There is a new middleweight sport bike in town and a new addition to the Honda CBR lineup: the 2014 Honda CBR650F. With an inline-four engine, full sports fairing and wave brake rotors, it ticks all the initial “sport bike” boxes – and visually it fits the bill, too. The stubby tail, the sculpted front fairing and the banana swing arm give this bike genuine coffee-shop credibility with only a second look really distinguishing this from its racier CBR600RR cousin.
It’s only when you look closer do you notice the conventional front fork, the single seat and the fact that the clip-ons are attached above the top triple-clamp. That’s the first hint that this bike is aimed at a set other than the track-day warriors.
With a more relaxed riding position and a more simple engineering approach this bike is geared towards affordable everyday practical riding for those who like a dash of sriracha on their hot dog. The seat will accept shorter riders with ease, and there is also a surprising amount of room for the pillion passenger despite the truncated tail.
There are six brake lever adjustments, and though there were no clutch presets, there was a little adjustment to be had by playing with the adjuster at the top end of the cable.
The two-screen digital dash shows a digital speedometer and tachometer on the left, and a trip computer, fuel gauge and clock on the right. The trip computer shows both instantaneous and average fuel consumption. Official figures aren’t released yet but I saw 5.2 L/100 km on the unit I spent the most time on.
The switch blocks are well-sized and activating the starter and indicators requires no movement from the standard grip position. Cancelling the indicators is a breeze. My only complaint was the excessively large horn button. I hit it by accident a couple of times before I got used to it. Even once I was used to it I found the horn is far too easy to get to – especially for those of us trying to cut down on that particular vice.
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The engine, a 649cc DOHC inline-four, is built for a wide and effective torque and power curve. The note is clean, and the engine itself feels smooth at cruising speeds. For reasons this writer will never understand, the Japanese marques have stopped supplying power and torque specs for their bikes, but riding it I could tell that the 650 is strong from low in the rev range and builds linearly to about 10,000 rpm, where it starts to run out of breath.
The engine was designed from the ground up for this application. It’s an all-new beast but follows a familiar path. Honda has paid attention to the small details and there are no external oil channels or piping – this engine is designed to look good. There are no electric nannies, no traction control, no variable valve timing – this is as honest as inline-four engines come. The clutch bite point was a little vague on the first bike I tested, but on the other two was fine so I suspect someone had been playing with the adjuster. The gears are typically Honda-slick and allow for pretty much anyone to perform clean clutchless upshifts.
The exhaust flows 4-2-1 and exits just under the right foot peg. It’s an elegant look but also one that gives a good centre of gravity. Weight is balanced nearly 50/50 across the bike thanks to a forward riding position, the aforementioned low centre of gravity and the twin-spar frame. In a nod to cost-cutting, it is steel, not aluminum, which affects the end weight numbers. The bike is 211 kg wet. Perhaps because of that relative heft the CBR650F is extremely well composed in corners even with the conventional fork and non-rising-rate rear shock. Pitch it in and the bike responds admirably then holds its track truly no matter the surface. In fact, I was treated to a display of the bike’s capability during an impromptu 15 km ride down a dirty road.
Deferring to the capabilities of my colleagues who had more experience on dirt, I sat back and watched as they throttle-steered their way through a particularly winding gravel section. Afterwards they confirmed what I thought – the bike is compliant even in those conditions. Indeed, the forgiving nature of not only this class of bike but characteristic of Hondas in particular was evident to me as I looked where I wanted to go, hoped for the best, and arrived there safely.
While the lack of damping adjustment and the conventional forks are a nod to economy they don’t feel cheap or flimsy. If I had to pick (and I do, it’s kind of my job) I’d ask for a front that seemed a little more solid. The triple clamp and clip-ons didn’t feel quite as rigid and solid as they could – the bike lacks the comfortable solidity of the VFR800 we tested on the same event – than again, this thing is a fair bit cheaper at $9,499.
I’m not talking about front grip, but rather that initial feeling when you first swing your leg over and take hold of the bars. Braking and steering feel were both on par with other middleweight real-world sport bikes and there wasn’t excessive pitch and dive.
Honda aimed to deliver a bike that neatly filled the middle ground between what I call the commuter-sport CBR500R and the track-sport 600RR.
This bike bridges both in all the key areas, looks, nimble handling and engine response. You could comfortably ride this bike two-up on a country trip and still thoroughly enjoy the corners along the way. On a group ride with friends on 600RRs, you won’t be left behind; in fact, if road conditions get ugly – you might just be in front.
There will always be people who prefer track-focused sportbikes, of course, but there is an ever-growing herd who want a bike that approaches those levels of performance without sacrificing day-to-day comfort. This is the bike for them.
Check out the Honda CBR650F listed on autoTRADER.ca.