Martial arts competition, like sport motorcycle riding, stylishly blends power and finesse with razor-sharp wits and the ability to quickly and effectively compensate for any move the opposition, or the road, throws your way. While Honda’s CB1000R certainly delivers black belt performance on the open road, it also packs a mean set of brass knuckles.
The Streetfighter genre of motorcycles is an interesting one. As the story goes, urban sportbike guys would crash their bikes (as urban sportbike guys are wont to do) and then rebuild their wrecks. But rather than drop hard-earned cash on new plastic, they simply tossed the broken bodywork in the garbage, sold the unharmed bits to some poser on eBay, slapped on a set of dirt bike–style handlebars, and called it good. And let’s face it, an upright seating position is far more preferable for picking lanes through traffic than is the “monkey humping a football” riding position of a traditional sportbike. Plus, stripped sportbikes just look tough.
Like all good fashion trends that sprout in the city, this one caught on and spread. It proved especially appealing to seasoned riders that pine for the performance of a modern sportbike without the chiropractic nightmares brought on by clip-ons and rearsets.
Fortunately, motorcycle manufacturers have spotted this trend and are now offering streetfighter-inspired machines that don’t require crashing to achieve the look. For those of us who are a little past the track bike, not quite ready to go feet-forward, yet still relish a good, clean sparring match, Honda’s CB1000R comes out swinging and scores as a near perfect option.
Going the Distance
The bikes that inspired the CB1000R may have been born on the mean streets, but their urban ergos also shine long after the traffic is left behind. The wide, flat bars that serve so well dodging buses and Buicks also afford a comfortable, upright seating position. Surprisingly, stints on the superslab are near effortless affairs. I don’t know how, but that little fly-screen/headlight combo manages to knock an unexpected hole in the wind, keeping both rider and passenger bobble-heading to a minimum. The seat too is deceiving. It first appears flat and hard, but ends up being quite comfortable for the long haul. This is an especially nice touch considering many of us don’t have our favorite stretches of twisty asphalt just down the street.
When the pavement knots up, this fighter is the real deal. Its stout torso consists of a strong yet light die-cast aluminum frame. Flex is nonexistent and handling is rail-like, even two-up. Suspension duties are ably handled by a fully adjustable 43mm inverted fork up front and a single, spring preload and rebound adjustable shock in the rear. A sexy, single-sided swingarm and a stylish four-spoke rear wheel help add a touch of class to an otherwise brutish appearance. Whether city slow, backroad brisk, solo sprinting, or two-up traveling, the suspension can be easily dialed in to suck up nearly everything the asphalt dishes out while still offering excellent feedback through the sticky Bridgestone Battlax radials.
In the all-important stopping department, the brakes are more than up to the task. Out front, a pair of four-piston radial-mount calipers grips 310mm rotors while a single 256mm disc gets the squeeze from a twin-piston caliper working the rear. While a smooth, progressive feel is the norm at both ends no matter the load, eye-popping emergency stops are easily on tap, just in case.
The CB1000R is based around Honda’s previous generation 998cc superbike power plant; it’s natural to assume there is plenty of get-go. Let’s just say that many traffic lawyers have put their kids through college on the backs of lesser machines. Though not possessing the brutal top-end rush of its plastic-clad cousin, the CBR1000RR, the CB1000R can still deliver a debilitating blow. Though Honda claims it is tuned for a more street-savvy low- and mid-range punch, the CB can easily whack the ton in the length of an on-ramp if a little restraint isn’t exercised. On the other hand, the vibration-free mill is perfectly capable of delivering a civilized level of acceleration (if you like that sort of thing) in every gear, thanks to the seamless programmed fuel injection (PGM-FI). In an attempt to muck up any civility that may exist, the über-cool, low slung, four-into-one exhaust delivers a howling note that’ll make anybody’s repressed inner punk kid mutter “screw it” and turn it up to eleven. Whether you prefer to aggressively work the silky-shifting six-speed or roll on and off in high gear, the CB has more than enough torque to please nearly every right wrist.
Our first trip aboard the CB involved a passenger and full complement of bags packed for a couple days on the road. After determining that freeway passing power was the least of our worries, we decided to put the inline four through the acid test. One of our favorite gap roads up the Blue Ridge (rumored to have been laid out by a feral billy goat with a disdain for motorcycle clutches) presented no challenge for the CB1000R. What is normally a first-through-fifth-gear affair for most high-powered sport tourers was handled with ease in third and fourth with a couple of drops to second for the two truly wicked switchbacks. The bike never missed a beat and even got a thumbs-up pillion review from our skeptical, forty-something copilot.
It’s truly difficult to find any flaws worth mentioning on the CB1000R. Typical of most Honda motorcycles, the level of engineering is top-notch, as are the components. At first viewing, the lack of wind protection would seem to preclude longer jaunts, but that proved to be a nonfactor. Sure, you’re going to get a hearty dose of wind in the face, but a day in the saddle will not leave you punch-drunk. The seats, both rider and pillion, appear too firm and flat, but they both work surprisingly well.
When the final bell rings, the streetfighter-inspired Honda CB1000R emerges as a bona fide contender. It delivers that special power and finesse that make motorcycle travel the pure joy that it is. At the same time, the kick-in-the-pants power and razor-sharp handling required to batter backroads is a few suspension clicks and a wrist twist away. The CB1000R is one machine I would be ecstatic to have in my corner. No, make that a corner of my garage.
+ power, handling, fun factor
– lawyer fees
Distributor American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
MSRP $ 11,760
Engine inline 4-cylinder
Bore and Stroke 75×56.5mm
Fuel System PGM-FI, 36mm throttle bodies
Final Drive chain
Frame die-cast aluminum mono-backbone
Front Suspension 43mm inverted, fully adjustable, 5in travel
Rear Suspension single shock, spring preload and rebound adjustable, 5in travel
Brakes Front/Rear dual 4-piston calipers w/ 310mm discs / 2-piston caliper, single 256mm disc
Tires Front/Rear 120/70ZR17 radial / 180/55ZR17 radial
Curb Weight 485lbs
Seat Height 32.1in
Fuel Capacity 4.5gal
Fuel Consumption 37mpg
Colors Matte Gray Metallic