2009 Honda CBR600RR

Road Test Review

I did ride the 2009 Honda CBR600RR ABS, but only for an hour…in the rain. Hardly enough seat time or suitable conditions to evaluate a sportbike’s capabilities. But it was a perfect opportunity to test the CBR’s stand-out, optional feature for 2009: Combined ABS.

Before we get to that, there are several other updates on the 2009 CBR600RR. New exhaust crossover balance tubes and an exhaust pressure valve in the silencer boost midrange. Intake ports get state-of-the-art shot-peening to further enhance horsepower and torque. Front binders are now radial-mounted monoblock four-piston calipers. And cosmetically, bodywork is more sleek, turn signals are lightweight and color schemes are new.

But the big news is that an extra $1,000 gets you Combined ABS (C-ABS) on either the 2009 CBR600RR or CBR1000RR. Why did Honda develop ABS for its sportbikes? We asked Doug Toland, former pro racer and Honda test rider who helped develop C-ABS: “First of all, because nobody’s done it before. Secondly, Combined ABS gives supersport riders an extra cushion of safety when faced with the unexpected.”

In an emergency, you only get one chance to get it right. Often a panic reaction will be to grab a handful of front brake. In that situation, Toland explained, “The normal reaction of a sportbike is to endo or skid the front tire and go down. Or the rider may not be able to stop in enough time to avoid the hazard. With Combined ABS, there is no rear wheel lift or front wheel lock-up, and stopping distance is decreased.”

At Honda Proving Center California (HPCC) in the Mojave Desert, we attended a technical briefing about C-ABS, which is actually two systems designed to work together. The Combined Braking System (CBS) activates both front and rear brakes for maximum stopping power and minimal chassis disruption. ABS eliminates wheel lock-up by reducing and reapplying hydraulic brake pressure in rapid cycles. Given the need for precise braking action on sportbikes, especially on the track, the new C-ABS system is designed to deliver a normal braking experience in most situations. For example, the rear brake pedal does not engage the front brake unless rear-wheel lockup is imminent.

Unlike mechanical C-ABS used on other Honda models like the Interceptor and ST1300, the CBR version is an electronic, brake-by-wire system. It eliminates the pressure control and delay valves and fork-mounted secondary master cylinder, and uses a standard caliper design for less unsprung weight. The system is small, relatively lightweight (22 pounds) and well-integrated in the chassis to keep mass centralized.

An Electronic Control Module (ECM) manages the system and ensures that braking force is appropriately distributed to both wheels. Connected to the ECM are separate front and rear systems that are each comprised of a power unit, valve unit, speed sensor and pulser ring. Each wheel’s hydroelectronic valve unit contains a stroke simulator that produces a normal feeling of resistance at the brake lever/pedal. Electronic sensors in each valve unit tell the ECM how much pressure the rider is applying to the brake lever/pedal. The ECM crunches the numbers and sends orders to the front and rear Electronic Power Units (EPUs). Each EPU contains a gear-driven ball screw that applies hydraulic brake pressure to the appropriate caliper. Because the ECM spits out hundreds of calculations and commands per second, ABS is engaged seamlessly without pulsing.

We rode the 2009 Honda CBR600RR ABS on HPCC’s road course and skid pad. Steady rain provided ideal conditions for testing the capabilities of C-ABS. My normal reaction to wet conditions is to soften braking inputs. After several attempts I built up the nerve to grab a handful of front brake and stomp on the rear pedal. And I’m here to tell you: Believe the hype. On wet pavement, on wet painted lines and on a wet 30 percent downgrade I was able to stop quickly and confidently without drama. Rather than pitch forward, the bike just squats down and stops. Under extremely hard braking, I felt the front brake release slightly but then re-engage just before the bike came to a stop. But the bike always stopped in a controlled, civilized manner. Amazing.

How many buyers will pony up the extra grand and add 22 pounds of extra weight to their new CBR remains to be seen. But for peace of mind and added safety, to me this option is a no-brainer.