The Honda CB650R & CBR650R inline-four twins are as desirable as they’re exorbitantly priced. But is the high premium justified, or has Honda made a costly mistake?
Gone are the days when Honda made docile and mild-mannered motorcycles. Now, for better or worse, most modern Hondas are not only audacious and feisty but also quite aggressive in terms of styling. Think of it as John Krasinski’s transformation from a charming Jim Halpert in The Office to a total badass in Jack Ryan.
The newly launched CB650R and CBR650R are fine examples of Honda’s rejuvenated line-up. Just look at them – they are deliciously tempting, aren’t they? On the one hand, you have an aggressive roadster in the CB, and on the other, you have the CBR – a sleek sports tourer. And while both are cut from the same cloth, their purposes are remarkably different.
So, how are the new 650 twins from Honda to ride? Good, great, or meh? To find out, we spent a few days with the new CB650R and CBR650R, headed out on a long road trip with the unlikely one of the two, put them through their paces in the city, and then wrapped up the test by thrashing the pair on some of our favourite hill roads.
So, let’s get cracking with our first impressions of the twins.
Same Ingredients, Different Gravy
For the most part, the CB and CBR are identical motorcycles, differentiated only by their clothing, or the lack of it. Both naked and fully-faired versions feature the same 650cc inline-4 engine, chassis, brakes, and suspension components. However, aesthetically, they both appeal to very different kinds of buyers.
Let’s start with the CB first. Jared thinks that it looks okay, which is a preposterous thing to say! I think the CB is absolutely stunning – it looks quite cool; icy, freezing kind of cool. The proportions are tight, and the ‘Neo Sports Café’ elements give it a modern, classy appearance. And then there are those four exposed parallel headers – it's mechanical art at its finest. The colour combination is yet another design highlight. The candy red with silver accents on the tank, bronze treatment on the engine casing and alloys, and golden forks – everything is so tastefully done. In terms of appearance and design, it would be fair to say that CB650R is the best-looking bike in its segment.
Having said that, I agree (with Jared) that it’s the CBR that draws more attention on the road. Unlike its predecessor – the CBR650F, which had a restrained design – the CBR650R’s styling is enthusiastically sporty. The sleek pair of LED lamps look sporty, the CBR moniker adds more flavour, and in a bright shade of red, it looks more Italian than Japanese. Part of the reason for this newfound aggression can be traced to the fact that its design is inspired by the last-gen Fireblade, which, as we all know, is the actual daddy of Honda’s sports bike range. Overall, the CBR650R unabashedly displays a bratty attitude, and I like it!
So, what’s not to like in terms of design? The saree guard on both motorcycles is an eyesore – it needs to be chucked right away. The instrument cluster – a basic monochrome LCD screen with blue backlit – works brilliantly at night, but in direct sunlight, its visibility can be an issue. Not to mention, it isn’t the fanciest of displays out there. Honda could have done better here, given the high price tags of these motorcycles.
Many of us have had our first big bike experience with an inline-four engine, which is probably why a majority of us identify a big bike with the shrill of a peaky four-pot motor. Thanks to its 649cc inline-four motor, which revs right up to 12,000rpm and produces a sweet howl while at it, this pair from Honda ticks the most basic requirements of being a big bike.
Next up, the performance. The engine develops 86bhp @ 12,000rpm and 57.5Nm @ 8,500rpm in both motorcycles. Although the numbers are respectable, these India-spec bikes are a bit short on power and torque compared to the versions sold in other countries – the same engine churns out 94bhp and 64Nm in global markets.
But if you ignore the numbers on the brochure and get going in the real world, chances are that you won’t notice those eight missing horses. The 650s are plenty quick. In fact, they offer decent poke at low-revs, which is impressive, given the peaky nature of inline-four engines. However, the throttle response at low speeds is a bit jerky, courtesy of a missing ride-by-wire throttle. In stop-go traffic or when you’re powering out of slow corners, the abrupt throttle response can be quite annoying.
Engine refinement isn’t this motor’s forte either. Between 6,000 and 8,000rpm, perceptible vibrations creep in through the handlebar and footpegs. I took the CB on an 800km road trip to hills, and at the end of the day, my palms and toes were still buzzing.
Now, if you rev the motor any higher – and why wouldn’t you when it can spin up to a freaking 12,000rpm – it’s unbelievably smooth and refined. Not to mention, the engine goes ballistic at higher rpm. In fact, the meat of the powerband lies between 8,000rpm and 12,000rpm. It’s just so addictive when the tach needle is sitting in this sweet spot.
As mentioned earlier, there’s no ride-by-wire throttle, which means no riding modes are on offer. You just get traction control, a slipper clutch, and dual-channel ABS. However, given how linear, predictable, and tamed the engine performance is, I don’t feel that riding modes are required.
The 6-speed gearbox is a gem. It’s buttery smooth, with spot-on gear-ratios. You can even ride at as low as 30km/h in 6th gear, and pull effortlessly from those speeds to all the way up to high triple-digit speeds without any delay or judder.
Even though both the CB and CBR use the same cycle parts, their paths are quite different. Starting with the naked version, it has a taller and wider handlebar and slightly rear-set pegs – the stance is sporty, but it’s not a backbreaker. The CBR, on the other, is relatively comfortable for a fully-faired motorcycle, but since the clip-on bars are positioned lower than that of the CB, you’ve to bend forward a fair bit. Over long rides, it does take a toll on your wrist. Surprisingly, I found the CB to be more accommodating and comfortable on highway runs. Sure, there’s a bit of windblast to deal with, but it’s manageable.
In the handling department, the 650 twins are pretty impressive and quite predictable. Despite weighing over 200kgs, these bikes feel light on their feet. Whether you’re snaking through hills roads or navigating through daily traffic, you’ll find them to be quite nimble. Even though the 41mm Showa Separate Function Big Fork (SFF-BP) is non-adjustable, it’s stiff enough to carve corners with great confidence and absorbent enough at soaking bumps.
The CB feels relatively livelier and more fun than the CBR, thanks to its wider and taller bars – it’s more willing to change direction, and quickly. Make no mistake, the CBR is as fun to throw around corners, but for a sports tourer, it’s a bit mild. Push it hard around corners, and you’ll immediately realise that isn’t the right Honda to channel your inner Marc Marquez with. It feels a bit soft even if you’re trying to go hard.
The braking force largely comes from Nissin’s 310mm dual discs at the front, with radially-mounted 4-piston callipers. Although I don’t have any complaints in terms of the braking performance, I do feel that the brake lever could do with a little more feedback. The Dunlop rubber offers decent grip on all surfaces, including wet roads, but, again, they don’t have a lot to offer in terms of feedback, especially when you’re pushing the bike hard around twisty roads. Plus, the rear tyre also tends to squirm and go out of shape under heavy braking.
The simple fact is that neither of these bikes is perfect. But then no bike ever is, or ever will be. So, let’s look at what works for these bikes and what does not.
There are several aspects of the Honda 650s that I simply adore, including their styling, quality, performance, handling, and fuss-free nature. And since they are Hondas, they’re likely to run trouble-free for a lifetime, and then some. Maintenance costs are also very reasonable for both bikes. Overall, you can say that these two Hondas have almost all the things that you’d possibly want from a motorcycle. Except one, and it’s a big one – yup, I am talking about the value for your money.
The CB650R and CBR650R are priced at ₹8.67 lakh and ₹8.89 lakh, respectively. As great and irresistible as they are, the asking price is quite high even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Honda fanboy. To give you some perspective, the CB650R costs a whole ₹1.72 lakh more than its direct rival, the Triumph Trident 660. Is the Honda a better motorcycle? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, the kind of premium it demands is still quite ridiculous. And, sadly, that’s not where it ends. The CB650R is even more expensive than the bigger and more powerful Kawasaki Z900 (₹8.34 lakh). Also, it’s priced dangerously close to the likes of the Triumph Street Triple R and BMW F 900 R, which offer more oomph than the little Honda any day.
Now, you can justify the high price tag of the CBR650R because of the fact that it’s the only fully-faired inline-4 motorcycle in the segment. So, if you’ve always dreamt of owning a sports bike as a kid, you may find the CBR650R an attractive proposition.
Now, for me, the CB650R is a lost cause. Why? Well, when you put such a high price tag on a motorcycle without any real justification, it automatically puts the product out of consideration for a majority of buyers. That’s what peeves me about the CB650R, especially because it’s a genuinely great and desirable motorcycle, and if it was priced right, I’d happily recommend it, or maybe buy it for myself in a heartbeat. But every time I check its price tag, it drives me crazy!
Okay, I get that Honda has to pay Marquez big euros in salary. And I believe it’s totally justified, for he’s a generational talent. But all I’m saying is that the company shouldn’t entirely rely on customers’ pockets to fill Marquez’s coffers. Quite unfair for us lot, isn’t it?
- 2021 Honda CBR650R & CB650R
Engine: 649cc / Inline-4 / Liquid-Cooled
Power: 86bhp @ 12,000rpm
Torque: 57.5Nm @ 8,500rpm
Price: CB650R - ₹8.67 lakh (Ex-Showroom) ; CBR650R - ₹8.89 lakh (Ex-Showroom)
X-Factor: Stunning design, amazing performance and sublime handling - the Honda 650 twins are fun machines with bullet-proof reliability.
• Stunning Neo-Retro design
• Sublime Performance
• Sporty looks