2008 Honda CBR1000RR: Big Red Ripper | First Ride

Honda Takes Mass Centralization To The Extreme

Photography by Kevin Wing

New shapes aren't the only extreme mass-centralizing measure. A new, more compact HESD mounts lower and farther back under the fuel-tank cover, not over the top triple clamp. The new exhaust wraps the length of last year's underseat header around itself and relocates that substantial weight under the bike. Even the new engine was designed with mass centralization in mind; lighter cams and valves in a shorter, narrower cylinder head pull more precious grams toward the center of the bike. Honda staff claim a ready-to-ride curb weight of just 435 pounds. This is 17 pounds less than the 2007 CBR1000RR and, according to Honda, 17 to 35 pounds less than the competition. In a year where other Euro 3-spec literbikes are gaining 8 or 10 pounds, this is a meaningful number.

A more compact (and 2 pounds lighter) battery mounts lower in a frame that is now 1.2 inches slimmer at its widest point. Relocating the battery, along with the smaller engine dimensions, allows the fuel tank to be moved lower in the chassis so the rider could be shifted 2mm closer to the handlebars, which are now 6.5mm higher than before. The new bike is visibly smaller. It feels tiny too, more middleweight than literbike.

This RR steers more like a middleweight too, with surprisingly light, low-effort handling. Big-bore bikes typically take more muscle to turn (to overcome greater engine weight and crankshaft inertia). Not this one. Handling is exceptional, with a confidence-boosting combination of agility and stability-characteristics that are usually mutually exclusive-resulting in a chassis that works as well in Laguna's first-gear Turn 11 as it does in flat-out Rainey Curve. Cornering clearance is excellent as well, even with the new underbike muffler in place. After destroying a pair of brand-new, $360 Alpinestars Supertech boots a few weeks earlier at Qatar on the Kawasaki ZX-10R, we're happy to report we didn't touch toes once on the RR, not even in the G-inducing Turn 6 or Corkscrew.

Corner exits have you wondering whether Honda might have taken too much weight off the RR. Massive power, exceptional rear grip (especially in afternoon sessions, when the standard Dunlop Sportmax Qualifiers were swapped for D211GP Supersport race tires) and an ultra-light front end make the RR a monster on the throttle, with wheelies everywhere in the bottom three gears. The shorter-stroke, internally lightened motor has a lively, almost manic character. And with 6.5 percent more power spread across a broader powerband (thanks to new Dual-Stage Fuel Injection and two exhaust power valves), the latest RR feels plenty fierce ripping through the gears, especially along Laguna's two main uphill straights.

With such a casual relationship between the front tire and tarmac, you quickly learn to love the HESD-technology that every literbike manufacturer should have on license. Traditional steering dampers necessitate compromise. Any setting stiff enough to calm crossed-up, 90-mph corner exits will be too restrictive at parking lot speeds. The HESD relies on an electronic solenoid to adjust damping forces as vehicle speed and acceleration increase, so the damper is undetectable at slow speeds but rock-solid when you're going fast. Headshake is simply not an issue.

HESD isn't the only piece of electro-trickery to love on the '08 RR. The bike is also equipped with Honda's proven Idle Air Valve Control to reduce the effect of engine braking on corner entries, as well as a new Ignition Interruption Control that debuts on this bike, to minimize the effects of driveline lash during acceleration (see "Hard Parts" for a full description). Taken together, the effect is dramatic. The '08 CBR1000RR enters and exits corners with exceptional fluidity and, because engine braking and driveline lash effects are so effectively mediated, offers exceptional chassis stability as well. Mid-corner manners are drama-free as can be, leaving plenty of mental RAM available to concentrate on essential tasks like braking and accelerating.

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