General

2007 Honda CBR600RR launch report

Honda flew Chris Moss to the US to test the new CBR600RR

At a glance, Honda's new CBR600RR looks very similar to last year's bike. But it's actually all new, and riding it proves the 07 bike is significantly better overall.

You could have argued that the outgoing model was good enough to stay in production unaltered, but the popularity of rivals like Yamaha's R6 was starting to affect the sales of the Honda so it was time for a radical change. Though in fairness, Honda's development policy of thoroughly upgrading its key bikes every four years conveniently meant the CBR was due to be overhauled anyway.

Anyone buying the new bike will be more than pleased with the progress made with the way it rides. It's quite a bit more fluid, responsive and positive than the 06 bike and riding it faster is actually a fair bit easier. And I say this with some credibility after riding many of the current models as a tester, and instructor at the Ron Haslam race school at Donington Park.

The biggest and most noticeable difference between the two bikes is the way the new bike handles. With an all new frame and swingarm which features a slighter steeper head angle, and a 20mm shorter wheelbase, the '07 bike feels much lighter on its feet and steers appreciably more quickly. A fair bit less effort is needed to heave the bike off-line into and out of corners, and excellent suspension and tyres make sure it always stays bang on the chosen route. As does the new electronic steering damper, similar to the oft-praised unit fitted to the Fireblade.

There's no doubt the claimed reduction in dry weight of a massive eight kilos, bringing it down to a class-leading 155kilos, has also had a profound effect on the way the new CBR can be manhandled more easily. And given that the bike was launched at the highly varied and challenging Barber Motorsport Park in the US and the ease with which the Honda could be pushed and shoved around the place, saying the bike will make a brilliant trackday tool, even in standard trim, has plenty of clout.

It really is a sorted chassis and even the first few steady laps of the unfamiliar track could still be set at a decent pace thanks to the very balanced and neutral feel of the bike. The lightness, and easy steering is apparent even heading down the pitlane and though the front end of the bike feels a bit too soft and plush at a standstill, it gives a comfortable and planted sensation once on the move. Also aiding the easy feel is the slightly more roomy riding position created by 10mm higher bars and narrower tank. Better control and a chance to move around the bike more easily are the result of these tweaks, and in the more intense world of riding on track they're a welcome bonus.

The circuit has a fair few blind corners and sections, and combined with my lack of recent inexperience on track thanks to some injuries sustained in a crash earlier in the year, I had some reservations about riding hard and fast. As usual though, the Honda helped me with those worries, and because I quickly developed strong faith in it, I felt at ease and keen to attack from the very first lap. And that confidence was about to get stronger.

Once we'd all had one session on the bike the Honda mechanics tweaked the suspension a few clicks to firm it up more to suit the speed of the track riding. The effect of this very slight tuning is quite profound. Instantly, the bike feels even more capable and composed. There's even more control under braking and power, and the feel and feedback from the specially-developed Bridgestone BT-015 tyres is much sharper " allowing you to read the track more, and up your aggression and speed with even more confidence. Hauling the Honda up from very high speed couldn't have felt much more certain, and with new brakes nicked from the Fireblade, there's always stacks of power to kill the pace. But it's their progression and the taut feel from the front end that's just as important to the security. Some journalists complained of a lack of slipper clutch to help them deal with some rear end bouncing and sliding under very heavy braking for the circuit's tight hairpin. I'd say the saving in cost and weight which Honda engineers used to justify the omission of a slipper clutch is acceptable enough. Besides, changing down through the slicker gearbox a bit later and a slight tug on the clutch lever solved the 'problem' for me quite nicely.

When it comes to gaining and maintaining speed Honda has also done a very good job with its all-new motor. A fair bit lighter, and a lot more compact, the in-line four has improved the handling by helping with the mass-centralisation, and the way it so smoothly delivers its power. It only makes another 3bhp more than the current bike with its claimed 118bhp maximum occurring another 500rpm higher up the rev range, but it's the fuller and more smoothly delivered surge that's the real secret behind the manageability of the latest engine. Gone are the old motor's extra kicks at 7000 and 10,000rpm, replaced by a much more linear and seamless build up.

It equates to little bit less hunting for the gear and clutch levers to keep the the engine in its sweet spot, and though the very best and considerable power is still reserved for the highest rpm, the new mid-range surge will be great for overtaking or just upping the pace quickly when you need to. We might have thrashed the bike for all it was worth most of the time at the track, but a lazy lap spent riding behind the camera car to get photos highlighted just how much gutsier the new motor is compared to the old one and how much better it'll be on the road. And though this is a very bold claim to make, I'd say the grunt of the Honda is in a same league as the slightly bigger 636cc engined Kawasaki ZX-R6 " a bike I'm currently testing on British roads.This new flexibility combined with predictable handling makes the new bike significantly easier to get the best from. It's a real step forward and could well make the CBR the 600 to have next year. It's far more up to date than the Suzuki GSX-R 600, distinctly more versatile than the highly focussed Yamaha R6, and more polished than the superb Triumph 675.

All that remains to be seen is whether the Honda can match Kawasaki's new 600cc ZX-6R which, coincidently will be launched in a couple of weeks time at the very same track. It'll have to be pretty damned good to beat or even match the new CBR, which is even more of a Honda than the old one was " sorted and easy to use whether you're Fred Bloggs or Sebastian Charpentier, the current world supersport champion who thinks the new bike is "formidable" even in standard form. And you can't really get a better vote than a world champ's can you?

STAT BOX - CBR600RR

Price: £7,499 (est)

Performance: 170mph

Power: 118bhp @ 13,500rpm

Torque: 49ft/lbs @ 11,250rpm

Engine: 599cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, four-valves per cylinder, in-line four

Seat height: 820mm

Dry weight: 155kg

Bore x Stroke: 67 x 42.5mm

Compression ratio: 12.2:1

Transmission: six-speed

Available: February 2007

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