When is a CBR not a CBR...?

Published: 21 April 2000

" DON’T harm my baby. " If I wasn’t already nervous about riding Russell Savory’s Evo CBR600, I was now.

This was the culmination of months of painstaking work by RS Performance to build the ultimate CBR600 road bike. Only a handful have been made and Savory treats them all like part of the family. No-one except his most trusted friends have ridden the bike – until now.

I couldn’t help but feel nervous as I reached out for the twistgrip. The sculptured tailpiece, white wheels and flashy paintjob immediately indicate this is no ordinary Honda 600, but the biggest changes to this bike are not cosmetic.

It’s weird feeling like this about a CBR600. It’s hardly recognised as the most exciting machine on the road. Its hardest critics claim CBR stands for Completely Boring Road bike. Savory reckons he’s changed all that.

He said: " I’ve made a realistically-priced sports bike with a lot of all-round potential. It’s fast and powerful enough for any rider without being as intimidating as some superbikes. I wanted to build a special CBR600 after the man behind the production bike, Satoru Horike, visited our workshops. He liked the look of our Evo FireBlade and expressed some regret at not being able to build a sporty and harder-edged 600 himself. He explained Honda’s philosophy is to build a bike for the masses. It can’t be too costly and must be easy to ride all day. That criteria rules out a bike like the Evo being produced in Japan, so I got on with the job of building a bike which he can’t. "

Now it was time to see if all that hard work had been worthwhile. I’ve ridden the Evo Blade before, so I expected this bike to be good. I was in for a shock – good somehow seems to do this machine a disservice.

Conditions weren’t ideal on some parts of the ride along Hertfordshire’s twistiest back roads, and the damp and greasy Tarmac looked like it would help me fulfil Savory’s opening gambit. But I soon realised the Evo could easily cope with the slippery surface without fear of big repair bills or broken bones. Not through crashing, but if Savory got hold of me.

It’s so easy to ride fast and still feel totally safe. And, despite it obviously being geared towards rapid progress, there’s still enough civility to pootle around and not get too frustrated. It offers the best of both worlds – it’s lost the dreary side of the CBR without giving up any of its famed good manners.

The riding position is more extreme than the stock bike. Harris clip-ons sit under the billet alloy top yoke made by the same firm, while its crafted adjustable rearsets force your feet back and higher. But the racier set-up is comfy enough to stop you screaming for the chiropractor after a couple of hours and it’s certainly suited to speed, keeping your head down out of the wind and loading the front end with more bodyweight.

There might be a bit of pain caused by the titanium Micron race exhaust system, though. It sounds gorgeous, especially when the bike is on full-chat, but earplugs are a must. Road-legal? Don’t even ask...

As I passed through a small village, the burbling pops from the can ricocheting off the houses, I waited for the engine to gag as it struggled through the CBR’s usual 5000rpm flat-spot. But it never came. The traffic light grand prix also highlighted this bike’s improved power delivery. The big Keihin 37mm flat-slide carbs work much better than usual under this sort of sudden load. Normally, flat-slides bog the motor if you’re too hamfisted with the twistgrip, but the carburation of this set is fully sorted.

Another surprise is the power of the engine. Apart from being blueprinted, which adds an extra 2-3bhp, Savory says the motor is unmodified. If that’s the case the acceleration is astounding. It feels more like a 750 than a 600. And the simple explanation is that it breathes so well.

The ram-air system features bigger intakes under the nose of the fairing and they feed a 5.5-litre Dymag carbon-fibre airbox. This is 1.5 litres bigger than stock and helps fill the motor with plenty of cool and dense air. The Keihin carbs flow more fuel and the burnt gases can escape much more freely through the Micron exhaust.

All this adds around 15bhp more at the back wheel at peak power, but the gains can be felt throughout the rev range. The delivery is beautifully smooth and linear and there’s no perceptible surge. The more you rev the engine, the more power it makes – it’s that simple. Holding on to top gear for just a few seconds sends the speedo needle to 170mph.

And the motor just loves to rev. A different ignition box, with an altered advance curve, helps it to spin much more easily than the standard bike. You rush through the revs so quickly that you need to be on your guard to change gear on time. If not, the motor protests as it bounces off the slightly higher-than-stock rev limiter. At higher revs the throttle response is instantaneous. The rate at which you need to change up when you’re accelerating flat-out gives the impression the motor has a close-ratio gearbox. It hasn’t.

Savory avoided gas-flowing the head or fitting race cams or valves. He thought this would add too much to the cost of the bike and possibly make it a little too intimidating to ride. And blueprinting won’t be a feature of future Evo 600 engines for economic reasons.

Stopping this bike is as easy as getting it moving. The top-quality Brembo brakes have plenty of power. Their initial bite isn’t so strong, but this can be a bonus if there isn’t too much grip on the road. When it was wet I had no fear of giving them a handful. And the combination of the sticky tyres and supple forks enhance the braking performance even more.

Both the forks and shock control the bike really well and give plenty of feedback. You can feel every ripple in the road and can anticipate any slide well before it sends the bike out of shape.

The white magnesium alloy Dymag wheels help the suspension action by reducing unsprung weight, while a lighter front wheel makes the steering lighter and quicker by cutting down the gyroscopic forces which want to keep it pointing forward, especially at speed. The Dunlop D207GP tyres, renowned for their exceptional grip, make life feel even more secure.

More time thrashing through bends makes you realise the Evo’s handling is in a different league to the standard CBR. On dry roads, when I could really throw the bike around, the difference was magnified tenfold. The sharp steering means it’s so, so easy to change direction and makes the Evo feel like a toy. By comparison, the stock bike feels long, lazy and overweight.

Savory only claims an 8kg (17.6lb) reduction in weight, but it feels like a lot more as it’s so easy to hustle through even the tightest corners. The centre of gravity is made lower by the 21-litre fuel tank, which sits farther down in the frame than the 18-litre standard unit.

As I rounded the corner back to Savory’s workshop I could see the British supersport team boss waiting for me at the door. For a second I considered opening it up again and heading back out into the country for a few more precious minutes. But before I could turn around sentinel Savory was off his post and legging it across the car park to greet me.

Like a concerned father, he ushered me inside and walked around the bike, prodding, stroking and caressing the machine to check for signs of abuse. Satisfied, he held his hand out for the key. The Evo 600 experience was over, but not forgotten.

HOW MUCH IT ALL COSTS

A FULL-ON Evo 600 like the bike we rode will set you back almost £8000 on top of the cost of a new donor bike.

But if that’s just a little over your budget, you can upgrade your CBR for a far more modest amount.

If you give Savory a new CBR600, either an official or parallel import, Savory will give you up to £1500 for the stock parts he replaces. You can then put this towards the cost of the work you want done.

Race commitments pending, Savory says he can build a complete bike in a few days. It can be tuned to any level specified by the buyer and painted in any colour.

For the full conversion you’d need to buy two kits, one with mainly cosmetic changes and another to improve the handling, plus a range of parts available separately. The " cosmetic " kit costs £3190 and includes a new carbon-fibre fairing, air duct, airbox, tank, tank cover, seat and subframe, radiator and brackets. Individual parts include magnesium wheels at £952 a set, a rear hugger and chainguard for £136 and a front hugger for £71.

If you’re happy with the look of your bike but want to improve the handling, you can buy a second kit for £2126. That includes Ohlins forks, Brembo brakes, billet aluminium caliper plates and aluminium bars.

If you have any cash left you could then go for the Keihin carbs at £720, the adjustable footrest kit for £229 and an Ohlins rear shock for £378, plus a new can to make things sound better and a pair of tyres to cope with it all. For more details call RS Performance on: 01992-443399.

THAT SAVORY BLOKE… HE’S A BIT TASTY

THE man behind the Evo series of Hondas is one of the most respected tuners in Britain – but he started out working with very different types of bikes. Russell Savory began his career in the 1970s tuning speedway and grasstrack bikes. Some of the latter work was for Kawasaki, which spotted his talents and asked him to fettle its world title-winning Z1-powered endurance bikes.

In 1984, Yamaha recruited Savory to tune Steve Parrish’s FZ750 Superstock racer, and three years later he helped a certain Keith Huewen to win the title. Now Sky’s British superbike anchorman, Huewen can’t hold back a wry smile as he recalls his racing days with Savory. He said: " He was just one of those blokes who would try anything to get more out of an engine. He was totally dedicated to making bikes go faster. "

Savory stayed with Yamaha for 13 years, winning several British and Irish championships and the odd Isle of Man TT. That success went with him when he moved to Honda in 1997, when he took Paul Brown to the British Supersport title in his first year with the firm.

His CBR600s have since finished runner-up in the series twice, and he also prepared the FireBlade on which Jim Moodie won the 1998 Production TT. He now fields Australians Glen Richards and Chris Vermeulen on CBRs in the 600 series, as well as Blades in the Superstock championship.

HONDA CBR600 EVO RR

Cost: Up to £14,400

Availability: To order from RS Performance on 01992-443399. The price depends on what you can afford

Colours: Your choice

SPECIFICATION

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 599cc (67mm x 42.5mm) 16v dohc four-stroke in-line four. 4 x 37mm Keihin flat-slide carbs. 6 gears

Chassis: Aluminium twin-spar

Front suspension: 46mm Ohlins inverted forks, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Ohlins single shock with rising-rate linkage, adjustments for pre-load, ride height, compression and rebound damping

Tyres: Dunlop D207GP; 120/70 x ZR17 front, 180/55 x ZR17 rear

Brakes: Brembo; 2 x 320mm front discs with 4-piston calipers, 220mm rear disc with 2-piston caliper

PERFORMANCE

POWER: 112bhp@12,500rpm

TORQUE: 47ftIb@10,400rpm

Weight/power to weight ratio: 162kg (356.4lb), 0.69bhp/kg

Standing 1/4-mile time/terminal speed: 10.9s, 131mph

Top speed: 167mph

Geometry (Rake/trail/wheelbase): 24°, 9.6cm, 139.5cm

Average mpg/tank capacity/range): 38mpg, 21 litres, 170 miles