It’s no secret that the Tuning Fork brand and the Green Team are eating up middleweight-plus sized street fighter market share. Now American Honda wants a slice of this motorcycle pie with the CB650F ($8249), imported from the bustling streets of Europe (read our preview article). Paired alongside the returning, full-fairing and road-based CBR650F sportbike, Honda now has two affable flavors for around town sport fun.
Both bikes use Honda’s long-stroke 649cc liquid-cooled Inline Four for propulsion. This isn’t the same 16-valve screamer that powers the high-revving CBR6000RR supersport. Instead it trades the CBR’s track focused, race grade performance for a broader powerband with real world appeal.
It’s a delicate sweet spot that these CB-F machines balance well. Peppy but not overly so, the fuel-injected DOHC motor delivers a broad and useable spread of acceleration power. Honda says it benefits from different intake funnel stacks as well as subtle changes to the muffler which nets a more exhilarating sound inside the cockpit.
It certainly sounds more appealing than we remember, but isn’t as rocking as a Triple-cylinder platform. Still, we can never knock the classic sound, touch and feel of an Inline Four— after all, it’s the most popular engine configuration in the modern era of street bikes.
Big Red also says its massaged the gear ratios inside the six-speed transmission for more get up and go. Final drive gearing remains unchanged. The engine is within its sweet spot at all but redline-approaching rpm, and the gearbox meshes between cogs without flaw. The manual clutch has a pleasing but not overly heavy lever pull that will be welcomed by any type of rider. There’s no slipper clutch, however to be fair, we couldn’t notice when riding the optional ABS-equipped model.
The triple disc brake package responds with competence when either lever is pressed and either end gives enough feel to be useful, but not so much as to intimidate. The one-piece Nissin calipers appear high end— similar to their radial-mount counterparts, but mount conventionally to the fork. It certainly isn’t the end of the world, but a more rigid, race-bred setup would be preferred— especially when you consider its price point.
We do however appreciate the clean aesthetic appeal of the cross-drilled wave-type rotors and 12-spoke rims offering a more premium look. Another nice touch is the L-shaped valve stems making routine tire air pressure checks easier. Other notable styling details include the symmetrical four-into-one exhaust pipes — a nod to the original ‘70s era CB.
The CB bares more eye candy showing off its high-tech looking cylinders and engine cases— partially hidden on the full-fairing equipped CBR-F model. The naked bike’s front end is equally more risqué with the LED headlight getting all of the attention rather than the more generic body panels and windscreen of its brother. Though if freeway commutes are forecasted, you’ll appreciate the extra wind protection.
Both bikes share all-digital instrumentation set inside a faux-carbon fiber bezel. The left face houses speed and a horizontal bar graph style tachometer. On the right side there’s a clock, fuel level meter, plus associated trip and MPG stats. All the info is easy to read but a gear position indicator would be a nice addition. The display itself is also showing its age and would benefit from a more modern looking setup.
Aside from appearance, riding position is where these motorcycles stand apart. We appreciated the CB’s more upright aluminum handlebar as opposed to above the triple clamp clip-ons on the CBR-F. Either setup does a fair job of masking engine vibration but you can still feel some buzz at higher rpm.
The frame’s steel spars wrap over the Inline Four which facilitates a slim cockpit and a straighter shot for the rider’s legs. If you’re a shorter person then you’ll like sitting on this bike. Equally friendly for tall folks, the cockpit is proportioned well and the footpegs aren’t too high, nor too low with a pleasing overall riding position during our 160-mile test loop.
The seat is also extra squishy and complements the dual-bending-valve equipped Showa fork. The technology is similar to what The Motor Company uses on its 2018 Softail line-up and basically allows for improved fluid dynamics and control during compression and rebound stroke. There’s no damping adjustment but we didn’t ride hard enough to miss it. On grippy asphalt the OE-shod Dunlop D222 rubber performed admirably but considering its budget-oriented design its something we’d replace sooner rather than later.
Regardless of flavor, Honda has two capable steeds in its CB650 and CBR650F. We naturally gravitated toward the naked version, due in part to its tank top summer styling and upright ergos. As with many things in life, less is more, and the $500 savings isn’t bad either. However, if you need some additional wind protection and prefer sportbike style, then the CBR-F will be right up your alley.