Whether on the track or on the street, Honda proposes the question: Was its new 2006 CBR1000RR redesigned to be the fastest bike for the ultimate rider or as a fast bike for the widest range of riders -- including those with a little less experience who are curious to get a glimpse of life in the fast lane? Honda (HMC) claims to have done both with its new model.
I was invited along with a few other motojournalists for a firsthand experience of this newly redesigned motorcycle, Honda's flagship sportbike, on a track called Buttonwillow Raceway, located in Bakersfield, Calif. It was also my first experience of feeling like a MotoGP star. Not only because this particular model uses technology that has trickled down the R&D chain from Honda's definitive Grand Prix weapon, the RC211V, but also because of the royal treatment we received at the racetrack.
There were actually garages trackside, and four bikes in each stable. Plus, we had mechanics, tire warmers, and each got our own chair to relax in between riding sessions. Then, the icing on the cake -- each of the eight journalists there for the day got their names inscribed on the windshield of a bike.
FASHION CONSCIOUS. The new CBR1000RR is available in four different color schemes. Three of those choices are two-tone paint jobs, and the other option is solid glossy black. I found my name on a silver/gray bike in the stable that housed the silver and black bikes.
My friend Brian, a fellow motojournalist, found his red bike with black-wing graphics in the other stable next door that also included the blue/yellow bikes. He asked to switch bikes with me because his leather-riding suit matched my bike's colors.
That wasn't going to happen. There was a good reason why our names got attached to different bikes -- Honda properly set each bike to the rider's weight. After all, one of the novelties of modern-day sportbikes is the technology of fully adjustable suspension, which can fit the handling to a rider's weight as well as diverse track and street environments.
The mechanics were also available for tweaking and fine-tuning the suspension, but my bike seemed to be set up just perfectly. This may also have had something to do with the fact that the front and rear suspension was revised for 2006, with new spring material and settings for better action and new linkage for improved handling. Not to mention, I happen to be the same weight as Doug Toland, one of Honda's test riders who was on hand for this press intro. If anyone should know the perfect set up for our weight, it would be Toland.
SLOPPY FOOT. Another added feature to the handling equation -- one that the CBR1000RR has had since its introduction in 2004 -- is the Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD), designed for optimum steering effort and stability. The electronically controlled unit adjusts automatically, deciphering the constant variations in speed, acceleration, braking forces, and riding conditions to keep the bike's handling at a premium.
I tested the unit's quick adjustability during one session, when I was approaching the final turn before the track's fast straightaway. I accidentally missed a gear downshifting, compliments of a momentarily sloppy left foot. No need for a podiatrist, but that HESD sure came in handy. The bike had only a hint of a shake for a split second, while I cautiously lifted up one gear, to be safe, as I slipped the clutch lever out. Right away, the bike was comfortably back in gear, and it powered steadily through that last turn for a smooth high-speed blast down the front straightaway.
When we returned to the pit area after every track session, the mechanics were always there to quickly wheel our bikes into the garage and wrap our tires in those cozy tire warmers. Hey, the outside temperatures were in the mid-50-degree range. They also had those tall heating devices that are so popular in California. The small contingent of riders from the Northeast -- myself included -- actually found the weather quite comfortable, yet we still appreciated those tire warmers on our bikes. Warm tires spell traction.
TRACK MAPS. If anyone had questions about tires, tire technicians were readily available, too, compliments of Bridgestone. So, as you might guess, Bridgestone was the tire du jour, more specifically the latest high-performance Battlax BT-015, featuring compounds derived from their very own MotoGP technology. These are actually street tires, but they performed very well during all our morning track sessions, giving plenty of grip and good feedback despite the chilly conditions (well, chilly by California standards).
During our lunch break, the Bridgestone guys fitted all the bikes with the BT002 series super-sticky race compound tires. The pace started to pick up with the new tires, and as we became more familiar with the track and bike. This was my first time here, but a couple of the West Coasters were very experienced on this track.
One guy in particular -- Mike, from a publication in Northern California -- really had this track dialed in nicely. He even had photos of the entire track, turn-by-turn, stored in his laptop. He was also most generous in sharing these images during our garage time and while pointing out the best lines through certain difficult turns. So there just so happened to be an array of rider levels present this day by which to evaluate the opening question of this article.
QUICK AND READY. The shared knowledge of the track helped, but the new CBR1000RR was certainly a big plus in making us all look a little better. After all, Honda has redesigned 60% of all components in this new model. Two of the main target areas were weight reduction and increased performance. It's now 17 pounds lighter, and its liquid-cooled, inline four-cylinder 998cc engine has a higher redline, up from the previous 11,650 rpm to 12,200 rpm.
In a back-to-back comparison with some of the '05 models that were on hand, it felt quicker handling through turns and revving all the way to peak power. The new model feels livelier, yet the power delivery always seemed spot-on.
The '06 has more go, but when it's time to slow it down, the brakes have been upgraded for more stopping power. The radial-mount front disk brakes have an increased diameter, now at 320mm, up 10mm from last year. Honda has actually decreased their weight by reducing the thickness of the rotors from 5mm to 4.5mm. They not only felt stronger stopping but also had a great feel.
FORM AND FUNCTION. I personally think the new model looks better too. It seems to have a sleeker, more curvaceous, design. The titanium and stainless-steel exhaust system was also revised as part of the bike's weight-loss program, giving it a subtle new appearance at the tail.
Aesthetically, one area I wished had been redesigned was the instrument cluster. As far as function goes, it works great. Perhaps it's just the fact that it's the same as the previous model whereas the rest of the bike got an overhaul. A shift light and gear-selection indicator might be nice features as well, especially for guys with that one-in-a-million sloppy foot.
At days end, I had logged in my weight in mileage, as my odometer read 160 miles. Plenty of time to realize that the new CBR 1000RR is a confidence-inspiring, user-friendly, yet lively, high-performance motorcycle. Confidence is also conveyed through the quality of a product, by just the feel of the fine fit and finish. And also in knowing Honda will increase performance but never compromise durability.
So, was the new 2006 Honda CBR1000RR redesigned to be the fastest bike for the ultimate rider or as a fast bike for the widest range of riders? Judging by our group, it appears Honda really has done both.