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50 quick road miles on the new Honda CBR600

By Tim Thompson -

First rides & tests

 05 May 2013 15:30

There's still snow on the fields as I head out onto the back lanes of Cambridgeshire. It's four days since the near-washout of the track launch and this new CBR600RR -- just 90 miles on the clock --  is passing through the MCN lock-up on its way to Sicily for our upcoming 600s group test. I've got one hour.

Unlike Donington, it's dry. The road surface is 90% road salt, ice and mud, and 10% Tarmac, but I'll take it. The roads are also bumpy and pockmarked and pose a whole new set of questions to our gleaming CBR.

Feeling slightly guilty asking so much of a new engine, I plant the revs in the business area between 8000rpm and 14,000rpm and tuck in behind the new fairing.  There's less wind protection, especially for hands, while my elbows find their way onto the outside of my knees and the tacho needle, centre stage on one of the classic instrument panels, flicks back and forth beneath my nose.

Here on the road, where the CBR's flowing along a B-road ribbon rather than stopping and turning into a grand prix track's corners, the steering is direct and accurate -- and heavier than on track, possibly because the HESD (Honda Electronic Steering Damper) is reacting differently too. The CBR sits flat and floats across the surface mayhem with a smoothness the Kawasaki ZX-6R I rode on these roads for a year could barely dream of.

All CBR600RRs have short wheelbases and steep steering angles to help them turn like Dani P's RC/Vs, yet the stability of successive models becomes ever more impressive. It makes you think any speed is possible. One day mass centralisation may dramatically be denounced like processed meat and sitting down -- mass dispersal the new way to make a bike go round corners -- but out here in the boondocks, I truly believe.

In contrast to the track test, I barely use the brakes on the road, though C-ABS is a reassuring presence, while the new Big Piston Forks go virtually unnoticed. All I do is snatch an occasional glance in the still decent mirrors (pull in the clutch to get a totally clear view) and keep the tacho buzzing.

In this less intense environment I'm not so certain about the improvements made to the CBR's throttle response; the gap between the 2012 bike's delivery and this seems narrower and, as we head for home, the engine twice hesitates at 11,000rpm as I wind the throttle on after closing it to slow down.

Anyway, my hour is up. The now salt-stained CBR is loaded into a van and away, leaving me to work out how much better it is than the old one. Truth is, I'm not sure. It's a specialist device, this, as devoted to speed as any Italian exotica yet remarkably accommodating and easy to ride. I suspect warmer weather will reveal a bike that's marginally quicker on track and fractionally more pleasant to ride on the road. The evolution, in other words, continues.

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