After three years of cranking out new model after new model and dramatically revamping its product line, Honda has but one significant new bike for 2003: the all-new CBR600RR. Yet it may well be the company's most important. As with its Accord automobile, Honda banks on the CBR600 for strong sales, halo-building and attracting new riders to the red-wing fold. Even beyond the Gold Wing and the liter-class CBR, the 600 is Honda's bread-and-butter machine.
And for '03, the CBR600 is truly all new and finally (though by the looks of it not reluctantly) aimed at the sharp edge of what is shaping up to be the best and most hotly contested 600 class in history. To succeed, the CBR must vanquish the new Kawasaki ZX-6RR and Yamaha YZF-R6 as well as the excellent (yet unchanged) Suzuki GSX-R600. One look will tell you Honda has finally yanked off the gloves. Dubbed an RR for the first time, the 600 sports a compact, clean-sheet engine with second-generation fuel injection and a 15,000-rpm redline. It's got radical new styling and myriad features that are at least inspired by (if not actually yanked from) Valentino Rossi's all-conquering RC211V MotoGP weapon.
Let's start with the engine. It's 30mm smaller-though it retains the CBR600F4i's 67.0mm x 42.5mm internal dimensions-and revs some 800 rpm higher than the F's mill. It's got lighter pistons than the F4i, double-coil valve springs and a freer-flowing head. Honda hasn't listed horsepower and torque numbers, but it's a cinch the higher rev limit suggests more punch.
To help feed this higher-winding engine, Honda has fitted Dual Stage Fuel Injection, which has two injectors per cylinder. There's one in the normal place downstream of the throttle plate that operates alone below 5500 rpm. Above that speed, a second injector, located above the bellmouth, comes into play, providing the fuel necessary for high-rpm power. A larger, ram-air-fed airbox keeps up with the duties on the front side, while a new, "center-up" exhaust system keeps the flow going downstream and provides more cornering clearance than before, a welcome improvement for track-going CBRs.
Honda has blessed the RR with a new frame that's all but certain to make it a more competitive tool. Die-cast out of aluminum, the frame is lighter and stiffer than before yet keeps close to the CBRF4i's dimensions. Wheelbase is up 0.2 inches while trail is up 1.0mm. The RR and the F4i share a 24.0-degree steering-head angle and a claimed dry weight of 370 pounds. With the smaller engine and the fuel tank relocated lower than before, the rider is moved a massive 70.0mm forward. (Next stop: handlebars on the front axle.) Actually, for the first time in CBR600 history, the clip-ons are located under the top triple clamp.
Suspension modifications are also part of the deal. The fully adjustable cartridge fork's stanchions grow 2.0mm to 45.0mm, while the rear end is totally new. The fully adjustable shock is held by an RC211V-style swingarm that captures the upper shock mount instead of having the damper bolt directly to the frame. On the whoa side of the ledger, the CBR-RR gets larger, 310.0mm front discs pinched by four-piston calipers.
All of this tasty hardware is wrapped in angular new clothes that pay clear homage to the CBR954RR and Rossi's potent mount. Your choice is a solid yellow or black/red. The price has been set at a lofty $8,599. For value shoppers, the RR will have some intracompany competition: For the first time ever, Honda will offer a second-tier 600-something most other manufacturers have done for some time-by leaving an unchanged CBR600F4i in the lineup at $8,100. Dirk would be happy.
2004 VALKYRIE RUNE
Here's another early release-2004-spec-model from Honda. (You wonder if they're still on Euclidean time over there.) The much-rumored replacement for the Valkyrie is here, using, as expected, the new Gold Wing's 1832cc opposed six-pack and electronic fuel injection. We weren't ready to see the Wing's aluminum-beam frame or the Valkyrie Rune's extremely long (68.9-inch wheelbase) and low (27.2-inch seat height) custom styling. And we just don't know what to say about that trailing-link fork. Whatever floats your root beer, eh? This spells the end of the original Valkyrie (though it's officially listed as an '03) and, no doubt, will spark up another frenzy of CNC design among the aftermarket big brains. Yours in Illusion Blue, Black or Candy Black Cherry.
The circle is closed. Honda's going to give us the smaller-displacement version of the VTX in the original C-model (read: Custom, not Retro) format. Basically the same mechanically as the other VTX1300s introduced this year, the C carries the original VTX's smooth bodywork and dragster look into the "middleweight" cruiser class. Four colors are on the chart: Black, Candy Red, Pearl Orange and Illusion Blue.
RUCKUS, AND SOME HOUSEKEEPING, TOO
What's in a name? Maybe less than meets the vowels when you're considering a 49cc scooter. But who could resist the ruckus? This 181-pound, 10-inch-wheeled funster uses a 49cc, liquid-cooled four-stroke engine breathing through a soda-straw 15mm CV carb to drive an automatic, V-belt transmission. It's so cute you just want to hug it.Other changes in the Honda's lineup for 2003 include new colors for the Interceptor (silver) and the surprisingly long-lived Super Hawk (blue). Plus the Hornet 900-based 919 gets a silvery hue called Smoke to go with the returning Asphalt. What's next? Up In Flames? Burning-Oil Blue?
Finally, as though to prove the rumor mill occasionally spits out a clunker, Honda has done nothing more than spray a fresh coat of Metallic Black paint on the CBR1100XX. That's right, no 1300cc engine, no VTEC, no V-five, no Hayabusa-crushing horsepower. Maybe next year.