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Three Bikes one day – life with the CBR family

We spent a day riding all three bikes from the Honda CBR range, back to back. Here’s what we found.

AS days go, Wednesday the 10th April 2019 was up there with the best. I’d just taken collection of Honda’s cracking little entry level sports bike the CBR500R, I had a track launch planned on the CBR650R to test Arai’s new Profile-V sports touring helmet. And then Honda invited me to try the Ron Haslam Race School Elite Experience riding the awesome Honda Fireblade SP.

Part 1 – CBR500R to Donington Park

I’d already had a blast on the CBR500R the day before the track launch and was completely won over by the bikes ease of use and sweet handling. Thankfully the ride to Donington was dry but bitterly cold as I donned my crusty leathers.

Thankfully the route to Donington takes in the A444 that leads from the A5 to the A42. It’s a simple enough road to ride but includes some fast sweeping bends that for the most part allow you some good visibility of what’s coming the other way. It’s a perfect setting for the Honda, with most of the corners taken flat in 4th and 5th gear with the bike bouncing off the rev limiter.

In the slower corners, twin piston single disc setup works great. And so it should – it’s the same setup Honda used on the NC750 tourer. On the NC it felt vague and for the most part overworked. In the diminutive CBR (that’s about 40kg lighter) it’s more than up to the job and gives good feel at the lever and bags of power.

With the pre-load wound up slightly from stock – it was too spongy to start with – the little CBR did it’s best to keep my mind off the biting cold and instead was egging me on to carry more and more corner speed into the sweeping bends after Twycross village. Tucking in and nudging the tank with my chin, if it wasn’t for the four-stroke sound-track, I could have sworn I was riding one of the GP 250 replicas from the 90s.

Pulling into Donington and a quick check of my watch tells me my morning blast had taken just 40-minutes from door to door. And here’s the important bit – I’ve ridden that route 100s of times before. On everything from Superbikes like the Kawasaki H2, to tourers like the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S. And I’d just completed the same journey on a 46.7bhp, A2 licence compliant sports bike, in pretty much the same time. On the H2 and 1260 S, I bet I rarely used the full amount of power available but on the CBR I was constantly on the throttle and it made the ride so engaging.

Part 2 – Ron Haslam Premier Experience CBR650R

I’m a big fan of Honda’s new supersport machine, ever since riding the bike on the launch in Almeria earlier this year. Capable suspension, great brakes and a peach of an engine make it a thoroughly enjoyable bike to take on a twisty B-road. And probably one of the best twisty B-roads is the never-ending one, located just south of Derby and to the west of East Midlands Airport.

The first session out was a steady affair, we were in groups of two with one instructor to each pair, as it takes a few laps for our coach to gauge the level of each student. By lap four we’re starting to pick up the pace and my turn in and braking points are beginning to come back to me. As the pace rose the CBR650R was showing that the capable road bike of the press launch, was just as much of a joy when knitting together apexes down Craner Curves.

With the track-time in the sessions shared between the Elite (Fireblades) and us on the Premier Experience, it was interesting to see how long Honda’s new middleweight could hang with the Fireblade SP. Surprisingly well is the answer, with a good run down Craner you could keep a decent Elite rider within reach until the exit of McLean’s, where the 190hp of the ‘Blades would send them into the distance. Not bad for a bike with nearly half the horsepower and fewer performance parts.

I’ve been lucky enough to do the Haslam School a few times now, with the last time being on the outgoing CBR600RR. Look, it’s a mythical bike with a legendary reputation, so I totally get why people gave the new CBR650R some stick when it was released but it really is unfounded. Yes, the new bike doesn’t have the screaming redline or knife edge handling. But it’s a million times more comfortable, better to ride around town and I’m pretty sure for 90% of the visitors to the circuit, just as enthralling to ride. It’s got torque in all the places that the old CBR600RR didn’t, making it easier to ride fast if you’re less experienced. The suspension is plush but not overly soft and it’s just a much nicer place to be – in my mind at least.

Part 3 – Ron Haslam Elite Experience CBR1000RR SP

Having already spent the day hooning around the track I was pretty much knackered but the prospect of hurling myself around the Derbyshire countryside on a 190hp superbike kept me going. After a quick introduction to Barry my instructor, we talked about previous experience and riding history before heading out for session one.

It was horrific if I’m honest, missed apexes were one problem but the fact I was almost always a gear to high was the biggest issue! The on-bike telemetry was a shit-show, with my best effort being a 2:03secs. After a quick chat about body position and gears, we take on some water and head back out to see what session three will bring.

The difference is immediate, the bike feels much more eager out of the slower turns and with my body now further off the side of the bike I’m asking less of the tyres and able to put more power through them on the exit of the corner. By the end of the session, my best time is showing as a 1:59, which for a newbie to Donington on a big sportsbike, I didn’t think was too bad!

By the end of the day I’d managed to shave another few seconds off my time, reducing it to a 1:56 which in itself isn’t anything amazing, but the manner in which I was riding was like night and day compared to the first session. By the end, it almost felt slower and was so much easier to ride. It’s the kind of things that come naturally to an avid track day rider or club racer, but for me, it goes against all my commuter-riding instincts!

Big thanks to Honda, Arai and the Ron Haslam Race School for having Visordown along.

The Race School caters for everyone, from teenage learners looking to make their first steps in the world of two wheels, to club racers looking for a helping hand with their riding.

For more information head to: www.haslamraceschool.com

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