We've all had that classmate, who wouldn't ace one subject or sports but would do everything fine enough to get appreciation. Not a sports champion, not a topper but never on the bottom end of the scale in any department as well. The CBR 650F aims to fulfil a similar role as a motorcycle but this versatility like in any other package comes with its trade-offs. Do these shortcomings swing the scale against the CBR 650F or does it manage to stay in the centre? We found out.
Having stayed away from the growing 250 cc + motorcycle segment in India for long, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) finally brought in the CBR 650F in CKD form. Built on a new platform, the CBR 650F is slotted in the middleweight sports bike segment. It aims to offer a comfortable ride associated with a sports tourer, the small dimensions of a sports bike and the excitement of a supersports to an extent. These are many shoes to fit into and instantly sound like a package of strengths and compromises. This might not be exactly what the CBR 650F is but its attempt to fulfil multiple roles is what defines its character.
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
The CBR 650F offers a unique engine configuration of four-cylinders in its segment. Displacing 649 cc, the liquid-cooled in-line four-cylinder engine develops about 85 hp and 63 Nm of torque @ 8,000 rpm. The engine plays a key role in lowering the centre of gravity, pros and cons of which we've mentioned elsewhere in this story. Dual-overhead camshafts with the cylinders angled at 30o aids mass-centralisation and a low-centre of gravity. This angle also helps create a straight flow path for the air to the intake system, increasing the effectiveness of the system. The engine has a compact architecture with the gearbox, starter motor and clutch stacked close to each other.
Off the line, the motor pulls smoothly in a linear and predictable manner and one gets access to usable torque from about 4,000 rpm. Going around the city or enjoying the scenery is best done between 4,000 to 6,500 rpm. Moving around at 55 km/h in 6th gear is clatter-free and this impressive low-end performance is mainly due to the long stroke and a low-compression of 11.4:1. Opening the throttle wide open in any gear doesn't result in ferocious acceleration, making it more forgiving for riders moving up from smaller displacement motorcycles. It's fast enough to be fun without being petrified. Throttle response too is crisp as the fuel injection system gathers information from four sensors on 32 mm throttle bores.
Less fuel and more miles has been made possible by extensive reduction of friction within the engine. The con-rod length has been optimised to decrease the forces acting on the sides of the pistons and breathing holes have been created in the crankcase walls between journals to reduce pumping losses with increase in engine speed. The pistons feature asymmetric skirts to minimise the bore contact, further reducing the friction. The cylinder sleeves' outer surface has ferrous spines to lower oil-consumption and improve heat transfer.
The motor starts exhibiting its strongest performance beyond 7,000 rpm or so, before tapering off at about 10,000 rpm, onwards to the rev limiter at about 11,000 rpm. Hitting the limits will only hamper performance if you're trying to push hard. Aiding the mid-range is the 4-2-1 exhaust layout. The exhaust note is quite muted and even when revving hard, there's isn't any aural treat waiting although the typical in-line four howl is present.
What is rewarding though is the smoothness of the engine and the light and hassle-free shifts from the six-speed transmission. We didn't notice any false shifts during our ride and the gearbox is well-suited to both relaxed and spirited riding. Good low-end and mid-range performance coupled with well-sorted gear ratios makes it easier to power out of a corner without having to shift frantically, like one would on a supersports motorcycle.
RIDE & HANDLING
The CBR 650F is built around a twin-spar steel frame, which doesn't sound very futuristic and that's mainly because it doesn't need to. Aimed at being a sports cruiser, the current chassis set-up is more than adequate to handle commuting and weekend riding with ease without being a back-breaker as one would expect on 600cc supersports machine. Riding position on the CBR 650F is on the sporty boundaries of comfortable. The seat cushioning is soft and good enough to be on top of for hours on those long rides. Being a single-unit, the seat also offers good comfort to the pillion.
The 41 mm telescopic forks upfront are non-adjustable, while the monoshock at the rear comes with seven-stage preload adjustment offering a travel of 4.3 inch and 5 inch respectively. Like all other things on the motorcycle, the suspension also dwells in the region of intermediate – not too soft, not too hard. Bad roads and bumps are soaked in well and the rider isn't thrown around on every pothole. Straight-line stability is faultless and is aided by the low centre of gravity. Hit the corners and this low-centralisation of mass suddenly becomes a limiting factor.
The CBR 650F isn't exactly agile over bends and requires some effort from the rider to turn in, partly due to the hefty 215 kg kerb weight. Also, the 180-section rear tyre hurts agility to some extent although the grip from it is satisfactory. If one intends to go really fast over a series of corners the best thing is to hang off the bike a bit more than usual but that too works somewhat as the foot pegs quickly start grinding into the road. Despite this the CBR 650F once dialled into a corner holds onto a line with ease and remains neutral throughout.
The brakes consist of a twin 320 mm disc set-up upfront and a 240 mm disc at the rear with ABS as standard. Brake bite is progressive and adequate as the pressure applied increases. Feedback from the system is good as well and both these things make the CBR 650F a good motorcycle for riders with less experience on larger motorcycles.
INSTRUMENTATION & DESIGN
A twin-pod instrument cluster provides all vital information to the rider in digital format. While the information on display is extensive, the design of the console itself is pretty basic. Font size is good enough for quick readouts when going fast. The design of the CBR 650F is sharp and gives the perception of a large motorcycle. An edgy fairing along with the huge 17.3 l fuel tank gives the CBR 650F a strong presence. The fairing has been designed in a way to keep the engine largely exposed, adding mechanical beauty to the overall design. The clean design of the engine and the absence of some usual hoses had us wondering a bit initially. Later though, we found out that the engine has an internal water-channelling system to carry the fluid from the cylinder head to cylinders, reducing the number of external hoses required otherwise.
Fit and finish on the CBR 650F is impressive throughout and quality of plastic and other materials too is good. There are some odd bits though such as the side mirrors, which look to have come straight out of a 125 to 150 cc commuter motorcycle. Visibility too is just about average on these mirrors as the rider would need to adjust hand positioning to get a complete view of the rear. Another issue we noticed was the illumination of the headlamp on dark stretches, which isn't adequate for riding on highways in dark and is surprising for a motorcycle in this segment.
ROUND-UP – WORTH THE PRICE?
The CBR 650F intends to do a lot of things well, if not master one and it does them convincingly. Everything on the motorcycle right from the engine, suspension, chassis and dynamics sit in the middle of the scale – not too scary, not too boring. Riders looking for versatility in their machine will have a great time with the CBR 650F as it will serve multiple purposes without demanding absolute commitment from the rider for any of those. It's also one of the better motorcycles to make a mistake on since it's never too eager to bite back.
This same ability of doing many things, however, makes it a less-exciting motorcycle for more experienced riders. Those looking for a machine that demands 100 % commitment and then rewards accordingly will not be too interested in this motorcycle. Good thing for Honda is that motorcycling as a hobby is nascent in our country and a lot of the premium customers are interested in styling and the overall experience of owning a large motorcycle, especially a fully-faired one. Competition for the CBR 650F isn't much since some of them are having either twin-cylinder engines or have a streetfighter body style.
So, does the CBR 650F really justify the ex-showroom price of Rs 7.3 lakh? It doesn't, especially when considering that it's locally assembled from kits imported from Thailand. The extent of its over-pricing, however, doesn't seem to be enough to work against its fortune. There is no other fully-faired motorcycle with an in-line four engine on sale in the country right now. Given how much Indians love faired motorcycles and the fact that this one is an easy motorcycle to ride and live with, expectations of the company seem likely to be fulfilled.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay