2012 Honda CBR1000RR | First Ride

No Traction Control, no Apologies!

By Ari Henning, Photography by Brian J. Nelson

Everyone hoped Honda would update the CBR1000RR—now a year overdue for an overhaul, according to pre-recession, two-year cycles—with traction control or some other major advancement marking the model’s 20th anniversary. Except for an LCD dash and some EFI and C-ABS upgrades, there aren’t any new electronics on the 2012 model, and Honda isn’t apologizing for it. Rather than dwelling on the lack of TC, the Honda folks opted to focus on what they did do, which is refine the CBR for even better performance and handling.

Honda’s house-brand Showa fork and shock have been upgraded from last year’s pieces to the top-of-the-line Big Piston Fork and all-new Balance Free Shock. Externally, the only apparent difference with the new shock is the position of the compression and rebound damping adjusters, which are both readily accessible at the base of the shock reservoir. Internally, the shock has all new circuitry with a patented twin-tube damping system that separates the piston from the damping valves. The design eliminates the momentary balance in pressures (hence the Balance Free moniker) as the shock transitions from compression to rebound or vice versa. The stated benefits are improved bump compliance, better traction and more consistent damping performance.

Other changes for 2012 include fresh rolling stock, the aforementioned digital dash and a mild makeover of the bodywork. New cast-aluminum, split-spoke wheels look trick, and also offer more consistent rigidity compared to the three-spoke versions they replace. The previous CBR’s rounded nose and headlights have hardened into sharper shapes, giving the bike a more aggressive appearance. Like the VFR, the CBR’s lower fairing is now layered for improved rider comfort, and a new cowl beneath the headlights is said to reduce lift at speed and contribute to more stable handling. Honda made no mention of an engine update, so it’s safe to assume power output is still in the 150-horsepower range.

To experience the changes firsthand, Honda invited journalists to Sonoma, California, for a day of knee-down action at Infineon Raceway followed by a street ride through the hills along the Pacific Coast. Outfitted with Dunlop D211 GP-A rubber, the Honda was on rails. The narrow clip-ons, slim waist and obsessively centralized mass make the CBR feel lighter and more lithe than all but Aprilia’s RSV4.

Honda had enough faith in the 2012 model to bring a few 2011 bikes along for us to ride, allowing back-to-back comparisons of the changes. The new suspension components proved more compliant over ripples and small bumps through Infineon’s Turn 6 “Carousel,” and the BPF fork felt more supportive during braking. Under maximum deceleration the old bike exhibited significantly more forward weight transfer than the 2012, resulting in some dramatic rear-tire slides as the back of the bike became light. Corner entries are calmer on the new model.

Precise throttle response has always been one of the Honda’s strengths, and it’s even better for 2012. Fuel-injection settings have been adjusted to yield even more fluid throttle response, especially at lower rpm entering and exiting corners. Working in conjunction with the pre-existing IIC (Ignition Interrupt Control) system that takes the edge off the power hit during on/off throttle, the new CBR is an incredibly tractable literbike. At a track like Infineon where the rider is constantly dialing the throttle on and off through an encyclopedia of turns, smooth throttle response keeps the chassis planted so he can focus on the task at hand.

With wet roads and glossy-new Bridgestones, I was even more appreciative of the Honda’s fluid throttle response as we set out for the street ride. Honda doesn’t offer Traction Control, but the optional Combined ABS—introduced in 2009—is still something to marvel at. The system is completely transparent, with a consistently firm feel at the lever and totally smooth braking on the edge of traction. Another pre-existing technology worth noting is the Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD), which automatically adjusts damping to suit your speed. These features might lack the showroom appeal of traction control, but there’s no doubt they increase confidence every time you ride.

It’s a longish reach to the bars and you carry a bit of weight on your wrists, but aside from that the CBR is faultless as a streetbike. Power is readily available, vibrations are minimal, the seat is soft and the mirrors are excellent. C-ABS adds $1000 to the $13,800 MSRP, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Seamless fueling and IIC make the CBR one of the most agreeable bikes to ride with your knee on the ground. Factor in the new Showa suspension and the Honda’s smooth slipper clutch, and you have a highly refined, superbly capable track machine that also happens to be a terrific streetbike. There’s a reason Honda tweaked the 2012 CBR1000RR instead of overhauling it: it didn’t need a complete redesign. After riding it, we agree that they have no reason to be sorry.

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