2007 Honda CBR600RR

MSRP: $9,499
Weight: 381 lbs (empty tank)
Weight Distribution: 51.2% F (w/full tank)
Peak HP: 103.2 @ 13,700 rpm
Peak Torque: 43.9 lb-ft @ 11,200 rpm
1/4-mile: 10.60 @ 133.7 mph
Observed Fuel Economy: 36.4 mpg

Honda’s CBR600 needed a jolt of invigoration. The original model that debuted 20 years ago kicked butt up and down, and it was followed by several more Honda butt kickers through the years.

But the CBR has had to fight hard to stay out of the shadow of the pesky and potent R6 since it had its coming-out party in 1999. In ’03 Honda countered with its first double-R CBR600, and although it was racier than ever and proved to be our subjective favorite that year, the Yamaha took the official win on our scorecards. The R6 also took victory the following year, and in 2006 it morphed into one of the most arresting sportbike shapes ever. It’s enough to give the CBR an inferiority complex!

Apparently tired of getting sand kicked in its face, Honda must’ve called up Joe Weider or Al Ludington or somebody, because this reinvigorated CBR is ready to get back to its old butt-kicking days.

But before hitting the gym, the CBR hit the steam room and the Cortislim retailer. The new CBR weighs in at just 381 lbs with an empty tank, making it the lightest middleweight ever, and even less than the anorexic Triumph Daytona 675’s 390 lbs. That works out to a massive 17-lb reduction from the previous year. Even more incredible is that Honda found a way to lop off a colossal 32 lbs since the 2003/2004 version! It’s also a full dozen pounds lighter than the R6, the next lightest in the class. Take that, Yamaha!

And if the least mass isn’t enough to thwart its challengers, Honda engineers have endowed the RR with the raciest chassis geometry of the group. The aggressive rake and trail numbers (23.7 degrees, 96mm, respectively) closely mimic those of the GSX-R600, but nothing in the class can touch the CBR’s ultra-stubby 53.8-inch wheelbase.

These numbers when combined can create a twitchy little devil, but big Red’s engineers have exorcised that demon by conjuring up the latest Honda Electronic Steering Damper. Nearly half the size of the HESD on the CBR1000RR, it keeps a tight rein on any headshake shenanigans.

“Turn-ins are extremely quick, yet stability remains high as well,” compliments MCUSA Creative Director, Brian Chamberlain. “The huge weight loss only improves its flick-ability.”

It truly is impressive how Honda has been able to build a stable bike with such radical geometry. Credit the HESD, but the techie damper – stuffed under the forward end of the fuel tank cover – isn’t without compromise. Street testing in the twisty hills above Malibu revealed a bike more difficult to transition than the specs indicate. A reduction in sub-60-mph damping would increase the CBR’s agility. Still, all of our testers rated the CBR highly, both on the street and on the track.

“The CBR is more nimble than its predecessor,” comments MCUSA Editorial Director Ken Hutchison, “but it’s not as sharp as the R6.”

Part of what makes the CBR appealing is its ergonomics and riding position, which received top marks from our testers. “Hands down, the CBR fit me best,” says the 5’8″ Hutch. And Shawn Roberti, multi-time Oregon/Washington state roadracing champ and perennial fast-guy tester for MCUSA, also bragged about the Honda’s ergos. “The riding position is more over the front, which gives you better feel for the bike throughout the turn, including entry, apex and exit. It’s very racy feeling.”

Racy, yes, but also more humane than previous. A 10mm increase in handlebar height increases comfort, but more prominent is the improvement to the CBR’s saddle. Previously an upholstered ironing board, the seat on the ’07 bike treats a butt with a little respect and makes all-day rides much more hospitable.

“The ergos on the CBR almost made me feel like I was back on my F4i with its softer seat and less aggressive riding position,” lauds Robin Haldane, MCUSA’s graphics and video meister.

The seat looks similar to previous saddles and is placed at the same 32.3-inch seat height, but it feels shorter than that because of the narrow section at its forward end which allows legs a straight shot at the ground. Its footpegs, previously early to drag, are narrower and provide much greater ground clearance when cornering.

Instrumentation is just a gear-position indicator short of flawlessness. In addition to the easy-to-read tach and digital speedo is an LCD display that includes two tripmeters, a clock and a class-distinct fuel gauge; it also has a countdown tripmeter that begins when the reserve portion of the fuel is reached, similar to the system used on Yamahas for several years. And, at 4.8 gallons, the RR boasts the largest tank in the class.

So far we’ve painted a rather flattering picture of the CBR, but we haven’t even got to the one aspect in which the Honda clearly outshines them all. The 599cc engine was shrunken in every dimension but its powerband. The accompanying dyno chart on your right provides a clear illustration of the CBR’s motor advantage.

“The new engine has to be the highlight of the new CBR, and of the shootout, for that matter,” BC extols. “It’s hands down the best motor in the test – the power comes on strong around 7K and continues to pull hard all the way through the rev range. No other 600 can match its midrange pull, and the power up top feels right on par as well. The strong pull from the midrange makes this bike easy to ride fast on the track, and it was easily my favorite bike to ride on the street, especially in the really tight stuff where you could grab a handful and power-wheelie out of every corner.” (Man, BC sure helps with the word count!)

Proving that perfection is but an abstract idea is the single glitch in the CBR’s excellent powertrain. Reapplying throttle mid-corner can result in a bit of abruptness. This can be ridden around fairly easily on the track, but it can be more unnerving in street situations, especially in bumpy corners when an unexpected burst of power might be the exact wrong thing you need. Compounding this issue is the stiffest throttle spring of the group, taking noticeably more effort to twist than the ZX and Gixxer.

If our black and silver bomber lacked anything, it was a slipper clutch – the only bike here without one. Honda engineers say the bike doesn’t need one and are willing to accept any complaints about its absence. Honda does provide its intake-air control valve (IACV), a gizmo that is said to “smooth engine response when the throttle is opened or closed by creating more gradual initial transitions in throttle settings.” But from the condition mentioned above, we’re not sure how effective the IACV is. And it’s certainly no substitute for a slipper clutch.

But this new CBR is a real gem. It received exemplary marks in nearly every category. Its brakes are the best of the bunch, with an ease of modulation belying its hella powerful clamping force. And the gearbox in this CBR is the best one yet, exhibiting short and accurate throws.

“Without a doubt, the CBR is the most fun bike to ride, either on the track or on the street,” says Kenny. “It easily has the most exciting power delivery and it is comfortable to ride from the moment you climb aboard.”

It doesn’t hurt the Honda’s case that this is, in our eyes, the coolest looking CBR ever. The tightly tailored bodywork looks both sleek and minimalistic at the same time, and we love how the designers have let us see some daylight peek through when looking at a profile of the bike. From its nose (and meanest-ever Line-Beam headlights) to its tail (and a more aggressively cut underseat exhaust outlet), the 2007 CBR600RR is a beauty.

Still, there’s always a critic, right, Haldane? “With all the work Honda has done to make this bike look great,” says the artist, “I don’t understand why they continue to use the same ugly turn signals that they have been using since the ’80s.” The rest of us don’t understand, either.

Apart from that minor faux pas and the priciest MSRP, there’s not much to dislike about this new CBR (well, we could say something about its rather timid exhaust note). In our previous Supersport Shootout we wrote: “You just know that the anticipated Version 2.0 of the double-R is going to shuffle up the rankings again next year.”

We were right.