Middleweight 650s haven’t always been renowned for being particularly luxurious, fast or exciting. Well,thankfully, Honda are looking to move the gameon with their revitalised duo
Who here remembers the CBR600RR? Thought you did. Those things were, and still are, bloody awesome. Yet when it was ditched from the line up, it was up to Honda’s previous CBR650F to pick up the sporty middleweight mantel… and it never really set the sports bike scene alight. I mean, it was almost a 600cc, but just not quite there. It was a bit weighty, lethargic and generally uninspiring compared to a screaming six when it came to providing that ball-bustingly exciting ride and offering any serious hooning abilities.
Thankfully though, Honda have been back to the drawing board and come back with something they tell us is faster, smarter and downright sexier. They’ve even dropped the ‘F’ in the name for an ‘R’. Just what we like to see, here at Fast Bikes Towers.
It’s not just the name which appears to be sportier, either. The clever chaps in Japan have been busy behind the scenes making the CBR650R leaner, meaner and mightier than ever before.
For starters, even though it uses the same engine as before, the ’19 machine has new cam and valve timings, a revised piston shape and compression ratio, iridium spark plugs, a revised intake and a brand new exhaust system. The result is 5% more power than before and a powerplant that revs 1,000rpm higher at the top end with a much more significant pick up above 7,000rpm. Win. By milking that motor just a little bit more and utilising ram air at high speeds, the CBR650R now offers your right wrist a very reasonable 93 horsepower on tap, and a smoother ride to get there, thanks to re-shaped gear teeth and a 12% lighter clutch as an added bonus. It’s not all about the go though, as Honda have sent the CBR650R to fat camp and shaved off a whopping 6kg. The frame is now a steal diamond unit with a slightly different degree of rigidity; the fuel tank is slightly smaller; and some new wheels and footpegs also help to shed some timber. Throw a slightly sportier riding position into the mix, uprated suspension and dress it in a Fireblade-esque cloak; and it sounds like a pretty kinky concoction by our standards, so we just had to nip over to Spain and give it a blast to see if it really is a worthy replacement for the CBR600RR.
You know what, from afar, and indeed up until I got within touching distance, my eyes were genuinely tricked into thinking I had a ’Blade sitting in front of me. From the styling, to the colours and even the finish, the CBR650R screams a price tag higher than the one bestowed, and hopping on board only reaffirmed the feeling. The riding position is indeed slightly sportier than before, and although it’s not quite in the back-breaking superbike region, it does feel like a proper sportsbike. Even the LCD dash is a really nice addition for a bit of class, although between us it could do with being a bit brighter in the sunshine. When fired up, to my surprise the exhaust note was damn sweet, and pulling away the clutch was incredibly light with a throttle response silkier than a pint of Baileys on ice. Even though Honda have jacked up the power, the fuelling and feel at the bottom end of those 649 cubes was sublime.
The best bit about the engine was how it delivered the power all the way through the rev range. From the very bottom there was a nice torque-y push, but once that needle hits the 7k mark and shoots beyond, the ’19 CBR650R turns into a time machine; almost fooling me into thinking I was on an old school steal-framed CBR600F from the ’90s. With the extra urgency, and that all-important extra 1000rpm, it felt like the motor never wanted to stop spinning, surging forward and eating every single gear I could throw its way quicker than Godzilla with the munchies. Not even single digit temperatures could numb the experience, although it did highlight that those OE Dunlops weren’t the grippiest rubber on the planet when cold. Wheelspin thus is a given, even in dry conditions.
The sun did pop out though, and not a moment too soon as we headed into the mountains to sample some Spanish twisties. The old CBR650F wasn’t really the sharpest tool in the shed, nor was it a fat slob, but by shaving off those precious kilos and equipping some quality SFF Showa pogos the ’19 edition moved smoother than Michael Jackson in his prime, gliding from side to side with incredible poise and precision. The front end was incredibly confidence-inspiring, and was in no way vague, and the way in which Honda have messed about with the rigidity of the frame meant that the 650 felt closer to a full-blooded sportsbike than ever before, and it just begs to be hammered.
Even the brakes where surprisingly sensible. They had an initial bite and overall power that mimicked a machine with a much higher price tag, and unlike a lot of budget (and indeed pricier) machines, the ABS wasn’t too over-excited on heavy braking, which was a big bonus. I do have one slight issue with the anchorage set-up. When braking heavily, the 650 has a pretty pants ‘emergency’ system, which basically puts your hazards on as a safety feature, which I’m sure will work wonders when you’re slamming on the brakes for a speed camera.
Then again, nothing is perfect, is it? And for that to be the biggest bug-bear (besides the OE rubber), is pretty damn impressive.
I’m sorry Honda, but I have to admit before riding the CBR650R that I wasn’t particularly excited. I thought it would be another recycled, lardy middleweight, which wasn’t going to be fun, exciting or special. How wrong I was. Sure, the tyres aren’t the highest spec, and it has a dodgy light system under heavy braking, but aside from that, the new CBR650R is the real deal: a genuine introduction to the world of sportsbikes. Okay, you won’t be pulling mahoosive minging wheelies everywhere, but there’s easily enough power, poise and precision to be a bit naughty through the twisties, a host of quality components to keep you satisfied, and Honda’s brilliant build quality that’s tied up in a pretty damn sexy outfit - all for under rupees eight lakh. I dare you to find a faster B-road blaster for cheaper.
Words by Carl Stevens