2015 Honda CBR650F road test review (India)

Shubhabrata Marmar  /
12 Oct 2015 18:45:59 IST

You cannot accuse Honda of being an enthusiast-friendly manufacturer in India. The list of allegations would be comically short. The brand embraces commuters, workhorses and sporty machines like no one else can globally but in India, we're made to endure a growing range of cookie-commuters that're designed to stay precisely one step ahead of the competition in performance, price and sadly on the quality front as well. Which is why stories emerging from the gratuitously extravagant launch of the Honda CBR650F focussed on a double-taped panel on a display motorcycle and the outrageously high price tag. The RevFest in fact, generated more negative publicity for the brand than positive which is just unfortunate given the expense and effort Honda must have gone to.

Honda CBR650F (5)

But somewhere in that product plan was the enthusiast. After all, it's the enthusiast that wants to spend the big money on a bike, not the appliance-grade motorcylist. And out popped the CBR650F, Honda's sporty but unintimidating bridge between the CBR300, which we still await, and the CBR600RR which would be awesome but expensive if it were to go on sale in India. Globally, the CBR650F is priced about halfway between the CBR500R and the CBR600RR.

Design, build and build

I find the CBR650F oddly vexing when it comes to design. It looks very good from the back and it's a bit generic Honda from the sides but not unattractive. But that narrow headlamp in that wide fairing just doesn't float my boat. It's a bit plain jane and vanilla ice cream. There are some nice details and aggregates too. I hate the backward toggle for the day flash but the CBR650's switchgear is excellent. I also like the front wheel design with the carrier-free rotor mounts. I also really like how the fairing's layers work to reveal the motor. It makes me suspect that the naked CB650F would look terrific with this engine hung out for the world to see.

Honda CBR650F (4)The CBR650F reminds you why Hondas have a such a reputation for quality. From the plastics to the switches, part quality is excellent

Despite the reports from the RevFest, the CBR is well made. All the panels fit just right and rattling this fairing is going to take some punishment. Gives one pause, really. Because the CBR250R, for instance, is nowhere close to this level of quality. The only thing I'd worry about is the carbon fibre texture on the matte black plastics. Yamaha uses a similar texture on the R15 and that wears out and looks scruffy in time.

Engine, performance and economy

The CBR650F was launched as a new model for 2014 and the bike we get is the same. Honda's engine is oversquare (67mmx46mm) and has the usual 16-valve DOHC configuration but it is neither very complicated nor very high tech. Affordability was a goal from the start of the project and the intention to produce unintimidating but adequate power within a price goal requires simple, effective engineering. The result is 86.5PS at 11,000rpm and 62.9Nm at 8,000rpm. The CBR starts making usable grunt by 3,000rpm and you can hang around happily between 4,000 and 8,000rpm riding swiftly and managing quick overtakes at will. The Wild Doesn't Always Scream, say Honda. Which is questionable grammar, but true. Up to about 7,000rpm, there's barely any noise from the inline four. Past about 9,000rpm is when you hear a thin whine as the engine revs to its 11,400rpm redline. It takes time to register but you'll eventually also notice that the motor revs up slower than a full-on sporting inline four. Another element Honda backed off to create a friendly package.

Honda CBR650F

Put to the test, the Honda revealed a 232kmph top speed with 100kmph coming up in 4.9s, which is pretty quick. The quarter mile is dispatched in 12.9s at nearly 170kmph. In fact, riding around unmindful of the speedo, the Honda gives you great confidence and you're usually going a little faster than you think. The Honda is also reasonably frugal, returning 22.39kmpl in the city and just under 28kmpl out on the highway. That's 23.69kmpl overall, very acceptable in our books.
You can sense a 'but' coming, right? The issue with the CBR is two things, neither of which are a surprise in a Honda. First is involvement - the lack of it. As Hondas usually are, the CBR650F is a very civil motorcycle that surprises you with its turn of speed but it does the business in so undramatic a manner that it leaves you a little disengaged from the excitement. The second issue is vibration. Like all Hondas, the refinement levels on the CBR are sky high. However, like all Hondas there is still a residual high frequency vibration in the bars. These aren't a problem generally but on the CBR650F, they persist in the 100-130kmph range and give it an hour or two and your hands go numb. On our test, numb hands became a feature of any highway ride that lasted more than an hour.

Handling, ride amd braking

The Honda is effortlessly good in all these three departments. The brakes, with ABS, have a reasonably strong bite and enough power to pull off quick stops when needed without fuss. They're friendly and feedback-y in use too, so new riders should find them very likeable too. Similarly, the twin-spar chassis is designed to be alert but neutral and it does this very well. Despite non-adjustable conventional front forks and a seven-step preload adjustable rear shock, the stock setup works very well in Indian conditions. Within a few kilometres of starting to ride, I was willing to commit to hard cornering even on unknown roads trusting the capable, accurate chassis and sorted suspension to take care of any mid-corner bumps, lack of talent or corrections. It never failed me, either. The Dunlops aren't as sticky as, for instance, the Diablo Rosso Corsas on the Triumph Street Triple, but they're trustworthy and apart from planned spin-ups on wet white paint, they never as much as squirmed. Like the rest of the motorcycle, the chassis' intent is to react in a measured, predictable way to inputs, which is lovely for new riders learning the ropes.

Honda CBR650F (6)

Ride quality is on the stiff side but again, it's a great setup for India. I found the CBR650F composed under all conditions without throwing me out of the seat over really bad stretches. Over our test, the Honda shrugged off some big hits off unexpected potholes easily. That's a sign of a suspension set up that works. Normally, too much high speed compression will prevent the shock from absorbing the hit - which usually leads to the tyre deforming and eventually results in a bent rim. Well done, Honda!

Verdict

I'm not surprised at how capable the Honda proved to be. It offers terrific real world performance both from the engine and the chassis. I found it easy to commute on and it took to the highways like it was built for it from the start. But there are three things that you should remember before you head to the nearest Wing World.
First, the engine's high frequency vibration sits precisely in the speed ranges you would use out on the highway. You can try to quell the vibes with a heavier bar-end weight but there's no permanent solution to the numb hands this will generate on longer rides.

Honda CBR650F (2)The simple clocks are as clear as the saree guard is over-engineered

Second, the CBR runs hot on the legs. Look, no performance motor can make power without generating waste heat. If the heat bothers you so much, get a car with an aircon. But in the CBR's case, the rider's seat slopes forward and you end up right against the tank. At this position, your right shin is barely a centimetre from the protruding clutch cover and you will feel the heat when stopped and even at slow speeds. If you're going to be riding in shorts or denims - you shouldn't, it's stupid and reckless - be ready for well done shins.

Honda CBR650F (1)

Third, and this is the big one. Honda has priced the CBR650F at Rs8.3 lakh on-road Mumbai. If you see the box on rivals, you'll see that the price looks okay when you compare it to the likes of the Kawasaki Z800 or the Triumph Street Triple. The Ninja 650 obviously makes the Honda look wildly optimistic in price. But there's a catch. The Honda is not a CBU import, it's a CKD and that should have allowed Honda to price it better. After all, remarkably affordable" is the line Honda USA used when they introduced the CBR650F to the US market.

Honda CBR650F road test review


  
2015 Honda CBR650F technical specifications
Drivetrain
Type Liquid-cooled inline four
Valvetrain 16 valves, DOHC
Displacement 649cc
Max power 86.5PS@11,000rpm
Max torque 62.9Nm@8,000rpm
Power/Weight 402.33PS/tonne
Gearbox 6-speed
suspension
Front/Rear 41mm telescopic fork/seven-stage preload adj monoshock
Brakes
Front/Rear Twin 320mm/240mm disc, ABS
Wheels & tyres
Tyre (F&R) 120/70-17 & 180/55-17
General data
Kerb weight 215kg
Wheelbase (mm) 1,449mm
Performance
0-100kmph 4.9s
0-400m 12.9s/169.5kmph
Top speed 232kmph
Rfficiency
City (kmpl) 22.39
Highway (kmpl) 27.61
Overall (kmpl) 23.69
Price (on-road Mumbai) Rs 8.3 lakh
  

Honda CBR650F road test review


  
2015 Honda CBR650F technical specifications
Drivetrain
Type Liquid-cooled inline four
Valvetrain 16 valves, DOHC
Displacement 649cc
Max power 86.5PS@11,000rpm
Max torque 62.9Nm@8,000rpm
Power/Weight 402.33PS/tonne
Gearbox 6-speed
suspension
Front/Rear 41mm telescopic fork/seven-stage preload adj monoshock
Brakes
Front/Rear Twin 320mm/240mm disc, ABS
Wheels & tyres
Tyre (F&R) 120/70-17 & 180/55-17
General data
Kerb weight 215kg
Wheelbase (mm) 1,449mm
Performance
0-100kmph 4.9s
0-400m 12.9s/169.5kmph
Top speed 232kmph
Rfficiency
City (kmpl) 22.39
Highway (kmpl) 27.61
Overall (kmpl) 23.69
Price (on-road Mumbai) Rs 8.3 lakh
  

Honda CBR650F road test review


  
2015 Honda CBR650F technical specifications
Drivetrain
Type Liquid-cooled inline four
Valvetrain 16 valves, DOHC
Displacement 649cc
Max power 86.5PS@11,000rpm
Max torque 62.9Nm@8,000rpm
Power/Weight 402.33PS/tonne
Gearbox 6-speed
suspension
Front/Rear 41mm telescopic fork/seven-stage preload adj monoshock
Brakes
Front/Rear Twin 320mm/240mm disc, ABS
Wheels & tyres
Tyre (F&R) 120/70-17 & 180/55-17
General data
Kerb weight 215kg
Wheelbase (mm) 1,449mm
Performance
0-100kmph 4.9s
0-400m 12.9s/169.5kmph
Top speed 232kmph
Rfficiency
City (kmpl) 22.39
Highway (kmpl) 27.61
Overall (kmpl) 23.69
Price (on-road Mumbai) Rs 8.3 lakh
  

Honda CBR650F (3)Note the carrier-less discs on the front with the slotted ring for the ABS system

The Honda's price is on the high side and that's a bummer because it is otherwise a rather likeable and extremely capable package. And there's a powerful case to be made in India for an affordable four-cylinder Japanese-made motorcycle. If you do get one, you're in for the sort of calm but fast motorcycle that eases you gently into the madly exciting world of big motorcycles.
Would I buy one? No. As much as I enjoyed testing the motorcycle and exploring its wide ranging talents, the mild manners of the Honda are not my flavour of motorcycle. I wanted more involvement, a more visceral experience. That, despite its galaxy of talents, the CBR650F cannot deliver. But from what I hear, the CB650F is all that. Hey Honda, how about adding a second CKD to that line-up, eh?

Honda CBR650F road test review


  
2015 Honda CBR650F technical specifications
Drivetrain
Type Liquid-cooled inline four
Valvetrain 16 valves, DOHC
Displacement 649cc
Max power 86.5PS@11,000rpm
Max torque 62.9Nm@8,000rpm
Power/Weight 402.33PS/tonne
Gearbox 6-speed
suspension
Front/Rear 41mm telescopic fork/seven-stage preload adj monoshock
Brakes
Front/Rear Twin 320mm/240mm disc, ABS
Wheels & tyres
Tyre (F&R) 120/70-17 & 180/55-17
General data
Kerb weight 215kg
Wheelbase (mm) 1,449mm
Performance
0-100kmph 4.9s
0-400m 12.9s/169.5kmph
Top speed 232kmph
Rfficiency
City (kmpl) 22.39
Highway (kmpl) 27.61
Overall (kmpl) 23.69
Price (on-road Mumbai) Rs 8.3 lakh
  

Honda CBR650F 2015

Price (Delhi)
  • Rs. 6,67,118 Ex-Showroom
  • Rs. 7,30,746 On Road
Engine
  • 649cc Displacement
Mileage
  • 25.21 Kmpl Overall
Transmission
  • Manual

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