The venerable sportbike still keeps up with the pack

When Honda set out to build the latest generation CBR1000RR, who knew it would become one of best sportbikes ever made? Not only is Honda’s $13,399 liter-bike a two-time Superbike Smackdown Track and Street champ, it’s reputedly one of the primary benchmarks used when BMW engineered its own S1000RR. Although it’s been a few years since the bike received any major technical updates, the 2011 Honda CBR1000RR continues to make an impression on us.

Physically, the CBR appears to be one of the more compact motorcycles in this group; however, when you jump into the saddle, the cockpit layout isn’t unusually tight. In fact, next to the RC8R, the CBR offers the most accommodating ergonomics package in this test, which is surprising considering it lacks any sort of control surface adjustability. Even though the seat is a little higher than the rest at 32.3 inches, with exception of the Ducati and Yamaha, it doesn’t feel that lofty. The seat also offers a reasonable degree of comfort, though it isn’t quite as good as the GSX-R’s seat. The rearview mirrors are shaped well and provide a clean view but the windshield could be a little taller. Lastly, we liked how slim the Honda is despite its Inline-Four engine configuration. On the scales, the CBR1000RR weighs in at 443 pounds – four more than the class-lightweight Kawasaki ZX-10R. This combination of light weight and low center of gravity makes the Honda feel like one of the lightest bikes in this test too.

“The Honda is one of the easiest bikes to ride,” comments Dawes. “Not only is it comfortable, it feels really small and compact. It’s really light too. In fact, there isn’t much I don’t like about the bike besides the styling.”

The Instrumentation/Electronics category is one area where the CBR came up a little short. For sure it’s mixed analog/digital display is easy to read, but it lacks some of features, including a gear position indicator and electronic amenities like adjustable engine power maps or traction control. To be fair, however, the bike is so user-friendly and non-intimidating that it really doesn’t need them. But in this day and age technology helps lure buyers into the dealerships.

Getting underway from a stop on the CBR is easy due to a rather low first gear, responsive cable-actuated clutch and one-finger-easy lever pull. Final drive gearing is 16/42, more reasonable for street use than some of the other bikes’ final drive because it helps maximize engine power.

Speaking of power, or a lack there of, the Honda didn’t really astound us with its mid-pack outright horsepower output. You can argue that 153.08 hp @ 10,800 rpm isn’t anything to scoff at, but it does leave the CBR1000RR three horsepower down on the GSX-R1000 and about a half pony up on the RC8R. That’s not real impressive on paper. What saves the CBR is its fat, and class-leading, mid-range engine performance that outshines the rest of the Inline-Fours. The dyno graph shows how the CBR stays above the rest of the Fours from five to ten-grand. This, combined with the shorter gearing, makes it a real torque monster on the street. Its maximum torque rings in at 77.79 lb-ft at 9700 revs, which is just a single lb-ft shy of the S1000RR – roughly 10 down to the Twins. This helps the Honda accelerate harder than some of the other bikes during the majority of riding scenarios.

With its strong mid-range engine performance always on tap, the Honda offers the best fuel economy figure observing an average of 36.7 mpg. The CBR also benefited from having the second-largest fuel capacity at 4.7 gallons, which gives it a range of 158.9 miles between fill-ups.

In the acceleration tests, the Honda achieved the third-fastest 0-to-60 mph time of 2.90 seconds, two tenths behind the class leading S1000RR and a mere hundredth off of the GSX-R. In the quarter mile the CBR ripped off a 10.07-second run at a speed of 143.4 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 final drive gearing. Without a doubt a 9-second run would have been possible, but we were only giving each bike three attempts at the strip to keep things fair. The six-speed transmission performed flawlessly, and all of our testers were pleased with the calibration of the slipper-clutch during hard-charging corner entry maneuvers.

While the Honda’s powerband impressed us, its overall character, including sound, was lacking. When the engine is loaded it doesn’t really deliver the same sensation of speed as the other superbikes. The roar of the engine seems muted, which doesn’t make it quite as exciting. The results from the sound test show that the CBR equaled the BMW’s decibel rating of 82 dB at both idle and 100 dB at half maximum engine speed, which really came as a surprise considering how quiet it seems on the road. We also noticed that the engine vibrated more than some of the other Inlines, including the silky-smooth ZX-10R and Yamaha R1.

“For the street the Honda has the best engine,” explains Steeves. “It doesn’t have the top-end pull of the BMW or Kawi or Suzuki for that matter – but for the majority of situations you’re in on the street it doesn’t really matter. What does matter though is how hard it pulls between seven and 10,000 rpm.”

Once again Honda’s chassis has impressed us after we ride it back to back with the rest of the pack. Out on the road it delivers a level of agility comparable to the Ninja ZX-10R, making it one of the best-handling four-cylinders in the shootout. Corner entry requires minimal effort, but it still doesn’t maneuver from side-to-side as quickly as the KTM – it is close though. Similar to the BMW and Kawasaki, the Honda delivers a smooth, supple ride without compromising its sporting ability. The suspension is balanced, performs well on virtually any road surface, and was rated at the top of our Handling & Suspension category.

“Of all the bikes in this test, the Honda is probably the easiest for me to ride in the twisties,” comments Gauger. “You don’t need to put a lot of input into the bike to make it change directions; it just kind of does it by itself … at least it feels that way. In my opinion there isn’t a better handling bike out there.”

The CBR continued to receive high marks in the Brake category, where it was ranked second behind the technologically superior BMW, but ahead of the fashionable Brembo-equipped Twins. Even though the radial-mount Tokico brakes look amateur compared to the sturdy monoblocs employed on the Ducati and KTM, the Honda’s set-up is more than enough to get the job done. Initial bite from the front brakes wasn’t quite as sharp as we remember, but power and feel progressively ramps up as you tug harder on the lever. The rear brake worked flawlessly too and is comparable to the rest of the Inline bikes. In our braking test, the Honda was able to stop in a distance of 134 feet from 60 mph, good enough for second best behind the ZX-10R and S1000RR, which tied for top honors at 129 feet.

If you’re seeking the easiest and most affordable liter-class sportbike for 2011, then strongly consider the CBR1000RR. Its powertrain is perfectly suited for the street, and its chassis is still one of the best on the market today. The bike is comfortable, easy to ride and gets excellent gas mileage, so what’s not to like about it? Even though it doesn’t feature all the electronic bells and whistles that are becoming more common on some of the other bikes, the 2011 Honda CBR1000RR works so well that you’ll probably not miss them. If it wasn’t for the high-tech rocket ship from Germany, the CBR would be a four-time Superbike Smackdown champion, and that is very impressive.