Honda CBR1000RR

After annihilating the competition for the last two years the Honda CBR1000RR returns to Superbike Smackdown for another title defense. Introduced as a clean sheet design in ’08 (read about it in the 2008 Honda CBR1000RR First Ride) the CBR finally receives its first update in the form of a larger engine flywheel said to increase top end engine performance without sacrificing power elsewhere. The rest of the changes are cosmetic and include two new colorways. Was the lone engine update enough to allow it to keep pace with the onslaught of competition? Let’s find out.


The heart of the CBR is its liquid-cooled 999cc Inline Four. It sports a 76.0 x 55.1mm bore/stroke which is barely larger than the Kawi and the most oversquare of the four cylinders with exception of the BMW. However, compression ratio is the lowest of the group and only rated at 12.3:1. A 16-valve cylinder head, double overhead camshafts and twin fuel-injectors per cylinder are used.

Right off the bottom the Honda delivers a soft spread of power. It feels similar to the Kawasaki and makes it easy to get on and ride even if you don’t have a lot of experience piloting liter-class sportbikes. Engine vibration is muted but not to the level of the ultra-smooth level of the Yamaha or even the Kawasaki.

Right around 5000 rpm the engine morphs and 1000 rpm later it’s cranking out more torque than any of the four cylinders. Although the engine gains momentum at a slower pace it still feels like its cranking out some serious midrange power. Torque finally plateaus alongside the Suzuki with 77.63 lb-ft available at 9200 revs. This positions the CBR toward the front of the four-cylinder group in measured peak torque but it’s still bested by the BMW’s 80.31 ft-lb at 10,700 rpm.

Although the zenith of its horsepower production comes on relatively low in the rev range (10,300) it’s still some seven horsepower down on the Suzuki, nine down on the Kawi and nearly 29 down on the BMW. With 3000 revs remaining before redline the Honda offers respectable over-rev with horsepower staying in the mid-to-low 150s before the rev-limiter cuts in.

“The Honda has great midrange,” observed Atlas. “It’s kind of tame of the bottom but by the time you get the rpm to six or seven grand it gets with the program. But then up top it kind of peters out. It felt better than last year’s but still compared to the BMW the Honda feels slower. Still for the street it’s hard to knock the Honda’s motor. It works really well.”

Even with its monster midrange engine performance we still netted the highest MPG figure observing an average of 33.8 miles-per-gallon which was just 0.4 better than the Suzuki. The CBR also benefited from having the second-largest fuel capacity (4.7-gallons) which gave us a range of nearly 160 miles between fill ups.

As expected, throttle response is excellent but overall the engine is a bit short on personality. True, it does make some racy noises but there isn’t any intake roar or anything else playful that really makes your heart race other than the digital speedo readout jumping from 54 mph, 67 mph , 78 mph… well you get the idea. During the non-points-weighted sound test the CBR equaled the BMW’s decibel rating at both idle (82) and at half maximum engine speed (100). This is surprising because the Honda actually sounds quieter than its numbers would lead you to believe.


The clutch, transmission and final drive gearing received unanimous praise from test riders, actually ranking right up with the power-shift equipped BMW. One of the best features of its 6-speed transmission is the low ratio first gear. This not only maximizes the Honda’s copious torque curve but also allows it to access its top end power faster than the other bikes and it showed in the quarter mile acceleration test.

Despite being down on peak horsepower the CBR ripped off a 9.706-second quarter mile time at a speed of 141.7 mph. The excellent feel and smooth light action provided by the cable-activated clutch also played a significant part during launch as did its more street-oriented 16/42 final drive gearing.

Zero shifting gremlins were reported over the duration of the test and the gearbox offers a positive engagement every time. It does have slightly more shift lever play as compared to the ultra-precise Yamaha but it works so well that it’s a moot point. The slipper-clutch performance was flawless as well with it feeling nearly identical to the Suzuki.


As usual the CBR impressed everyone with the feel of its cockpit and balanced ergonomics. Swing a leg over it and the seat height feels short even despite what the tape measure read (32.3 in.). This is identical to the Ducati’s seat height and in between the BMW’s (32.0 in) and the Kawi’s (32.7 in.). The Honda ties the BMW as feeling the narrowest between the rider’s legs among the Inline Four group.

Even though it lacks adjustment the position of the handlebars worked well for our group. The bars are wide and are positioned fairly high which equate to a relaxed riding position similar to the GSX-R. The foot controls do not offer adjustment but our test riders didn’t seem to mind as they are low enough to allow for an above-average level of sportbike comfort.

At freeway speeds the mirrors work well too. They are large, resist vibrating and offer a good view of what’s happening at the rear. But the front fairing is small and the windscreen is short. Together they don’t do a very good job of shielding the rider from the wind. So if you’re planning on racking up the miles on the freeway you’ll definitely want to invest in a taller windscreen. Our last gripe is with the seat as it made our butts sore faster than some of the other bikes.


Whether you’re rolling around the parking lot or riding on your favorite twisty section of tarmac, without question the Honda feels the lightest even though it isn’t so on the scale. With a full tank of fuel the CBR weighed in at 451 lbs. That’s one pound more than the BMW and 10-lbs more than the class-leading Ducati.

Out on the road it serves up a level of agility the other bikes can’t match. Corner entry requires the least amount of muscle but it still doesn’t maneuver from side-to-side as quickly as the KTM—it is close though. Once turned in the chassis feels taut and delivers an above average level of road feel. Standing the bike up and driving off the corner isn’t a problem either even on bumpy pavement as the chassis is well-sorted. Although the Honda rolls on a different spec Bridgestone tire (BT-015) they felt similar in grip and feel to the BT-016s on the Kawi and Suzuki.

“The neatest thing about the Honda is how easy it is to ride,” remarked Atlas. “It just does everything really well. It turns into a corner nicely, it’s planted, and it’s easy to pick it up and drive off the corner. Plus the chassis is balanced and the suspension is totally dialed.”

As Atlas so eloquently put the suspension is great in stock trim. It provides a near perfect balance between sport riding and everyday comfort. It’s feels plush absorbing bumps but then it also works fine when you’re bombing around corners. Suspension action actually feels similar to the Suzuki, but the Honda’s greater level of agility at no cost of stability gives it that extra boost making it the better overall bike in terms of outright handling.


Braking performance was yet another category in which the Honda ranked high. The braking system is highlighted by a set of smallish-looking Tokico radial-mount 4-piston calipers powered by a radial master cylinder. The calipers grab a pair of 310mm diameter discs. The rear brake is comprised of a solo 220mm disc actuated by a twin-piston caliper. Brake fluid is pushed through rubber lines front and back.

Even during prolonged aggressive use in the canyons the brakes were 100% fade-free. Initial brake bite is high but just a hair less than the BMW. Perhaps our favorite feature of the brakes is the ridiculous amount of feel they deliver through the lever which allow you to use them aggressively right up to the point of lock-up.

Just look at the results of the braking performance test. The Honda stopped from 60 mph in just 126 feet and if it had Honda’s optional C-ABS system we presume an even shorter stopping distance would have been achieved.


This is one of the few categories that the Honda came up short in. It’s not that we don’t value its clear and legible instrument display, because we do. The only thing missing is a gear position indicator not to mention a larger, brighter shift-light that the Suzuki and Yamaha employ. But our real complaint is that it doesn’t offer any adjustable electronics as used on the Aprilia, Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki, and BMW.

However it is worth mentioning that you can purchase ABS as a $1000 option. We tested a similar system during the 2009 CBR600RR C-ABS – First Ride and it really impressed us with the added level of confidence and security during braking on wet and slippery road surfaces. The only problem is you can’t turn it off like you can on the BMW.


Even though it’s in the third year of its design cycle the $13,399 Honda is still one of the best street bikes money can buy. Sure, top end performance isn’t as robust as some of the other bikes but you simply can’t ignore its smooth street-friendly midrange engine performance. And who can forget its incredibly dialed chassis that somehow manages to be both sporty and comfortable at the same time. In this cut-throat group of Superbikes the veteran CBR mustered-up an impressive runner-up position. If you’re looking for a fun, comfortable and easy to ride liter-bike then take note: The Honda CBR1000RR won’t disappoint.