At EICMA back in November, Honda announced it was updating its two middleweight inline-four models: the CB650F and CBR650F. The goals were to reduce weight, centralize mass, and add a sporting edge. The updated bikes are now available in the US, and to represent the improvements Honda's bestowed them with a new suffix: "R." While the CB650R is a standard enveloped in Honda's Neo Sports styling, the CBR650R hopes to offer sportbike styling and performance with daily rider practicality. Is it the best of both worlds or a compromise between two conflicting principles? We went to the US launch in Palm Springs, California, to find out.

2019 Honda CBR650R
A simple change from F to R represents a significant shift in attitude.Kevin Wing

On the sportbike side of things, the CBR650R gets a more aggressive rider triangle than the outgoing F model. The handlebar has been lowered so that it’s now mounted under the top triple clamp, and it’s 1.2 inches forward. Combined with the footpegs, which are now 0.1 inch back and 0.2 inch up, the riding position gets more of the rider’s weight over the front wheel, which led to improved handling in the mountain roads of San Bernardino National Forest. It pushes the edge of being uncomfortable when cruising around the city streets of Palm Springs.

2019 Honda CBR650R driving on road.
The new riding position has more of a forward lean but it’s still serviceable in town.Kevin Wing

Complementing the aggressive feel is a gorgeous styling update that borrows plenty of cues from Honda's flagship literbike, the CBR1000RR. At first glance, it can be difficult to tell the two apart from the front, but the 650 has a cutout that shows off the waterfall headers that pay tribute to the 1970s CB400F Super Sport.

CBR1000RR on the left, CBR650R on the right.
CBR1000RR on the left, CBR650R on the right.Kevin Wing
2019 Honda CBR650R.
The gorgeous waterfall headers are your visual hint that you’re looking at the 650.Kevin Wing

The cosmetics are much improved and quite befitting of a sportbike, but it’s not just a pretty face—this bike has gone on a diet as well. The base model weighs 456 pounds, which represents a 9.2-pound drop from last year. The ABS-equipped model has shaved off 11.6 pounds so it’s now down to 458. Some of this comes from the steel twin-spar frame, which is 4.2 pounds lighter. Additional savings come from the fuel tank and even the footpegs, but the most significant impact is due to the new five-spoke aluminum cast wheels. The specific numbers of weight loss (0.97 pound up front, 1.2 pounds in the back) may not sound like much, but reducing unsprung weight is an excellent way to reduce turn-in effort, making the CBR feel nimble.

2019 Honda CBR650R wheel.
A minor difference between the CB and CBR is that the latter gets “wheel stripes.”Kevin Wing

Reducing the unsprung weight also puts less stress on the brakes and suspension, the latter of which has been given a serious upgrade up front with a Showa 41mm USD Separate Function Fork. Showa also supplies the rear shock, which has seven levels of adjustability for preload, but otherwise you’re stuck with the stock settings. I’m 190 pounds and thought the damping was sufficient for the aggressive canyon riding we enjoyed.

2019 Honda CBR650R driving in front of mountain.
The CBR650R looks and feels at home on curvy mountain roads.Kevin Wing

The braking system is built by Nissin and comprises dual 310mm floating front discs with radially mounted calipers and a 240mm rear disc. The R has optional ABS, though it’s packaged with Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC, Honda’s way of saying traction control). ABS is always on, but Torque Control can be easily turned off with a button on the rear of the left controls. The combination of ABS and Torque Control is available for $300.

2019 Honda CBR650R torque control button.
Honda deserves commendation for how quick and easy it is to turn off traction control—just hold the trigger for a second!Kevin Wing

You’ll know if Torque Control is on or off depending on if the CBR allows you to wheelie or not. Or you can look at the new LCD dash, which includes a gear indicator, fuel gauge, and a programmable shift light. It’s a huge improvement over the F’s dash, but it’s not as bright as I’d like.

2019 Honda CBR650R dash with adjustable brightness.
Dash brightness is adjustable, but it never gets bright enough to deal with direct sunlight.Kevin Wing

The faint redline now appears at 12,500 rpm, reflecting a 1,000-rpm increase from the F model thanks to improvements that include a higher compression ratio (11.6:1 versus 11.4:1), redesigned piston, revised cam profile, and dual ram-air intakes. Honda says the updated motor develops 5 percent more power above 10,000 rpm. American Honda doesn’t quote official power figures, though in other markets the CBR is claimed to put out 94 hp at 12,000 rpm and 47 pound-feet of torque at 8,500 rpm. The acceleration doesn’t feel like there are 94 horses rotating the front sprocket, but it’s still plenty fast to have fun with, and slipper/assist clutch makes it easy to enjoy what the motor has to offer.

2019 Honda CBR650R engine.
More important than the power bump is a dramatic elimination in vibration. The new steel diamond frame is stiffer around the headstock and more flexible in the twin spars, and it features hanger plates to which the top rear of the motor is mounted. It makes the riding experience smooth and helps rider enjoyment throughout the rev range—and that’s the CBR650R in a nutshell. It’s fast and aggressive enough to play with sportbikes, but civil enough to live with daily.Kevin Wing

More important than the power bump is a dramatic elimination in vibration. The new steel diamond frame is stiffer around the headstock and more flexible in the twin spars, and it features hanger plates to which the top rear of the motor is mounted. It makes the riding experience smooth and helps rider enjoyment throughout the rev range—and that’s the CBR650R in a nutshell. It’s fast and aggressive enough to play with sportbikes, but civil enough to live with daily.

2019 Honda CBR650R seat and grab rails.
Passengers will prefer the seat and grab rails of the CBR versus a pure sportbike.Kevin Wing

That split personality is where the dilemma lies. The CBR650F looked like a sportbike but the riding emphasis was on comfort and practicality. This CBR650R looks brilliant but and has great component upgrades, but I feel the riding position may now be too aggressive for a motor that makes less than 100 hp.

2019 Honda CBR650R riding on the road.
In many ways, this feels like the modern incarnation of a CBR600F F3.Kevin Wing

The CBR650R is already available at your local Honda dealership for $9,399. We recommend you spend the extra $300 on ABS and Torque Control, but you may also want to consider factory accessories that include a quickshifter, heated grips, tank bag, and taller windshield. No matter how you equip your CBR650R, you’ll have a motorcycle that offers a unique combination of sportbike style and common sense.

2019 Honda CBR650R Tech Spec
MSRP $9,399 ($9,699 w/ ABS and HSTC)
ENGINE 649cc, liquid-cooled inline-4
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 94 hp at 12,000 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 47 pound-feet of torque at 8,500 rpm
FRAME Twin-spar aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION 41mm USD Showa SFF; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa single shock adjustable for preload; 5.0-in. travel
FRONT BRAKES Dual 4-piston caliper, radial-mount Nissin w/ 310mm discs; non-switchable ABS
REAR BRAKE Single-piston caliper, 240mm disc; non-switchable ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 30.0°/4.0 in.
WHEELBASE 57.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 31.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.1 gal.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 456 lb. (add 2 lb. w/ ABS and HSTC)
AVAILABLE Spring 2019
CONTACT powersports.honda.com