One platform provides two rather different motorcycles with the 2019 Honda CB650R and CBR650R
Today’s economic climate dictates you need to do more with less. I don’t know any of my mates who are given free reigns with budgets, regardless of what industry it is they’re in. The bike game is no different. Manufacturers want the most bang possible for their buck, with many spreading a single mechanical platform across multiple machines—think Ducati Monster/Scrambler, Yamaha MT/Tracer, Kawasaki Ninja 400/Z400, BMW S1000RR/XR/S1000R.
Honda is no different, and for the 2018 model year, it did the same with a naked and sport bike version of their venerable 649cc inline four-cylinder with the CB650F and CBR650F.
That F version only lasted one year in CB guise in the U.S., used as a stop-gap model because Honda was busy working behind the scenes on its new Neo-Sports Café line-up that includes the Honda CB1000R and the Honda CB300R—all new machines for 2019.
Likewise, the CBR650R is restyled for this year, but instead of being the second in the chain of command, the 650R sits at the top of the CBR-R family that includes the 500R and the single-cylinder 300R—the CBR-RR sport bike range (CBR1000RR and CBR600RR) is marketed entirely separate to these street bikes.
Photography by Kevin Wing
Same but different—2019 Honda CB650R and CBR650R
Technically, there’s really not a lot to separate them. Both bikes come with a revised 649cc, inline four-cylinder motor that includes a new piston shape, valve timing, a 1000 rpm higher rev ceiling to just over 12,000 rpm and a new slipper clutch Honda says offers a 12 percent reduction in operation load.
The most significant differences between the two engines is the CBR gets a ram intake for stronger top-end power, while the CB receives an upgrade of dual intake ducts compared to the single of the F model.
On the chassis side, both machines utilize the same steel twin-spar frame that’s a claimed 4.2 pounds lighter than in 2018, with the pivot plate now stamped instead of forged. Stamping the steal helps reduce the weight, but it also allows a degree of flexibility in the metal that forged does not. As neither of these bikes are race bikes and thus not subject to huge cornering loads with stiffness a huge priority, stamping the chassis rather than forging it is a cheaper and still effective method of construction.
Honda also revised the engine hanger with a new cross pipe and shortened the seat rail by 60mm, putting the rider’s weight closer to the center of the motorcycle. That’s a significant part of the new CB/CBR platform—both machines are aimed to be a little sportier, with the ergonomics now more aggressive thanks to slightly lower bars, a sharper seat angle, and pegs that have been moved somewhat rearward and up.
The suspension comes from Showa with its non-adjustable 41mm Separate Function Fork (SFF) and a rear shock that gets preload adjustment, but nothing else. The brakes across both bikes are also the same, with Nissin giving up its dual 310mm floating discs and four-piston radial mount calipers, stopping five-spoke wheels that are a claimed single pound lighter front and rear.
Electronics play a role in the CB/CBR platform but not as much as some competitors. There’s no variable riding maps, no cruise control and no quickshifter; instead, there’re adjustable traction control, ABS, and a gear indicator. Traction control comes in the form of Honda’s Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) that you can select on the fly by just closing the throttle and hitting the switch on the left bar.
Interestingly, both machines come with either TC and ABS, or none at all. You can’t buy a CB/CBR with ABS and no TC, or TC and no ABS. If you buy one, you get both, and ABS is on all the time.
Testing the 2019 Honda CBR650R
If you squint a little, you’d swear the CBR650R was the 2017 Honda CBR1000RR. The CBR650R has come in for a pretty substantial facelift and is now angled much more towards the big daddy Honda superbike, with LED lighting flanked by a much more aggressive top fairing design. It’s even got the same colors as that 2017 RR.
The CBR650R is much more traditional Honda with its race-replica presence compared to the new Neo-Sports design of the CB. Those that have ridden the old gold that was the 600Fi from the late ’90s will probably appreciate this bike because this is the kind of bike the Supersport class was originally built on before it got, you know, too supersporty.
Compared to the old 2018 CBR, this 2019 edition has come in for a handy nine pounds reduction in overall mass for the non-ABS version and 11.6 pounds off the model with ABS. This, combined with the more sports-focused riding position with the rider’s wrists lower and ’pegs higher and further back, will ensure the CBR is a solid machine for those looking to get in on sportbike riding at the ground level. It’s a very unintimidating machine to ride, offering a nice compromise between an admittedly rather slow CBR300R and a possibly too fast CBR600RR.
The 650R’s power is about as progressive as a mid-size four-cylinder can be. Honda’s taken out much of the jump in power that comes as revs begin to surge towards 10K+ figures, which will be of great benefit for newer or less experienced riders. It’s not slow, but it’s not going to rip your arms out with sheer power, either.
On the suspension front, you don’t have the same compliance for high-speed riding as you’d expect on something like the 600RR. It’s pretty soft front and rear, and although there’s preload on the back-end, I’m unsure how good this would be as a two-up bike.
The suspension action is smooth and progressive, but a little budget in overall feel. Like the motor, the suspension offers a smooth and comfortable ride that will allow the rider to explore the outer limits of their performance, while still getting plenty of feedback for when things get a little too wild.
The CBR650R should prove a brilliant machine for first-time sportbike riders as it’s about as unintimidating a bike of this class can be. Plus, it looks gnarly in the metal so that you won’t get sick of the aesthetic any time soon.
Testing the 2019 Honda CB650R
When we tested the CB1000R back in September of last year, we loved it. When we tested the CB300R a month earlier in August, we loved that, too. The reason we liked both bikes so much was that Honda used a bit of imagination with their Neo-Sports Café range, employing some (for Honda, at least) abstract thinking in how the bikes look and the feeling they give to the rider.
I’d like to surprise you and say I didn’t love the CB650R, but then I’d be lying. Whereas the 1000 is a big boy’s toy and the 300 is for the kids, the 650 gives a lovely mix of power, size, and style, with the exposed, slanted header pipes and bronze accents on the top and bottom of the motor and wheels.
The CB is more a styling exercise than anything, and Honda is all the better for it. However, the proof is always in the ride, and when I shared the two bikes with my colleague Adam Waheed, both of us were fighting over who got to ride the CB over the CBR.
The CBR can feel a touch cramped if you’re north of six feet tall, but the CB’s more relaxed stance makes for a much more comfortable ride and one that allows the rider to take command of the situation. You get plenty of leverage with the CB’s single flat bar, and there’s very little weight slanted forward even though this particular edition is sportier than the 2018 model.
One area I wasn’t enamored with either model was the front brake. There’s enough power on offer, but the feeling is a little wooden in application. Both machines use a pretty old-school master-cylinder, but you can at least adjust the lever span, so that’s something.
Like the CBR, the CB has dropped nine and 11 pounds for the ABS/non-ABS machines and the suspension is on the soft side, but it’s more suited to the given application. The ride is a little more relaxed with the CB, so the overly stiff suspension would take away from the experience.
I have a feeling that the 650 will become the top seller of the three Neo-Sport Café CB machines. Even though I’d have loved to see the CB come in on the lower side of $8000, it’s still a very solid machine from Honda. CN
2019 Honda CB650R and CBR650R Specifications
||$9399/ $9899 ABS; $8,899/ $9199 ABS
||DOHC, 4-valve, inline, 4-cylinder
|Bore x stroke:
||67 x 46mm
||Steel twin-spar frame
||41mm inverted Showa Separate Function Fork (SFF)
||Showa single shock w/ adjustable preload
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
||Dual 4-piston, radial-mount Nissin hydraulic calipers w/ 310mm floating discs; 2-channel; ABS optional
||Single one-piston hydraulic caliper w/ 240mm disc; 2-channel; ABS optional
||447 lbs./445 lbs. (wet, claimed)