2003 CBR600RR – I will call him… Mini-RR

beautyshot1With all the hubbub over the CBR1000RR these days, its 599cc sibling, the CBR600RR, has taken the pillion seat in the eyes of the world and Honda’s marketing machine. So, before we all get carried away with serious displacement lust of the hyper-sport variety, lets turn the dial on the way-back machine by, gasp, a full year, and plop our OWD-branded butts down on the ‘03 CBR600RR’s wooden-soft seat.

I’ve long ago come to terms with the fact that at 6”2’ and about 195lbs (on a good day), I’m no whiplash thin Valentino, hence anything even moderately comfortable in a sportbike is a boon. Given the CBR600RR’s diminutive stature, with a wheelbase of a mere 139cm (that’s the length of the two screaming toddlers in the airplane seat in front of you laid out end-to-end, once unconscious), I was expecting the ergonomics to be atrocious.

True, the bike disappears underneath me like I’m sitting on a Fisher-Price ride’em toy, but the ergos are something uniquely Honda. The RR fits the tall and short alike, though Kevin, OneWheelDrive.Net Photographer and resident 5”10’er, mentioned the bars were a bit more of a reach forward and down than was ultimately comfy for adjusting his camera settings while trying to keep up. I found the bars fine, but after the first 50kms my legs were working on whether to give in, or rebel in a cramping uprising, due to the high pegs. In the end they gave in and enjoyed the ride. It’s no sport-tourer but the CBR600RR will fit your grandparents. The seating position may not be kind to them though, and there’s a big difference between the ergos and concessions to comfort. Your wrists will hurt (especially at law-abiding speeds). Your shoulders will ache. Your arse will scream from the mere whiff of foam dubbed a seat.

But take a moment and think it through. The seat isn’t really a cruel joke; it’s simply not meant to be sat on. It’s meant to be slid across and hung off. It’s horrible for anything else. I loved it like a crazy-carpet from my youth, slippery-slidey, likely to cause bodily injury, and built for pure fun.

Some engines are rev-happy; this one is an un-medicated rev-psychotic. The 600RR’s inline-4 pulls strong from 8000RPM to about 13,500RPM and develops a maximum of 107bhp and 44.1 ft-lbs of torque. But those are just specs… it’s pushing it to an absolutely frenzied 15000RPM redline that will leave you giggling uncontrollably in your helmet. It’s sheer screaming madness. Who cares if there’s power there or not? It has to be done periodically; it’s quality assurance, maybe they mis-marked the dial. Maybe the fury between your legs is going to let go in a horror-show explosion of pistons and mechanical bits. Not likely. Back in reality though, you do need to keep the revs up.

Slip much below 8000 RPM, though, and lever dancing is in order to get the CBR600RR back in its power-generation happy place. This is where the bike is truly revealed as a 600, but shifting is almost as much fun as revving, and is a complete breeze. The clutch is light and the transmission as much so – a gentle brush of foot against lever is all that’s needed to effect a change. Up-shifting can easily be a clutch-less affair, which is good, as you’ll be playing with that 6-speed transmission a lot. There will be no lazy passing without bothering to down-shift, or forgetful pulling away from a stop in second, but keep it above the magic 8000 and the 600RR sings.

Sings, not Singer. There is no sewing machine whir. Induction and engine noise combine in a symphony of RPM’s shouting out the praises of the gods of speed as you pull away from the 8000 mark. It is an utterly satisfying sound. But combine the wind exposure and engine noise and you’d best be fitting a set of earplugs. At idle, the engine is deeper and bass-ier than I’ve come to expect from an inline-four with a stock pipe. It’s the sound of a bike with a sense of purpose. It’s almost predatory, but politely so – it is a Honda after all. “Lets go hunt down some road…” it growls, “maybe a few other bikes… Please?”

The growl isn’t an idle threat – the bike delivers a special, intoxicating blend of road holding and power that is undoubtedly illegal. Even on the soft settings the suspension is well sorted and fully adjustable, with 45mm cartridge forks in front and the RC211V-inspired Pro-Link monoshock (Showa) out back. A little research revealed what makes the Pro-Link so effective: the rear suspension mounts directly to the swingarm (rather than the frame), this allows it to “soak” up bumps before they are transmitted into the chassis. The swingarm itself is long at 573mm’s, giving the rear suspension a more progressive action by reducing the amount it rotates for a bump – it’s almost like having a bike with a longer wheelbase. This suspension set-up, in combination with mass centralization and the Dunlop D208s, leave “road holding” a pale and wanting turn of phrase. It’s more like the CBR600RR has the asphalt in a constrictor death grip. I’ve only encountered stability of this calibre in larger bikes weighing far more than the claimed dry weight of 370lbs. It is a few notches above confidence inspiring.

The result is the CBR600RR is one of the easiest to pilot bikes I’ve been on, especially in the corners, bends and twists. I found myself counter-steering aggressively to see if the bike unsettled. Not a bit, the front tire bites in and the bike heals around without any nervousness. The downside of this exceptional poise is that the RR was a bit sluggish in responding to inputs from the bars. Making up for this is the CBR600RR’s exceptional response to weight shift. Shoulder shifting, peg pressing, and, if you’re so inclined, hanging-off, yield prompt results without the RR feeling flighty or twitchy. It is not so stable that you can simply stop paying attention; it’s damn quick to change direction. It’s like dating someone really high maintenance – let your attention drift from them and they’ll wander. But you knew that going into the relationship and you’re still getting a lot out of it; in this case, brilliant handling and the ability to wail your way up to a purported top speed of 170 mph (unconfirmed by this writer) by wringing every last Newton out of the engine. This means braking had better be up to expectations.

The binders are, of course, up to the task; they live up to the rest of the CBR600RR package in affirmative and confident style. Initially I found the brakes a little grabby, then, realizing I was only bringing 445lbs (wet) under control, I eased off my sport-touring grip of death. Using an easy, consistent, two-finger squeeze on the levers (courtesy of reading Sportriding Techniques), lets the twin 310mm disks out front get on with their work. They do so with excellent feedback, leaving the bike feeling confident and planted. Only with a light peppering of gravel on the shoulder during a sharp deceleration did things feel a skittish. But the front-end feel is such that you know exactly which pebble you’re hitting and when – apologies to the ladybug who could not be avoided.

The power, the handling, and the braking are an exceptional mix in the RR. It is all so good that the CBR600RR goads you into doing silly things, especially if you’re trying to find a fly in the ointment. A fly like the dreaded tank-slapper.

Background checks on the CBR600RR revealed that this Bruce Wayne, all mild-mannered and refined, has a dark side. And this mean streak is not on the side of justice; a criminal record of tank-slappers exists, according to a few posts on the Internet and an article in Bike. Curious and over-confident in the bike, I admit trying to provoke it, push it, prod it, and bring out the RR’s dark Freudian Id.

I couldn’t, though I did have a lot of fun trying. This is, of course, very good for Honda, the CBR600RR, and for me. Why? Because while “theoretically” knowing what to do in a tank-slapper situation, I’ve never actually had to exercise the practical application. The only point where the front felt unsettled was over washboard style pavement under brisk acceleration.

There are always a few groans to be made about any bike, and the CBR600RR is no exception. The throttle response and fuel injection mapping is impeccably smooth under a twist of the loud handle. It’s just as smooth decelerating. The transition between these two polite actions, however, is a jerky, disconcerting mood-swing on the part of the RR. There is one other sore point: the styling. In particular, that pipe which ends in a single orifice; it looks like the rear-end view of a cat – terribly unflattering, almost disturbing to be directly behind. The front view is less offensive, but in a blandly aggressive and generic bug-like way. Lending to the look are the dysfunctional mirrors on the antenna stalks; useful if you’re a broad shouldered pygmy – still, they are better than the VTR’s.

CBR600RR, so in the end what does that RR mean? Honda would tell you it stands for Race Ready. A bike inspired by, and with technologies like the Pro-Link, derived from, the MotoGP. But the thing is, this bike is so good on the road it may well mean Road Ready. I’m not going to say that this bike is a consummate all-rounder and that in 5 years we’ll all be slapping Givi bags and Corbin seats on it and setting off to vacation in wine country, but this bike is a really good road bike. The CBR600RR is just simply one of the most refined bikes I’ve ever been on. Everything about the bike works well together. This level of engineering comes with an added bonus; as you swing a leg over the CBR600RR somewhere in the back of your mind you can’t help but hear the crowd in the grandstands. A feeling that almost makes up for that seat.

Test Bike Provided By:
Carter Motorsports Coquitlam
#11-1300 Woolridge St.
Coquitlam, B.C.
Phone: (604) 519-0000
Fax: (604) 519-0008

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