GSX-R400RM vs CBR400RR
WHY DO TROMBONISTS always wear sandals? What are mosquitoes for? Does a
moustache come with a policeman's uniform? What's Johnny Morris up to these
These great conundrums are clues in The Sun quick crossword
compared to the mother and father of imponderables. The mother: why doesn't
Honda import the CBR400RR into Britain? The father: why doesn't Suzuki bring in
Both are outstanding. They make racy 750s feel as manoeuvrable as beetroot
stains, yet are poised and predictable compared to sporty 250s. They have
midranges that wouldn't embarrass a 600. They are beautiful. And the CBR verges
on being comfortable. A salesman sayeth: "Get a customer to test ride one of
these and it is sold."
Yet neither machine is officially imported to Britain. Both our test bikes
are low mileage models built for the Japanese market and brought here by grey
(unofficial) importers. Britain's official importers accept the bikes are
fantastic, but still won't bring them in.
Honda UK's Dave Hancock: "It's the expense. We are looking at around £6000
for the CBR400RR once backup costs and the dealer cut have been taken into
account. It would not sell. There's no prejudice against the CBR itself — I'm
sure it's fantastic."
There is a down side to the brilliance. The CBR and GSX-R are dangerously
subversive motorcycles. They can undermine the most heartfelt desire not to do
anything silly as easily as they can ride round the outside of anything on the
road. I fell for this one in a big way.
The unfussed way the GSX-R repeatedly transformed clumsy input from bars and
pegs into sweeping, kneeslider-destroying joy started to addle my brain. I
thought it was me doing this. Two seconds later the GSX-R and I were sitting
upside-down in a field.
Bystanders said the front wheel tucked under after a ridiculously vigorous
chuck in coincided with a slight hollow in the road resulting in a 20ft streak
of rubber followed by an insurance claim. This is proof that a near-perfect
motorcycle can simultaneously carry out self-control and self-preservation
bypass operations. The GSX-R and CBR should carry a sticker saying: "You are not
Mick Doohan. Do NOT be a prat."
Both bikes can also undermine your most deeply held motorcycling beliefs. In
the first half hour, the CBR and GSX-R weaved through traffic as efficiently as
trailies, cruised dual carriageways at 80mph with power aplenty in reserve, and
shimmied down a B-road leaving a vile grin stuck on both riders' faces. "If
we're only allowed to ride 400s in five years time, then so what? It won't be
that bad," was the thought.
It's not the point (we should be able to choose what we ride, the GSX-R is
uncomfortable), but these bikes are so potently brilliant that it's hard to stop
let-the-Europrats-do-their-worst thoughts popping up. If chief Euro power-cutter
Martin Bangemann ever realises the subversive potential of 400cc motorcycles,
were in big trouble.
THE CBR400RR DOES not look like the air-pawing FireBlade. The FireBlade looks
like it. Honda worked on the FireBlade engine for years to get
such a phenomenal power to weight ratio, but much of the running gear and
styling was pinched or copied straight from the 400.
The proof is everywhere. The 400's pillion seat pops up to reveal a hole big
enough for an oversuit, the clocks are identical apart from the 400's bigger
numbers (km/h not optimism), and the twin-spar frames with huge swing-arm pivot
castings must have come from the same drawing office. The harder you look, the
longer the list.
With its effective compromise of the out-and-out racing crouch, the 400 even
feels like the FireBlade in the saddle. The seat is low but pegs are not so high
as to induce leg cramps within minutes. If you are over six foot, those take an
hour. Bars pull you over conventional forks, but not enough to channel a painful
amount of weight through wrists.
The CBR400 immediately feels perfect. Within minutes you are weaving through
tiny gaps in stationary traffic as if you'd been despatching the thing for
decades, within hours you're cornering as if you've been racing for years. Its
low-slung weight and perfect ergonomics defy you not to be confident. m»
Front and rear suspension is luxuriously soft at low speed, giving a smoother
ride than many much heavier bikes. The conventional forks are especially
squishy, seeming to run both weak springs and little compression damping. Around
town all the jarring, wrist-compacting injuries are left to the GSX-R rider. It
is easy to see why this bike is the top selling 400 in traffic-congested Japan.
Amazingly, the CBR shrugs off fast lumpy corners as briskly as it deals with
rows of Mondeos. The suspension still feels unusually compliant, soaking up
bumps that you'd expect to get booted out of the saddle for. It tips in at the
dab of a peg, steers on the weight of a buttock and has the accuracy and
manoeuvrability that bigger bikes haven't.
A dry weight 601b heavier than an GV250 and 601b lighter than CBR600 leems to
be the perfect compromise. As a road bike the CBR400's mixture of comfort,
stability and accuracy is unrivalled.
Only the brakes are a disappointment. On our bike they lacked the initial
bite of the GSX-R's and unlike the rest of the bike, which was pristine, the CBR
brakes felt second-hand. The forks were pitted so perhaps unlike most grey
imports our machine had seen winter use.
If the CBR's comfort is a relief, then the engine is a revelation. Let the
clutch out at 2000rpm and instead of stalling, the canted forward motor
tolerates your audacity until 4000rpm. Then it hauls. At 5000 the intake roar
overtakes engine whine and from there to the 14,500rpm redline the climb is
linear and strong. Kawasaki's ZXR400 was never like this.
The CBR400RR was designed with the fickle, wealthy Japanese in mind. It is
splattered with stickers bragging about the Castec Gull Arm swing-arm, LCG frame
(low centre of gravity) and Direct Air Intake. It screams "I am trick".
The Castec Gull Arm is the pinnacle of CBR unnecessary trickness. On the
right side the arm swoops up and over the exhaust - like a gull's arm presumably
— letting the pipe tuck in tighter to improve Ground Clearance. That's the
theory. The practice is it looks scrummy and does nothing for Ground Clearance
because there's such a whopping gap between exhaust and swing-arm.
Flashness continues in the tail. Drag your eyes away from the gorgeous
Corvette-style rear light unit and you'll see there are no pillion footrests.
You can then press a hidden button below the pillion saddle and watch passers-by
gaze in wonder as the pillion pegs pop out.
Gimmicks sell the CBR in Japan. In Britain, decisions will be based on a test
ride and the CBR will not disappoint. As a practical motorcycle is scrapes
through on the strength of cheaper insurance and hour long comfort. As the best
way to spend a Sunday it scrapes past everything bar the GSX-R.
THE 400 IS PURE, concentrated GSX-R: everything you love about the 750, now
in a smaller, more extreme package. It's got the double-cradle frame, the
distinctive looks and it makes the 750 feel like an aircraft carrier.
If the CBR is pure road bike, then the GSX-R is unadulterated racer. With
toes on pegs, heels brush bum, and the bars are so low it feels like your back
is parallel with the road. The screen is ridiculously low but still your chin
nearly bashes it. Everything above the horizon is blanked out beyond the top of
This is good and bad. Bad because knees ache after 25 minutes, wrists don't
last much longer and the low screen spares only the top of your thighs from the
breeze. Good because the GSX-R is one of the finest handling, most exciting
motorcycles in the whole wide world.
The front-end is so fast that a dab on a peg will fling the GSX-R into the
turn like it's bungeed to the deck. Whereas the CBR is immediately natural, the
GSX-R takes getting used to. While you watch the delicious rear-end of the CBR
cruise gently round a mini-roundabout, the GSX-R has already dived across the
roundabout and is making for the wrong side of the road.
Until you're used to the GSX-R, three cups of strong coffee are recommended
before riding. A normal human being's reactions are not quick enough. No wonder
Suzuki does not publish rake and trail figures - they'd scare people.
Once into GSX-R mode, grins get progressively broader. It can turn later and
adjust corner line more radically than most people will dare to test. Stay
within your limits and the GSX-R does the rest, depressingly easily. Taking this
bike to the limit would need not just a race track, but a GP rider and slicks.
Suspension front and rear is tauter and firmer than the CBR's. Braking is
where the difference is most noticeable because of the greater damping of the
GSX-R's upside-down forks. Combined with the front-end dominated riding
position, you find yourself braking far too hard just to relish the torrents of
feedback gushing up from the front tyre and the floating feeling from the back.
Brakes are identical to those on the 961b-heavier GSX-R750.
The traditional GSX-R engine is in the background. Power isn't as seamless as
the CBR's, but there's enough everywhere to let the rider wind open the
throttle, settle back and try and keep up with the handling. A hole appears
around 6000rpm, and clutch juggling is required for smooth getaways, but from
8000rpm to the 15,000 redline power soon overtakes the restricted CBR.
Getting used to revving an engine to 250 revolutions per second (15,000rpm)
takes time, but the GSX-R motor is so well balanced that it's not as hard as the
more mechanically sympathetic would imagine. By 12,000 the motor is screaming,
but it never sounds tortured and ;Ctually feels smoother in the last OOOrpin
than the previous three. The condensed GSX-R theory applies to the looks.
Instantly recognisable Cause of double-cradle frame and brash graphics, the 400
takes the GSX-R look further by being even more aggressive. The twin lights are
closer together to give a meaner, Bjorn Borg stare, the nose fairing dips over
the front wheel to highlight the rider's ultra racy riding position, and the
screen is so low it looks like something heavy landed on it.
But the GSX-R is one of the elite, where aching knees, a cricked neck and
compressed wrists are not an issue. The performance overrides all that. Easily