Honda CBR1000RR Takes on a Stacked 2007 Superbike Class

The Honda CBR1000RR has had a pretty good run during its tenure as the manufacturer’s flagship motorcycle. Not only has it won the prestigious Suzuka 8 hours every time it rolled onto the grid, it claimed the 2006 British Superbike crown as well. It’s also been in contention for the FIM World Superbike title the last two seasons and at the moment is leading the ’07 title chase thanks to James Toseland claiming victory in five of the first ten races.

Last year the CBR was endowed with a five-horsepower boost and a beefier mid-range coupled with a more acute steering head angle, shorter wheelbase and a 17-lb weight reduction. The result was a lighter, quicker-steering machine that took second place in the track portion of Superbike Smackdown III. Its overly refined feel and lack of impressive top-end performance held it back in the rankings but the ’06 CBR was so much better than the ’05 version that it played the role of sleeper. Since it’s essentially the same bike for ’07, we knew it was going to give the other bikes a run for their money this time out.

On the track the rider-friendly CBR1000RR continues to inspire confidence thanks to its well-sorted RC211V-inspired chassis, compliant suspension and stout brakes. The Honda is now the lightest of the group and features the most aggressive chassis geometry. This pays dividends on both tight twisty tracks and flowing canyon roads, so when the sharp handling is combined with a motor built for quick bursts of speed it should come as no surprise that the CBR was the weapon of choice for more than one of our test riders.

Between track sessions our test riders commented on how good the Honda felt, which is striking considering everyone’s distinctly different body sizes and riding styles.

“The ergonomics were spot on,” says the wiry Jimmy Moore. “This was also the best laid out cockpit that I have ever experienced on a stock motorcycle. The tank was just wide enough to leave you something to hang onto, so when you reached out to the perfectly spaced handlebars and put your feet on the perfectly located pegs, everything felt like you had put it there yourself.”

Even the 6’2″ Michael Earnest found the CBR ergonomics to his liking. “I immediately feel comfortable riding this bike at speed,” he explains. “The triangle relationship between the bars, pegs and seat gave me a comfortable sport-oriented riding position and was obviously well thought out.”

The praise didn’t end there. Both pro riders ranked the Honda’s radial-mount four-piston calipers and 320mm rotors as the best brakes of the bunch. With all of the attention on its carving capabilities, solid brakes, and user-friendly ergos it would be easy to overlook that it also edged out the GSX-R for best suspension of the group – although Mr. Moore took exception to the unique feeling of the Unit Pro-Link system.

“The front end gives good feedback and seems to be set-up well,” says the two-time AMA Superstock champ. “The rear end, however, had a strange spongy feel to it that I can only assume comes from Honda’s Pro-Link design because it’s the only bike that exhibited this trait.”

Not all is perfect on the big CBR though. The quick revving motor and lack of a slipper clutch really held it back in the eyes of the fast guys. It tops out much sooner than the other bikes, and for less experienced track riders the harder-hitting midrange requires a much defter throttle hand than the R1 or GSX-R if you’re pushing it hard. Plus, both of those bikes are equipped with a slipper-type clutch that helps keep the agro nature of braking into a turn on these fast bastards in check. Both of those bikes are a little more forgiving than a bike that piles on the midrange torque as quickly as the CBR and Ninja do. But it’s really a Catch 22: On one hand the CBR is easy to ride because the short gearing provides a margin for error when selecting gears, but on the other hand when you need the extra motor on top, it doesn’t have it. Once you get past its petite peak at 11,200 rpm the bike falls off and the competition keeps on producing. That is the primary complaint from the fast dudes.

“The motor was the biggest let down,” says Moore. “If I had only ridden the CBR, I may have been impressed by the power. But since it was one of four and the others were damn fire breathers, the Honda’s motor just left you waiting and wanting more. It just never seemed to get angry and hit like the other bikes, though it is still extremely fast. As much as I wanted to like this bike, it just simply gets its ass kicked, in stock form, by the other players. I will be riding a mildly tuned version of this bike at the 2007 Isle of Man TT for Black Horse Honda this year, so I was looking forward to riding it. It is beautiful to look at and seems to have a timeless look to it that doesn’t seem dated, futuristic or over the top. It’s simple and sexy.”

While Jimmy waged an internal battle about his feelings for the CBR, the rest of us soldiered on, churning out laps and filling up notepads as the sun dropped low in the western sky. I recall looking at the Honda after my last session with it and thinking how crazy it is that we’re whining about the top end of a bike this fast and powerful. The sun was glinting off the bodywork, beckoning me to man-up and take it out for another spin. About that time Mikey commandeered it and that’s the last I ever saw of her. The temperature had stabilized and traction was seemingly at its peak when the normally unflappable Mr. Earnest discovered an unfortunate side effect of pushing for lap times on stock machines. Out of nowhere the CBR low-sided at well over 100 mph in the entrance of Buttonwillow’s super-fast Riverside turn. After a long, long slide across the tarmac and a head-over-heels spin through the dirt our tenure with the CBR came to an abrupt halt. Luckily it was at the end of the day. Even more fortunate was that our friend and test rider escaped relatively unscathed.

After a brief hiatus from head-to-head testing we had a CBR back in our possession a few days later, so we hit the roads of So Cal for the street stage of Superbike Smackdown IV.

It is on the open road where the CBR gains ground on the competition. With 75.9 lb-ft of torque available around 8,700 rpm, along with gearing tailor-made for street use, it’s tough to beat for the average Joe. Take that with a grain of salt though. These bikes are best suited for riders with experience, self-control and respect for the awesome power which they wield. Like our third guest tester Brian Steeves.

The Honda’s light weight and proper gearing grabbed B.S.’s attention quicker than a boozed-up Betty in a leopard-print Lycra body suit. The point being our resident stunt rider really took a liking to the CBR after just a few hours of strutting through Malibu.

Innuendos aside, the CBR does have a few faults on the street which deserve mention. It vibrates noticeably more than the other bikes in the middle of the rev range, which coincidentally is where it makes the most usable power. So it’s a trade off, you get the meaty midrange but with a tingling lower torso. That same riding position that the racer boys thought was so sweet is a little aggressive on the street, especially when compared to the multi-purpose GSX-R with its adjustable pegs and decent wind protection.

The fact remains that the CBR1000RR is a very versatile machine. It holds its own on the racetrack and it is a contender on the street as well. While not everyone was enamored with it to the extent of Earnest or B.S., there’s no denying that it received a considerable amount of kudos from everyone.

“Jump on this bike and go fast – with ease,” Steeves states succinctly. “With tons of useable power in the midrange it makes for a near perfect street bike. You don’t have to worry about what gear you’re in if you need to lane change or fall victim to that spur of the moment need to pass your friend on the mountain in your quest for the NETP (Non-Exsistent Trophy Prize).”

Some of the complaints we have lobbied here may very well be addressed by the engineers in charge of designing the replacement for this beast. If you look at what Honda brought to the table with its 2007 CBR600RR it’s easy to imagine a new 1000 with a true 160 horsepower and a beefed-up version of its little brother’s super-light chassis. Until then consumers will have to be content with the all around goodness of the 2007 Honda CBR1000RR.