Honda CB1000R UK road test review

After years of trying (and failing) to make a decent streetbike has Honda finally got it right?

CB1000R review

Click to read: Honda CB1000R owners reviews, Honda CB1000R specs and to see the Honda CB1000R image gallery.

The Japanese motorcycle manufacturers can be a frustrating bunch. They have all the tools at their fingertips to create the most wonderful toys in the world, yet despite all this ability sometimes they manage to completely miss the mark. It’s almost as if too many people become involved in a project and muddy the previously clear waters. And for one reason or another in recent years they have been continually conspiring together to shoot wide when it comes to creating a decent streetbike.

Take the Kawasaki Z1000 for example. The first model looked stunning, but the engine was gutless. Then there was the ill-fated first generation FZ1, which Yamaha somehow managed to mess up the fuel injection on. Add to this list the hideous Suzuki B-King and it’s not a fairytale of success. no-one can hold a candle to the Japanese when it comes to cutting-edge sportsbikes, but even tiny Triumph and Aprilia can kick their arse when it comes to making a streetbike that ticks all the boxes. why is this?

Many will argue that a streetbike needs to have character and soul, but I reckon it’s simpler than this. A streetbike needs just a few simple, yet key, ingredients. It needs bottom end power, instant power, and lots of it. How often do you go over 100mph on a streetbike? Hardly ever, if at all. It’s impractical as well as bloody uncomfortable. A top whack of 130mph is more than enough, but it must get there (or at least to 100mph) pretty damn fast. Also important is a decent chassis. Gone are the days of the wobbly chassis being acceptable on a street bike. When even a cruiser comes with radial brakes and inverted forks, streetbikes can’t ignore the current fashion trends. Which leads neatly to the third crucial factor: these bikes have to look good. Image is everything in an unfaired bike. Riding a streetbike is even more of a statement than riding a sportsbike. Want to know why Suzuki is struggling to sell B-Kings, then look no further than the ridiculous rear end with its Dame Edna glasses on the end of the enormous pipes. Does anyone actually think this looks good?

So now, new for 2008 but actually a 2009 model due to the fact, much to the dealers dismay, that it arrived so late comes Honda’s CB1000R. When it was first shown reaction to the CB was mixed to say the least. Unfortunately, rather than the pretty white that this bike arrived in, Honda chose to unveil the bike in the drab pondweed green colour. emotion means so much with a streetbike and the only emotion that the green CB stirred was nausea.

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But now in the UK and with this white CB in front of me my opinions are rapidly changing. I was one of the many who ripped into the CB’s quirky look, but now, in the sun, it looks fantastic. It’s not over the top quirky like the new Z1000, and not plain like the FZ1, but hits a great compromise between the two. classy quirky, if there is such a thing. The single-sided swingarm and funky bendy-spoke rear wheel look aggressive, the fairing panels hide enough of the sides of the bike to keep a clean line and even the odd headlight/screen arrangement, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a face, looks cool. My only issue is the daft parking light which hangs below the main lens and reminds me of a golf ball. Actually worse than that: in combination with its face if you look head-on at the bike it looks like it’s being forced to wear one of those bondage ball gags that was made famous in the buggery scene in Pulp Fiction.

Moving onto slightly less unpleasant matters, and it was time to set off on a mini-adventure on the CB. With the UKs summer actually threatening to break through for few brief days I decided to take the Honda on a trip to England’s riviera, the east coast. starting at Hunstanton, or ‘sunny Hunny,’ I planned a gentle day’s ride along the coast before ending up in the east’s version of Las Vegas, Great yarmouth.

The blast up to Hunny involved the usual motorway slog that inevitably preludes any trip. With the CB’s tricky-to-spot digital speedo holding just under 90mph, and the large rev counter hovering low down the rpm numbers, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that by hunching down a bit the nose-cowl was reasonably effective. Lose the hunch and you’re talking the comfortable top speed being reduced to nearer 70mph, which is legal after all, but if you’re in a rush you can get away with it on the Honda. But not for that long. After 95 miles the fuel gauge was down to its last bar and that began flashing at just 110 miles. What is it with modern bikes? Do all the manufacturers think we are incapable of actually riding for more that 100 miles in a single hit? Throughout my whole time on the CB the best I ever managed to get was 135 miles before I was fairly certain I would be running out of fuel in the next mile or two. Pathetic, I don’t like being reminded how expensive fuel is on such a regular basis.

Arriving in Hunstanton at a fairly early hour I was surprised to find a few bikes on the sea front. During summer weekends this place is usually rammed full of bikers, all parked up on the front shooting the breeze and stuffing fish and chips down their necks, but on a midweek morning their numbers are reduced. A fortifying bacon buttie and a quick coffee later and I picked up the A149 that follows the coast around to Great Yarmouth.

With the nearness of Hunstanton it’s not surprising that this road has become a firm favourite with bikers who enjoy a gentle ride out. I say gentle because as well as being fairly tight and twisty the road also has its fair share of bumps and more than a smattering of tourists, attracted by the Norfolk crab. Yes, despite sounding like something you might catch on a night out in Yarmouth, Norfolk is famous for these prickly crustaceans. Every morning a variety of local shops boil, hack apart and stick them back inside their shells ready to be devoured by tourist and locals alike for £5 a crab. Shame I’m a staunch non-fish person.

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Beating a hasty retreat from the aroma of fish I took advantage of the quieter lunchtime roads and started to enjoy the big Honda. My huge bug-bear with the current crop of naked Japanese 1000s is the total lack of any bottom end. I don’t want to continually thrash a bike, especially not a big capacity naked tool. with the CB Honda has given me exactly what I was after. The engine is like a turbine, pulling completely linearly from 1,000rpm all the way to the 10,000rpm redline. For a smooth and hassle free engine it’s incredibly impressive and will happily pull top gear from just 2,000rpm with no protest, judder or anything. when I got back to the office I tried the same two up, and the Honda still refused to be upset.

Now, some people will argue that this smoothness makes the Honda devoid of any personality, but I disagree. It might not pack the excitement of a Tuono or Monster, but it’s far easier to live with than a V-twin. I know bikes are all about having fun, character and that kind of thing, but for many riders, myself included, they are also a means of daily transport. I couldn’t use a Tuono or Monster day to day, they would drive me mad with their aggressive throttle response and power delivery. Having ridden all of the current crop of streetbikes I have to confess that Triumph’s Speed Triple does have an engine that is more involving to use, but as inline fours go, the CB’s is fantastic and a class apart. For the first time a Japanese manufacturer has taken a good engine, in this case a 2007 Fireblade, re-tuned it and actually made a motor that is perfect for its purpose and not lacking in any way. And the handling is also up to the job. In this current day and age there is simply no excuse for a poor handling bike and the CB1000R doesn’t disappoint.

It’s solid when needed and still sporty enough to provide fun. I wouldn’t really describe the handling as razor sharp, more secure and unflustered. during the photoshoot I landed a small wheelie with the wheel still totally crossed and the CB just kicked once, righted itself and carried on unperturbed. I reckon it would take a fair amount to fluster the Honda and to prove the point I decided to take a bit of a detour back from Great Yarmouth and took the CB around Donington and it was excellent on track as well. But it isn’t perfect.

Unfortunately the bike Honda supplied me with came with its CBS braking system, which I hate. I have full use of both my fingers and foot and so am perfectly capable of applying either brake lever myself. The linked system takes all the feel from the front brake lever and makes them seem incredibly on/off. While there is no chance of locking the brakes due to the ABS, I quite like to moderate my braking rather than jerk up and down the road. But that’s just me.

I’m not quite sure what I expected Great Yarmouth to be like. Having visited, and been disappointed by, Blackpool I wasn’t counting on too much. I like tacky, but Blackpool is just plain shit. Yarmouth, on the other hand, is a laugh. The seafront was alight with the usual arcades, all flashing and beeping to attract punters like R2-D2 having a fit, and the locals seem fairly friendly. What wasn’t quite so good, however, was my hotel. But I guess if you pay £23.50 for a room, including breakfast, you can’t expect too much in the way of thrills...

Lying back in my bed, still wearing all my clothes for fear of catching the bad version of Norfolk crab from the sheets, I contemplated the CB1000R. As far as Japanese street bikes go this Honda is streets ahead. In my opinion it’s the first Japanese street bike that actually hits the mark. The styling, handling and brakes (minus the CBS) are all beyond doubt, but the motor will cause a debate. It’s super, turbine, smooth and packed full of power, but does it have soul, that thing that bikes such as the Tuono and Speed Triple have? I reckon it does. It’s an inline four, rather than a triple or twin, so it will always feel sanitised, but for me the power delivery is so smooth, instant and easy I just can’t help but love it. It’s taken them a long time, but Japan has finally made a decent streetbike.



If you are after a gentle, lazy track bike then the CB1000R is perfect. Around Donington I ended up leaving it in fourth gear for most of the lap and simply rolled on and off the throttle. For less experienced track riders it’s a great bike for learning circuit riding as you don’t have to worry about gears/ engine revs, just roll the throttle and the Honda delivers the power while you learn the lines.

The typical Honda hero blobs go down a week early and I was a bit nervous because the huge exhaust isn’t far behind, so it isn’t a bike to set lap records on. Although I took it out in the fast group, if you’re at that pace then the CB won’t be much fun for you, but if you’re new to track riding, only take in a few a year or just want to go fast but not totally mental then the CB1000R is more than up to the job.