Second Chance - Honda CBR600 2001-2006

Want it all? You're not alone. The CBR600F is Britain's best-selling motorbike of all time and not without good reason: it really is all things to all men (and women)

It's not Honda's best-selling sportsbike for nothing

Plenty of people overlook it in favour of its racy stable-mate, the newer 'double-R' CBR600RR. The truth is most of us would be better off with the 'F', even if it is considerably less glamorous. It's a totally practical bike but it'll still put 160mph on the clock and before Honda concentrated their efforts on the RR it was beating plenty of R6s and GSX-Rs in World Supersport racing too.
The 600 class went a bit doolally in 2003. Kawasaki launched the ultra track focussed, all new ZX-6R, Honda released the equally race biased CBR600RR, the Yamaha R6 took a step in that direction too while the GSX-R600 was already a full-on head banger. What had been a class with some genuinely versatile all-round machines became full of cutting-edge race reps almost overnight. Okay, sporty bikes sound great in theory. Massive power outputs, rapid steering and ultra strong brakes sound like a recipe for shenanigans aplenty. And on a race track that's generally the case. But the fact is that most of us spend the majority of our time riding on the road where crippling riding positions and incredibly revvy engines are just plain annoying - even if we pretend that's not the case on the day.

Fortunately Honda kept making the CBR600F. It'd be easy to think of it as a dull old-man's machine in the face of such hot new models. But the 'F' still puts out near as dammit 100bhp and it's light and fast enough to have a dice with pretty much anything on the road. Back in 2001-2002 it had plenty of race success as well, as Pera Riba and Fabien Foret scored plenty of wins in World Superstock racing - beating a field full of R6s, GSX-R600s and ZX-6Rs on numerous occasions. So it's hardly an outdated antique.

It does lack sex appeal, but it's fun to ride. On the road the CBR600F's a mix of user friendly cruisability with teeth and fangs when required. It'll potter all day and it's comfy for the rider under any conditions. It rolls predictably in and out of corners and boosts confidence. But if you want to go into attack mode, get the revs up and it turns into a decent carving tool. The brakes are reasonably strong but it's a light bike anyway, easy to fling about but never unstable or twitchy and there's enough power to keep pretty much anything in sight on the road. Works well on track days too.

Unlike so many of the latest machines it's got practical touches like space under the seat for locks, an easy ride position and mirrors that work.

If the looks are a little too old school for you, there's always the CBR600F-Sport model, sold in 2001 and 2002. It's pretty much identical to the regular 'F' but it's got a twin height seat which looks far more racy. It also has a black frame, a larger rear sprocket for better acceleration which results in a slightly shorter wheelbase too, and modified engine internals to aid race tuning.
The only significant model change during the 600F's existence was in 2005 when the adjustable suspension was replaced with non-adjustable units. The model ceased production in 2006 but there's still a few new, unregistered bikes in dealers on offer around the £5,500 mark. Which is probably too much.

Massive popularity means the range of bolts-ons available is colossal. You can fit three piece hard luggage and go touring two up, opt for fancy suspension and a full system and kick arse on track days or even choose flat bars and wacky bodywork and make a French-style special. You can fine tune the bike to fit your needs in pretty much any way you want - or just personalise it. There's always plenty of used parts in breakers and for sale on eBay too which always helps keep running costs down.

Downsides? There's not much low down torque, until you get to 4,000rpm very little happens and you need it between 8,000 - 14,000rpm if you really want to shift. Down-gearing with different sprockets is the answer although it means you'll need a gizmo (Yellow Box) to keep the speedo reading true. Fuel consumption's not superb but it's not as bad as many thrash-happy journos claim. Expect to average low 40s mpg and be aware the tank's not huge so you'll be filling up every 125 miles depending on how you ride.
Reliability's almost flawless. Six figure mileages are a distinct possibility if you stick to the maintenance schedule. Regulator/rectifier units can fail but later, more reliable ones can be fitted pre-emptively. Other than that, she's fit.