Ten years is a long time in motorcycling. Valentino Rossi was MotoGP world champion while Troy Bayliss dominated World Superbikes. Oh, and Honda launched the CB1000R, a bike that promised so much but just didn’t quite deliver on all counts. But that was 2008, and the difference a decade makes was illustrated to great effect at the launch of Honda’s all-new naked litre bike in Spain this week.
It’s unfair to say the old CB1000R was underwhelming, but having tested it for this very website against its spunkier European rivals back in 2009, it really felt as though Honda had missed a trick. All the ingredients were there: a typically Honda-neutral chassis; a 2006 Fireblade motor; a sweet single-sided swinging arm and angular styling that still doesn’t look particularly dated.
The trouble was, up against the likes of Ducati’s Streetfighter and Triumph’s Speed Triple, the retuned (read massively detuned) motor lacked more than just horsepower; it lacked soul. Throughout the launch, Honda made quite a point of telling us that styling was its number one priority. And while just a quick glance at the end result of several years of collaboration between Italian stylists and Japanese engineers — along with public feedback from the ‘Neo Sports Café’ concept bikes shown at Milan over the years — backs that up, the improvements are far more than skin deep. But then the Japanese are well known for their modesty.
The new bike looks a world away from its predecessor. I’m not going to waste words describing it; you can make your own mind up whether you like it or not. But what you can’t see in photos or understand from reviews is the attention to small details that make this revamp all the more impressive. But if you can’t be arsed to get yourself along to a Honda dealer, then I suppose I’d better have a go at the latter for you anyway.
The bike looks incredibly short but the wheelbase is actually a few millimetres longer than the old one due to the decision to fit a fatter 190-section rear tyre. This illusion of shrinkage comes from moving the ignition barrel in front of the fuel tank rather than plonking it in the top yoke which in turn meant Honda were able to position the compact headlight far closer to the rider.
Similarly, moving the numberplate to an ugly lump of plastic that bolts to the otherwise gorgeous single-sided swinging arm means the rear end needs to be no longer than the pillion seat. We can see sales of tail tidies soaring in May when this bike hits the showrooms.
When it comes to a top quality finish, this bike will only have enhanced Honda’s reputation. Those brushed aluminium accents on the front mudguard, instrument, radiator and injection shrouds are just that: aluminium not faux look-a-like plastic. The CB1000R logos aren’t decals; they’re etched into the metal.
Then there’s the detailing on the clutch cover and cylinder head that has been complemented by plain steel bolts along with some very neat machining on the footrest hangers. All small details but they really pop out when you see the bike in the metal and the lack of plastic (only six small plastic parts have been used throughout the entire bodywork) help the bike to feel as though it’s been machined out of one solid lump of steel. And yet it’s 12kg lighter than the old model.
Much of that weight has been lost in the gruff-sounding four-into-two exhaust system (4.5kg) while the bulk of the rest has been shed thanks to the clever design of the mono backbone steel frame, saving a further 2.5kg as well as adding neat touches such as pillion grab handles machined into the rear subframe itself, saving a few more precious grams. It also allows the seat be slimmer (the pad could be a little softer though), so shorter riders shouldn’t struggle so much with its 830mm height.