More power, less weight: it's a clear mission statement. In fact it's the same mission statement that Honda issued when it debuted the CBR900RR in 1992. The idea behind that motorcycle was a to build a bike the size of a middleweight with the power of an open-class superbike. The original was a success, in part because it was an unprecedented blend of small stature and big power. Then came every generation of Fireblade since—from 929, to 954, to 1000. That's 25 years of production and 470,000 'Blades sold, according to Honda. So, more to the point, it was a clear mission statement and a successful one, by any company's standards. It will come as no surprise, then, that for 2017 Honda is reaching back those 25 years to revive the same concept: more power, less weight.

Take a Flying Lap with Zack Aboard the 2017 CBR1000RR SP

1992 Honda CBR900RR
After 25 years, the bike has evolved massively. Honda says the power-to-weight ratio of the 2017 CBR1000RR has improved by 65 percent since the 1992 CBR900RR pictured here.Photo: Honda

The new CBR1000RR will come in three versions: base model, SP, and SP2. We didn’t ride an SP2 and we probably won’t—it’s made for racing homologation and Honda only plans to make 500 of them, selling for about $25,000 each. The SP will be widely available, and comes with a titanium fuel tank, lithium-ion battery, Brembo brakes, a standard quickshifter, as well as electronically adjustable Öhlins suspension and different paint—all for a base price of $19,999. The base bike will be available in two versions in the US, non-ABS for $16,499 and with ABS for $16,799. Both will use steel gas tanks, lead-acid batteries, and Tokico brake calipers.

The upshot of Honda’s hard work on the new CBR1000RR is 10 more horsepower and 33 pounds of weight loss. Based on the previous-generation’s measured weight (without ABS) compared with the Euro-spec bike I watched get pushed onto a scale in Portugal, the actual weight savings appears to be more like 20 pounds—the new bike weighed in at 425, while our 2012 test bike tipped the scales at 445 pounds. Claimed weight for the US-market ABS bike is 434 pounds, 33 pounds lighter than the last CBR1000RR with C-ABS (467 pounds claimed). That’s a solid diet for a superbike. Claimed power is now at 189 horsepower—that’s the Euro-spec bike, and we expect a little less from US-bound units.

2017 CNR1000RR in red
The 2017 Honda CBR1000RR in red. Its SP counterpart comes with a splash of white at the base of the fairing and gold wheels to set off the classic HRC colors.Photo: Honda
2017 Honda CBR1000RR in black
You can also get the 2017 CBR1000 in black, for the same price of $16,799. Unlike Europe, the US will have non-ABS models available, for $16,499.Photo: Honda

Swinging a leg over the 2017 bike, it’s instantly clear that it has been made more compact. It’s amazingly narrow in the middle and feels very light coming off the kickstand. From the cockpit, it looks small, too. The upper fairing is an inch narrower, and the middle fairing is 0.75 inches narrower. The windscreen is nearly as tall as the 2016 bike but comes to a sharp peak at the top, making for a narrower and more angular look (as well as a little less wind protection). A bright, full-color dash displays all of the bike’s pertinent data and is controlled via the left switch cluster. That includes making adjustments over the nine-level Honda Selectable Torque Control system (traction and wheelie control), ABS, and engine brake settings, all of which are informed by a five-axis IMU at a rate of up to 100 times a second.

THE RIDING IMPRESSION

The test bikes I rode around the Autodromo Algarve in Portimao, Portugal were all equipped with a quickshifter, and one trip down pit lane demonstrated that it will be a sweet item to have on the street. It works up and down the gearbox, with smooth shifts at all rpms and satisfying rev matching on downshifts. The new CBR was more ready for Portimao’s crazy, undulating circuit than I was, which was a good confidence boost. Changing direction and diving toward apexes (some of which you can’t see until the last second) is a breeze on the CBR—there’s good feel from the front end and the chassis works well with the standard-issue, Bridgestone S21 rubber. It’s smooth, predictable, and precise.

CBR1000RR SP action, right lean
This is a showroom-spec CBR1000RR with Showa suspension and stock, Bridgestone S21 tires. It’s ready for the track as soon as you are.Photo: Honda

Mid-corner, the new CBR feels stable, and it's easy to change trajectory or adjust a line in the middle of a turn. The only struggle I had was that the bike is so narrow in the middle it was a little tricky to grip with my legs. I think part of it was a Honda employee who was overzealous with the spray polish—the seat and tank felt slipperier than usual, and I suspect it was all so the bike would look good in photos. Nevertheless, agility and precision has never been a problem for the CBR and the 2017 bike carries on that tradition, 20-something pounds lighter than before.

Driving off corners, there’s more goodness. The revised engine has the same bore and stroke as the previous bike (76mm and 55mm, respectively) and maintains the CBR’s reputation of having a strong midrange and extremely linear power. There’s also excellent over-rev capability—at the exit of the first left-hand hairpin on the track I accelerated through the following kink, wringing second gear out all the way to the next braking zone. The engine screams to the top of the revs, and power doesn’t drop drastically before bumping into the rev limiter. As far as outright speed, once the front wheel eventually settled to the ground on Portimao’s crested front straight the CBR’s speedo stuck at 299 kph for the last bit and stayed there until I chickened out and sat up. It won’t be the fastest superbike money can buy, but that’s not much of an insult these days.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP at speed
The 2017 CBR1000RR is small, but not so small that it’s uncomfortable. Even at 6-foot-2 I had room to tuck in comfortably on the straights.Photo: Honda
2017 CBR1000RR digital gauge display
The 2017 CBR1000RR’s full-color dash is borrowed in large part from the RC213V-S. Note the three parameters of ride modes—those can be adjusted in two “User” settings, and toggled on the fly. The trapezoidal bars along the top are progressive shift lights.Photo: Honda

Everything about the bike was impressive, until my pace picked up and the electronics started to kick in. First was the wheelie control, which gets heavy use at Portimao what with the handful of seriously dramatic elevation changes. Wheelies are mitigated using wheel-speed data, meaning that when the ECU notices the front wheel decelerating while the rear is still accelerating, it closes the throttle slightly until the front wheel is back on the ground. It’s a relatively primitive system, and doesn’t really work well enough to keep the throttle open over rises and expect the bike to keep the front wheel down. I started modulating the throttle myself, but even when I was controlling wheelies manually, the system still sees the front wheel decelerating and cuts power. Then takes a second to give it back. Frustrating.

There are three tiers of this wheelie control—one setting for TC levels 1 through 3, one for TC levels 4 through 6, and another for 7 through 9. It can only be adjusted by turning the HSTC up or down, and that means it is married to traction control. So, in order to turn wheelie control off, you have to turn off traction control. To go my fastest around Portimao I switched HSTC off and rode with no TC and no wheelie control. I survived just fine, but that doesn’t change the fact that not being able to adjust the two independently is a limitation I’m very surprised to see on this new CBR. Honda employees explained it only by saying that it’s a street bike too, and it should be simple.

Wheelie shot of the 2017 CBR1000RR sportbike
There were a lot of wheelies over Portimao’s many crests. The only ones that were scary involved the wheelie control reacting too slowly or engaging when I wasn’t ready. For the smoothest wheelies, it’s best to have it off.Photo: Honda
2017 CBR1000RR brakes
Redesigned Tokico calipers that are lighter and more rigid pinch 320mm discs on the RR. The SP gets Brembo calipers.Photo: Honda

The electronics strike again on corner entry, with a safety net around the braking system designed to keep the rear wheel on the ground and the front wheel from locking by using IMU and wheel-speed data. During any hard braking, whether upright or leaned over, I could feel the lever pulsing against my fingers, keeping the bike under control. The problem is, I wanted to turn the sensitivity down, and the system is neither adjustable nor switchable. Again, I would have thought Honda would allow some flexibility around the system considering the likelihood that this bike will turn hot laps. There’s some good news, which is that engine braking is adjustable three ways (setting 1 for more engine braking, setting 3 for less) and the slipper clutch works great.

Mechanically, the 2017 CBR1000RR is brilliant. It’s light, easy to ride, and always feels like it’s doing the best it can to make your fast lap easier. The electronics are a slightly different story. I experimented with HSTC at level 8, and the bike was amazingly docile. With any serious amount of lean angle, the throttle is muted and the ABS is extremely cautious. With HSTC at level 1 or 2 (where I spent most of my time), the system still feels more like it’s designed to keep you from crashing than help you to go faster around the track. It’s nice to have a system in place to keep people safe, especially at high speeds, but this is a high performance machine that could, and should, be more advanced.

ON BOARD THE SP

On the topic of "more advanced," I got to sample the up-spec CBR1000RR SP at Portimao as well—on fresh Bridgestone V02 slicks, no less. Think of the SP as Honda's answer to Yamaha's R1M. The electronic systems are the same as the base RR, as far as HSTC and ABS—the real reason to pay the extra $2,200 for the SP model is the electronic Öhlins suspension (which you can read about in full HERE) . First of all, that's extremely high-end hardware. Being wired to the ECU is an added bonus because it means you can change the damping settings via the dashboard, and it means the suspension can use IMU data to adjust the damping as you ride.

2017 CBR1000RR SP on track
Gold rims and a white lower fairing are the way to spot the SP version. An Öhlins NIX30 fork and TTX36 shock are dead giveaways, too, but a little harder to spot.Photo: Honda
CBR1000RR SP controls
Controlling the dash happens via the up/down select and mode buttons on the left switchgear. A manual lap timer trigger waits on the front of the cluster, just in case you’re bored enough with 189 hp that you need something to do on the straights. Note the top of the Showa Big Piston Fork, and its adjustments, in the upper right.Photo: Honda

First, I headed out on track in a manual suspension setting, meaning the adjustments were set and static. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me say that riding a 425-pound superbike with fresh slicks and Ohlins suspension seemed to work pretty well. Yes, it works very well. And being able to adjust it without a wrench is pretty cool. A few clicks in a menu, and damping is turned up or down. Then I tried the “Automatic” setting, which monitors IMU data at up to 100 times every second and adjusts the damping to react to what the bike is doing. Again, this is similar to systems on other bikes, and it works well.

Lastly, I tried adjusting the auto settings in the fork and shock, and this is where Honda’s system differs from other bikes. You can make the suspension generally stiffer or softer, or you can change the suspension based on the attitude of the bike. So, instead of adjusting compression and rebound, like you can do in manual mode, there are settings for, “Braking,” “Cornering,” and “Acceleration.” Each is adjustable by going into the menu and selecting one of 11 settings (plus or minus five, and a baseline). As an example, when I complained that the ABS was initiating too soon in corners, the Öhlins engineer suggested to dial up the braking setting to “+4.” That, he said, would make the fork dive slower when I was really clamping on the brakes but would not change how the suspension reacted to my riding mid corner, or under acceleration.

2017 CBR1000RR SP wheelie shot
Wheelies are a dime a dozen at Portimao. A 6-foot-2 rider doesn’t usually dwarf a superbike, but look how small the CBR1000 appears in this photo.Photo: Honda
CBR1000RR vs CBR1000RR SP model
A slide from Honda’s presentation showing the spec differences between the base-model 2017 CBR1000RR and the SP version. Claimed weights are for Euro-spec models, with ABS.Photo: Honda

Over the course of the day I tried the general suspension adjustment in a handful of settings. It was noticeably softer when turned to “-4” and stiffer when turned up to “+4.” I typically prefer stiff suspension, so I left it dialed up when turning my fastest laps. Critics will say that the system simplifies suspension too much, and that if people don’t understand what they’re changing about the system then they will never understand how to make the bike better. That’s probably true. Honda’s stance is that it should be easy to do, and by simplifying the adjustments people will be less intimidated by the process and more willing to experiment. That’s also probably true. Agree or disagree, it’s a neat idea and it’s executed well. The menus are easy to navigate and the changes to the bike are clear to feel.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you've read this far you'll know that I have mixed feelings about this bike. As a machine, it's clearly the product of decades of experience, both on track and off, that Honda has used to make the best bike they can. And it's excellent. Electronically, I have questions. Why not make wheelie control and traction control separately adjustable? Why not make ABS adjustable, or at least have a track mode? Why not use the Bosch IMU, which is already attached to the bike, to inform the bike about pitch (instead of only roll and yaw) and use that data to make wheelie control and rear-lift control state of the art?

What it comes down to is a different opinion of what a superbike should be. I think it should be a track weapon first, and a street bike second. Safety systems are good, but if they hinder a bike like this on a racetrack then that’s a problem. Honda obviously thinks that as a flagship motorcycle it should be a street bike and a track bike in equal measure. They have engineered it as such, and done a fine job. It splits the difference between the ease of use of a sport tourer with the compact and agile chassis of a superbike. And don’t get me wrong, it will be a great street bike: aggressive in riding position but smooth power delivery (adjustable five ways, incidentally), solid brakes, and striking styling. I just wish I could see a little more of an HRC twinkle in it’s eye when turned loose on a racetrack.

2017 CBR1000RR SP at full lean
The 2017 CBR1000RR SP in its happy place: shod with slicks, leaned over in the middle of a corner. This Honda can keep up with the best in the world right here.Photo: Honda

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
The first update of the CBR1000 since 2012, and the first major overhaul since 2008. More power and less weight, plus updated electronics
TECH
PRICE $16,499 ($16,799 w/ABS)
ENGINE 998cc liquid-cooled inline four
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed, chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 189 hp @ 13,000 rpm (Euro spec)
CLAIMED TORQUE 84 lb.-ft. @ 11,000 rpm (Euro spec)
FRAME aluminum twin spar
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 43mm Big Piston Fork, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.3 in. of travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa balance-free shock, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.4 in. of travel
FRONT BRAKE Tokico four-piston calipers, 320mm discs (ABS optional)
REAR BRAKE Nissin single-piston caliper, 220mm disc (ABS optional)
RAKE/TRAIL 23.3°/NA in.
WHEELBASE 55.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.2 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 434 lb.
AVAILABLE March 2017
CONTACT powersports.honda.com
VERDICT
A massively updated CBR1000, worthy of the Fireblade lineage—it’s just a little shy in the electronics department.