Steve Atlas, Contributing Editor

2011 Honda CB1000R

Sportbikes these days are designed, brewed and bred for one thing: Going fast around the racetrack. Sure they are fun for short jaunts on your favorite backroads, the key being the ‘short’ part. Sparsely padded seats and aggressive riding positions that put large amounts of weight on a rider’s wrists are not conducive to much more than fast laps. But that brute power and agile handling can be addictive. If only there was a compromise? Something with liter-class bhp and torque, plus a comfortable seating position. Japanese motorcycle giant Honda has pondered the same thing on several occasions, the result being its new 2011 CB1000R.

Motorcycles like this aren’t some recent invention, though. In fact many of you may remember the original Honda CB900F/CB1100F from the early-’80s, followed by the CB1000 of the mid-’90s. The 900F and its siblings were some of the precursors to today’s modern sportbikes, but they have since taken a backseat role to their track-biased siblings for the past couple decades. And while naked standards, or streetfighters as they are now called, have had a relatively slow return in the U.S., the segment enjoys huge popularity in Europe. With the recent introduction of Ducati’s successful Streetfighter and the latest Kawasaki Z1000, more and more naked bikes are making their way onto dealer showrooms. Honda’s revived CB is the latest such offering.

Swing a leg over the upright-sitting Honda, turn the key, fire up the naked black beauty and it comes to life with a subdued rumble, but a rumble nonetheless. Clutched in and dropped into gear, the transmission engages smoothly and the CB1000R can be as mild-mannered as one desires. This is the result of near-perfect fueling from Honda’s PGM-FI system. But get a bit more daring with the throttle and the CB quickly reveals its true potential. The new Honda’s signature move is arm-pulling torque that lofts the front wheel with ease in any of the first three gears. This low-end to mid-range tuned engine combined with the upright seating position and no fairing for wind protection delivers a sense of speed that trumps most sportbikes on the road today. While the numbers may not be that of a true sportbike in a quarter-mile, our CB ticked the lights at 11.31 seconds at 122.4 mph (compared to 9.71 seconds at 141.7 mph for the CBR1000RR). However, it sure feels equally quick, if not quicker in seat-of-the-pants terms.

To achieve this the boys in red started with the highly potent 1000RR powerplant, then tuned the Inline Four for better driveability and improved bottom-end and mid-range, both attributes that apply nicely to street use. The engine features a smaller bore and longer stroke (75mm x 56.5mm compared to 76mm x 55.1mm), which reduces the displacement, marginally, from 999cc to 998cc, along with new 36mm throttle bodies. Compression drops from 12.3:1 to 11.2:1, while the engine still features dual overhead cams, a close-ratio six-speed transmission and a 4-into-1 exhaust system that exits spent gasses on the lower right side through an under-slung, ‘shorty-style’ muffler.

Our CB1000R test unit spun the in-house MotoUSA dyno to the tune of 108.58 hp at 9900 rpm and 64.3 lb-ft of torque at 7400 rpm. Although some 44 horsepower down on its big brother CBR1000RR Superbike, by road-going standards this is more than enough horses to quickly get one in trouble with the authorities, as well as induce ear-to-ear grins with the slightest twist of the right wrist.

Once acclimated to the front-wheel-floating powerband a rider quickly warms up to the equally impressive chassis. Also based on the CBR1000RR, the CB’s twin-spar aluminum frame is mated to a stylish single-sided swingarm that leaves the sculpted four-spoke rear wheel open for your competition’s viewing pleasure — if they can keep up that is. Suspension is handed by a fully-adjustable 43mm inverted HMAS cartridge fork up front with 4.7 inches of travel and Honda’s patented Unit Pro-Link rear end, featuring a single gas-charged HMAS shock that is preload and rebound adjustable and has 5.0 inches of travel.

Achieving a more street-oriented balance and feel, the chassis dimensions have been modified slightly. Rake increases from 23.3 degrees to 25.0 degrees, while trail goes up from 96.2mm to 99mm (3.8 inches to 3.9 inches). As a result the wheelbase has also grown from 55.4 inches to 56.9 inches, though seat height stays nearly the same (32.5 inches verses 32.3 inches). But the biggest change to the equation are the wide and relatively high handlebars — despite the CB’s less aggressive geometry these still allow for an extremely quick steering motorcycle. Only a minimal amount of counter-steering input is needed to get the streetfighter to change direction. And while this agility is a common trait among many naked sportbikes, due to the leverage provided by the bars, what isn’t as common is an equally stable machine when leaned over at triple-digit speeds. Several of the competitors struggle in this department, but in typical Honda fashion they have found a very balanced compromise that works well in all situations, a result of the increased rake/trail and wheelbase.

Getting the CB slowed back down are dual radial-mounted, four-piston Nissin calipers gripping 310mm rotors up front (slightly smaller than the CBR’s 320mm disks but the same radial calipers); out back a single 256mm disc is larger than its sibling’s 220mm single unit. Just like the CBR, braking on the CB is strong and progressive while providing loads of feel and feedback without showing any hints of fading even when pushed hard for extended periods. Much like the hooligan-friendly engine, the powerful binders do just as well to persuade one into doing, well… somewhat less than smart things on the street.

The easy-to-read digital tach/speedo is all-new to the CB, though the only wind protection comes from a stylized front headlight, which is next to nothing. This is one of the few areas that the Honda isn’t that comfortable, as even a small cafe faring would go a long way to make extended periods of time spent at freeway speeds and above much less fatiguing. That said, the totally naked styling does have a mean, sleek and enticing look. It is also a fitting tie back to the single headlight design of the original CB1000. The rest of the ergonomic setup is well laid out, as the reach to the bars isn’t excessive and the seating position and footpeg height is comfortable yet sporty at the same time.

If there was another area of complaint, as strange as this sounds, it would be that the Honda is too good; too refined; too clinical. One of the things that people tend to flock to streetfighters for is to be different, edgy and aggressive. A byproduct of this is sometimes a motorcycle that is far from perfect, but at the same time gets some of its character from these defects. The Honda, on the other hand, does almost everything without flaw and as such may lack some of the quirkiness that naked sportbike buyers look for.

This may be one of the first official signs that I’m getting older (and hopefully wiser), but the thought of riding a pure-bred sportbike on the street on a regular basis just doesn’t excite me like it once did. The racetrack is a different story, but when it comes to public roads I’m no longer willing to put up with the numb hands and lower back pain that comes with the seating position of most of today’s sportbikes. This is why I’m very much a fan of the CB1000R — with the torque of a liter-class track machine but a far more compliant riding position, not to mention its sinister black, stripped-down look, I have a hard time finding any real faults with the new 2011 Honda CB1000R. My father owned several of the original Honda CBs ‘back in the day,’ and looking up to my dad like I did, I was always a big fan of these bikes growing up. And while both the CB and I have changed quite a bit in the past couple decades, I’m still just as big of a fan.