It has been a long wait, but finally, Honda has decided to throw down the gauntlet and produce a narrow-focused effective race-winning road bike. We take the CBR 600 RR for a spin.

It has been a long wait, but finally, Honda has decided to throw down the gauntlet and produce a narrow-focused effective race-winning road bike. We take the CBR 600 RR for a spin.

Since the introduction of the Yamaha R6 in 1999, Honda has lost its grip on the demanding middleweight market. The only thing is, Honda may have waited too long and now the expectation is too great. The hype may have killed off any chance for the RR to even come close to the Kawasaki and Yamaha. However, when last have you heard a manufacturer comparing a 600 to their GP machines and not the Supersports?

The CBR 600F had good looks, decent manners, beefy performance and loads of power. The 2002 600F-Sport lacked attitude, but had stacks of ability. The RR has both. The redesigned engine packs a lethal punch and the bark, even from the stock centre-up exhaust system, is impressive for a 600. The RR is a beautifully sculpted machine. Impeccably crafted and well finished.

Visually, the new RR seems a lot more aggressive. Unlike the earlier models, the RR truly is unabashed in its intent. Not since the 1992 ‘Blade, has Honda produced such an in-your-face piece of machinery. And you really have to take a long look to be convinced that there is indeed a CBR underneath the plethora of styling and engineering. The sharp nose, flat screen, angled seat and slim tank of the RR is reminiscent of the RC211V, sported by Valentino Rossi.

The seating may seem extreme but the seat is lower than the bars. However, once on the CBR, you soon realise that you sit on it rather than in it. Not familiar CBR territory at all. At first, the RR feels hard, the suspension unforgiving, but after spending some time on it, it is utterly welcoming.

It is fun bike to ride. Every bump sends the front into the air and every ripple sends the rear skittering. Unlike the ‘Blade, the RR’s new ‘Unit Pro-Link’ rear suspension soaks up every bump.

The engine drives from low down – allowing the rider to employ higher gears and effectively harness the RR’s wider delivery. The RR’s increased mid-range is still not desirable. It is way down on the Kawasaki and Yamaha, but compared to the F, it does allow you to carry higher speeds through corners and comfortably get on the gas when exiting. The CBR is confident when entering corners. Not like the R6, even the 2003 model, which had a tendency to back out the rear. However, the R6 has a better top-end that should make up for the lack of corner entry speed.

All the figures have been ushered in the right direction, like with any new model. The weight is down by 2,2 kg, the power is up and the speed is faster with the top speed reached on the test bordering up and around the 270 km/h mark. But, more importantly, some components have also been herded to more efficient positions, to get the weight as near to the machine’s centre of mass as possible.

Although these changes might not be very visible, they are there and that is a comforting thought. Compared to the F, the RR is intense, but it takes little effort to ride fast. It is a get-on-and-go CBR. You are in total control. Even if you only put in half the effort, you will still be able to keep up with your mate’s ZX-6RR. This may be why Honda said they will forgive us if we start to think that we are Rossi himself. The RR is a GP machine. The phrase might be redundant, but it is a racer with lights.

The last CBR model had a major fuel injection glitch that hampered throttle control at low speeds. The Fireblade has the same problem, with some journalists finding the jerkiness enough to send the rear flying when accelerating out of corners.

Thankfully, Honda addressed this problem by introducing a new PGM-DSFI system on the RR. This system has a secondary set of 12-hole injector sets, supplying the throttle bodies with a more finely atomised spray of fuel. However, this did not entirely solve the problem. The RR did cough a bit during our short in-town stint, but the RR does offer wonderfully smooth, glitch-free mid-and-top-end acceleration and has an increased mid-range.

If Honda’s R&D can get rid of the slow speed snatchiness and extreme wind-blast, then the RR might just be one of the best motorcycles currently on the market, even better than the company’s own Fireblade. Honda is adamant that 2004 will see them returning to motorsport competition with their RR. 2004 will also see the launch of a new Fireblade, with the introduction of these GP-technologies currently available on the 600.

Report by Brett Hamilton of Twist Grip (www.twistgrip.co.za)

For a full riding impression click here .