Honda engineers wrapped the Hurricane's engine and chassis in full-coverage,
interlocking bodywork for more than aerodynamic reasons. Beneath the
Hurricane's slick plastic skin, engine and chassis surfaces appeared
unfinished, almost industrial. Development dollars saved on hardware
beautification were spent instead on components that would redefine
While the Hurricane's double-downtube, box-section steel-tube frame may have
looked plain, the balance of agility and stability provided by its 54.6-inch
wheelbase and racy 26.0-degree rake was beautiful. The Hurricane's trio of
disc brakes were the best in the business, and at about 450.0 pounds wet,
the bike was 20.0 pounds lighter than its nearest rival.
Power came from a dramatically oversquare, liquid-cooled, twin-cam in-line
four-cylinder engine. With half the cylinder and head castings of the 500
Interceptor's V-4 engine, the in-line CBR mill was less expensive to
produce. The Hurricane engine redlined at 12,000 rpm and cranked out 85
horsepower at eleven grand—enough power to make the Hurricane the first
600cc sportbike to cover a quarter-mile in under 11 seconds.
As the magazines of the day discovered, no other sportbike could match the
Hurricane's marvelously balanced, accessible mix of horsepower and handling
at any price, let alone the Hurricane's affordable sticker. The esteemed
Cycle magazine dubbed the Hurricane "The best Japanese motorcycle we
have ever tested" in its May, 1987 issue.
The Hurricane's humane ergonomics and compliant ride proved that track-sharp
handling didn't have to hurt anybody but the competition. Backed by Honda's
investment in one of the richest contingency programs in history, Hurricanes
filled club-racing grids all over America, launching 600 SuperSport racing
into the limelight as one of the most popular and hotly contested
road-racing series in the world.
Perhaps more powerful is the enduring and endearing nature of Honda's
original CBR concept: the same basic concept found in the current CBR600F4.
Other ideas have come and gone, but CBR600s have been the best-selling
sportbike in America since the original Hurricane. From rookie sport riders
to 2000 Daytona 600 SuperSport winner Kurtis Roberts, no sportbike has ever
provided such exceptional versatility as Honda's revolutionary CBR600.
Superbike magazine review 1987
If pushed you could sum up ^1 Honda's CBR600 in just
one |"l word —smooth. Smooth Ul power, smooth handling and | J an undoubtedly
smooth ■ shape. The CBR presents a performance package that's not just rounded—
it's bloody spherical. It offers a licence shredding 140-mph with 50mpg economy
and handling sweeter than a field of candy floss. All this from a bike that has
its roots firmly planted in the fields of traditional motorcycle design. No
fancy engine layouts, just a basic motorcycle that has been painstakingly
refined to unleash previously unrealised potential. In fact there's nothing
particularly new in essence about any part of theCBR600.
The engine's a conventional in-line-four, the
frame's derived from the VFR 750 and the suspension could have been grafted off
any one of a number of bikes. The only innovation relevant to the CBR is its
unprecedented level of achievement. Every aspect of the Honda's performance is
better, or at least equal to, any of its similar sized siblings — including the
much vaunted GPZ600.
The fact that it has taken Honda nearly two years
—an eternity in Japanese motorcycling terms to come up with a suitably
superior design, says quite a lot for Kawasaki s design prowess. It also speaks
volumes about the public's acceptance, and Honda's further interest, towards
their V4 engine design when you consider that the big Aitch have reverted to a
conventional layout in order to achieve their goal. With the arrival of the CBRs,
Honda's claimed commitment to the V4 looks like it's gone down the tubes faster
than a bowl of greased sushi. A race proven spin-off (though I can't remember
the NR 500 ever winning any races) that has lost its momentum and will no doubt
stop altogether before too long.
The reasons for this reversion to a more orthodox
engine design are all-too-obvious when you look at how the V4 lump has fared in
its short-lived existence. The biking public, however short-changed in the grey
matter department, have memories that rival an elephant's when remembering past
mechanical misdemeanours of a particular marque.
Thus, although the inherent problems are now
mostlysolved, if one such lump had been fitted to the CBR (apart from playing
havoc with the Jap's system of model acronyms) it would have burdened the bike
with a questionable pedigree and could have jeopardised their performance on the
showroom floor. Once a punter's had his fingers burnt as savagely as with the
early VFs, he's going to be somewhat circumspect about letting himself in for a
second dose of similar problems— however remote the factory may claim the
possibility to be.
So it seems that the CBR has been designed to short-circuit
any past memories of Honda's mechanical shortcomings and to reassure doubtful
purchasers that Honda's new design is purely more of what they (the punters)
already love and understand.
But however conventional the concept of the CBRs may
at first appear, you can bet your bottom silver dollar that there's been some
pretty unconventional hours spent poring over the design brief in order to
deliver the required balance of performance and price.
Honda used two routes of development to achieve the
desired GPZ-beating performance. Although the engine is in a relatively high
state of tune, there must have been the temptation to tweak the lump so high it
This situation was knocked on the head when it was realised that
it could lead to an
unwanted and potentially ruinous headache of more warranty claims. So in order
to achieve the consistently high level of performance they required, Honda
developed a superior system of aerodynamics.
Thus, however cute and cuddly the CBR's rounded
edges and soft bulges may appear at first, they're not just a styling exercise,
but the result of Honda's extensive research into creating the most efficient
design possible within the constraints of noise, power and comfort required to
produce the new class leader.
Apart from the aerodynamic angle, the all-enclosing
bodywork manages to kill a couple of other problem birds with the same solitary
stone. Whilst undoubtedly improving the airflow over the bike and rider, the
extensive plastic also removes the costly problems of tarting up the engine for
public display, and keeping noise emissions to a level acceptable to the
ever-hungry government noise meter.
Although it has been mooted that the CBRs weren't
the first bikes to use this concept of fully enclosed engines, I reckon that
Honda's need for the plastic veil is far greater than their Italian cousin's. If
you take a look under the sides of a CBR and then do the same to a Paso, you'll
see what I mean. Under the Honda's flanks lurks a powerplant with enough
external plumbing to satisfy even the most tripped-out Heath Robinson junkie,
whereas the Duke looks almost as pretty with or without its sides in place
such is its classic design.
Just as the exterior of the CBR's engine is rather
unsightly, the inside is mechanically beautiful. Large, unrestricted spaces are
apparent on either side of the forward-inclined engine, all engineered to offer
the least resistance to air flowing into and out from the 12,000rpm redlined
engine, and assist in the engine's overall efficiency.
These internal aerodynamic refinements are joined by
a plethora of mechanical revisions, which together create one of the sweetest
mills on the market. In order to reduce the engine's power loss from internal
friction and inertia, Honda have studied every component, shaving each one down
to give the finest balance of performance and reliability. Nowhere is this
development more apparent than when you look at the width of compression rings
on the CBR's lightened pistons at just 0.8mm wide they could hardly be
called wasteful. Other changes include individual rocker arms and waisted valve
stems running in lighter valve springs, which it has been possible to use as a
result of the substantially lightened valve train.
The decision to return to an in-line-four powerplant
must have heralded a massive sigh of relief from Honda's frame designers. As,
although the V4 was an efficient design in isolation, its top heavy weight
biasing — a result of having two separate heads and valve gear — caused all
kinds of weight distribution problems for them to try to cover up.
The CBR's conventional, compact, short-stroking
engine has allowed the frame designers to mount the engine very low in the
diamond frame, without restricting ground clearance. This in turn has kept the
bike's overall height as low as possible which has had various beneficial
The first of these is that the rider can now sit
"in" rather than "on" the bike's seat, thereby keeping as much of his/her
anatomy tucked in out of the wind and maintaining the high level of aerodynamic
efficiency. The other benefit of the low-slung engine is that it has lowered the
CBR's overall centre of gravity, thereby creating a very compact and
Riding the CBR crystallises Honda's homework into a
statement of performance and efficiency that underscores their commitment to
building the ultimate road sports bike. In the light of the extreme demands
placed upon the CBR you could be forgiven for expecting a bike with a racer-hard
ride and an engine with merely a trace of low end power. It's the very fact that
the CBR hasn't either of these traits that makes it so exceptionally attractive
to any size and style of rider.
The handling, power and general civility contrive to
inspire confidence and tempt you to explore its almost unlimited fun capacity.
The bike's user friendly appeal starts from the moment you hit the starter
switch — the plumbing humming into life with all the drama of a cancelled opera.
This civility continues up to around 5000rpm,
whereupon the exhaust emits a very satisfying howl (reminiscent of the 400-4's)
as the engine's stable door is smashed open and 83 very well-fed horses make a
dash for freedom via the four-into-one's single orifice. You're really going to
have to plead provocation if you get stopped on this one. With over 140mph on
tap and a fairing that makes cruising at highly reprehensible speeds seem quite
normal, you're going to get plenty of practice explaining the joys of
motorcycling to the jam sarnie brigade if you tempt fate too often.
Apart from helping the engine push the CBR up to an
oversuited, chin-on-tank, speedo-indicated 145mph, the bike's efficient
aerodynamics endow the Honda with the ability to return truly astounding fuel
consumption figures. Just under 50mpg was the lowest figure we recorded in the
whole two weeks of thrashing the CBR senseless to, from and on the test track.
Truly impressive figures for any bike, let alone a hyper sports 600. Rider
protection afforded by the bodywork was also good considering the sporting
orientation of the CBR. Even the rider's hands and feet are relatively well
protected a luxury not available on some bikes marketed as tourers.
Despite the CBR's light weight, it has been fitted
with three of the best disc brakes to be found on virtually any make of bike —
Nissin four piston calipers biting onto three heavily drilled discs. This set-up
allows the 600 to stop almost as fast as it accelerates. It was this trait in
particular that I was deeply grateful for when I was confronted with slow
thinking, quick talking Mrs Myopia pulling out of a side junction on the way
back from the test track.
Avoiding tactics were out of the question, so all I
could do was slam on the brakes and hope for the best. The bin turned out to be
a small dent in the CBR's lustrous plasticwork, not a scratch on yours truly,
but a large amount of grief for the attempted murderess in her metallic box. I'm
sure that if I'd been riding almost any other bike I'd still be walking with the
aid of crutches.
The brakes are so powerful and controllable you can
keep them on the brink of a full lock-up situation and still not lose control of
The CBR's streamlining has even extended as far as the rear view mirrors which,
whilst having all the attraction of a pair of melted wellies, are quite superb
in informing the rider of other banzai pilot's attempts to pass the Honda's
slippery flanks — something few bikes can achieve due to the unerring neutrality
of the Honda's handling.
This agility and stability are another result of
theCBR'sthorough refinement programme. Via the use of heavily drilled discs and
wheels, Honda have been able to keep the CBR's unsprung mass to an absolute
minimum, thereby creating what is without a doubt one of the best handling
production bikes ever to have made it to our murky shoresi The only criticism in
the chassis department was that the forks felt slightly overdamped in normal
This foible could no doubt be ironed out by showing
the CBR to a racetrack, but for everyday usage a modicum of air and/or oil
changes should sort the forks out once and for all. Apart from this small
glitch, the Honda negotiated everything I could throw at it with nary a squirm
from the fat Dunlops mounted on the CBR's S-section spoke 17in wheels.
As you might have ascertained by now, I was very
impressed with Honda's new entry for the middleweight crown — a claim I think it
justly deserves. The only possible doubt that can be cast over its plastic
livery, is just how long the CBR will be able to retain this heady status?
Early reports of the cheaper FZ600 have shown
that it excels in the handling department, but lacks the engine refinement of
either the CBR or GPZ. Whilst these rough edges won't bother the dark visor and
taped knee brigade it could ultimately detract from the FZ's marketability
something the CBR excels at. As, although it's unquestionably a sportsbike,
first and foremost, the Honda is far more domesticated than the Yamaha, and
thus, warranty claims allowing, may have a wider appeal.
Whether or not this will prove to be the case is
something I'm looking forward to finding out in the near future. But until then
don't hold your breath the CBR is one beaut of a bike that should give any
other 600 a good, if not better, run for your hard earned ackers. PD