|Light Makes Might! Soup Test: 2006 Honda CBR1000RR
seventeen pounds lighter, but the mass centralization gives it viagra-like confidence
by andy fenwick
Tuesday, January 16, 2006
Floating a wheelie half-way down the straightaway at Buttonwillow Raceway is a hell of a lot better gig than my usual day of sweeping the floor and selling $5.00 inner tubes at my shop. Dean, the Grand Pooh-Bah of Soup, was kind enough to send me on the press launch of the 2006 Honda CBR1000RR. I'd been thinking for weeks about what the new flagship Superbike model from Honda would be like as I have had an opportunity to ride a bunch of different 1000cc sport bikes in my day but not the Honda as yet. I had more questions than answers, as usual, and most of them pertained to the speed and agility of this motorcycle.
Big-bore sport bikes are my forte'. Kurt Hall, Tim Morrisey, Ben Martinez and I won the 1988 WERA National Endurance championship on a very hot-rodded Yamaha FZR1000 for a team called the Human Race Team--run by Dave Zupan. We raced for the championship against a couple of guys you may have heard ofJamie James and the late Mike Harth. James won the US Superbike championship in 1989 so you can be assured this was no minor league contest.
Since I am sort of the low man on the bike-test list, I figured Dean was trying to bribe me hoping to get his hands on some of my hand-made ice tires for his CRF150. I looked at the thermometer the day I left for the testit sat at twenty-odd degrees. It was time to get out of Dodge.
Most of you probably don't know how these press launches work, so I'll give you the cliff notes. Basically, journalists fly to wherever the launch is to be. Generally, you stay at a hotel a lot nicer than the one you'd stay in if you were paying for it. The manufacturer has a briefing to give you all the info on all the new bits, and the increased this and the reduced that. There tends to be a fair amount of fancy eating for dinners and such. Most of the time, there is some sort of swag that comes your waya new watch, fleece pullover, or whatever (we received Honda/Ogio backpacks this time). Hopefully, the tester has such a good time riding the bike, eating the food, and admiring themselves in their new swag in the hotel room mirror that they write a killer review of the bike. As for me, I own a bike shop I can source just about any kind of cool t-shirt or other piece of SWAG, this treatment has little effect on me.
This test was just up the road from Bakersfield, California, at the scrappy, not crappy, (I actually ended up liking the place) Buttonwillow road race facility. For those of you who have never been to Buttonwillow, it's probably one of the best not-so-best places to test a sportbike. It's technical layout and somewhat used track surface really lets you explore not only the handling, but also the suspension of a test bike. We used the full circuit so it reall gave us a nice group of different corners on which to test the bike's handling, etc.
The night we arrived in Bakersfield, Honda's press men went over all of the development that went into the 2006 CBR. Quite surprisingly, 60% of the bike's components have been redesigned on this new model. Targeted areas of improvement were, of course, increased horsepower of approximately 3%, decreased weight resulting in 17 pounds shaved, and sharpened handling. Honda also gave the big CBR1000RR a bit of a face-lift. The bike's more aggressive, sleeker, and curvaceous looks not only show more of the power plant, but also increase the aerodynamic efficiency of the bike, along with complementing its high-speed handling.
Getting more ponies out of the motor meant relying on the classic hot-rodder's handbook. The new engine has updated intake and exhaust porting, a higher compression ratio (from 11.9:1 to 12.2:1), revised cam timing, double springs for the intake valves, a higher redline, and a new exhaust system.
The 2006 model is now 17 pounds lighter than the 2005. Weight savings were brought about by adding magnesium where there was once aluminum, lighter radiators, larger but thinner brake rotors, and generally sprinkling magic Honda fairy dust over all things that looked heavy.
I, along with seven other journalist types were escorted around the track by former world endurance champion Doug Toland, who is now a full-time Honda test engineer, and Jeff Tigert, who is probably the fastest west coast club racer right now, and just so happens to have the track record at Buttonwillow on a 2004 CBR1000RR. Tigert's day job is clocking in as a full-time Honda test rider. I guess that's a good job if you're into that sort of thingyou know, riding motorcycles and getting paid to do it. Both Toland and Tigert worked extensively on the 2006 CBR1000RR not only here in the States, but in Japan, as well. Also in attendance at the test and available for questions was Noriaki Nakata. Mr. Nakata is the project manager for the 2006 CBR1000RR and is the former team manger for the Honda factory 2000-2002 MotoGP team.
I had shown up at the track for a press road test and, suddenly, following the other journalists around seemed safer then sticking your neck out to be the fast guy for the day. For all of us, our priorities eventually change. The funny thing is, test-riding the new 2006 Honda CBR1000RR actually kind of got me out of my sportbike-riding funk. With its keen mass centralization, it was just the ticket to get this old dog back up to speed. The engine revvs ultra-fast for a 1000 and the stock exhaust note growls just enough to let everybody know that something serious this way comes when you're crawling up their backside on your favorite curvy road. My immediate feeling on the bike was that Honda spent a lot of time fine-tuning the entire package on this motorcycle and all the bits work well with each other, sort of like a well-practiced symphony. The new Honda didn't immediatly strike me as the fastest bike I've ever ridden, but there's a story there. Read on.
The chassis where this Honda excels. The CBR gives you confidence, period. Some of the other big-bores in the liter bike class seem to have a bit more kick in the pants, but it comes with instability and less faith in the bike. The CBR1000RR really got me warmed up to going faster and faster without giving me any kind of a scare. Honda has always worked hard at putting the entire package together: performance, rideability, function, and, of course, Honda reliability.
Some bikes do more in different areas, but Honda's CBR1000RR scores high marks in all areas. There are times where it does show its weight in some of the tighter turns where you're not only slowing it down, but also keeping it lifted up and still turning direction. But, in its defense, some of the slowness in steering and weighty feeling is a fair trade when it's time to drop the hammer while still heeled over and grabbing gears. A fair trade? I think so. When you need to get into a turn and change lines, it's still free enough to move about mid-turn but, at the same time, the bike remains oh-so-stable. I'm almost sure that words like stable and confidence-inspiring are probably somewhat overused in describing the CBR1000RR but, damn it, I speak the truth.
The new CBR is a potent upgrade for their entry into the 1000cc sport bike class. The only thing I caution with is that the package is so good, that Honda has done almost too good of a job on it, in that it's smooth and deceptively fast. Some of the other liter bikes might offer a bit more pucker factor, whereas the CBR1000RR is so balanced and so smooth that it almost feels slow at times, until you see the world going by you like you've fallen off the planet.
This new CBR1000RR, like its predecessor, has direct lineage to the MotoGP RC211V. Its gravity die-cast aluminum frame and long swingarm rear suspension share a lot of the DNA with Honda's MotoGP bike. Sounds just like Honda PR stuff? Not at all. Without a doubt, this new CBR1000RR has to be, hands-down, the most stable and easy bike to ride in the liter-bike club. Thank God for that. I was pretty rusty from not having ridden something fairly fast in a while, and what a friend the Honda was to help me out of my funk and get my dancing shoes back on.
We started the day on Bridgestone's BT-105 street-compound tiresin production half of the US allotment of CBR1000RRs will get the new Stones while the other half will receive Dunlops. I am generally not a big fan of street-compound tires used on racetracks, but I have to hand it to the 'stones, they worked pretty damn well. After lunch, the Honda techs switched us over to race-compound BT-002s, and my heart then soared with the eagles. The sticky 'stones gave me a very new appreciation for the Bridgestone radials.
Does the CBR1000RR get overshadowed by the other big bores? Is it the Ginger in a world of Mary-Anns? One look at the stats shows that its got the goods, but for whatever reason, sometimes it's the rest of the XYZ bikes that tend to get the lustful looks. Well. that's the way I felt before I rode the 2006 Honda, anyway.
Have you ever seen a movie and thought, 'Yeah, that was quite good, not my fave but really, pretty good'? Then, days afterward, you keep thinking about the film? That's really how I felt about Honda's Big Blade. Enough so, in fact, that I have almost thought, hell yes, I might need one of these to go to work on. You see, I have this really cool road about a mile from my house, and it has a bit of a drop in it. And, if I were to hit that drop in, say, third gear or so, I reckon I could pull a pretty nice power wheelie for quite some time. Hmmm....
Honda has done a really fine job of refining the CBR1000RR but it's the chassis and the aesthetics that sold me, instead of the engine, and that's really saying something, because the engine is so good. The CBR1000RR has most of the goods that you'd expect on a big-bore sport bikecassette-type close-ratio garbox, sixteen-valve cylinder head, dual-stage headlight, forged pistons, digital fuel injection with twin injectors and an ECU that provides two maps for both the fuel injection and the ignition, a stainless and titanium exhaust systemyou know, the kind of tackle that fifteen years ago even Honda's GP bikes didn't offer their A-list riders. Now you get this stuff on a production sport bike for just short of $12,000. Again, for me, it's the chassis and the aesthetic design of the bike which sells me. At speed the big CB is dead stable, and never gets its feathers fuffled, thanks to the work Honda did on the spectacular chassis.
I went to Buttonwillow prepared to do a job and to test a motorcycle. I honestly didn't think that this bike would affect me the way that it did.
Before I left I hoped I'd get more time on the CBR1000RR's competition, but, in the end, all I really want is more time on the CBR1000RR itself.
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