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  • July 23, 2012
  • Babbit Thrustface
  • Chris Rubino
  • 25 Comments

MD Ride Review: 2012 Honda CBR1000RR

Honda is partly known for going its own way when it comes to design & engineering. The CB750, with its four cylinders and disc brake, the oval pistoned NR500, the patterns of small holes in their race bike fairings and the CBR900RRs bodywork, etc. The list is long, and the ’12 CBR1000RR continues that trend, although not in as daring a manner as the NR, or the CB750. What it has could be considered less newsworthy than what it *doesn’t* have.  What am I going on about here? Read on….

While the competition has added traction control, wheelie control, and ride modes, Honda continues the latest iteration of the original CBR900RR devoid of these technological advancements, preferring instead to refine and seek perfect balance in power and handling.  Like the competition, however, Anti-lock brakes are available (since 2010) as a $1000 option in Honda’s Combined Anti-lock Brake System (C-ABS), which links front and rear brake calipers, and has been raced with some success by the TT Legends endurance race team. It is a very sophisticated and capable system that bases its control through the ECM, and is nearly transparent in its operation on the street, but adds a 20 pound penalty in weight. Fortunately, this weight can be hidden using mass centralization, so its effect is greater in spec sheet comparisons, than actual use.

The rest of the CBR has received attention in varying degrees to keep it in the liter-class hunt. Left alone, however are the frame and swingarm, which, if you have ridden a 2008 or later spec CBR1000RR, you will likely agree is a good thing.

For the most part, the same could be said of the engine, which has been left largely untouched from last year. It is a torque monster in the midrange, which is very useful in street riding and low speed corners at the track, and still leaves the impression that other participants of the class, Japanese, or European, are somewhat lacking in this department. A top end power comparison, however, reverses the situation, most notably when compared to the BMW S1000RR. On the street, you’re surfing the wave of torque, but on the track, whether racing or at a trackday, you’re moving over to let the BMW by on the straights.

We are well versed in regard to the engine oil usage issues of this engine discussed at length on more than one motorcycle Internet forum, and so we made it a point to periodically check oil level to track consumption. A consumption rate of about 200 ml every 600 miles was noted, which we consider to be within acceptable parameters and is within Honda’s spec. It’s in line with the consumption rate of one of our test rider’s ’08 CBR1000RR, which is currently showing in excess of 43,000 miles on the odometer. Every engine uses oil over time and miles, but Honda’s past reputation for producing engines that used far less oil is prominent in loyal Honda owner’s minds… just one reason this model’s oil consumption sticks out.

Fueling of the engine has been the subject of some criticism. Abruptness in transition from closed to open throttle was the complaint, and so Honda massaged this area to make the transition less upsetting. To a degree, mission accomplished. On the 2011 & earlier models, carrying a gear higher was the solution, but it hurt drive out of a corner. With the ’12, we could use the proper gear in a corner, particularly when the tach needle was north of 7000 rpm. What’s (still) the problem, you ask? Well, fueling on our model in other areas seemed to have suffered. Leaving the driveway in the morning before the engine reached operating temperature saw the engine stumble if the throttle was closed and reopened. This was at very small openings to begin with, parking lot speeds. Another issue we noticed was when the engine was at full operating temperatures. We would come out to the bike to restart it and the idle would take some time to stabilize, hunting up and down, varying as much as 500 rpm. Our test riders’ stock ’08 model does not exhibit these issues. Fuel mileage remains in line with previous models, so expect about a 40 mpg average.

The suspension department has gotten the lion’s share of the attention, with new fork and shock designs. The big piston fork is new to the CBR, but has been in use on production street bikes since 2009, starting with the Kawasaki ZX-6R. Quicker initial reaction over bumps, and resistance to dive are the main benefits of the big piston fork. Out back, Honda put in Showa’s balance free rear shock, a twin tube design that separates the compression & rebound valving channels, and removes valving duties from the piston altogether. This allows for more consistent, and precise damping control. Only low speed damping adjustments are available at either end. Another comment about the rear shock; although the damping adjusters are at the top of the shock, because of their proximity to the under tail, a very stubby screwdriver, or flex-shaft screwdriver will be needed to make adjustments … tools which are not present in the “tool kit” that consists of a plastic pouch and screwdriver.

Working with the suspension upgrades are new wheels, sporting a twelve-spoke, or snowflake design. Weight of the wheels remains the same, or very close to last year’s hoops, and give different stiffness characteristics. They are stiffer in a vertical plane, due to the added contact points the new spoke design offers, which evens out the load stress around the circumference of the wheel. We honestly couldn’t feel a difference. They will also be more difficult to clean.

While riding the new CBR, the suspension action shines through – firm, controlled, but not harsh.

The shock is a noticeable improvement over the previous model, and for us, was easier to get dialed in than the previous unit, but the forks really stand out. Fork dive, and therefore chassis pitch, is markedly reduced from last year’s model, making steering behavior more consistent and overall stability is improved. The Bridgestone S20 tires work well and contribute to the CBR’s ‘light on its feet’ feel, which also means the electronic steering damper does its job without being noticed, exactly as it should. The combined effects of the new front and rear suspension and , on balance, improved throttle response create a more stable, balanced and confidence inspiring motorcycle to ride.

Aesthetics of the ’08-’11 CBR was not universally liked . It’s rounded, organic shape led to comments about the front end looking like it had been shaped with a few whacks of a shovel. Honda has reshaped the bodywork, the rounded form giving way to sharper, more angled contours. The front end is pointier, reminding us of the 2007 model, albeit more compact. Honda calls the fairing a layered design, which is claimed to create a larger pocket of calm air around the rider, and draw in cool air through the radiator. We didn’t notice a difference for either claim, as wind protection felt the same as an ’08 model, and the coolant didn’t seem to shed thermal units any quicker than the ’08 model.

The instrument panel is a very nice unit. It’s very legible in all lighting conditions, the tachometer bar graph is easy to read at a glance, as is all the rest of the information in the display, which includes a shift light sequence, lap timer, and gear position indicator. Brakes and ergonomics, like much of the CBR remains the same.

All in all, the new CBR is the same, only different, thanks to the chassis & swingarm carrying over to work with new suspension and wheels, while dressed in new bodywork. For a 20 year anniversary model, the new CBR doesn’t visually wow, but the changes are all tangible in their own way once you ride it, and have knowledge of how the previous version performed. Other brands in this class have much more peak horsepower (much higher in the rev range), more gadgets, rider aids, etc., but it’s a strong argument that none of them put together a more usable, balanced package. If you have an ’08-’11 model, jumping to the new model may leave you a bit disappointed. It is a better version, but not *that* much better. Get the suspension on your current CBR1000RR setup for you, or if you can swing it, score a set of the forks from the ’12 model. Use the aftermarket to source a fuel module to get your fuel injection sorted, and wait for the new CBR1000RR that is actually new. On the other hand, if you are coming from another brand, or moving up from a 600 / 750, then go for it. You’re in for a hell of a ride.

The CBR1000RR can be had from your local Honda dealer without C-ABS for $13,800.

25 Comments

  1. Jason Is Available says:

    I thought this was an original and well thought out article. Got tired of reading the dozen or so online reviews that repeat the same talking points and are too careful to bring up any shortfalls in the bike. So I’ve owned an FZ6 for a few years and bought this CBR after a test drive. Like said, it’s very user friendly. I really like the steering assist and the torque. Kicks so much better than a 600 obviously, but I’m glad I didn’t settle for a newer 600, as suggested by some of the salespeople.

  2. Mark says:

    Way to lower the standards “MGNorge”, hopefully it is just you…

    • MGNorge says:

      “A consumption rate of about 200 ml every 600 miles was noted, which we consider to be within acceptable parameters and is within Honda’s spec”

      Evidently the reviewers in this article had no real issue with it. I’m not lowering standards at all, if the CBR was what I wanted and fit me just right this would not be a concern.

      If you were to buy Brand X bike and it was known to go through tires at an alarming rate would that keep you from buying it? Buying new sets of tires every few thousand miles is going to run you quite a bit more than a quart of oil.

      Let’s not forget too that oil consumption varies from bike to bike. While “08 seemed to have a high incidence of CBR’s using more oil you can also read of owners who say theirs does not.

      Way to apply a cookie cutter “Mark” to all examples..

  3. ziggy says:

    New for 2012!

    An oil-burning, visually boring bike with terrible fuel injection (this from a car company) with refinements that can only be described as “slightly different” from the preceding model year. A lot less power than other brands in this class, and none of the latest industry standard technology or rider safety equipment.

    Well played Honda!

  4. fastrob691 says:

    I had an 08 CBR 1000RR, fantastic bike, minus slightly cramped knee to peg ergos.

    She didnt burn a drop for 8500 miles, then after my 1st track day it was down almost a quart, in 125 miles on the track. After that i’d burn almost 1.5 quarts every 1500 miles. I worked with Honda, who was decent, the issue was the local Honda/Harley shop didnt want to work on the bike.

    I got rid of it, had it not burned that much oil i’d still have it, easiest big bike to ride i’ve owned, literally handled like a 600.

    Too bad Honda didnt step up nationally with this issue, they lost many many customers over the oil consumption.

  5. Peter says:

    If a Ducati “burns” oil, you will call it “Character” ;-))
    my 2009 CBR1000RR with now 14.000 km (i.e.8.800 miles) has only once needed 0,3 Liter of engine oil, that was shortly before the oil change at 12.000 km. And I gave this oil to keep the level to “max”, not because it went below “low”…;-))

    • John says:

      I never had to add oil to any Honda’s I’ve owned, including my ’04 CBR1000RR, RC30, CB1000F, etc. No one has commented on the affects of break-in procedure on oil consumption though. I’ve not owned a ’08-11 CBR, and maybe low-tension rings do let more oil past, but if an engine is broken in too gently, then it’s rings may never seal properly, and it will always use oil. But who cares? Let it use oil.

  6. Rocky V says:

    I for one would buy it if i were going to buy a sport bike for the mid range torque alone– i never liked spinning my 600 Ninja to 13k to get it to move—at 7k the 600s are just waking up

    my Zrx 1200 will out grunt any of these bikes on the street–

  7. nick says:

    I wonder what the epa thinks of all this oil burning, they use more oil than a 2 stroke oil injection system, i had a 04 and a 07 cbr1000rr, both with over 40000 miles, never once had to add oil, not a drop, always in the site window where it was 5000 miles ago till I changed the oil. even had a 07 cbr600rr track only bike, i never had to add 1 cc of oil. I do not understand what honda thinks is so different about this bike that it is normal to burn oil. Maybe the rings not having enough tension?, more likly they know but just do not want to pay out, and it is still one of the lowest hp 1000. sad this was an issue on 08 models, and in 2012 it still has not been fixed, I guess that is not suprising, they have not changed there 600rr in 6 years, still no slipper clutch and one of the highest priced, sad.

  8. purebusiness1 says:

    ZX-10R is better

  9. TmaxGixxerBlur says:

    i never once had to look at the view glass on my 06 suzuki gsxr 1000 and say it’s low on oil. so knowing that the honda is burning oil like that, isn’t very good for a modern bike. other than that, i use to own a cbr 929 that i loved. i truly missed it. honda do make reliable bikes, but they need to get some excitement back to their models. they’re becoming as bland as their cars.

  10. Gutterslob says:

    One has to wonder what kind of techno trickery the Japanese factories, particularly Honda and Yamaha, have got in reserve for future versions. Honda just massaged the (admittedly very good) Fireblade here and there , while Yamaha just added traction control to their crosscranked R1 (and made it look more bulbous over the years, for some odd reason).

    I bet their engineers have got some absolutely stonking prototypes brimming with MotoGP derived tech just waiting for production runs, but the accountants aren’t allowing it in the current economic climate.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “I bet their engineers have got some absolutely stonking prototypes brimming with MotoGP derived tech just waiting for production runs”

      well you’re right about one thing they DO have some “stonking prototypes brimming with MotoGP derived tech”. but guess what…? the beancounters signed off on this years ago. that stuff has ALREADY LONG BEEN ON SALE…!!! so you don’t have to wait, go out and buy.

  11. brady says:

    Honda, in my mind, stood out against the Japanese competition for quite a while. These days Kawasaki really sits on top of the heap with their superstreet machines in many ways – not the least of which is speed. The lack of wow factor doesn’t just hit Honda, though, the GSX-R has lost some of its punch, too. You’ll pay more for a German machine, it’s true, and we may not spend that extra money, but it’s hard to be wowed when a machine just can’t keep up with something else on the market, particularly when that something else is still affordable.

    Brady
    Behind Bars – Motorcycles and Life
    http://www.behindbarsmotorcycle.com

  12. Sentinel says:

    Still an oil burner!

    So, Honda Corp and you believe that a modern, state of the art motorcycle engine, which burns through a full quart of oil about every 2,600 miles or so is acceptable?

    Not at all!

  13. MGNorge says:

    I’ve always felt the CBRs were a good solid product. Perhaps especially in the sportbike classes they have suffered from a lack of “Wow” factor compared to their competition but still very competent. That there are Honda dealers all over certainly doesn’t hurt.
    If the ergos fit then how can you go wrong if this is your type of bike?

    • Sentinel says:

      See above ^, it’s an “oil burner”…

      • MGNorge says:

        “A consumption rate of about 200 ml every 600 miles was noted, which we consider to be within acceptable parameters and is within Honda’s spec”

        200ml is .2 of a quart, multiply 600 miles by 5 and you have 3,000 miles before adding a quart. Is it me or does that not sound bad at all?

        An interesting statistic to me would be to know how often sportbike owners trade for the new “wow” on the market. The wow factor seems to be what drives most of the comments here. I could care less if brand X will overtake me down the road at 3 times the posted limit. That would be way down my consideration list on the road, where presumably we most ride. On the track, of course, but what percentage of owners actually take their liter bikes and race them? I think most street riders would more than welcome great mid-range over absolute top end speed. It’s not as if the CBR is a slouch.

        • Sentinel says:

          It’s just you…

        • Ayk says:

          Definitely you. It shouldn’t burn 200ml in 3,000 miles, let alone 600.

          • MGNorge says:

            A quart every 3000 miles is very livable to me. I’ve had some bikes use more and that wasn’t an issue. Besides, I’m looking to change the oil at that point anyway. Sorry, I know it’s not just me.