2008 Honda CBR1000RR Review

Remember that Honda commercial back in the 90s that boasted the tag line: Even the Ninja must hide from the Hurricane… Well, friends, unfortunately for the Ninja, that marketing adage rings in as true today as it did when Oakley M-Frames were cool. But this is no old school F-model CBR and it ain’t your Daddy’s 900RR – this is the brand new, bad-ass 2008 Honda CBR1000RR and it embodies the best of the big bore sportbike class.

Engine: 999cc In-Line Four cylinder, 16-valve

Bore x Stroke: 76 x 55.1mm

Horsepower: 153.4 @ 10,700 rpm

Torque: 78.74 @ 9400 rpm

Weight: 439 lbs w/ Fuel – 410.8 lbs w/o Fuel (4.7 gal)

Power to Weight Ratio: 0.35 hp per lbs.

Rake & Trail: 23.3 x 96.2mm

Wheelbase: 55.4-in.

Seat Height: 32.3-in.

Measured MPG: 35.5-mpg

MSRP: $11,599

For the past few years the CBR1000RR has been a force to be reckoned with on the international racing scene, with Ryuichi Kiyonari claiming back-to-back British Superbike titles in ’05-06 and James Toseland taking the 2007 World Superbike championship. In stock trim, the ’04 version started out heavy and slow, then lost weight and gained power by the end of its four-year tenure in ’07 and nearly nipped the GSX-R1000 in Smackdown IV, so expectations were high when Honda went back to the drawing board for this latest rendition. Intent on building the best open class superbike money can buy, the 500-lb red gorilla applies lessons learned from its successful CBR600RR project and delivers a motorcycle that leaves the competitors of Superbike Smackdown V searching for answers.

Much more compact than its predecessor, this year’s double-R feels down right diminutive when compared back-to-back with the other bikes. From the moment you climb on board you know it means business, but once you’re motoring along and feel how hard it accelerates, you will be asking yourself what in the hell took Honda so long to make this thing?

“Next to the Ducati, the Honda is the slimmest bike,” reports Waheed. “It feels the smallest front-to-back and the riding position is very natural. It doesn’t stretch you out, but at the same time it positions your body in such a way that you really feel comfortable on track.”

This is the type of rip-snorting superbike we’ve come to expect from the Smackdown regulars over the years. The power delivery and gearing are versatile and the suspension requires the least amount of effort to sort out. Up front the 43mm HMAS inverted fork is excellent and the rider-friendly Unit Pro-Link set-up is equally adept. Aces Earnest and Sid were particularly enamored with the chassis and suspension of the CBR. Earnest ranked its fork and shock among the highest, while Sid goes so far as to claim that, in some cases, it can do no wrong.

“The Honda has the best mid-corner stability of any Inline I have ever ridden,” states Sid, our secretive Superbike veteran. “But corner exit is where the Honda really makes all its time. Make sure you idiots don’t blow it and fail to point that out.”

Posting impressive numbers is always good for the resume, and the CBR didn’t disappoint when it put up 78.7 lb-ft of torque at 9400 rpm, second-only to the 1098. The Honda then backs it up with the third-highest horsepower figure of 153.4 hp at 10,900 rpm. The peak-power deficit contradicts our seat-of-the-pants assessment, as it feels like it should have a horsepower advantage on the other bikes when riding them back-to-back. The torque figure and earlier peak power production mask this disparity well. With a curve that rivals the 1098 more than the Inlines, the RR feels freakishly fast from 5000 to its peak at almost 11,000 rpm. As the motor transitions from its economical state of tune in the lower revs and the second set of Honda’s Dual Stage Fuel Injection comes into play, the bike kicks into hyperdrive.

Add into the mix that the CBR1000RR is agile yet stable and is equipped with outrageous brakes and all of a sudden the Honda is getting tough not to like. Roberti, one of our most aggressive riders on the brakes, rates the CBR binders on par with the Monobloc set-up of the Ducati. The rest of the crew agrees for the most part and considered them the best or at least runner-up to the 1098. Radial mount 4-piston calipers with 320mm discs don’t sound like anything out of the ordinary, but they perform like they are. The front end also receives universal praise for inspiring confidence among riders of all skill levels, reinforcing our belief that the CBR is a motorcycle destined to enjoy success on the track. More aggressive steering geometry combines with the Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD) to help it slice and dice its way to the top of the handling heap without much movement at all from the bars.

For ’08 the CBR steering head angle is reduced to 23.3-degrees from 23.45 while trail is down to 96.2mm from 100mm. This latest equation strikes a nice balance between quick transitions and high-speed stability on the street or track. This combination results in a steady run of first- and second-fastest laps aboard the Honda from every rider at every track. Turn-in may not be judged as the best by our faster riders, but the middle of the pack score here is countered with consistently high scores in suspension, motor and mid-corner stability. The discreet little HESD damper certainly helps keep the bars from moving much at all considering the chassis’ more aggressive stats also seem to slow down how quickly the bike reacts to rider input. It’s difficult to find a perfect balance between quick turn-in and high-speed stability, but Honda has done a good job here.

“The Honda is impressively small in size, closely emulating a 600cc bike,” states AFM-ace Earnest. “I immediately felt comfortable on it as it is very confidence-inspiring. The engine is much improved, with decent horsepower and great torque. The Honda may be the best handling bike too. It would hold a line and turn in if needed, making it easy to ride. Brakes are typical Honda, very strong and consistent and the new steering damper is so good I didn’t even notice it had one.”

As good as the CBR is on the track, it comes as no surprise that it takes top billing on the street as well. It dominates the competition in roll-on acceleration in any gear, at any speed and has a real burst of acceleration when you crack the throttle open. The shorter gearing has the CBR closer to the sweet spot on the tach than the other bikes, so it stomps them into submission at every opportunity. We didn’t have the opportunity to officially run this quintet flat out to top speed anywhere and at the racetrack we never really got further than fourth gear, so we are not able to state absolute facts on the matter of top end speed, but… The CBR is the only bike we ever had hit redline in sixth gear. During those same top-gear runs, the others were a couple thousand rpm from red by the time the disappearing Honda rider hit the rev-limiter. In theory the other bikes, since they are geared taller, would eventually reel the Honda back in, but by that point the RR will be out of sight because it’s so far ahead it isn’t even funny. No matter who you are, that type of absurd open class acceleration is a good thing and it is the core component of this CBR’s success story.

Add into the mix a tidy instrument cluster and switchgear arrangement and suddenly the Honda is about to sweep our two-tiered format with a combination of brutish power and a comfortable riding position at the core of its on-street success. Unlike the other bikes, with the exception of the GSX-R, the Honda is actually comfortable as the miles pile up.

“It’s a tough call man,” explains Hesse. “This bike (The CBR) and the Kawasaki are real close in my book, the only difference being that the Honda is just more comfortable to sit on. The ergonomics of the bike show true Honda form. They’ve taken a huge step this year in their new 1000, the things feels like my R6 track bike, tiny.”

The 2008 Honda CBR1000RR appears to be a return to the type of philosophy that made the original CBR900RR so popular: Take the performance envelope and make it big, make it encompass more than just one aspect of the riding experience. For ’08 this RR picked-up where the ’07 left off. It’s 6-lbs lighter, 6-hp stronger with a longer wheelbase and more aggressive steering geometry. While the other bikes got bigger and heavier, the CBR is smaller and lighter. The styling is questionable but looks more retro than funky, evoking the stubby lines of the RC-51 and 900RR instead of pointy and angular like some of the other bikes in this test.

Back in the original Smackdown, the ZX-10R won our heart with its lively chassis, entertaining track performance and brutish acceleration, and it’s a similar road to success for the CBR this year. None of the other motorcycles received the consistent praise and positive comments of the CBR. It’s close to, or at the top, in more categories than any other bike in this comparison and it takes care of business with its take-no-prisoners approach. Whether you want to unleash your inner hooligan or scythe through racetracks with confidence, there is only one choice, the winner of Superbike Smackdown V – the 2008 Honda CBR1000RR.