Motorcycling is often an exercise in compromise, and the new 2019 Honda CBR650R aims to perfect that recipe for riders looking to satiate their sport inclinations, without compromising practicality or comfort.The 2019 CBR650R replaces the popular CBR650F, and the new middleweight canyon-carver comes with a host of mechanical updates that aim to up the performance.
We took to the city streets and canyon roads of California’s Inland Empire to see what Big Red has up its sleeve with the 2019 Honda CBR650R.
Rev the 649cc DOHC inline-4 to the heavens and a-revving, we shall do. There are few things more satisfying than twisting the grip and sending the tachometer flying when aboard a middleweight four-cylinder motor and the 2019 Honda CBR650R is not shy to plunge deep into the revs, letting you extract every morsel of power on tap. Rolling the mechanical throttle open gives you access to tractable, linear power that kicks off at about 4k rpm, and doesn’t stop pulling until the soft rev-limiter hits at 12,500 rpm. Thanks to that broad powerband, the CBR650R has enough grunt down low for the dull life in the city with solid midrange perking up at about 6k, and all of that leftover high-revving joy ready for exploration once you’re aimed at the canyons.
2. Honda engineers teased out more power with choice hard-parts updates. Changes to hard parts come in the form of a new piston with an updated shape, revised cam profile, and revised valve timing. Additionally, a new airbox and filter work in conjunction with a ram-air intake to provide superior airflow. Having more slap in the saddle is always appreciated.3. Smoothing the engine to highlight the marble-slab power-curve was the main focus of the internal updates. Those mechanical changes have facilitated an increase to the redline by 1000 rpm, which has allowed engineers to tease out five percent more power above 10,000; peak horsepower and torque numbers hit at 12,000 and 8500 rpm, respectively. Honda North America doesn’t cite dynamometer figures, but the ol’ keister dyno says that it has horsepower production in the low-80s and ft/lbs of torque in the mid-40s.4. The slick six-speed gearbox now has the benefit of an assist-and-slip clutch. Honda claims that it has reduced the clutch pull by 12 percent compared to the CBR650F. We’ll take their word for the number, but the clutch pull is light enough to operate with one finger. Combined with a well-sorted gearbox, the light clutch-pull is a massive plus when trolling around in traffic. Of course, the slipper function helps reduce wheel hop when riding aggressively, which we can all appreciate.5. The 2019 Honda CBR650R cut some serious weight with its revised frame. In terms of geometry, the CBR650R hasn’t been altered with a 57-inch wheelbase and 25.3 degrees of rake. Honda engineers wanted to improve ride quality, rigidity, and mass centralization. To that end, a new engine-hanger uses a central crossbar that dampens engine vibration. Meanwhile, new stamped pivot plates save a commendable 4.1 pounds. The new seat-rail and subframe assembly is slightly higher and shortened by over two inches, bringing all of the CBR650R’s bits closer to the center of the machine compared to the F. The comfy sub-32-inch seat height remains the same, allowing my 32-inch inseam to get my boots on the ground easily. The swingarm is untouched, though the revised Showa shock mounts with a Heim-joint style connection, improving actuation through its stroke.6. A sporty, yet sensible riding position waits on the CBR650R. In contrast to the CBR650F, Honda placed the R’s clip-on risers under the top triple-clamp, lowering and moving the bars forward by 1.2 inches. Supplementing that move in the sporting direction is a marginal shift in the position of the footpegs, moving up a quarter-inch and back a hair, canting the rider triangle in a more aggressive position, distributing more weight over the front end. Still, with that fiercer riding position, you won’t find as much knee-bend or stress on your wrists as you would on your average supersport motorcycle, making this the sensible sportbike for the everyman.7. The 2019 Honda CBR650R gets fancy new Showa suspension. Although non-adjustable, the inverted 41mm Showa Separate Function Fork soaks up road impurities while offering more than enough support to have some fun in the canyons. Sprung and damped with streetable settings, the fork does perfectly well at pace with loads of positive feedback coming from the front end. The linkage-assisted Showa shock has spring-preload adjustment, and a similar story to tell—it keeps the rider safe from all but the harshest potholes, while still being firm enough to keep it all in shape when you get on the edge of the tire. At this price point, I would like to see adjustability in play, but outside of that, I didn’t find the suspension to be wanting.8. Fast or slow, the Honda CBR650R is ready to take on all situations. The CBR650R doesn’t have a singular, natural habitat like the CBR1000RR. Instead, Honda’s sporty middleweight is adaptable, thanks to its compliant handling. With your head down and utilizing that more aggressive position than the F, the CBR650R is pointed, taking direction effortlessly and enjoying the mile-a-minute life while scrubbing tires in. Better yet, transitioning through tight chicanes is done at a snap. While I only rode it on the street, I could see this bike being a hoot at the track. At lower speeds, the tight turning radius makes parking lot maneuvering a snap.9. New alloy wheels are part of the weight savings program. The five-spoke cast-aluminum wheels look the part, and play a prominent weight savings role by shedding a just over two pounds while also increasing rigidity. The 17-inch wheels are standard widths, and you can upgrade from the competent stock Dunlop Sportmax D412 rubber if you feel the need.10. The 2019 Honda CBR650R is nearly a dozen pounds lighter than its predecessor at the curb. Credit the half-gallon smaller 4.1-gallon fuel tank, revised frame, wheels, and other bits.11. More powerful radial Nissin brakes are part of the package. The Nissin calipers up front have been upgraded to four-piston and are now radially mounted. They clamp on 310mm rotors with plenty of stopping power at the lever and no sharp initial bite. The front braking system has a slightly stiffer feel, though it’s still easily modulated when trail braking or otherwise. At the rear, a single-piston caliper seizes upon a 240mm disc with plenty of feel.12. Traction control and ABS are optional, only as a package. For an additional $300, you can go for the ABS model—highly encouraged for street use. In either case, they don’t encroach on the ride. ABS cannot be disabled, but traction control can be quickly turned on and off at the touch of a button where you’d expect the high-beam flasher to be. 13. The 2019 CBR650R has a new LCD dash. It’s utilitarian in design, and has all of the necessary information that any rider could need at a glance with a fuel gauge, gear indicator, and more. I would like a brighter display, as it can become difficult to read in direct sunlight.14. The 2019 Honda CBR650R is the sport bike for those that need to get the most utility out of a motorcycle.Superbikes and supersport motorcycles are the kings of the track—there is no discussion there, but they falter severely when tapped for normal use. We can’t all live on the circuit, and many of us need to treat our steeds as multi-tools—commuter and canyon compatriot in equal measure. With a rev-happy motor boasting more than enough puff while still being manageable, plus compliant, balanced handling, and looks pilfered from the drool-worthy CBR1000RR, the 2019 Honda CBR650R stands as the realistic, attainable side of sport riding.Photography by Kevin WingRIDING STYLE