A defanged '07 CBR1000RR mill stuffed into a Hornet 600 chassis makes the CB plenty quick.
They Say: "Aggressive, edgy, yet perfectly composed."
We Say: "Liter-class Honda muscle in an Italian designer suit."
The sun is finally out as we head back to the hotel, and we're attacking the roundabouts with manic aggression, taking this unexpected last chance to give Honda's new naked bike a proper flogging. Our hosts wouldn't be impressed, but they could hardly blame us. The CB1000R is built for fun, and for parking outside swanky Italian cafs. That's why they'd based the launch in Milan.
But describing the 1000R as a poseur's bike is selling it short, because there's a lot more to it than its edgy styling. Designed and produced in Italy in collaboration with engineers from Japan, the bike is aimed at the European market. It's bursting with interesting shapes, from the round, blue position lamp in its snout to the single-sided swingarm. Think '80s Superbike, not flabby retro.
Honda has been down this naked-CBR route before, and the CB900F Hornet was duller to ride than it was to look at. Simply scanning the CB1000R's spec sheet suggests it's a much more serious effort.
Riding out of the city on wet roads brought to mind that old clich about an iron fist in a velvet glove. The fuel injection works impeccably, the engine is super-smooth, the gear change sweet and the controls light; everything ideally refined for precise control. The 16-valve lump (mainly '07 CBR1000RR with a CBF1000F cylinder head), pulls cleanly from below 2000 revs and by 4000 rpm is storming. Compensation for the loss of 50-odd top-end horses is noticeably more grunt below 6000, yet there's still a cheeky surge at about seven grand. From a lazy 70-mph cruise it ripped to 135 mph and would have sat at 150 mph for as long as neck muscles and police roadblocks allowed. Its only real flaw is a slight lack of character.
The chassis is a match for the motor, too. With a curb weight of 478 pounds the Thou is no lightweight, but the low-slung exhaust contributes to the aim of mass centralization. The compact motor squeezes into an aluminum Hornet 600 frame, meaning the bike can be cranked through hairpins with a flick of its not particularly wide bars. Steering is superbly neutral and precise, helped by feedback from the 43mm upside-down fork taken from the '08 RR. Spring rates are slightly softer, with damping tweaked to suit. On standard settings the front end is firm enough to give good control, even when using the fierce stopping power provided by the RR-derived four-pot radial front brakes.
The only part of the chassis that seemed subpar was the shock, which has no compression damping adjuster, nor rising-rate linkage. The rear end coped pretty well on the mostly smooth and damp mountain roads, but as we charged around the dry Tangenziale at speed, it clunked crudely over expansion joints.
Still, what did you expect? This isn't a soft and comfy all-rounder; it's a naked sportbike with the performance and lack of practicality that suggests. No apology necessary for that. Back in 2002, I ended a review of the Hornet 900 with the warning: "Don't buy this motorcycle thinking you're getting some lean, mean streetfighter." Nobody will say that this time.