel gauge on the instruments in future.The Honda CBR1000RR SP is an absolutely typical Honda, and that’s a huge compliment. It does everything superbly well. The CBR is targeted to the street rider who does occasional track days, and any owner will not be disappointed.The CBR1000RR SP is uncannily smooth, and the semi-active Öhlins suspension is really, really good. It turns bad pavement into good pavement, and when you find good, smooth pavement the Honda’s handling is neutral, agile, and absolutely dependable. There’s simply no weirdness with it at any speed.If I have a criticism, it’s that the CBR1000RR SP is perhaps slightly too sanitized. Other motorcycles in this class have that slight edginess that Honda has so beautifully tuned out. That’s no bad thing, but it is something to consider depending on your preference. Truth is, slightly less committed riders than full-on professional racers, will likely go faster on the Honda than on other bikes, as it is slightly more forgiving and a tad more controlled than its peers. Personally, I absolutely loved riding it.But no matter which way you slice it, Honda has thrown all its considerable technical expertise and racing knowledge at the awesome 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP, and the factory has managed to make a machine for the expert-level masses who will be able to go fast in safety. The CBR will help bring out the best in your riding, and you will have a blast while doing it.Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style
KTM RC 390 and Gordon McCall of Quail Motorcycle Gathering
byMotos and Friends by Ultimate Motorcycle
Hello and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly Podcast—Motos and Friends.
This week’s Podcast is brought to you by Yamaha motorcycles. Discover how the YZF-R7 provides the perfect balance of rider comfort and true supersport performance by checking it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or see it for yourself at your local dealer.
This week features Senior Editor Nic de Sena’s impressions of the new KTM RC 390. The entry-level KTM has always been an impressive motorcycle that has sold extremely well, however the factory has now taken the bike to another level, with top-spec features that are typically found on flagship machines. Clearly KTM has realized that even smaller engined machines should have high spec suspension, brakes and electronics packages. Nic tells us how well the new RC 390 is equipped, and what he thought of riding the smaller displacement rocket.
In the second segment I chat with automotive and motorcycle industry icon, Gordon McCall. Gordon is the Director of Motorsports at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, California.
This weekend of Saturday May 14th sees the annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering re-start after its Covid-forced hiatus, and having attended every one of the previous Motorcycle Gatherings, personally I’m very happy that the event is back on the schedule. Gordon chats about the event and a little of what’s happening this year. It’s a great event and if you feel like a trip to the gorgeous Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, you’ll get to meet Gordon, Roland Sands, and of course a large number of stunning motorcycles too.
From all of us at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!