“I used to have one of them. It was a good bike” are the words many a person has said to me when I mention the mid-90s Honda CBR 600F. At a time when Honda were basking in the success of their Fireblade, the CBR 600 had some excellent genes in the family back then. Fast forward 20 years and is the old steel framed CBR still a good bike alongside the modern offerings, I know I can’t believe it’s years ago either, but I checked with some authorities on maths and 1997 was 20 years before 2017.
It took a little bit of hunting to dig up a good example without moon mileage, rotten exhaust headers or a silly asking price, but eventually we found a reasonably well maintained 20,000 mile CBR for a shade under a £1000. Now I had just hopped off a 2001 Yamaha R1, so I was expecting to be frustrated by the power of the little 600, but amazingly I was in for a pleasant surprise. From the factory these bikes are said to produce 100bhp. That isn’t bad going at all if you ask me. You have to work the gears a little bit especially with a passenger, but with that beautiful, crisp throttle response you get from a set of carburettors; the old Honda really is a great bike to ride.
A set of new rear wheel bearings, rear brake disc and pads, a good service (the air filter was an interesting colour) were required to bring the bike into action and also it needed a good clean.
Not the most excitingly styled bike I will admit, but testament to Honda’s finishing standards, this example still polished up nice. Just the odd patch of corrosion and a few scratches to give clues to its age. That and the garish 90s colour scheme. As with a lot of these CBRs the front pipes had been switched out for stainless steel versions and with them a tidier and louder exhaust end-can. On open road at 6 in the morning, it does make a quite excellent sound, singing to the redline, then crackling and popping on the overrun.
Compared to the 600cc class of bikes of today the riding position is more akin to an armchair than a sports bike; with higher bars, a lower seat, wide tank and large fairing. On the road this is great. Trips to work and back are comfortable, the leg length impaired can touch the floor at traffic lights and the fairing protects you from the English summer, but would this riding position coupled with old suspension and engine hinder the CBR on a trackday? There was only one way to find this out.
The chosen trackday wasn’t the most ideal, new years day with temperatures below freezing. Credit to “No Limits” trackdays that despite the frost not clearing until 11, they did get us out on track by sending a few vehicles round to try and clear the track a little. Joining us on the track were a few friends and family. My older sibling and lifelong rival in everything we have ever done, Chris Northover, turned up with a BMW GS 1150. Not a typing error he was riding a GS on the track, much to the amusement of the marshalls and fellow nutters riding on the day.
The first session was wet, cold and slippery, a great combination for disaster. Going with a start steady and build up approach, I was clear that learning anything about the track ability of the CBR would have to wait until later; other than it lacked heated grips as the GS riding, warm-handed Chris continually pointed out. The sibling rivalry increased as the end of the second session saw the GS come round the outside of the CBR. As it was a trackday, we definitely weren’t racing each other merely trying to decide which bike should be in front for a clearer track…
By the last session of the day there was a dry line forming and I could finally get a little taste for the CBR’s track prowess. As it was only a dry line, I couldn’t have asked to be on a better bike really. The old and new CBR’s are renowned for being smooth, easy to ride and forgiving, even 20 years after it left the factory this CBR still holds on to that ability. Obviously it’s equipped with modern tyres, Michelin Pilot Road 4’s, so compared to the tyres from the era there will be a marked improvement, but the rest of the bike is standard, so I couldn’t believe how well it rode. The brakes didn’t fade, the suspension didn’t get too out of shape and the engine didn’t miss a beat or burn a drop of oil all day. The trusty CBR even prevailed with a victory over the GS in the final track session of the day, pulling a superb under braking dive up the inside into the chicane at Mallory Park and holding off the big lumbering behemoth of a BMW for the rest of the session, a victory I won’t be letting Chris forget for some time. I look forward to more trackdays in the summer so we can really put the CBR to the test, but first I feel some modifications coming on. Maybe some steel braided brake hoses or possibly a carb service to iron out a few of the small, character building splutters occasionally creeping in.