Step Up to the Middle
The CBR650F : A reasonable middleweight done the old-school Honda way.
So you’re in the market for a new middleweight street bike. Maybe you’ve outgrown your 250/300/500. Maybe you once did plenty of riding and are now looking to get back on the road. Or maybe you’re just on a budget that doesn’t allow more cubic centimetres.
Looking at what’s available around the 650cc mark, your attention is almost sure to be grabbed by one of those sexy, full-on track-ready machines like the Honda CBR600RR, Yamaha YZF-R6, Kawi ZX-6R and the rest of the starting grid crop. But do you actually know what you’re getting into with one of these beasts? In case you’re riding experience is limited, should you even be on something so radical? While we’re at it, are you sure you can afford one? Ever get an insurance quote for something like that? If not, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.
For all these reasons, several manufacturers offer less extreme, more rider friendly, more street-oriented and more affordable models:
Kawasaki Ninja 650R
71 hp/211 kg /ABS/$8,799
76 hp/212 kg/no ABS/$7,999
85 hp/245 kg/ABS/$8,199
The Yamaha and Suzuki in particular, being powered by inline fours, are direct competitors to Honda’s all-new CBR650F ($9,499/ABS/86 hp/211 kg). All perfectly fit the role of step-up machine after an initial stint on a smaller displacement bike, and, up to a certain point, all are likely to satisfy the returning rider with reasonable expectations. And yet, as is almost always the case with motorcycles sharing a class, all are actually quite different from each other.
The Yamaha, for example, is the most affordable, but also the least exciting. The Suzuki is the heaviest, and also feels like the biggest bike. As for the recently introduced Honda CBR650F, it’s a poster child for old-school Honda. What that means is easy to understand for anyone with any idea of what an early 1990’s CBR600F2 was like.
The new 650 is generally a similar motorcycle, a bit more torquey thanks to an extra 50cc of displacement and fuel injection, but not as fast. For those without any reference to the F2, the CBR650F could be best described as a good middleweight streetbike with nice, unsurprising manners all around.
Honda’s cars and bikes have often been categorized as efficient, reliable and well-built, but somewhat bland and characterless vehicles. An old-school Honda, then, is a bike that executes very well everything its rider asks from it, but does so without much charisma. The CBR650F accelerates well, but not in a way that could be called exciting, at least not for experienced riders.
Newer motorcyclists, on the other hand, will have fun gunning it and should be satisfied for a while with the 85-ish crank horsepower it produces. The 649cc inline four is torquey enough down low to function decently during everyday riding and generates very linear power right up to its 11,300 rpm redline. It’s not very smooth at higher revs and it doesn’t produce a particularly exciting exhaust note but, again, for all but the experienced and discerning rider, the motor and its six-speed transmission should be perceived as doing their job properly and adequately.
Built around a steel perimeter frame that is very reminiscent of the old F2’s, the Honda CBR650F handles nicely in everything from tight urban stuff to full-on attack mode on twisty roads. There again, the general feel is typical Honda, meaning everything happens fluidly, gracefully and without any surprise. Chassis geometry is such that changing direction does take some effort on the rider’s part, which isn’t a problem at all and also translates into great stability. Thanks to a compact and upright riding position, to a minimalist yet practical wind protection, to firm but not harsh suspension and to a decent one-piece seat, comfort on all but high mileage rides is good.
In summary, the Honda CBR650F functions very well without being super exciting. It looks sexy but not extreme and boasts top notch fit and finish. It’s fairly well equipped with a complete digital instrumentation and (regular, not linked) ABS. It’s three most obvious shortcomings are a lack of engine character, performance that is just under what’s considered fun for experienced riders and a price that is a bit high when compared to the competition. On the other hand, the CBR650F is the newest machine of its class and will prove plenty fast for riders stepping up from smaller displacement models. Call it a friendly middleweight.
By Bertrand Gahel