Honda CBR650F: Test Ride Review

Honda has been selling big bikes in India much longer than those manufacturers who are now creating a buzz. Honda, as always, has been playing it cool and not really getting aggressive to fight it out in the higher capacity motorcycle segment. Brands such as Kawasaki, Triumph, Ducati, Harley-Davidson have always been in the limelight for their superbikes in India, while the Japanese manufacturer Honda & even Yamaha have been on the backfoot. 500cc plus superbike segment which accounted for merely 450 units in 2008-09 has grown to 3,500 units in 2013-14. Analysts expect the current fiscal to see a massive leap forward with 9,500 units sold and this could double to 20,000 units by 2020. Now who wouldn’t want a piece of this pie?

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For volumes however, even in the big bike market, there’s one thing that matters the most – Price. Keeping this in mind, the Japanese manufacturer decided to locally assemble their cheapest 4-cylinder motorcycle for India – the CBR650F. But localisation amounts for an insignificant 5% only. With this, Honda launched the CBR650F in India priced at Rs. 7,30,000 (ex-showroom Delhi). This makes it more expensive than arch rival Kawasaki Ninja 650, but it justifies the extra cost with 2 more cylinders & ABS. On the other hand, the CBR650F is cheaper than the CKD model such as Triumph Street Triple. Kawasaki’s CBU offering however, the Z800 is priced marginally lower. Currently, Honda retails other superbikes as CBUs ranging in the price bracket of Rs. 14 – 31 lakh. Learnings from the CBR650F will be later incorporated for higher end models, if they should see a local assembly route. The CBR650F is expected to provide a noticeable sales bump for Honda’s big bike division.

So, the CBR650F has a lot of convincing to do to convert a potential query into a successful purchase decision. Is the CBR650F ready to offer the best of both worlds (4-cylinder refinement + sports tourer) to the Indian audience? Is it worthy of the big bucks it demands? We took it for an hour long test ride in Mumbai to find out…

Styling:
We first saw the CBR650F at the 2014 Indian Auto Expo, and it did look like a superbike in one glance. The bike on sale now, is in the same colour combination which was revealed previously. Honda has only 1 colour option for the CBR650F, which is white+red+blue, tricolour as the brand likes to call it. While this might not suit everyones taste, it does look good and shows off the bikes proportions & body style really well.

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The CBR650F tries to attract those looking at the Kawasaki Ninja 650, hence, it is evident in the styling that this is a comfortable sports tourer & not a track bred supersport machine. At the front, you have a single headlamp setup, which does not really look sporty, but doesn’t look bad either. Had Honda offered the dual keen eyes like the CBR1000RR, the CBR650F would have looked way more appealing. But this is what we get. The bike doesn’t really look as wide as the Kawasaki Ninja 650 due to the single headlamp, but has decent width so that one recognizes this as a superbike. The headlamp gets smoked treatment & black plastic panel around it. There are 2 ‘exponential’ shaped LED pilot lamps as well. The fairing around the headlamp is seen painted in red with subtle white decals to break the monotony. Above, you have a medium sized clear windscreen. The number plate is mounted on the same bolts which hold on to the rear view mirrors. Rear view mirrors are designed for better aerodynamics as well. Below, you have a black painted telescopic suspension holding on to the multi-spoke black alloy wheels. The front wheels house two 320mm petal disc brakes. The front mud guard is also painted in red & sports the ABS decal.

Come to the side profile, and the CBR650F is dominated by the white shade. Although a fully faired sportsbike, the CBR650F leaves almost the entire engine section exposed for better heat dissipation. We wish the engine section was completely blacked out instead of the silver cylinders. The side fairing is painted in white with red & blue decals. Turn indicators are conventional units with a clear lens. Below, the fairing also gets a slit which exposes the exhaust pipes, may be for better cooling effect. The chassis is also exposed a fair amount. The fuel tank is sculpted to accommodate your knees & gets the ‘Wing’ emblem in the form of a black plastic decal. Ahead of the grey colour fuel filler cap, you have a ‘H.I.S.S’ decal which shouts out that the bike is equipped with ‘Honda Ignition Security System’ which is basically an engine immobiliser. Side panel is seen in dual tone, red & white. Honda offers long & contoured step-up seats on the CBR650F. There’s also a assist strap provided for the pillion rider. Don’t miss the slit between the rear frame & the side panel. If Honda would have tried to cover this, the bike would have looked too bulky on the side.

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Come to the rear, and what really shines (literally) is the die-cast aluminium swingarm. The swing arm is bolted to a monoshock with 7-stage spring preload adjustment. Rear wheel houses a 240mm petal disc brake with ABS. Rear panel is an all-black plastic unit with contours which work as grab rails for the pillion. The tail lamp is an LED unit and looks very much like the bigger CBR series. The number plate housing extends out a fair bit but will do very little to avoid mud spray on a rainy day. The turn indicators again get clear lens, but do note, they get smoked effect. As is the case with every sportsbike in India, the saree guard on the LHS is an eyesore, but should be fairly easy to get rid off. There’s no tyre hugger, and the 180 section rear wheel shows off really well when looked from behind.

Overall, the bike looks really good and has immense road presence. We were riding along with a Z800 & the CBR650F managed to grab more eyeballs. Well, Indian’s have that extra bit of love for faired bikes, no? Also, fit & finish of parts is acceptable & nothing rattled or vibrated even when riding over rough roads.

Instrumentation & ergonomics:
The Honda CBR650F gets a twin pot instrument cluster. To the left, you have a digital tachometer running across clockwise with the redline marked around 11,500 RPM. The speed is also digitally shown in this same section. To the right, you have a digital MID which reveals data such as time, digital fuel gauge, odometer, trip meter, average fuel efficiency, instantaneous fuel efficiency & some tell tale lights below. The turn indicator lights, high beam notifier & MID buttons are placed in between, above the Honda emblem. There’s carbon fibre like plastic panels around the instrument panel to add some premium feel.

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Keyhole is conventionally placed on the clip-on handlebar unit. The clip-on handlebars however look a bit cheap, & not substantial enough. There’s no doubting the quality as such, but it just doesn’t look cool. Plastics used for the switch gear is really good, unlike other Honda models which feel cheap around this area. What’s a sore point here is the horn button, which is placed where the turn indicators usually are. Also, the button is inverted & hence, difficult to access when you need it. There’s also a hazard light switch for times when you need to be visible. Honda offers forged levers with adjustment for the front brake lever.

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Hop on the CBR650F and you feel instantly at home. One thing you will notice instantly is that the riding position is not as upright & boring like the Ninja 650. The rider does get a mild forward biased stance which gives you that sporty feel along with being comfortable enough for long rides. The seat is very comfortable & supportive. It has enough room to accommodate those on the heavier side. Footpegs are rear set & overall, riders of all heights would be comfortable here. For the pillion, things are even better. Thanks to the flat rear seat along with the length, there is ample room for the pillion rider. The seat is well cushioned and offers very good comfort.

Engine, performance & handling:
The CBR650F is powered by a 649cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-stroke, inline four-cylinder, 16 valve motor producing 85.2 BHP of power @ 11,000 RPM and 62.9 Nm of torque @ 8,000 RPM. The engine is mated to a 6-speed transmission and gets fuel injection as well. The bike comes with a 17.3L fuel tank which will easily offer you a touring range of over 250 km.

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Fire up the CBR650F and the engine doesn’t really sound like a superbike at idle. Honda’s tagline ‘The Wild Doesn’t Always Scream’ is quite apt in this case. There’s a smooth humming exhaust note on idle, but it gets quite throaty if you wring the throttle. It’s not really loud, typical of 4-cylinder engines which not only feel smooth, but even sound smooth. NVH levels from the CBR650F are at acceptable levels. Many international reports claimed that the engine is very buzzy, but we swapped it with the Kawasaki Z800 & things weren’t any different. Yes, you feel the engine when being worked upon on the handlebars, but that’s pretty normal. And it’s not really troublesome either. There’s minimum vibration felt even on the footpegs when revved hard. For those who want an inline 4-cylinder motorcycle just for sound though, the CBR650F is rather muted.

Slot it in first, and the gearbox feels smooth. The Ninja 650 in comparison has a rather clunky gearbox. The CBR650F also has a light clutch which makes things easier in the city. The throttle however we felt was a bit sharp with minor twists revving up the engine more than we desired. We think this might be just due to us not being very familiar at that moment, and owners will get used to this very soon. Release the clutch and the bike pulls forward without any throttle input. Slot it in second, and again it pulls without any throttle input. We do not suggest lugging the engine, and it is best to downshift even if the engine manages to tackle low speeds on higher gears easily. Within the city, we managed to ride around 60 kmph in top gear with no knocking at all. This makes the CBR650F very versatile while city commuting. If speeds drop below 55 kmph though, the engine does show some signs of unhappiness hinting you to downshift. Exhaust note on lower revvs, below 5,000 RPM is very negligible. If you want to make you presence felt, you have to wring it above 7,000 RPM. Tackling speed breakers was also easy with the bike not scraping even once while riding solo. With two healthy men onboard though, you have to be a little cautious.

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Hit the highway, wring the throttle, and the CBR650F revvs clean all the way to the redline. We didn’t get to do this much as Mumbai traffic never really allows you to get away in all glory. But revving clean is when you twist your wrist in a sedate manner. If you give it a sharp input, the engine feels a bit sluggish with the acceleration response coming in slowly. No, it is not slow. But if you compare it to other supersport motorcycles, it feels like the throttle input is not as sharp. Of course Honda has tuned the bike for the city & those touring conditions, which will keep the high speed enthusiasts sulking a bit. But this is only when it comes to throttle input, the CBR650F is not a slow motorcycle by any means. It accelerates to triple digit speeds very easily & in second gear, you’ll be able to overtake most of the traffic in front of you. Those looking at the CBR650F as their first middle-weight sportsbike, it will surely act very friendly & forgiving. The bike is clearly built to deliver a strong low-end & midrange performance.

The 6-speed gearbox is smooth & feels precise when shifting-gears. We wish Honda had offered a slipper clutch at this price, to justify why it is better than its green rival.

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The CBR650F is built around a twin-spar tubular steel frame. This chassis is sharp enough for the occasional bike rides around your favourite twisties, but not stiff to discomfort your casual, everyday riding. The handling department is neutral and almost everyone will be at peace with it. The suspension setup with 7-stage adjustment gives you a good mix of sporty & comfortable riding dynamics. Ride quality is plush & a special note from the pillion who said he was more comfortable on the CBR rather than the Z800 on which we reached the dealership. For those who like to get their knee down, the rear is a little softly sprung, hence, cornering will not be supersport class. Flicking the bike is easy, but turn ins are not as quick as other middle-weight superbikes. Overall ride quality is very good & the suspension never really bottomed out. Bad patches were soaked up very well.

Braking performance comes from dual petal discs at the front & a single disc at the rear coupled with ABS. Do note, there’s no C-ABS (Combined ABS) like the cheaper CBR250R. Hence, if you hit the rear brakes, its just the rear disc which is being grabbed and not the front. Front brakes offer a nice & sharp bite giving lot of confidence if you wish to hit them late before entering a corner. Rear brakes also have good pedal feel. We did try locking up, just to try how it felt when ABS kicked in, but couldn’t really get this done. While pushing the bike & even after hard braking, there was no fade felt in the braking department. This should surely give potential owners some confidence.

The bike comes equipped with Dunlop Sportmax D222 tyres which offer good grip. It was a rather dry day during monsoons in Mumbai, so we couldn’t really test the wet performance from the tyres. Leaning in during corners will not throw in some surprise as the tyres hold up nicely.

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So, should you buy the Honda CBR650F at the given price? Our answer is yes. Compared to the Ninja 650, you get a far more refined 4-cylinder engine layout also also, most importantly, ABS. At the same price (slightly lesser), you also get the Z800. But with the Honda & its full fairing, you get a superior aero performance which results in a less tiring long ride. Yes, it is not the best looking motorcycle money can buy, but if you wish to grab attention at every signal, you will not be dissapointed. And we don’t think there’s any doubt over Japanese reliability, is there? If you want a full-size, 4-cylinder, comfortable sportsbike under Rs. 10 lakh, this might be it.

Click here for the Honda CBR650F photo gallery.

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Parichay Malvankar

Parichay Malvankar

Founder, owner and editor-in-chief of www.shifting-gears.com; a born gearhead, nothing apart from a set of wheels gets his pulse racing.

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