The CBR650F design team included a number of young engineers who were tasked with creating a thoroughly modern and unique sport bike that would slot nicely between the beginner-friendly CBR500R and the track-ready CBR600RR
Story by Costa Mouzouris
Photography: Bill Petro
There’s been a sharp decline in sales of middleweight supersport bikes over the last few years, kicked off by the economic crash of 2008, then continuing to drop as insurance rates skyrocketed. This is the main reason that BMW, a company currently enjoying success with its open-class S1000RR supersport machine, put plans to introduce a 600 cc variant on the backburner a few years ago. (Bet you didn’t know that, but it was confirmed by former BMW Motorrad chief Hendrik von Kuenheim.) However, economics aside, riders are also maturing and are looking for a more versatile and street-friendly middleweight sport bike, which is something that’s been absent from Honda’s line-up of late.
This wasn’t always the case. Honda’s last sporty middleweight all-rounder was the CBR600F4i, which was initially introduced in 2001, though it was the successor to a series of street-friendly CBR models dating back to the CBR600 Hurricane of 1987. It was in 2003 that Honda put a sharper focus on the racetrack and replaced the F4i with the CBR600RR. It wasn’t over for the f4i, however, as it was offered in parallel to the RR in other markets. For a single year in 2006, it made a Canadian comeback and was offered alongside the CBR600RR as a more street-oriented sport bike option.
A Bike for Real-World Riding
Honda has finally brought back a middleweight sport bike that turns down the sharp-edged racing focus a few notches, and offers riders a more useable middleweight sportbike package. It’s the 2014 CBR650F, and it slots in nicely between the beginner-friendly CBR500R and the track-ready CBR600RR. We sampled it during a press intro held in Ontario’s Renfrew County, where we headquartered at the Calabogie Peaks Resort, which is surrounded by hills, lakes and winding roads – the ideal sport bike setting.
The CBR650F is not based on an existing platform and is an entirely new machine. It’s also not a showcase of radical new technology. Rather, it’s a simpler design that uses a steel frame to cut costs (as opposed to the RR’s aluminum frame), and has modest engine and suspension specs. There’s no slipper clutch or quick shifter, nor any other track-day features.
A full fairing and bodywork give the CBR650F a very sporty appearance, and from the side it bears a family resemblance to its two smaller siblings, the CBR300R and CBR500R. It has a unique nose, however, using a single headlight that’s very close in design to the headlight on the CB500X. The exhaust header has a distinctive bend reminiscent of the CB400 Four of the mid-1970s, and there’s a single muffler mounted beneath the bike. Overall, the styling comes together and it looks sportier than its spec sheet suggests.
The riding position is relaxed, with a slight forward lean to the raised clip-on handlebars, which are mounted somewhere between a supersport and a naked bike in height. There’s ample legroom (there’s actually more legroom on the CBR650F than on the new VFR800F), and the seat, although firm, is flat and relatively comfy.
Minimal info is available in the LCD instrument panel, which has two screens. On the left display are the digital tachometer and speedometer; on the right are the odometer, twin trip meters, clock, warning lights and fuel gauge.
It Starts With a Blank Canvas
Its 649 cc liquid-cooled inline four is not a revised version of the F4i mill, nor is it a detuned version of the CBR600RR engine, which is what powered the CBF600 in 2010. It’s an all-new design, with new crankcases, cylinder and head. The cylinder bank is canted forward at 30 degrees for a lower centre of gravity, and stacked transmission shafts shorten the crankcase front to rear. Although the engine has the same 67 mm bore as the F4i and the current CBR600RR, it has a longer 46 mm stroke (up from 42.5 mm), and is tuned with an emphasis on low- to midrange torque, so it’s not a high-revving screamer. Claimed peak torque is 46.5 ft-lb at 8000 rpm. Honda Canada doesn’t publish horsepower figures, but European specs put the CBR650F at 85 hp, up from the 77 hp of the CBF600. The fuel injection system uses a mechanical linkage and cables, so there are no selectable ride modes, traction control or any other such electronic rider-assist features. Despite the bike’s…