First Ride: 2008 Honda CBF600S

An easy learner friendly machine, or a bike with about as much soul as a sandbag? Honda’s middleweight goes for function over style...

When I’m grey and old I have an image of myself sitting back in a battered old chair recounting stories to my grandchildren of yesteryear. Of the times when petrol wasn’t £100 a litre, bikes didn’t have speed limiters and you weren’t required to fill out an NHS waver form to ride on two-wheels. I’d tell them of the time I rode on race tracks (something they wouldn’t understand as competitive sport has been banned due to it being discriminatory against the less-sporty), they would be aghast that gramps had exceeded 100mph, got his knee down and pulled a wheelie. But you know what, I reckon that if they asked me if I had ridden a CBF600S I would struggle to remember. Which is the problem with this new Honda: it’s an instantly forgettable bike.

I would like to state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the CBF. This year is has a new motor, taken from the 2007 CBR600RR and re-tuned to suit with more midrange, a stiffer and lighter aluminium chassis and, well that’s about all that is actually new. The problem is Honda has made this bike to be as easy as possible, which is fair enough considering the target audience. The CBF is aimed at new riders, those returning to biking and female riders, a phrase I always find very patronising as I don’t understand why manufacturers feel girls can’t ride big bikes. Unfortunately in making it appeal to this demographic Honda has sucked all the life out of the CBF. A bit like those Dementors keep trying to do to poor Harry Potter.

Fire up the engine and it makes an apologetic whirr as if almost embarrassed to be doing something as raucous as burning fossil fuels. It has a limp whine to it rather than a growl that might hint at its heritage. Lovely light clutch in, which has been designed with a dogleg to appeal to the digitally deficient, click a gear and off you go. Again, easy is the word as Honda has thoughtfully made this bike fairly unstallable, another nod to the newer rider. Open the throttle and, well not much really happens. Yes the speed increases but it’s hard to actually tell this due to the lacklustre motor and muted exhaust note. The CBF may have a claimed 76bhp but it’s delivered in a totally flat and insipid way. There is absolutely no excitement to be had from the engine, it’s the mechanical equivalent of beige. But it does what is required perfectly well with a smooth power delivery, excellent fuel injection and only a small vibration at speeds of over 80mph. Nice.

In its redesign the CBF has shed 8kg off its total weight and although it still comes in at a chunky 220kg wet the Honda handles surprisingly well. New forks, with adjustable pre-load, give it a solid front end feel and through the smooth tarmac bends we rode it was more than competent, giving a secure and balanced ride. I honestly can’t ever see its potential buyer putting the CBF through the kind of cornering abuse that we did and I’m certain new riders will find the handling reassuring without being too much on the sporty side.

As with most new-rider bikes ABS is standard on the CBF600S but it also comes with Honda’s linked brakes. On some bikes this system, whereby applying the rear brake also gives some front brake performance, can be intrusive but it suits the CBF perfectly. Yes it makes the brakes feel a little bit lifeless, but if a new rider has a bit of a panic grab it will bail them out of trouble. And as you would expect both the seat and screen are adjustable.

It really is hard to criticise the CBF600S because it isn’t a bad bike, it handles well, goes fairly briskly when encouraged and stops okay. A range of sensible extras including panniers and other touring inspired goodies have the potential to give it a whole new dimension, but will new riders really want this? At the end of the day for the asking price of £5,399 there are other new rider friendly bikes that are just as easy going, yet have far more of a sparkle about them. Buying a new bike is a huge step to someone who is just got their licence, and while the CBF offers them everything they could possibly need in a very easy package it doesn’t deliver biking in a very aspirational light. The CBF is a workhorse that will offer an absolutely identical, and very easy, riding experience every day of the week with no thrills. Is this really what you want?

Honda CBF600S Specs

Price: £5,399
Engine: 599cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve inline four
Power: 76bhp@ 10,500rpm
Torque: 44.3b.ft@ 8,250rpm
Front suspension: 41mm forks, adjustable preload
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brake: 296mm discs, three-piston calipers, ABS, CBS
Rear brake: 240mm disc, single piston caliper, ABS, CBS
Seat height: 785mm +/- 15mm
Fuel capacity: 20 litres
Top speed: 130mph (est)
Wet weight: 220kg
Colours: Black, Red, Grey or Silver