“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
Quick CBR650F Review & Weekend Ride – Photography: Akshay Sharma and Honda
“Hey Neelanjan, what are you doing this weekend?”
That’s what woke me up on a mid afternoon siesta one fine Thursday afternoon. I have always loved leisure riding on the highways but kind of despise the days when I have to go to the Yamuna Expressway. An open road with negligible traffic which requires barely any input, making your ride as boring and dull as possible! Now don’t get me wrong, even I love speed and that’s the best and the safest road in the country where you can ride fast. But you have to accept, it does get a bit tasking doing nothing.
As the conversation continued, I slowly began to wake up to the idea. Honda was inviting me to be a part of their Big Bike Ride to Jaipur over the weekend. Well, that was enough to make me get up and sit straight. The only problem was that I had to reach the Naraiana Wing World dealership at 5 AM on Saturday. Yes, I hate early mornings. So I decided against sleeping on Friday night. Not something which I would advice but years of amnesia induced nights in Delhi summers makes you proficient enough to function without sleep.
So it is 4:30 AM on a Saturday morning and I kid you not, there is a huge traffic jam at South Extension! Yes even in the morning. Taking a quick diversion (longer but traffic free) I managed to reach Naraina by 4:50 AM only to get stuck in a stupid jam, again! I decided to walk the last kilometer or so to make things quicker. And Boy o Boy, I am greeted there with a sight which is bound to make your heart melt – a CBR1000RR, a few CB 1000s, a VFR 1200 and of course quite a few of the CBR 650Fs, one of which was going to be my ride for the weekend.
After a quick introduction and briefing, we decided to leave for Jaipur immediately and the noise we created was loud enough to even wake ‘Kumbhakarna’ up from his slumber. Jaipur from Delhi is a 4 hour ride with some 270 odd kilometers for the odometer but the only problem was that the climate was not favourable!
CBR650F – The Machine
If we speak plain numbers the four cylinder mill chugs out 85.3 bhp of maximum power and 62.9 Nm of peak torque. Every ounce of that feels usable. Being a motoring scribe allows us to have the privilege to try out a lot many motorcycles than the average riders, be it a Splendor or some swanky litre class. Higher displacement motorcycles are mostly about raw power which want to tear your entrails out and throw it on the roads.
The Honda CBR 650F does not do all of that yet it will not fail to bring out a smile on your face. Practicality and usability are two terms which will immediately come to your mind. The engine screams fun. While it is a small cat at low engine revs, which though humble and docile, can still pamper you. And the moment you reach 6,500 rpm, it turns into a… no it is no cheetah, but more of a Puma. The term cheetah is more suited to a certain naked Japanese bike it has been unfortunately often compared to.
See a gap in the highway, yes, you have enough power on tap to overtake almost everything out there. Not like a ferocious cat but more like a composed and domesticated German Shepherd. The CBR 650F can pull even on top gear from 35 kmph and take it up all the way past 200 on the speedo. The road to Jaipur from Delhi (the famed NH8) is a great tarmac to ride. Neither does it have too much of traffic nor is it a boring endless stretch like the Yamuna Expressway. The maximum speed that I could achieve was 206 kmph (GPS recorded). An earlier outing had allowed a speed run till 225 kmph before I ran out of courage (with some juice left for a few more kays).
The front fairing and the visor offer the perfect hideout a highway man can hope for. The bike reaches past 100 kmph before you can even realise. The engine is so calm and composed and the exhaust note will keep you thinking that you are on the lower side of the three digit mark. Yes, I would have loved the screen to be adjustable but crouching down is always the best option. Believe me, bending down in front of a storm is actually the best thing.
The engineers at Honda gave the CBR 650F another boost in the arm: clip-on handlebars. This lends the bike a sporty touch (something which my friend who owns a CB 650F in the UK always laments about), and with the perfect positioning for the footpegs the biker can go on all day long. India’s love for faired motorcycles is another reason why Honda must have brought the CBR 650F instead of the naked even though it is a better eye candy. The seat height is almost the same as that of the Duke 390 but the inclination centred towards the fuel tank makes the rider comfortable. There is a nice little tapering on the seat where a rider’s inner thighs are placed.
The CBR 650F was engineered to fill the gap between the CBR 500R and the all guns blazing, maniac, CBR 600RR. While international media was quick to bill the bike as only a slight evolution of the 500R, folks in India sadly have not been able to compare the two (the 500R is not available in India and Honda has no plans whatsoever to launch it in the near future). The engineering team which was given the charge of developing the bike averaged 20 years (of age). Yes, globally the bike has been aimed towards a younger audience, often first time riders.
India though is another tale. Without entering the economics let’s just say the 650F is aimed at a more mature audience. Honda has settled for a more toned down performance which would not be a pain, considering the traffic condition in the country, but would still offer adequate oomph to keep the excitement buzzing, Yes, the tagline ‘The Wild Doesn’t Always Scream’ seems almost fit. The (indirect) competition though begs to differ and chooses an all out atropine induced feeling.
The highway ride is where it scores brownie points. The front 41 mm Showa forks are able to digest all the bumps you throw at it, save for the extremely dangerous lunar craters. Even in the twisties which one faces on the way back from Jaipur, near Amer Palace, the CBR 650F holds its fort. The mid corner bumps are eaten up with ease. The rear gets a monoshock with seven presets. The bike does not nose dive during cornering and will definitely make you smile thanks to the feedback. While I did not change the factory setting, I am sure making the rear end slightly harder will make it an even better corner carver.
Reaching Jaipur in rush hour traffic also did not upset my spirit. The liquid cooling works brilliantly and though things do get hot, it is not extremely uncomforting. What helped was the moment I saw the gaps, I built up on my speed, which helped a lot to control the temperature. The beauty of the 5th gear is such that you can literally use it as an automatic transmission in city life (till you don’t reach a traffic light). Right from 30 kmph to past 130 kmph is a breeze for this cog allowing you enough room to cool things down for the machinery under you.
Our main agenda on reaching Jaipur was the inauguration of Honda’s new Wing World dealership. And boy, our group was a sight to behold. Revving our way into the dealership we were the centre of attraction for the whole locality!
The CBR 650F is a very important product for Honda and though they are not looking for huge volumes, the bike marks their entry into their bigger and more premium (but relatively affordable) motorcycles. And heading to smaller, tier 2 cities like Jaipur will give birth to a lot more opportunities.
Our stay at Hotel Hari Mahal Palace was pretty comfortable. They offer decent quality rooms which are huge. The sprawling green ambience and lush environment is a sight to behold. They have an indoor swimming pool where one can relax. The architecture is typical Rajput style and so is the styling of rooms. Authentic furniture with the perfect blend of modern day amenities (read: air conditioner) will make sure you have a great stay. The staff too is friendly and courteous. Quality of food is also refreshing with a distinct Rajasthani style which will keep you hungry for more.
After a quick afternoon siesta and a refreshing bubble bath we quickly headed for our evening plans. The official inauguration ceremony of Jaipur Super Bikers Club. Honda being one of the pioneers towards developing modern day motorcycling culture in India, is supporting a biking club. While most big cities already have many such organisations, smaller cities are still at a very nascent stage.
Jaipur Super Bikers Club is one such organisation which will be attempting to gather all motorcycle enthusiasts, both experienced and novices. Honda is one of their prime supporter. All motorcyclists with a bike having an engine displacement of at least 300 cc can be a part of this club. These clubs will help in developing a better riding sense among youngsters by guiding them about the nuances of motorcycling. Frequent road trips will also help folks gain a lot of touring experience.
While on the onward journey I was centring my riding style towards a slightly rev-happy side. Sunday morning had me all spruced up. Now that I think of it, probably the twisties is what got me all charged up. Charging through the road, the 180/55-17 Dunlop Sportmax may not be as sticky as the Pirellis but have more than adequate grip for the highways. Combined with the confidence inspiring ABS (which thankfully is not very intrusive) I was quickly zooming up the pack and then later meandering through the early morning highway traffic. Also the aftermarket Akrapovic exhaust created a rumble strong enough to wake up even a sleepy head like me (yes me and early mornings do not go hand in hand as I told you!)
The switchgear on the motorcycle is typical Honda however, the awkward placement of the horn switch, exactly opposite of the usual, is difficult to get used to. The indicators too have been shoved below and are a sway away from normality. Seems like switchgears are not Honda’s forte 😉
The instrumentation is all digital and is easy enough to read even when riding all guns blazing. The huge gap between the two pods though is not something which is welcoming despite the pseudo carbon fibre effect. In fact, that makes it feel like a cheap commuter. Not something which you would like to see in a motorcycle in circa 2016.
That said the setup is very well built. Yes, way better than the (age-old) CBR 250R – the closest smaller motorcycle in Honda’s product portfolio. Localisation levels are very low at 5 per cent and Honda has, time and again, said this – they would love to increase it, but they have no plans to do so in the immediate future. Simply put, they do not have a lot of confidence in Indian manufacturing for technically complex bikes like these at the moment!
The V-shaped head lamp appears to sedate the overall looks but helps in lending a sense of maturity. The blacks look very well placed, helping the reds emerge and dazzle.
The tail blends well, and has a neatly integrated grabrail. The tail lamp though looks a bit outdated to me. The single seat not just looks comfortable but is also a delight for longer rides. The engine is almost naked and the strongest point of the motorcycle. It has been kept inclined towards the front for 50:50 weight distribution but the pulled down crankcase cover is a problem in stop go traffic. Yes, the Indian summers do not help it either. But hey, as I said earlier, you can negate that normal city traffic using higher gears. But you will hate it when you are stuck in the 2nd or the 3rd cog and have to brake every minute. May the Force be with you then.
The noticeable issue with the bike is the vibration which you can feel on the handlebar at around 7,000 rpm. That’s bang in the middle of the powerband. Now it might not be apparent in the city but the long highway ride left a tingling buzz on my wrists and fingers. The stock exhaust, however, leaves the enthusiast in me at a loss, crying for Akrapovic! That’s just out of this world, making the in-line four sing a completely different and royal tone.
Fuel Efficiency? The trigger happy me managed to average 18 kmpl for two days of riding. That is fairly decent for any middleweight four cylinder. A little restrained riding will surely help pull up the figure, but of course you are not going to buy the motorcycle to run it like a commuter.
So can the Honda CBR 650F do it all? Yes, at Rs 7.3 lakhs (ex-showroom, Delhi), the bike is priced precariously close to the Kawasaki Z800. It is more expensive than the twin cylinder Ninja 650 but certainly gets more features than its compatriot. While enthusiasts will get past the learning curve of this motorcycle very soon, a mature rider will love its versatility. Be it the streets or the highways, the bike has enough juice to keep you entertained. So much so that I would even keep it as an everyday ride. Yes, the price does seem high but that’s the premium you pay for quality, and a better future. CBR 650F’s sales performance will decide what route will Honda take in bringing their (slightly more affordable) machinery in India.