As part of my research, Fowlers lent me a new model CBR650F (Honda’s current reincarnation of their renowned middleweight F series) to test for an afternoon. It was a nice enough bike, but whilst I could appreciate its many positive qualities I returned from the test ride feeling I wasn’t entirely convinced.
Moreover, a very modest budget, and a reluctance to enter into PCP finance deals, was a significant factor influencing my purchasing decision.
A while later, out of curiosity, I then tested a 2001 model CBR600F, for sale with another dealer, and I was struck by how much more I enjoyed riding it. It felt roomier, and the engine and handling more tractable and relaxed somehow. It had covered 30,000 miles, and was looking a bit scruffy, but it still felt completely sound mechanically.
I walked away from that one, but the impression it had made stayed with me. By this time I’d begun routinely scanning BikeTrader and before too long I was fortunate to spot a mint 2004 F with just 5,500 genuine miles. A deal was struck at a little over £3000. Really, it was barely run in, and seemed to have spent its previous decade gently pursuing an undemanding, cosseted existence with its one previous owner. There are such gems to be found, if you’re patient enough.
And I must say that after 9 months of ownership I absolutely love it, and haven’t regretted the decision for a moment.
Phased out in 2007, when sales of this sports-tourer version had flatlined at the height of full-on supersports popularity, the original CBR600F was a bike that Honda had evolved through many iterations, and my fuel-injection example of the final production run is a testament to this generational refinement. It’s beautifully made, with every touch-point and control surface exhibiting that tangible sense of Honda quality and attention to detail that you often detect the moment you first sit on any of their machines. Styling is undoubtedly old school, and graphics are of-their-time, but it remains a handsome device all the same.
I’ve owned various middleweights, although previously all were twins or big singles. The CBR is my first inline-four and, as such, has an entirely different character to anything I’d ridden previously.
Actually, in some respects it reminds me of a 2-stroke (I’m old enough that my biking career began back in the era of RDs, LCs, RGVs and the like). Like my recollections of those bikes the CBR’s engine undergoes a similar dramatic shift around 8000 rpm, beyond which it delivers a sudden, frantic burst of thrust, accompanied by a furious intake howl, that for me is reminiscent of a two-stroke hitting its powerband.
In fact, the CBR’s 14,000 rpm redline is something I’m still getting accustomed to. After years with a V-twin that was bumping the limiter at 9000rpm I still find it hard to comprehend that the CBR’s engine can spin up so far.
But, significantly, the Honda’s engine is eminently usable and completely civilised at more moderate road speeds. Throw into the mix its near faultless handling, which is almost telepathically responsive and reassuring, and there’s really very little you can find fault with.
Is newer always better? Well, yes, obviously in many respects, but things do get lost along the way too.
Don’t get me wrong. New bikes are great – if you can afford one. Similarly, I wouldn’t dispute that a big bike, with relaxed power delivery, isn’t still the ideal way to soak up big distances.
Still, there’s a special pleasure to be had from middleweights too. And when that middleweight is a precision tool like the Honda CBR – even an old one – then you’ll be well enough equipped.
Dave Harper (Associate)