Honda CBR1000RR Gains More Pop

What we have here feels like a 2005 CBR that has had a hot poker shoved up its more attractive tailpipe. Instead of feeling lazy and demure, the ’06 Honda CBR1000RR has been given a transplanted personality that is much more eager and ornery. We welcome this transmogrification with open arms, as the RR now offers up thrills that would make the old girl blush.

“What a difference a year makes!” enthuses MCUSA’s Editorial Director Ken Hutchison. “The CBR feels lighter and accelerates harder than last year’s machine, which were my biggest complaints about the bike.”

Ergonomically, the Honda is mostly unchanged, with the notable exception of more compliant seat foam that extends the bike’s comfort zone during longer rides. Its moderately low clip-ons and a tightish seat-to-peg distance will eventually get tiresome. The fattest tank of the group makes the bike feel thick through the middle, but it’s not too wide and doesn’t really cause any ergonomic grief.

The CBR’s wind protection is nothing to write home about, though it is better than the R1. Its windscreen is close to the rider, but shoulders and head are hit with a stiff breeze. You might’ve read elsewhere its engine is smooth, but that’s not quite the case. An 80-mph cruise is accompanied by noticeable vibration at 4,900 rpm. Its instruments are rather plain looking, though easy to read, but the CBR is now the only bike without a lap-timer function.

One advantage the Honda has over the others is better manners in normal street traffic. The only hydraulic clutch of the bunch is easy to modulate with a fairly light pull, and smaller riders will appreciate the only adjustable-span clutch lever in the group. The CBR is exceptionally snappy at lower speeds, aided by an additional rear-sprocket tooth for ’06 that results in the shortest overall first-gear ratio by a wide margin. While this can sometimes be a drawback on the racetrack, it makes for a much more streetable gearbox. Combine this with midrange power that matches the class leaders, and you’ve got the best powertrain for tooling around town.

That healthy midrange squirt is helpful not only on the street, but it also makes for responsive grunt out of the corners on a racetrack. The engine’s only slight glitch is its slightly abrupt throttle response when re-applying power at high revs.

“What the motor lacks in sheer power, it makes up for in rideability,” says Brian Chamberlain, MCUSA’s Creative Director. “The power delivery is smooth and predictable all the way through its linear powerband.”

The CBR’s transmission worked well, but not all our testers gave it high marks. Though it has light, short throws, some thought it was a bit notchier than the rest with a less precise feel.

The biggest difference over the previous version is its newfound agility. The word “nimble” was frequently scribbled on notepads, and what was once the most ponderous bike to chuck around now rivals the class-leading Suzuki. No surprise, really, as the CBR’s slightly steeper rake is balanced by slightly more trail than the Gixxer, and they both claim an identical wheelbase of 55.3 inches. At Buttonwillow with the 180-section rear tire, the liter-sized CBR felt almost as nimble as the CBR600RR I rode at the same track during its 2005 model introduction. It’s a lot more eager to tackle corners than before, whether on the street or the track.

Sharper chassis geometry can make for a nervous ride, and this new CBR doesn’t have the same level of unflappability as it once did. But after we properly dialed in the CBR’s suspension, Honda’s electronic steering damper took care of whatever bar-slapping began to emerge.

“Confidence-inspiring stability has always been a strong suit of the CBR, and this year’s bike is no different,” Chamberlain gushed. “It seems that no matter what you do to try and upset the bike, the chassis remains fully composed at all times.”

The CBR’s suspension received several tweaks for ’06, which were generally well received. The rear end has a slightly softer spring that works through a less progressive linkage, while the front got stiffer springs and additional preload. The setup initially felt harsh at Buttonwillow, but some tweaking to Honda’s recommended setup helped it suck up bumps as well as anything.

Last year, we judged the Honda’s brakes to be the worst of the group. Its front discs are now 10mm larger in diameter (to 320mm), but they’ve been made thinner for a reduction of weight. This results in a system that is firmly in the hunt.

“They do a much better job of scrubbing off speed,” says Chamberlain, a former roadracer. “In addition to slowing down quicker, the brakes also seem to experience less fade than previous years.”

Still, there were a few of us who judged the brakes more critically, perhaps due to the CBR being the only one in the group without a radial-pump master cylinder. The Honda also came up a bit short in the Features category, as its lack of a slipper clutch and lap timer affected its scores in Transmission/Clutch, Instrumentation/Cockpit and Value.

“In a class as tight as this one,” BC notes, “missing a component as valuable as a slipper clutch is an easy way to justify a point deduction.”

Otherwise its scores were mostly near the top, and it didn’t hurt that most of us believed the RR to be one of the most attractive and well-finished bikes of the lot. Overall, we think Honda has done an amazing job with this new CBR. At first glance, not much seems to have been changed, and some of us figured Big Red would be fighting to stay out of last place. The old version was wonderfully stable, but it was heavy and felt, dare we say, as boring as a 145-hp sportbike could be.

The 2006 revisions have changed all that, as the CBR1000RR has won over several new converts among our testers. It now has a frisky personality that makes it a much more engaging experience.

“The CBR1000’s newfound snarliness was a most welcome surprise,” notes guest rider Eric Putter.

Testers’ Note Pad

  • Seat cowl a $179.95 option
  • Poorest fuel economy of the group
  • Mirrors only a bit better than GSX-R; slightly narrower than the R1
  • Headlight isn’t conspicuous in daylight
  • Wheelies much easier
  • Blew blue smoke during compression braking, just like our CBR600RR
  • “It has a high and wide feel” -DB
  • “I felt the most confident on the track aboard the CBR” -KH
  • “As a long-time Honda fan I expected something smoother and more comfortable” - JH