This, the Honda CBR650F review part two, is here for just one reason. Okay, make that a ‘few reasons’. The first reason is that every time any of you, or a friend, or an acquaintance, asked me for my opinion on the 650F, I felt extremely embarrassed to tell you that I hadn’t ridden it yet. Yes, we did get the motorcycle last year for review and we even got it for almost a week, but, for some reason, the bike couldn’t reach me for even a minute. The second reason is that I wanted to test the outgoing model, before the new one rides in this festive season, so as to be able to better evaluate and assess the latter vis-à-vis the former. The third reason is that I was told by a few friends that it would make for an interesting read. The fourth, and the last, reason is that I just wanted to ride this motorcycle.
The new CBR650F review will follow as and when the bike is launched here, which might happen in less than a fortnight from now. Therefore, this review could be helpful for those looking forward to buy a used 650, and for those as well who, with some sorcery, might still be able to get it from a Honda showroom. This review will actually also be useful for those who are waiting for the new one, as though the new bike will come with more than a few changes, I am not expecting it to be any different in character and feel, which is always a good news for Honda fans. So let me quickly recollect how Honda’s cheapest in-line four made me feel, when I finally got my hands on it.
HONDA CBR650F REVIEW: Design
A sportbike, in India, is still mostly bought to showboat. Otherwise, what else would explain the obsession with faired-bikes in what is one of the hottest countries in the world? Though it’s another matter altogether that the posers don’t ride much anyway, the type of climate notwithstanding. In fact, the only thing they’re good at is that they contribute to the growth of industries that make flashy graphics and decals, cheap neon lights, and similar loud stuff. Okay, I digressed. But it doesn’t really matter whether you’re one of them, or one of those few who would still be riding if social media ceased to exist; the fact remains that sportbikes are ‘heart’ purchases and, like in all such matters, it’s always the ‘looks’ first that cause the former to skip a beat.
So, does the 650F’s design make one feel weak in the knees? Well, no. But, it doesn’t make you cringe either like, say, the yesteryear’s Honda Pacific Coast. See, Honda is a company that, when not designing something like an RC30 or an NSX, makes vehicles whose designs would please all, and offend none. It’s the same case with the CBR650F – it’s a pleasant design, almost servile even. But it won’t make you swoon.
Don’t get me wrong here; it’s a good looking motorcycle from almost all angles, and even has that big bike feel, but, approaching it, all geared up and ready to ride, won’t get your heart racing in anticipation. And that’s exactly the company’s intent – to offer an inline four-cylinder sportbike that is unintimidating to ride before you even, er, ride it. Friendly, is the word. In fact, the vibe that you get from this CBR is the same you get from that good looking friend of the opposite sex, who will always remain a friend. Only a friend. Which is a good thing, really.
HONDA CBR650F REVIEW: Ergonomics
Most of us Indian auto journalists have this bad habit of categorizing a motorcycle, as a sport-tourer, etc., before even riding it, and without even checking what the manufacturer’s intent is or the positioning of the product! So let me clear it once and for all. The CBR650F is NOT a sport-tourer. The VFR800 is; the CBR isn’t. It’s a sportbike, period. Just because you’re able to sit on it more comfortably than on a 600RR, doesn’t make it a sport-tourer. Globally also, where Honda had both 500R and 600RR on sale, the 650F was introduced to bridge the gap between these two bikes. That’s it! They never said it’s a sport tourer! Which doesn’t mean it can’t tour, but I’ll talk about that in a while.
The riding posture is half a notch sportier than on the CBR250R but way more relaxed than on the Daytona. Therefore, daily commute, even in the worst kind of city traffic, isn’t a strenuous affair on this one. I got a taste of it on the first day itself while getting the bike from Honda Wing World, HMSI’s premium-bike showroom and service centre in Naraina, as I got stuck in a massive jam that stretched for more than eight kilometers, and two hours, but the CBR did not complain a bit. And that’s saying something because this was last month, in September, when the ambient temperature again went up in Delhi piggybacking on torturously ascending humidity. But, neither did the bike cook my leg, nor did it break my wrists or any other part of the anatomy.
Two lanky kids, riding lidless on an RC390, were not this lucky. Their motorcycle kept stalling intermittently, while thumbing it back was proving to be more flustering for them as the bike kept on resisting, and when it did wake up, the rider left no opportunity to take his hands off the handlebar to wiggle and jerk them to alleviate the strain on his wrists. Whereas the only discomfort I was experiencing was the anxiety that comes with riding a borrowed bike amidst such thick traffic and people. One thing though – the saddle height of the CBR is 810 mm, so I would advise anyone shorter than 5’4” to be wary of it. Let me also add that I’m just a shade over five feet, and if I can ride it, so can you. Still, check it for yourself as the inseam may vary vastly even in people of same height. The other minor irritant is the placement of the horn and indicator switches. It’s reversed, which really takes some time getting used to.
HONDA CBR650F REVIEW: Performance, Ride & Handling, Braking, and Fuel Efficiency
Ever since its launch, many have asked why, despite being a 650 cc inline-four, does it make ‘only’ 85.2 hp (63.6 KW) and not over 100 hp like its predecessor, the CBR600F (the faired version of the CB600F Hornet)? Well, two reasons: a) please refer to the statement above where I have mentioned the word ‘unintimidating’, and b) Honda sells this motorcycle in Europe too where, other than catering to riders carrying class A license (can ride all bikes), it also attracts riders in the A2 (33-47 hp, along with other requirements such as cubic capacity, power-to-weight ratio, etc.) category by restricting the power output to 47 horsepower. The catch is – the bike should not be making anything more than double that amount in its original, derestricted, avatar. Which also means that the CBR650F, in its entire lifespan, can go up to 94 horsepower at max…
But it’s not that the current figures – 85.2 hp at 11,000 rpm and 62.9 Nm – are bad. In fact, if you’re among the ones who had laughed upon the power and torque figures in the spec-sheet, then you’ll be filled with dismay to know that the joke is on you. Just look at the video below and tell me if you still disagree.
In case you couldn’t check, that’s zero to hundred kilometers per hour in less than four seconds! Wait, let me show you the zero to two hundred sprint as well.
So that was 0-200 km/h in 15 seconds while I could achieve 229 km/h on the speedo with around 400 to 500 revs still to come. Keen readers would remember that I had managed 227 km/h on the Monster 821 – a naked, but one with a lot more horsepower and torque than the CBR, and less weight. The CBR’s fairing certainly helps, then!
Let me quickly add that I am not comparing both bikes here; the 821 is being mentioned only for the sake of perspective as, of all the motorcycles I have tested as yet, it is the closest to the CBR in acceleration and top speed. But, the crucial difference is the way these two motorcycles put down their power and torque. And this is where both are worlds apart from each other! So where the Ducati’s power delivery and acceleration can rough you up (if you aren’t prepared) like you’re in a street fight, the Honda feels like a Tai Chi master showing you the tricks of his trade. It’s THAT beautifully fluid! Of course, the spec-sheet will never be able to tell you that, like it didn’t tell you how quick and fast this motorcycle really was! Heck, I was pleasantly surprised too as I was not really expecting it to have this much potential.
Well, now you’ve already seen that in the videos above, and you must have also seen the serene manner in which it does that. The flow of power is absolutely linear – there are no spikes and lows in the rev range, which means that you will never be overwhelmed, or embarrassed. From zero to two hundred kilometers per hour, the power just keeps on building, and it is only after 220 km/h that the rate of progress becomes slow. But that’s more than enough for all occasions and banter.
The clutch is light and the six-speed gearbox is a typical Honda unit – precise and smooth. And, as I had mentioned earlier, the tranquil nature of this engine makes riding the CBR in traffic a cinch. Which reminds me to tell you that this Honda’s dictionary does not have words like ‘lurching’ or ‘snatching’! Don’t believe me? How about 17 km/h in 6th gear? Here, see this:
I almost forgot to tell you (perhaps because it would never be big enough to be a deterrent) that our motorcycle had mild vibrations creep in to the pegs at 90-95 km/h onwards and remained there, without increasing in intensity, till about 115-120 km/h. But the handlebar and fuel-tank, thankfully, remained totally devoid of them. I reckon it would make a brilliant tourer, even though the company is not claiming it to be one. Well, they do mention ‘long trips’ in its ‘About Me’ section (yes!) on the official website, and I couldn’t find one reason why they shouldn’t be saying that when they are positioning this bike as an all-rounder, which it definitely is. I could certainly figure that it would be great on long hauls, thanks to the relatively-relaxed riding posture; the smoothness of the engine; almost perfect ride quality, and I have already talked about its serene nature in city traffic.
And yes, I did say that the ride quality is almost perfect. It’s accommodating of all types of ruts, bumps, and craters, without getting mushy, while remaining firm enough on smooth tarmac to inspire confidence in corners. Brilliant! The suspension is not adjustable, save for preload on the monoshock, but you will find no reason to complain. Of course, it’s not a Daytona or a quick-handler though, as the steering is decidedly slow (remember, it has to be an unintimidating machine), but the bike is gracefully poised and stable at all times. You may take it to the track, and it will not disappoint – it’s not for nothing that the bike successfully completed two seasons (2015 and 2016) of the European Junior Cup. And it was the CBR500R that ran in 2013 an 2014 seasons. Makes me wonder why HMSI did not offer a Repsol edition of the motorcycle…
Anyway, back to the current bike. The CBR650F came with fantastic brakes that provide more bite than a resentful feminist. Obviously, the tyres help too by gripping the road more strongly than a miser clutching his last penny. On top of that, this motorcycle will give you between 17-20 km/l in city and 20-25 km/l (or perhaps more if you’re in your 40s…) on highways. With a 17.3-liter tank, you’re looking at a range of around 400 km before the fuel reserve blinker comes on.
HONDA CBR650F REVIEW: Verdict
‘The Wild Doesn’t Always Scream’ – that’s the tagline Honda has for the CBR650F, and this would be the first time I am agreeing with the manufacturer’s marketing team’s tagline. This inline four indeed doesn’t scream but I find it funny when people complain about it. Because, come on, haven’t you seen 11 out of 10 (yes, I have written 11 out of 10) people getting a loud exhaust fitted on to their bikes, irrespective of how beautiful the factory system sounds? So why complain about this one when you have to get an Arrow for your barrow? For the record, I heard one with it and it sounded really loud. The bike belongs to a young assistant professor who confessed to me that the university authorities have objected to it. Flashes of Cameron Diaz, in Bad Teacher, crossed my mind, abruptly disrupting the recollection of the legendary “You Meet The Nicest People On A Honda” advertisement from the sixties.
So what’s the verdict anyway, you ask? See, ever since the launch of the Duke 390, I have always maintained that it’s all the performance you need in our country, and that it can be your only motorcycle. But, if it’s only an inline-four that you must buy, then the CBR650F has to be the top contender, especially if you’re looking for an all-rounder, and not a weekend-only machine. Because, save for the ego boost, it will give you 90 per cent of everything that you expect, or would be able to derive, from a big bike, and it will do that without making you hand over your life insurance papers to your family in advance. Do think about it. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll just beg HMSI to bring the naked CB650F to India.