In the end, the F3 stayed atop the 600-class pile, if only by a whisker. The ZX-6R made 7 more horsepower and weighed 13 pounds less, but snatchy carburetion and wonky suspension relegated it to runner-up status in our comparison test.
Horiike got his chance to design a CBR with an aluminum frame in '99, but the F4 that resulted retained its F-spec designation and do-everything attitude despite a radical new engine and chassis. "It just doesn't make any economic or production sense for us to build more than one 600," Honda's Gary Christopher told us. But by making the F4 more streetbike than racebike (Miguel Duhamel's Supersport victories on a factory F4 notwithstanding), Honda left itself vulnerable. Yamaha took the two-pronged approach to the next level, offering three 600s in '99: the budget-friendly FZR600, the do-everything YZF600R and the track-savvy YZF-R6, which hammered everything else flat with big horsepower and kick-ass racetrack performance.
None of that would change two years later when Honda blessed the F4 with fuel-injection. Yamaha's package deal-headed by an even better R6-still ruled the roost. Honda's one-bike approach-or unwillingness to build a true race-replica as its only 600-had finally run out of gas.
All of which made the introduction of the '03 CBR600RR, along with the news that the F4i would remain in the lineup, easy to understand. End result? Despite being 30 pounds heavier than the R6 (and GSX-R600 and ZX-6R), the hard-edged, rack-like RR jumped back into the performance fray by winning our shootout. For '05, Honda tweaked the bike heavily and put it on a strict diet, and ultimate performance jumped yet again.
What's really shocking, however, is how much better the '07 CBR is on both street and track. The bike impressed every scribe I spoke to at the Barber intro, but it wasn't until I rode an '06 version that same afternoon that I attained True Believer status. The new CBR was noticeably better in every way, from fuel-injection crispness to midrange lunge to top-end power to suspension action to braking power to transitional quickness. Honda test guru Doug Toland (who replaced me at Honda) says the new bike is a full second per lap quicker on the track. I'd say the gap is more like 2 seconds. Either way, the difference is night and day. Amazing.
More amazing, perhaps, is the fact that the new CBR delivers much more long-haul comfort than you'd expect. With 10mm higher bars and recontoured foam in the seat, this tiny, MotoGP-inspired, track-serious, 15,000-rpm back-road weapon is actually a decent sporty-tourer for those under 6 feet tall. It'll get 40 mpg all day long, provide crystal-clear views in its mirrors, ride smoothly on even the most pockmarked tarmac, and route a relatively calm windblast at your upper torso. Yes, the engine is buzzy between 6000 and 8000 revs, and the limited seat-to-peg distance means those with inseams over 29 inches will get cramped knees. But if you can handle the bends, the new CBR is more accommodating than you'd think for that 600-mile weekend.
What we've got, then, is a truly vicious racetrack and back-road weapon supported by what might be the best ergonomic package ever provided on a full-on, race-replica motorcycle. Sounds suspiciously like the CBR platform is getting back to its all-around, do-everything roots - which means there's a good chance we'll be celebrating the CBR nameplate in another 20 years. I just hope I'm able to ride the thing, as the Beatles sang, "When I'm 64.".
CBR600s Through The Years
From F To RR, And Everything In BetweenWith so many CBR600s sold here in the last 20 years, chances are you or someone you know has owned one. And with eight AMA Supersport championships and 83 AMA Supersport race wins to its credit (double its nearest competitor), you've probably seen one win at the track. Here's a quick sampler.