Road Test Review
My uncle Lanny is a veteran of AFM races in the ’70s, the Bay Area’s infamous Sunday Morning Rides, and a resident of Mendocino County, an enchanting area of Northern California blessed not only with great wineries and breweries but also with some of the state’s most scenic, twisty and sparsely traveled roads. Lanny is also a purist. His requirements for a motorcycle are simple: it must weigh less than 500 pounds, it must have at least 100 horsepower and it must be free of ABS, traction control or anything else that might detract from the essential, unalloyed experience of riding. Of course, the bike should have sharp handling and strong brakes; if it’s reasonably comfortable, all the better. Retired from work but not from speed, Lanny would rather avoid having a chiropractor remove a sportbike crick from his neck.
The all-new 2011 Honda CB1000R checks every box on Lanny’s list. Developed for Europe, a diverse but demanding market that loves naked bikes like we love cruisers, it combines a sportbike engine with a sporty chassis, minimal but aggressively styled bodywork and an upright seating position. Its roots run long and deep, back to the original sand-cast 1969 Honda CB750, the first production motorcycle with a transverse in-line four and overhead camshaft, an enormously influential motorcycle that inspired the term “superbike” and was the prototype for decades of sportbike design orthodoxy.
The combustive heart of the CB1000R is a liquid-cooled 998cc in-line four derived from the pre-2008 CBR1000RR, detuned for low to midrange power, with aluminum-ceramic-graphic composite cylinder sleeves for reduced wear and better heat dissipation. The crankshaft, main shaft and countershaft are arranged in a triangular configuration to keep the engine compact. It has dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, a bore and stroke of 75mm x 56.5mm, and an 11.2:1 compression ratio, yet it requires only 86-octane fuel. Jett Tuning’s Dynojet dynamometer recorded top figures of 112 horsepower at 10,100 rpm and 65.5 lb-ft of torque at 7,500 rpm, with horsepower climbing linearly and torque spreading out broadly.
With minimal lash from its chain final drive, the CB1000R delivers power smoothly in nearly all situations, from parking lot puttering, to city slicing and dicing, to back road bombing. Honda’s PGM-FI, with an automatic enrichment circuit for cold starts and 36mm throttle bodies, meters out fuel precisely…most of the time. On multiple rides with different riders on two different test bikes, we struggled with two issues. First, excessive throttle sensitivity hampered smooth, steady riding on rough roads. Second, and more subtly, when riding at constant throttle on smooth roads, the CB1000R sometimes felt as if it was running out of gas, an irregular on/off hesitation that may be attributable to ultra lean fuel mapping.
When you’re caning the CB instead of dawdling on the freeway, squeezing every last ounce of juice out of its liter-size lemon, all is forgiven. In that realm of intake growl, exhaust howl and adrenalin wow, the CB1000R is fiendishly fun. Its gravity cast mono-backbone aluminum frame is stiff but light, and its single-sided swingarm not only looks trick and simplifies rear wheel removal, it’s strong as an ox. Fast-paced riding is made easier by hard rubber around the slender gas tank that gives knees purchase, smooth material on the firm but supportive seat that facilitates body movement and a wide, tapered handlebar that provides nearly effortless steering. With a slim profile, 56.9-inch wheelbase and 32.5-inch seat height, the CB1000R looks and feels compact. Its steering geometry—25 degrees of rake, 3.9 inches of trail—is sporty without sacrificing stability, complemented by grippy, neutral-steering Bridgestone Battlax BT015 tires. Roll on the throttle, watch the horizontal LCD tachometer sweep quickly to the right and feel the high-frequency rush, a renewable resource that eradicates the stress of cubicle walls closing in, of death by a thousand emails.
Common on Honda sportbikes and sport tourers for years, the CB1000R is equipped with the Honda Multi-Action System suspension. The cartridge fork and rear shock employ small-diameter pistons to keep oil velocity high for improved damping and a wide range of adjustability. The CB’s 43mm male-slider fork is adjustable for preload, rebound and compression and has 4.3 inches of travel; the gas-charged rear shock is adjustable for rebound and spring preload (with a unique ramped castle nut) and has 5.0 inches of travel. Though the suspension feels undersprung and underdamped for us 200-plus-pounders, with the preload and damping cranked up, it absorbs bumps well and delivers a compliant ride. Push closer to the limit, however, and the suspension can feel unsorted, struggling to recover when it gets out of shape. Should you want to adjust the suspension, BYO tools; the plastic-sleeved, underseat toolkit contains only one tool: an Allen key.
Slowing down and changing gears are child’s play on the CB1000R. The front radial-mount, four-piston Tokico calipers—actuated by a radial-pump master cylinder—have the right amount of initial bite, progressiveness and power, and the single rear caliper is easy to modulate when full stopping power is required. The front brake and clutch levers are six-position adjustable, always appreciated. And the hydraulic clutch has a light pull and good feel, facilitating slick, second-nature shifts of the close-ratio six-speed gearbox.
Living with the CB1000R day in and day out brings both rewards and challenges. The riding position and seat are comfortable on long rides, but there’s no wind protection to speak of. The lack of fairing plastic reduces the consequences of a tipover and simplifies maintenance, and the passenger accommodations include hidden grab handles, but are otherwise meager. The three-section all-LCD instrument panel provides essential information and is adjustable for brightness at night, but it’s located behind a clear plastic lens that is often obscured by glare or shadows in the daytime. The metal fuel tank accommodates a magnetic tankbag, but the slim tail section has no bungee hooks or mounting points for soft luggage. The fuel economy was a respectable 34.7 mpg on regular unleaded, but the low-fuel warning is a barely noticeable blinking bar on the LCD fuel gauge rather than an attention-getting light. You win some, you lose some.
Knowing Uncle Lanny well, I think he’d give the 2011 Honda CB1000R serious consideration. It satisfies his prerequisites, is free of new-fangled farkles and doesn’t require a downward dog riding position. The lean fueling issue would need to be addressed, but I’m sure he’d leave the low-slung exhaust pipe in stock form. It sounds good without being too loud, and its angular shape goes well with the CB’s fireball styling, from the tractor-beam LED located below the triangular headlight to the throwing-star design of the four-spoke wheels, from the gold handlebar and fork tubes to the slightly sparkly Pearl Black paint. I can imagine him snickering at the elongated peg feelers, which look like curb feelers off a ’70s-era Caddy, but the right one’s there to help keep you from scuffing the pipe and the left one is there for symmetry; and besides, you can achieve deep lean angles before they start to drag. Lanny might raise an eyebrow at the CB1000R’s $10,999 sticker price, which is a few hundred dollars more than that of the Kawasaki Z1000 and Yamaha FZ1. But the CB1000R would be perfect for the secret back roads he shares with no one but deer. And he’d appreciate the familial connection to the original CB750, the bike that began a new era in motorcycle performance that he’s enjoyed for more than four decades.