Tech Review: 2017 Honda CBR1000RR & SP

Alloys and algorithms: Honda’s latest superbike, dissected.

Tech review of the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR
The Honda CBR1000RR for 2017 is mostly new and dripping with technology.Photo: Honda

Honda's new-for-2017 CBR1000RR (see the First Ride Review here) will come in three versions: base model, SP, and SP2. We didn't ride the CBR1000RR 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, 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, a lead-acid battery, and Tokico brake calipers.

Like most other full-zoot superbikes on the market today, the CBR1000RR is a very complicated machine. Even moreso now that it has ride-by-wire throttle for the first time in the history of a Honda inline four. And it's disguised perfectly—in other words it works just as it should. In that vein Honda claims, somewhat vaguely, to have updated "90 percent of all major components." Better take that to mean the important ones, because when it comes to the efficiency of a motorcycle, Honda thinks everything is important. In the quest to add power and reduce mass, the engineers at Honda honed in on all of minutiae, especially in saving weight.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP stripped of bodywork
A 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP stripped of bodywork. Note the titanium fuel tank, set behind the airbox. In addition to the Ti tank and lithium-ion battery, Brembo calipers and electronically adjustable Öhlins suspension set the SP apart. Not to mention a few thousand bucks.Photo: Honda

SAVING WEIGHT

It was big stuff first. Foremost, a new titanium muffler is more than six pounds lighter than last year’s bike. The engine is four and a half pounds lighter (we’ll come back to that), because of select magnesium covers and a lighter clutch assembly, among other things. The thickness of the frame has been reduced and, combined with the updated subframe and swingarm, bring the total weight savings to around three pounds. A new ABS system is a bit lighter, while the new 6-spoke wheels are both lighter and more rigid. The bodywork is made from 1.8mm-thick plastic as opposed to 2mm panels, which saves more weight. All of this stuff adds up to about 17 pounds of fat trimmed from the new CBR1000.

base-model Honda CBR1000RR brakes
The base-model Honda CBR1000RR has updated four-piston, radial-mount Tokico calipers in 2017 (instead of Brembo units on the SP). As with many aspects of the bike, they are lighter than the previous-generation parts.Photo: Honda

To understand just how serious Big Red’s team was about shedding bulk, the next bit of R&D is pretty inspiring. Honda’s team doubled that weight savings by lightening lots of small, seemingly inconsequential parts. If a bolt or screw could be hollowed out or made smaller, it was done. Hardware was cut down, plastic trimmings were made thinner and/or smaller, and even fluid hoses were made slimmer and lighter. Add to all of this that the fuel tank carries half a gallon less when it’s full (4.2 gallons instead of 4.7), and Honda claims a total weight savings for 2017 of 15 kilograms, or 33 pounds.

titanium fuel tank from the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP
How light is the titanium fuel tank from the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP? Very light. Somewhere between newborn kitten and frozen pizza.Photo: Honda

Looking back at our first ride of the 2012 CBR1000RR (the last time the model was updated), Honda claimed 441 pounds, and our scales in the Motorcyclist garage showed 445 pounds with a full tank. Those 445 pounds were without the previous-generation C-ABS setup included, which was innovative and unprecedented but also quite heavy. We watched as the 2017 bike (an ABS-equipped, Euro-spec base model) was weighed at 425 pounds with a full tank. That's nine pounds lighter than Honda's claimed weight for US-bound ABS base models. Call foul on Portugese gravity or Honda scales if you like, but it seems legit to us. Much of that likely has to do with American emissions regulations, which typically make US-bound bikes a bit heavier. In any case, not including the previous-generation's C-ABS, that would be an actual weight savings closer to 20 pounds. That's nothing to sneeze at, plus it's only half the battle.

2017 CBR1000RR’s full-color dash
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

ADDING POWER

The claim for power from the new engine is a little north of 10 extra ponies for 2017, due in part to that fancy new titanium exhaust. Internals have been heavily reworked, too, even though the 76mm bore and 55mm stroke are the same as the outgoing CBR1000RR. The pistons, crankshaft, connecting rods, cams, valves, and cylinder head are each new. Compression ratio is up to 13:1 (from 12.3:1), and maximum power now arrives at 13,000 rpm, up from 12,250 on the previous model, thanks in part to cams that provide more lift. The throttle bodies are 2mm larger, the airbox has been reshaped, and for the first time ever on a Honda inline-four the engine is controlled via a ride-by-wire system (more on that in the First Ride HERE).

The last major component to the increased power is the muffler—a power-valve system reroutes exhaust gas at high rpm, designed for more direct flow, more sound, and more power. The Euro-spec bikes we rode at Portimao sounded wicked, that’s for sure. Just like the EPA regulations often add weight to the bikes landing on US shores, the same guidelines often affect power output. We don’t have an exact number, but American Honda said that we can expect a little less peak power compared to the Euro-spec machines we rode at Portimao.

2017 CBR1000RR engine
The four-cylinder heart of the 2017 CBR1000RR. The valvetrain cover (top) and sump (bottom), as well as the gold-colored side cover are magnesium. The engine holds less oil now which, you guessed it, saves weight.Photo: Honda

ELECTRONICS

That’s the long story of how the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR shed 30 pounds and gained 10 horsepower. But, there’s another facet to technology in superbikes these days: electronics. Like it or not, the age of electrons controlling everything from throttle and brake inputs to suspension damping is well and truly upon us. This new flagship CBR is no different, with a fleet of fresh whizz-bangs and do-dads designed to make the superbike rush more efficient, safer, and more rewarding.

CBR1000RR switchgear hand 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

Amazingly, not only is this the CBR1000RR’s first time with ride-by-wire throttle, it’s first time with traction control. It borrows much of its tech from the RC213V-S MotoGP streetbike that Honda launched in 2015. That means a 5-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) from Bosch, which monitors roll, yaw, and accelerometers for up/down, front/back, and side-to-side movement. That information goes to the ECU 100 times every second, and the data is combined with engine readings, drivetrain data, and wheel speed sensors to adjust traction control, wheelie control, and ABS. (On the SP version, electronic Öhlins suspension can be switched to “Automatic” mode, in which damping adjusts on the fly based on info from the IMU and ECU.)

2017 CBR1000RR shock
A basic, Showa shock suspends the rear of the 2017 CBR1000RR. If you need fancier tech, the SP uses a TTX36 unit from Öhlins.Photo: Honda

On the more practical and simplistic side, there's an optional quickshifter available (standard on the SP), and engine braking is adjustable to three levels. There are also three pre-programmed ride modes, with set parameters for throttle maps (for which there are five options), TC, and engine braking. Wheelie control is married to the TC system—in other words the two work together, and cannot be adjusted separately or switched off independently. That actually turned out to be a bit of a problem when pushing the limit on track, as you can read about in the First Ride review HERE.

2017 Honda CBR1000RR power modes
This graphic explains the different power modes and deliveries for the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR’s ride-by-wire throttle. In every mode except setting 1, delivery is blunted in the first few gears as a safety measure.Photo: Honda

Since the lean-angle and front/back accelerometer function of the IMU work with the ABS, the brakes are extremely well informed about what you, the rider, are doing. The bike calculates the forces being applied to the machine under deceleration, both based on the angular axis between the IMU and the front contact patch and also the axis perpendicular to that (the direction in which the bike would pivot forward to lift the rear wheel). When the motorcycle detects an amount of deceleration that it thinks will lift the rear wheel, the ABS intervenes: hence, “Rear Wheel Lift Mitigation.” The system seems conservative in practice, and there was no convincing the engineers to disable it. Racers or serious track day riders will likely end up pulling the fuse in order to shut off the system.

2017 CBR1000RR’s ABS system
A diagram showing how information is routed for the 2017 CBR1000RR’s ABS system. Wheel-speed sensors work in conjunction with the IMU to calculate the most braking possible based on lean angle, g-forces, and speed.Photo: Honda

THE BOTTOM LINE

All of the technology on the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR (and SP), from alloys to algorithms, makes it a lighter, faster, and more advanced machine. The most surprising thing, with all of the steps that Honda made, is that it didn’t make more. Wheelie control being tied to TC is an odd oversight, as anyone with track experience can tell you. Also, only using wheel-speed sensors to mitigate wheelies is an strange decision to make when there’s a Bosch IMU bolted to the bike already, which presumably could inform the ECU about pitch angle (in addition to roll and yaw) and wheelies could be solved simply with software. Honda’s explanation is that the CBR1000 is also a street bike, and doesn’t necessarily need independent controls for every slice of gizmo because that’s not applicable to road riding. If you’re going to use a 2017 CBR1000RR for Sunday rides, you will likely agree. Those of us with medium-to-high level track riding in mind will wonder how the might of HRC didn’t take the final step and bring the CBR1000 level with the state of the art.

EPILOGUE: THE SP's ÖHLINS SUSPENSION

You might be wondering why, other than pure sexiness, the up-spec SP model is equipped with the titanium fuel tank and lithium-ion battery. The weight savings are drastic, and one of the reasons that weight is so important to lose is that the electronically controlled Öhlins suspension equipped is, in addition to being amazingly versatile, heavy. Honda’s claimed weights for the SP are within a few pounds of the standard ABS model. Having already saved nearly nine pounds with the tank and battery, that means all of that Swedish gold suspension adds around six pounds to the SP.

Brembo brakes on 2017 CBR1000RR SP
To match the fancy, gold, Öhlins NIX30 fork Honda has fitted the SP with superbike-spec Brembo calipers, too.Photo: Honda

How much it weighs is simple compared to how it works. Basically, it’s an Öhlins 43mm NIX30 fork paired with a TTX36 shock—the cream of the suspension crop for motorcycles, in most people’s eyes. Then it’s equipped with servomotors to control the damping within the fork legs and the shock. That means the rider can dig into the menu system on the dash and adjust any and all of the damping characteristics for the suspension. The final step is that the servos are linked to the ECU, which is getting information from the IMU and wheel-speed sensors at a rate of up to 100 times per second. That means a series of “Automatic” settings where the suspension adjusts as you ride around the track, down your favorite road, or along your commute.

Honda fork from above
From above, the fork could almost be overlooked. Wires leading into the tops of the tubes is a dead giveaway that this particular setup is controlled electronically.Photo: Honda
2017 CBR1000RR SP uses a TTX36 unit from Öhlins
The Öhlins TTX36 shock is nestled into the swingarm of the CBR1000RR SP. Adjusting damping would probably be a pain if you couldn’t do it from the dash! Note the polished swingarm—the base-model RR’s is painted black.Photo: Honda

If you’re a motorcycle nut and keep abreast of technology, none of this will surprise you. Where Honda’s system differs from other electronically controlled (and semi-active) suspension setups is in the options for adjustment. The rider can adjust damping rates manually or choose an auto setting, but there is also an option to change the suspension based on the attitude of the bike. You can make the suspension generally stiffer or softer, as well as 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). This means if you feel like the fork is too soft on corner entry you can bump the “braking” setting up a notch or three, and when the bike senses you’re on the brakes, it will stiffen the damping in real time. Same goes for corner exit and mid-turn handling.

Honda says that the idea behind this is to keep electronic suspension simple. In other words, not asking people to be suspension technicians, but just to know what they want to change about the bike. Criticisms of the system will be, among others, that if riders can adjust the bike based on a feeling then they will never learn how the systems work. Not to mention that it leaves spring preload out of the equation, which can be an important part of suspension tuning. But, there’s no doubt Honda made it easy to understand, and there will likely be many happy customers who can tune the character of the bike in very basic terms.

Onboard GoPro shot of CBR1000RR SP
The point of all this tech? To fly around a racetrack! Read more about the test ride at Portimao and view onboard video HERE.Photo: Zack Courts