Smart Money: 2002 - 2003 Honda CBR954RR

Photography by Kevin Wing

An exquisite balance of power and weight that's astonishingly accurate in the steering department, Honda's CBR954RR remains one of the most underrated sportbikes of the last decade.

Despite getting lost in the shadow of Suzuki's first-generation GSX-R1000, the 954 was and is a scalpel-sharp street tool. Our '02 testbike made the trip from 60 to 80 mph in an astonishing 2.61 seconds, covering the quarter-mile in 10.48 seconds at 136.11 mph. When you need to slow down, those four-pot calipers and 330mm front rotors generate sufficient power and feel to reverse the accelerative process with one finger on the lever. Handling is slightly quicker than a GSX-R of equivalent vintage, though the Suzuki feels more composed in rough corners. Though it was an improvement over the 929, the 954's suspension could have been a bit more compliant as delivered; an abundance of compression damping was a prime culprit.

Despite genuinely tiny overall dimensions, the CBR is surprisingly comfortable. The seat will never be mistaken for a Gold Wing's, but it's tolerable. Legroom is on par with current front-line sporting tack, but higher bars go easier on wrists and shoulders.

Refinement is exemplary, even by Honda standards. Fuel mileage, usually hovering around 35 mpg, is slightly less so. Don't put more than 150 miles between fuel stops unless you like pushing. Assuming a regular maintenance schedule, parts-counter purchases should be limited to tires, brake pads and the occasional drive chain. Still, there are a few facets of the bike that are worth a little extra pre-purchase inspection.

Some owners whine about rough fueling below 3000 rpm. Worn suspension components can translate to handling manners that are anywhere from skittish to genuinely scary. Worn or maladjusted steering head bearings wreak havoc with handling as well. Honda offered a product update--not to be confused with a recall--for the '02 954RR, swapping the tapered rollers originally installed in the 954's steering head for ball bearings "to enhance handling during high-speed use such as closed-course competition on a racetrack." The result played to mixed reviews. Just make sure the front end of any 954 you're considering has been maintained to factory spec since leaving said factory. We'd consider a steering damper from Scotts or GPR to be standard equipment for track work.

At $10,599, the maximum CBR was somewhat pricey compared to its peers in the class of '02. Three years later, you can pick up a well-preserved example for a relative pittance. The 954 may give away a few ponies to Japan's latest and greatest, but learn to wield it proficiently and you may begin to wonder why anyone cares.

CHEERS
Beaucoup midrange steam and steering by X-acto
JEERS
Fussy about suspension setup and a big appetite for unleaded
WATCH FOR
Old or infirm steering-head bearings
VERDICT
Honda's last lightweight literbike still gets it done
VALUE
$6665 ('02)
$7130 ('03)

Kawasaki ZX-9R
$6105 ('02)
Outgunned in the shootouts by the YZF-R1 and GSX-R1000, the 900 was a solid sporting citizen to anyone with sense enough to read beyond the spec charts. Although '03 was its final year in the lineup, earlier examples can be had for even less cash.



Suzuki GSX-R1000
$7390 ('03)
Bloodied by a more powerful R1 in '02, the once-and-future king of liter-land returned with an arsenal of chassis and engine improvements for '03. Despite a fragile clutch and suspension that goes south too soon, it's hard to argue with.



Yamaha YZF-R1
$6930 ('02)
The second-generation R1 arrived with a fuel-injected version of the 20-valve, 998cc four wrapped in a nasty new black frame. Sharper in every sense of the word, it was unchanged except for fresh paint until the next major overhaul in '04.

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