Review Motoring

Honda’s CB650R: A fantastic upgrade

Buying your first multi-cylinder bike can be confusing — you want looks, power and performance without really breaking the bank. While the CB650R fits most of the criteria the eye watering, ₹ 8.67 lakh price tag is unfathomable. Can it make a case for itself?

Honda’s ‘Neo Sports Cafe’ design language lends itself beautifully to this motorcycle, like the rest of the modern day Honda CBs. The round LED headlight, bronze Y-spoke alloys and chiselled 15.4-litre fuel tank are design elements that grab attention. Our test bike’s glittery Candy Chromosphere paint scheme looked fetching and contrasted well with the silver tank extensions that cover the air-intake ducts.

The blacked-out tail section is the only bit about the design that was a bit bland, despite the silver number plate hanger and fat 180-section tyre’s attempt at livening up the appearance.

The real beauty of a street naked motorcycle is in the exposed bits. Here is where the frame, engine with the bronze head cover and side-casings as well as the four symmetrically aligned exhaust header pipes add to the visual drama. The CB650R is a looker in every aspect and its design will age gracefully with time.

The design has not come in the way of functionality and ergonomics. The split seats are wide and comfortable while the rear-set footpegs and flat handlebar puts the rider in a sporty position. The tank is not too wide, despite having an inline-four engine underneath, so one’s legs are not uncomfortably splayed. Short city rides or long highway trips, hence, will not be a problem on this motorcycle. The only bit you may have to contend with is head-on wind at high speeds — a norm on pretty much all naked bikes.

For some reason, Honda has located the horn switch where one would conventionally find the turn indicator switch. That aside, the compact yet neatly executed reverse LCD display packs enough information but is simply outdated on a middleweight motorcycle in 2021. But, as far as quality levels are concerned, the bike feels premium in every sense of the word.

The proverbial ace up the CB650R’s sleeve is its inline-four engine. It is the only motorcycle in this displacement class to feature such a layout and it is said to be India’s favourite engine format when it comes to sportbikes.

Fire it up and you are greeted with a smooth hum. At low speeds it is almost silent, and given its tractability, holding 40kph in 6th gear is effortless. That said, rev the engine hard and it feels buzzy around the tank and seats from 6,000rpm onwards. It is uncharacteristic of a ‘Honda’ engine but is not bothersome in any way.

Power comes rushing in with force between 8,000 to 12,000rpm, the speeds rise rapidly and the sound from the exhaust gets addictively louder. There is a sense of enjoyment in revving this engine to the redline and it almost seems like it has taken on a different personality — one that is alive and full of energy. This engine has a lot more character than the rather clinical Honda CBR650F of the past.

In fact, with 86hp and 57.5Nm, the performance on offer is engaging enough for a 206kg motorcycle, despite the engine being slightly detuned for our fuel quality and riding conditions.

Complementing this sweet engine is the slick and precise six-speed gearbox. It is a joy to operate, with the slipper clutch working perfectly in sync during hard downshifts. The clutch lever action is light as well, making easy work of dealing with dense city traffic.

All being said, the bike does not have ride-by-wire and hence there are no ride modes either. Nevertheless, the linear power delivery makes it easy to manage riding this motorcycle.

One of the big changes that Honda made to its 650 line up with this iteration is the introduction of a non-adjustable Showa SFF-BP or Separate Function Fork-Big Piston. The advantage lies in better bump absorption and more feel from the front end.

Riding over undulations and pothole riddled streets, we found the suspension does a fairly good job of isolating them, although the ride is firm. On the flipside, the bike is easy to flick through a set of corners and remains planted throughout. First-time big bike riders will find the CB’s forgiving handling quite endearing.

But as you gain experience and begin to push hard, the Dunlop Sportmax tyres hinder your ability to explore the full handling potential of the bike. The rear, especially, tends to move while fully leaned over and that is a bit unnerving. Thankfully, there is a switchable traction control system that works well to keep things in check.

The Nissin brakes deserve special mention for their sharp initial bite and ability to haul the bike down to a stop from triple digit speeds, without any drama. The Emergency Stop Signal system activates the hazard lights when the rider applies the brakes suddenly.

The Honda CB650R is an enjoyable motorcycle and is a fantastic upgrade from a 200-400cc vehicle. It may be lacking in the features department but the riding experience makes up for it. However, for all its virtues, the price tag still cannot be justified even after you consider Honda’s low cost of ownership for its big bikes.

For perspective’s sake, the Triumph Trident 660 is the CB’s direct competition and it is over ₹ 1.5 lakh cheaper, while the price difference between the same two bikes in the UK is currently ₹5,000. While the Triumph is due for a sizable price hike early next year it is still unlikely to fall in the vicinity of the CB’s astronomical asking price. In fact, even the more powerful and feature-packed Kawasaki Z900 is priced lower than the CB650R, at ₹ 8.42 lakh. And the Triumph Street Triple R is not far behind at ₹ 9.15 lakh.

Which leaves you with the question, why would you spend so much money on the CB650R? While the motorcycle is extremely likeable, you will have to be a Honda fan who does not place value as a high priority to put down the money. If that is the case, it will certainly be a story of the heart winning over the head, but also one you will not regret.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 11:42:06 PM |

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