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.