Honda CBR600RR Takes on Supersport Challengers

Last year we had to award the do-no-wrong R6 as our objective choice for supersport champion, but it was the CBR that took the most picks from our testers when they were asked which they’d most want to have in their garage. The double-R inspired the most confidence when railing the backroads of rural California and lapping Buttonwillow Raceway, and it was an indelible impression that continues this year.

The 2004 Honda CBR600RR retains its unique, MotoGP-inspired Unit Pro-Link rear suspension and tasty underseat exhaust, both of which contribute to the heaviest weight among the four-cylinder quartet. At a 420-pound tank-empty weight, the CBR is 26 pounds heavier than the next porkiest Four, the GSX-R.

Masking that extra poundage somewhat is sporty chassis geometry: a 24-degree rake (same as R6), 95mm of trail (nearly identical to ZX and GSX-R), and a 54.7-inch wheelbase (longer than R6 but shorter than ZX and Gixxer). Honda’s focus on mass centralization has paid off on its porky CBRs, as a rider wouldn’t guess they were significantly heavier than their classmates. It feels solid, as if made of one piece, feeling like a little 1000RR. Turn-in isn’t quite as sharp as the scalpel-like R6, but it’s close to the other 600s. What it loses in agility is paid back double in stability. The CBR proved to be the most sure-footed among the Asian contenders, rivaled only by the riding-on-rails Ducati 749. But keep in mind that this stability also makes the RR a little less responsive to body inputs.

The CBR’s ergos are similar to the Yamaha, but with lower bars and pegs. Its windscreen is closest to a rider’s helmet, and it’s easy to pretend you’re Miguel Duhamel weighting the front tire at corner entries before transferring weight to rear on exits. You might want to order up a pair of rear-sets for your CBR before you go challenging Miguel, however, as its pegs are the easiest to drag among the group. The rear suspension soaks up corner-exit bumps without drama, discernibly better than the others.

The CBR, along with the R6, is the only bike here that hasn’t upgraded to an inverted fork, a feature that increases front-end rigidity at a slight weight penalty. Instead, Honda uses a conventional fork but with the thickest stanchions of the group (45mm). The CBR’s 310mm rotors and 4-piston calipers up front do an admirable job of slowing the Jenny Craig candidate, aided by class-leading stability under braking; where the ZX wagged its tail braking into Turn 1 at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada, the CBR stays rock solid. The Honda is not only reluctant to stoppie, it also is relatively disinclined to wheelie.

But where the CBR falls behind the competition – literally – is in the motor department. While Honda engineers were busy building a walloping top-end hit they forgot to pack a midrange. The CBR is the tail-ender of the group until about 12,000 rpm when it vaults ahead of the R6 and Gixxer, though it never quite approaches the mega powerband of the 636cc Kawi.

The CBR’s transmission is among Honda’s best ever, but its taller first and second gear ratios conspire with the top-heavy powerband to hinder acceleration when exiting corners. For example, the RR really showed its limitations when exiting Turns 3 and 5 at Spring Mountain, feeling quite lethargic until the revs climbed. Even in pure acceleration terms, such as our runs through the quarter-mile, the Honda can’t keep up with the other 600s.

Becklin best summed up the CBR600RR: “Handling is the little CBR’s forte; the tradeoff being that the motor lacks midrange grunt. A good rider can utilize the chassis / suspension combo to carry awesome mid-corner speed to stay with bikes like the ZX-6R and GSX-R. While you have to ride hard to keep up, the CBR’s handling makes it a fun challenge to accept.”