Honda’s A-Game, when it chooses to deploy it, is the very best in the world.
It is, after all, the company that not only created the first true superbike but followed it up with a gloriously storied racing history and a succession of world-crushing production bikes.
But now and again, for reasons no-one can fathom but are probably to do with the vagaries of transnational economies, international market fluctuations, and Godzilla’s battle with Mothra, things seem to go a bit quiet in Minato, Tokyo.
The Red Giant appears to doze for a while.
Of course, it is not dozing.
It is merely biding its time.
It’s holding its fire…looking at what the opposition is doing… waiting for what the market imagines it wants… sharpening it A-Game as it still feeds really good bikes to the world – superbly engineered and prodigiously competent motorcycles which garner generally positive reviews.
But because it’s Honda, the reviews are invariably peppered with terms like “boring”, “over-engineered” and “bland”.
It’s like they’re being written by people who simply cannot grasp what a normal person wants and expects from a motorcycle.
If you find your Honda boring, turn the rubbery thing on the right handlebar until it is no longer boring.
Lots of droogs in motorcycle media use words they don’t understand. They have always confused “over-engineered” with “brilliantly engineered”. I blame their parents and the school system.
And if you think a bike, any bike, is “bland”, you need to be beaten with a wet sea-rope for using a descriptor best applied to cooked chicken breast.
So with that out of the way, let me observe that the Red Giant is no longer dozing.
It is fully awake, its A-Game is on, and its latest offering in the naked-bike segment is, put simply, stunning.
I hoped it would be when I first saw the images from EICMA last year.
The CB1000R looked fabulous. This was not a retro styling exercise aimed at aging dodderers keen to recall their youth. Here was an all-new, hyper-modern take on the venerable CB model – and it looked mad, bad and very dangerous to know.
Which is exactly what every bike on this earth needs to look like if it’s to attract younger riders – unless it’s a Hyosung, in which case it needs to look like a plate of kimchi.
I felt a whiff of Honda’s new styling direction in the current Fireblade, which I thought was the best looking ’Blade since the RR-R tiger-hued screamer of 1994.
And then when it debuted its CB1000R at EICMA I had a bit of a knee-tremble.
“Lord…” I muttered to myself. “Look at this thing. If it looks half as good in the flesh as it looks in these pictures, it will be the first Honda I would actively consider putting in my garage.”
I’m stupid like that – a simple one-celled creature of pure atavism emotionally ruled by how beautiful I behold something to be. I have bought bikes entirely based on how much I liked how they looked, just as I have fallen in love with cruel and vacuous girls like Gal Gadot.
I rang Glyn, Honda’s marketing director.
“I promise you I will get you one to ride when they land,” he said. “Stop gibbering. Christ, are you even wearing pants?”
“Have you wired my house up with cameras!?” I shrieked.
Glyn has always been a man of his word.
The CB1000R arrived at my house in due course and scant seconds later we were off…
From the get-go it impressed. Like a straight cross from a professional boxer you drunkenly mistook for a muppet.
Not only did it look better than it did in pictures, its level of finish was insane.
This was indeed Honda’s A-Game. From the liquid-looking paint, to the burnished and embossed alloy, and the most modern and dashing dash yet affixed to a motorcycle – the CB1000R was clearly coming for the scalps of its enemies in terms of looks.
So, I thought, as I found a stretch of road not usually bedevilled with Highway Patrol, while I would buy it on looks alone, it had better bang.
I opened it up some.
Five minutes later the Bridgestone BT-021s had heated up some, and I applied myself with a will.
Dazzling things happened. This new iteration was so far removed from the previous CB1000R as to be an entirely new architype.
The power delivery is sorcerous.
This is the same long-stroke 2006 Fireblade unit the old model had. But it now makes 12 more horses (143bhp) and boasts 104 torquadoolies (many of whom eagerly abide between 6000 and 8000rpm). Throttle bodies are bigger (up from 36mm to 44mm), valve lift has increased, the compression ratio is higher, the head has been gas-flowed and the pistons are forged just like in the Fireblade SP. Clutch operation is a feather (and it’s now a slip jobbie to stop you compression-locking yourself into the arms of Jesus) and the gear ratios are four per cent shorter.
It has been made more beautifully beastly, and because it’s Honda the end result is an engine that is glass-smooth and refined at low rpm (no hesitation, no stuttering, no doubt ever), but will, upon the instant, deliver unto you wheelies, seamless in-line-four power delivery, and top speeds that will set your proud ancestors cheering you from heaven.
Ride it idling in top around town, or send it screaming through your favourite bends. You will not fault it doing either.
The CB weighs 212kg. When you hamfist the new ride-by-wire throttle in top at 4000rpm the banging commences with a will. Or pick a lower gear if you need more aggressive righteousness – like if there are girls watching.
The stubby slash-cut exhaust sounds fine enough to leave on (I’d still change it because I am a cussed, lawless swine and the muffler does look a bit like an air conditioning unit as Nick Edards observed), the ’bars (narrower than you might think) haul forward hard on your arms when you pin it – and the CB very eagerly sets about changing your mind about CBs.
Its bulldog stance, its bifurcated tank, its single-sided swingarm-mounted rear guard, and its fatter (now 190) rear wheel remind me of MV Agusta’s Brutale.
But whereas the Brutale requires finesse, dedication, commitment (and a smattering of forgiveness on the rider’s part) to get the best out of it, the Honda is utterly true to its heritage.
It is easy to ride fast and well. It’s a Honda. It has to be like that.
And it’s ergonomically disposed to doing so. It cants you forward on a firm but surprisingly reasonable seat – which only starts to push pointed spears of pain into your thighs after a long day (800-plus km) in the saddle. So it’s just like every other bike in that regard apart from the top-end long-haul tourers.
The other easy stuff (at last!) is the engine mapping, finding it, setting it and changing it.
You have four modes – Rain, Standard, Sport and User. And, as you might guess, power, engine braking and traction control are applied in ascending order.
In User Mode, you may tailor the electronics and the ABS to suit your kung-fu.
Changing it on the fly is intuitively easy. I did not once wish to set fire to the bike, which is where I normally default to when trying to navigate my retarded way through many of the current offerings.
Rain mode is markedly watered down from the other two. I discovered this when I rode the Honda into falling snow and minus seven degree temps on the shortest day of the year.
I was with Croats and we were searching for a brewery up in the mountains, and it was a rum affair – full of ice, terror and grim Balkan determination not to die.
The CB performed with aplomb in the treacherous conditions.
This is the system born in the crazy howling bowels of the glorious RC213V-S and can now be found on the Fireblade, the new Goldwing, Africa Twin and the CB.
Sport (where it lived most of the time) is noticeably more aggressive than Standard, which feels…um, pleasant, I guess.
In essence, the CB’s electronics are very refined and you won’t notice they’re even there – which is exactly how electronic rider aids should be.
The all-new suspension worked fine for me on the road. No fade, no pseudo-track harshness. It felt firm and poised. I didn’t even screw with it all that much, opting as always to see what it did on factory standard settings.
And what it did is it steered light, fast and true every time.
Up the back there’s an anger-red Showa you can adjust for pre-load and rebound but not compression. Holding you up at the front is SFF-BP forks – or Showa Separate Function Big Piston forks. Rebound and compression in the left one and preload in the right.
The new frame (a single steel-backboned affair made from tubular steel) keeps the bike stiletto-slim and easy to climb around on when you’re channelling Marquez. I didn’t do that all that much. I don’t have enough teeth.
I never wished for anything more out of the brakes either.
Does it do any weird shit?
Yeah, actually it does.
On the right-side of the dash a small glowing light appears when you’re riding. Sometimes it was a pleasing green and sometimes it was a pleasing pale blue. Most of the time it wasn’t there at all. I think it has something to do with how pleased the bike is with how much fuel you’re saving at any given time.
And then there are the flashing blinkers. The front blinkers are faintly glowing all the time. It’s a Honda thing. Probably something to do with safety. And these same glowing blinkers then flash when you’re death-braking and presumably disregarding safety.
The headlight is one of the bike’s many crowning stylistic glories. It’s a very thin LED unit that works very well and looks fabulous to my mind – very modern and lumens-rich.
The horn is rubbish. Terrible eeping thing that it is. I can yell louder. But the Japanese are a wonderfully polite society, so this is no surprise. I would be pleased if they would, in future, consider the needs of less polite societies. Like the one I live in. Thank you.
But my over-arching impression was one of quite outstanding rideability and towering build-quality. From the red-stitched seat to the embossed radiator shrouds and all the way to the little touches of high-quality Japanese components (the bike is built entirely in Japan) scattered everywhere – the CB is a serious a player in a serious market segment, at a killer price.
It is a stunningly elegant motorcycle, by any measure.
It charges hard. It handles sublimely well. It’s just so good to ride, no matter what part of the spectrum you prefer to do your riding in. Mad or mild and everything in between. The CB covers it all.
It is a gorgeous naked motorcycle built by a company that has built some of the finest motorcycles in the world.
The 2018 CB1000R is one of them.
You’re just not going to be meeting the nicest people on one.
Which is just as well. Nice people are so over-rated.
WHAT COLOURS DOES IT COME IN?
The only two that matter. Black and red.
It will be $16,499 plus ORC – that’s $2700 less than last year’s model.
JUST SO YOU KNOW
Honda offers a quickshifter that autoblips the throttle and five-level heated handlebar units, and I would certainly have all of that fitted without a second thought.
SPECS AND TEST RIDES
Go here, examine the specs, and then send Honda Email after Email. Be polite.
Words by Boris Mihailovic
Photography by Nick Edards / Half Light Photographic