THE TT only finished last Friday, but it already feels like a long time ago. We went along with the good folks from Honda UK to watch some racing and ride some bikes, and had a smashing time on the Island for sure. We wrote about our first ride on the Honda Gold Wing the other day – and it was great to have a spin on the big old touring beast.
But we also had a morning out round the Mountain course on Honda’s CB1000R – the Neo Sports Café version of its old naked superbike. It was the first time I’d ridden the new bike, and the first time anyone had ridden it in ‘Britain’. Is the Isle of Man ‘Britain’ though? Wikipedia says it’s a British Crown Dependency. Hmmm.
Let’s say ‘the British Isles’ then, for accuracy. Geography and politics aside, the new CB1000R has a lot to live up to – the old version of the CB had been left unchanged for far too long, and while it was a great bike when ridden in isolation, the competition had been giving it a kicking for years. The likes of Yamaha’s MT-10, BMW’s S1000R and even the Kawasaki Z1000 and Suzuki GSX-S1000 all offered more performance, far more in some cases.
We covered the world press launch back in March here, and our man Rob Hoyles had a fab time riding it on the roads round Ronda and at the Ascari circuit. He liked the weight loss (down 12.5kg over the old one), the extra power (up 20bhp to 143BHP) and the handling, while questioning the tyres a bit. So how would 37 (and a bit) miles round the TT compare with a day out in Spain?
A bit cloudier to start with sadly. The weather at the TT has been amazing (and was later today actually) but we’re out at proper sparrow’s fart this morning, and it’s misty and cloudy in parts. We’re up at 5am and out for 6 – not because the Honda PR folk are terrible slave drivers, rather because we’ve got a special treat.
The big ‘H’ has flexed its muscles, and actually got the Manx authorities to shut the Mountain road for us for half an hour. Yep – we’re getting the one-way section from Ramsay to the Creg all to ourselves. The catch is the early start though – we have to be at the Hairpin out of Ramsey by 6.45am. Hence the sleepy schlepp up to the start line, down Bray Hill and round the first part of the circuit.
Amazingly, there are plenty of bods out and about riding the course already. We pass maybe 15-20 other bikes (and some sporty folks come flying past our chaperoned Honda convoy too). The Manx coppers are out too though, and we have to take care through all the urban speed limit zones. I’m still half-asleep obviously, but the CB1000R is making life easy for sure.
The new ride-by-wire throttle is smooth and progressive, and since I’ve not mustered the brain power to turn off the traction control, there’s no worries when I give it a big handful on the way into the ‘national speed limit’ zones. The suspension is plush, the front fork in particular offering loads of feel and feedback, even just pottering along.
The quickshifter fitted on these bike is also excellent – a reminder that even on ‘normal’ bikes, a really good one is a definite boon. It’s an option on the stock bike, and comes ready fitted on the ‘+’ model apparently. If I was signing the PCP papers on one of these, I’d deffo have a shifter one way or the other.
I always struggle a little to maintain concentration when riding round the TT course. There’s just so much history here, and there’s a real frisson when you pass all those mythical spots. Union Mills, Greeba Bridge, Glen Helen, Cronk-y-Voddy, they all trip off the tongue, and as ever, you struggle to comprehend how anyone can ride a bike through here at three, four, five times the speed you’re doing now. Later that week, Peter Hickman would set a new lap record of 135.452mph round here on a BMW S1000RR, ratcheting up the incredulity another notch…
The CB1000 is no S1000RR of course, but it’s got the heart of a superbike, using the latest ride-by-wire throttle off the 2017 Fireblade, and a tweaked version of the engine from the Blade too. The old bike was pretty lame in the power stakes, but this new version is much peppier. The motor has a strong low- and mid-range delivery, as you’d expect, but there’s much more going on up top too. It’s still a way off the lunacy of a Yamaha MT-10, or the BMW S1000R, say, but it’s right back in that ball park for sure.
Neither my sleepy brain nor the riding conditions (cool, cloudy, vigilant cops and dozy riders everywhere) are up to pushing anything particularly hard at the moment though, and I’m just enjoying the cruise round to Ramsey. But after the Hairpin, the road is closed, and we’ve got some pics at the Gooseneck, then a fast blast over the legendary Mountain road. Time to buckle up a bit and see what the new CB can do.
I’m probably at a dangerous point in terms of the TT course – I’ve been there a good few times over the past 20 years, so I know roughly how it goes. But of course, a little knowledge can be fatal here, and I’m sort of glad there’s a Honda guide rider up ahead, keeping it all dialled down a little. Out of the Gooseneck after some pics, and up past Joey’s and Guthrie’s past the little huts which give their names to their corners, along the Verandah and down to the Bungalow. It’s spoiled a little by all the traffic cones of course and the cop car, which gives me an involuntary twitch no matter how often I tell myself we’re fine to do 130mph+ here today…
Next is my personal favourite part of the course – Windy Corner – which would be a world-class epic piece of road, even if it wasn’t on the TT circuit. And before we know it, we’re past Kate’s Corner, running down to the Creg, and the end of the ride. A steady ride back to the hotel for a brilliant Manx breakfast (potato scones and everything, woo), and the day is off to a pretty amazing start.
The CB1000R has been great over here – stable, quick, easy to handle, and once you work out the traction control, good for a wheelie or two… It’s now got the performance to suit the class – and with the NSC Neo Sports Café styling, it also has something different to offer in terms of looks. We’ll be giving it a whirl against the opposition as soon as we can – but in the meantime, if you’re up for a big-bore naked roadster with style and substance, we can definitely recommend booking a demo ride on one of these with your local Honda dealer…