Honda CBR600RR First Ride Review

Fourth gear wide open just before hitting the rev limiter, I click down a gear and throw the bike sideways into a 180-degree corner. Then I mash on the throttle and spin the rear tire on the exit. Honda’s revised 2013 CBR600RR may not be a ground-up redesign like some of its rivals, but it’s still a potent weapon at the track.

MotoUSA sampled the revised CBR in all of its elements. First, we tore up Mulholland Drive in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California for the street test. After that we headed down to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway for the track portion to really give the mid-size CBR some heat.

The new CBR600RR is available in three colors: solid red, which also comes in an ABS version, tri-color red, white and blue, and, for the first time on a CBR600, a Repsol edition. For 2013 Honda keeps the same baseline model CBR600 that has been on the market since 2007. The same frame and 599cc liquid-cooled engine are used but much else has been changed. Some may think the time is ripe for an all-new CBR, but the updates made to the RR are so significant they bring the bike close enough to new, especially in the cosmetics department.

Using development strategies from the Honda MotoGP race program and its RC212V, the 600 received a set of completely redesigned bodywork – which not only upgrade the bike’s appearance, but also reduces drag by 6.5% over the previous year’s machine. Development and testing with the new bodywork led to aerodynamic advancements that are now being used on Honda’s current RC213V MotoGP bike. The bodywork’s aerodynamic efficiency allows for nimbler handling and much improved wind protection, offering more comfort to the rider. To match the bodywork, Honda incorporated the same 12-spoke wheel design as the bikes older sibling, theCBR1000RR. The red, white, and blue tri-color, as well as the solid red models, is equipped with a set of black wheels while the Repsol colorway embraces a trick orange set.

A redesigned, centrally-located ram-air intake rests between a pair of halogen headlamps. The improved ram-air system and updated ECU and PGM-DSFI settings boost mid-range power delivery and enhance throttle response in the high-RPM range. We noticed the electronic updates as soon as we hit the street. Throttle response is dramatically improved over the previous model.

Although the ECU settings are enhanced to aid performance in the high RPM range, we didn’t notice it too much on the street but it was a whole other story as soon as we hit the track. The improvement is most appreciated on corner exit. A twist of the throttle and the bike gets moving. Slowly open it up some more and you’re spinning the rear tire out of the corner like Dani Pedrosa, an incredible feeling and one that is extremely impressive for an off-the-showroom 600cc street bike.

The ram-air system has been improved for 2013 giving the machine a slight gain in performance.

As for the suspension, Big Red aimed at bringing the 600RR a little closer to its older sibling by adding a 41mm Big Piston Fork to handle suspension duties up front. Although the same diameter as last year’s fork, the new BPF replaces the previous HMAS unit on the 2012 model. The Big Piston Fork accommodates a larger damper piston which allows damping forces to function at a lower internal pressure. This enables the fork to be smoother, responsive, and provide better feedback to the rider. Additionally the BPF uses fewer components, reducing weight. The rear shock remains the same structurally, but gets revised damper settings to match up with the new fork.

On the street, we couldn’t give the bike too much hell, as we didn’t want to end up in a ditch or jail. The few moments we really loaded the front end we could tell the new fork is a definite upgrade. At the track the fork stands out even more, especially with set up and tuning done by none other than John Ethel. We were able to find the limit on the old fork by pushing the front tire in some of the corners. The new fork allowed us to push the front end harder with a better feel of where the limit was before tucking the front.

After spinning a number of laps I find the Big Piston Fork on the 2013 CBR600RR the best one I’ve tested to date. It didn’t exhibit the vague feel we’ve encountered on other Big Piston Forks, such as the units equipped on the Kawasaki ZX-6R and ZX-10R, or even the CBR1000RR. The increased feeling from the fork leads to more rider confidence mid-corner. It is fully adjustable with compression and rebound adjustability on the top of the blue anodized fork caps, while spring preload is adjusted at the bottom of the fork leg with the help from a hex-key.

In the midst of all the testing we gave the ABS version CBR600RR a spin around Chuckwalla. At a hefty 18 pounds heavier, the noticeable weight plays a huge factor on the track, increasing lap times by about a half of a second.

Although we tried hard to brake late into corners and lock up the front tire to engage the ABS, we could only get the rear to activate. The ABS will have its greatest effect in wet or cold conditions.

We find the transmission to be a good one, although the bike isn’t equipped with a slipper clutch like the Yamaha R6 and Suzuki GSX-R600. Our personal preference doesn’t think one is necessary on the Honda. The ability to come into a corner and have just enough compression to assist the CBR into a rear wheel slide is like no other feeling.

However, less experienced riders may encounter problems when shifting down dramatically, sending the rear tire into a skid. The gearing on the machine is spot on, working adequately on both the street and the track. The bike has a nicely spread-out transmission that offers good amounts of torque with minimal shifting.

Honda has tweaked its existing CBR600RR for a drastically improved final product. The bike looks all-new and outperforms the previous model.

The 2013 Honda CBR600RR is available now at local Honda dealers with a base price of $11,490 (Red non-ABS, tri-color). The Repsol Edition comes with a price tag of $500 extra ($11,990) while the ABS model (red only) can be picked up for $12,490. The CBR stacks up about $200 less than the all-new 2013 Kawasaki ZX-6R at $11,699 for the base model and $12,699 for the ABS version.


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