Honda CBR: the models, the rivals and the verdict
Honda’s CBR model prefix can trace its lineage to 1984 and the Japanese-only CBR400F, a 58bhp, high-revving street bike designed with production class racing in mind. Whereas we associate the ‘R’ in CBR these days with faired versions of Honda’s models, the CBR400F was in fact a naked bike.
The CBR nomination would go on to adorn some of Honda’s most popular models over the years, including the CBR900RR original FireBlade and its 1000cc successors, the CBR600RR supersport, and the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird (the fastest production bike in the world at its release).
- CBR600 models
- CBR900RR FireBlade and CBR1000RR Fireblade
- CBR1100XX Super Blackbird
- CBR650R and CBR500R
The Honda CBR600F-H first arrived on UK soil in 1987 and features such as anti-dive forks and wide tyres on 17in rims made it a cutting-edge and desirable machine.
It’s a topic open to debate, but the general consensus is that CBR stands for 'City Bike Racing', and the CBRs of old certainly stayed true to the 'City' element of the name. With high bars, low pegs, a comfortable seat and usable low-down power, you could comfortably commute on one.
Fast forward 30 years to 2016 and the CBR, along with the whole supersport class had evolved into something altogether more manic. The final version of the CBR600RR was uncomfortable, impractical, and delivered its 118bhp at a screaming 13,500rpm.
It was also agile, stable and incredibly fast and this meant that it dominated supersport racing at the time. Sadly, the loss of real-world application would eventually mean the end of the CBR600RR.
Rivals include the Kawasaki ZX-6R, Yamaha R6, Triumph Daytona 675 and Suzuki GSX-R600. The Honda generally sits alongside the Kawasaki as a slightly more road-biased offering, while the Yamaha has been more focused, and the Triumph is like a race bike with number plates.
‘Fireblade’ is one of the most famous model designations in motorcycling, and every version of the ‘blade released over the years has been a CBR.
Starting in 1992 with the CBR900RR designed by Tadao Baba using his ‘light is right’ philosophy, the bike blew away its competition by being light and agile rather than more powerful.
Top-flight racers of the era were 750cc, so the FireBlade was designed and built without having a class to race in, but eventually found a home in BSB, WSB and road racing.
The bike lives on to this day, although it has evolved into a 999cc, 189bhp rocket in its latest version and features all the modern electronic wizardry you would expect from a flagship superbike.
The Fireblade has always been a brutally fast machine, but its stability and ease of use compared to competition like the Yamaha R1 or Kawasaki ZX-10R has meant a reputation for being a bit sensible, or even boring.
To the untrained eye, the Super Blackbird just looks like an unassuming sports tourer, but lurking beneath its understated fairing is a 164bhp engine that once made it the world’s fastest production bike.
Produced from 1997 to 2005, this wolf in sheep’s clothing is a capable and relaxed all-rounder until you wind the throttle on, at which point it turns into a ballistic missile.
The bike’s only major flaw is that it weighs 223kg, but its stiff chassis (aided by a rigid mounted engine) means that it handles surprisingly well.
CBR1100XX Super Blackbird rivals
Rivals like the Suzuki Hayabusa (Hayabusa is Japanese for Peregrine falcon, which preys on blackbirds) and Kawasaki ZX-12R may be more glamourous, but the Super Blackbird is an ultra-dependable and capable machine not to be overlooked.
The demise of the CBR600RR left a gap in Honda’s range for a middleweight sportsbike. Current licencing laws require that new riders have a machine producing no more than 47bhp while on an A2 licence. A more powerful bike can be restricted so long as it doesn’t originally produce more than 94bhp.
Honda now produce CBR models to fulfil both of these criteria in the shape of the CBR500R parallel twin and its bigger brother, the inline four CBR650R.
With a sporty but comfortable stance, both bikes are practical and accessible and represent great value for money. The 500 uses basic suspension and a single front brake, which both limit performance but it’s great fun to ride.
The 650 has far more substance, with Showa suspension, twin front discs and that gutsy four-cylinder engine. It’s no direct replacement for the outgoing 600RR, but rather harks back to the CBR600s of the 90s. You can use it to get to work all week and then ride it to Europe or thrash it around a track at the weekend.
CBR500R and CBR650R rivals
Rivals to the 650 include the less sporty Kawasaki Ninja 650, and the vastly more expensive (and non A2 compliant) Ducati SuperSport, while the 500 is comparable to a Kawasaki Ninja 400, KTM RC390 or Yamaha R3.
All riders have to start somewhere, and for many that means a stint riding a 125. Being limited on power and generally designed to attract younger riders, the looks of a 125 are all the more important and Honda’s sportiest model in the range is the CBR125R.
Similar in style to the firm’s sportsbikes, the faired, 13.1bhp single is not only cool-looking, it’s comfy, economical and reliable.
Honda has kept up with the growing trend for small capacity bikes to look like larger models, and the 125’s grown-up stance and 130-section rear tyre work to this effect.
An estimated 35-40% of motorbikes globally are Hondas and the vast majority of these are small bikes, so the brand has a lot of experience in the market. And despite the fact that production of the 125 was moved to Thailand, you can still rely on your CBR125R starting on cold mornings when you need to get to college.