2009 Honda CBR600RR-ABS - It Really Works!

Honda's Electronic Combined ABS Could Revolutionize Sportbikes

By: Ari Henning, Roland Brown, Photography by Giuseppe Gori, Honda

It's a weird feeling to charge down a straightaway in excess of 150 mph, wait till the last second and then grab a handful of brakes without a care in the world. Instead of folding its front wheel and spitting me off, the Honda CBR600RR-ABS simply sheds speed, at a rate every bit as fierce as I'd managed on a non-ABS-equipped example a half-hour ago.

The Honda feels reassuringly normal as it buries its front Bridgestone into Qatar's Losail racetrack, exhibiting none of the lever pulse that's become synonymous with ABS systems. The bike stays remarkably stable as I trail-brake into the tight right-hand bend, gently easing my grip on the lever as I approach the apex. That's because I'm actually releasing both brakes--the sophisticated electronics are contributing a touch of rear disc without even being asked.

If that scenario sounds like science fiction, I'd have said the same thing before riding the latest CBR at its world press launch in Qatar. Honda is billing its Electronic Combined ABS--available as an option on both the 2009 CBR600RR and CBR1000RR--as the world's first anti-lock brake system for supersport bikes. It's certainly that, as well as the first "brake-by-wire" system that operates the front and rear brakes electronically rather than mechanically. More importantly, it's the first anti-lock system that is almost undetectable in use, and which has the ability to be a performance aid even for fast and experienced riders.

Unlike Honda's previous Combined ABS, this system does not require special calipers, although the ABS model's are identifiable by their gold color. It does add weight, though: 22 pounds for the 600 and 24 for the 1000, the latter's extra weight due to the difficulty of packaging the components on the larger-engined bike. Equally inevitable is the additional cost: a grand over the 600's $9799 and the 1000's $11,999 base prices.

That's a chunk of change, but its value became immediately evident during the first day's testing in the Losail parking lot, where the faithful Honda reps instructed us to simulate panic braking from 50 mph on dry, then wet, then sand-strewn pavement. The tests were eye-opening, as the CBR stopped hard and skid-free, with no discernable electronic intrusion, although the system was most certainly working hard to maintain traction. Honda's latest ABS reacts in six milliseconds--four times faster than the previous VFR800F's system--allowing the system to work seamlessly and covertly to help the rider maintain control.

The parking-lot test was promising, but we were eager to see what the system could do on the racetrack. The new Tokico four-piston monoblock calipers and a claimed weight of 410 pounds wet ensured that the non ABS-equipped CBR600RR I rode first was capable of shedding speed as quickly as it gained it. It was fast, too, thanks to a few engine tweaks aimed at improving midrange power, screaming to its 15,000-rpm redline. And it was sweet-handling, carving through Losail's succession of fast right-handers with typical poise and control.

I expected the difference between the standard and ABS-equipped bikes to be much more obvious, so I was amazed to find the new system not just working, but doing so in a totally unobtrusive way. I could come flying toward a turn, then squeeze the handlebar lever either as hard as I would normally, or purposely hard enough to lock a typical front wheel. In either case, the bike's response was identical: hard, smooth, controlled stopping. On the racetrack and the street, the benefit is clear: The system applies maximum braking force to both the front and rear wheels to provide the quickest and safest deceleration possible.

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