Honda CBR 650F: Good product, bad market

Unless you are extremely anti-social and live under a rock in a remote area, it is likely that you have got friends. And if you love motorcycles, it is likely that you have friends that share the love with you. One such friend showed up at my home one morning with a Honda CBR 650F that he had for review. He needed some photographs of the motorcycle (and himself, while posing on it) and I needed to speed up the weekend morning. I had a go at the motorcycle and spent few hours in the saddle riding in traffic as well as wide open roads. Here is my list of likes and dislikes:

Honda CBR650F

Likes

Ride quality

Move up the food chain a bit and you will find two kinds of motorcycle owners. The first kind stack up pennies to buy the motorcycle they love and then use it for everything. From weekend rides to office commute and everything in between. The second kind of owners wrap their bottoms in leather every Sunday morning, gather near AIIMS and ride on NH8 till Manesar, have their breakfast while bragging about their motorcycles and head back home by 11 AM. For the first kind of owners, the CBR 650F is certainly going to be comfortable in day-to-day riding without being too soft for some high speed highway sprints. The suspension is just right and the riding posture is comfortable, exactly what you need on a sports tourer.

Power delivery

Honda CBR650F

The CBR 650F could very well be the first big motorcycle for many riders and such riders usually want a motorcycle that is unintimidating during the early days while still having enough juice to keep them entertained for years. The CBR 650F delivers on that bit. The power delivery is very linear and while the progress is very quick, it isn’t intimidating at any point of time. The last big motorcycle I rode before the CBR 650F was a Street Triple almost six months earlier and yet it didn’t take me more than five minutes to get comfortable with the CBR 650F. The engine delivers power like you would expect a four cylinder to do, near the top, yet there is plenty of usable power at low end without any surprises. And when I decided to give it guns, it managed to easily pull me till 170-180 before the progress started to dilute a bit. It continued to climb but at 200 I decided it was enough.

Good brakes

Thankfully the high speed sport touring package also comes with some good rubber and even better brakes. I don’t know how big the brakes are and if there are any special jargons associated with them but it has adequate braking power for what it is capable of. It comes with ABS too and the only time it kicked in was when I was braking much harder than required to check the limits, and then too only on the rear wheel. The wheels come wrapped with Dunlop rubber which performed reasonably well for me. However I didn’t really push it to the limits so if someone went corner carving on the CBR 650F, please share your experiences.

Looks

Honda CBR650F side

As much as we say that looks don’t make a lot of difference, somewhere deep down we want our motorcycles to look pretty and stand out of the crowd. However, in a country like India, it is better to be discreet so that every blithering idiot in skinny jeans isn’t clicking selfies on your motorcycles. Thankfully, the 650F manages to strike the right balance. It looks like you have written a fat cheque if you look closely yet manages to go unnoticed at times. It doesn’t exactly look as flashy as the Z800 or Versys 650 but just the right amount of flashy. 180 mm rear tyre, large dimensions, full fairing are all good bits without going overboard.

Dislikes

Console

First things first, digital tachometers are boring. Now that I said it, there is lot more wrong with the console and overall first impression of this motorcycle. It doesn’t feel much different from, say a Yamaha R15. No gear indicator, no fancy bits of information. The plastics look and feel pretty average too. Now when I am writing this, I can’t really think of anything that I would like to add there but it just didn’t feel like it belonged to a 650cc four cylinder machine.

There are other elements that stick out. It gets standard, right way up, telescopic forks on the front. No USD forks! The crankcase is a bit too fat and sticks out unusually on one side and right there is almost 10 cms of clutch wire, naked, exposed to the elements.

Horn and indicator

This is the most annoying bit on this motorcycle. For some reason unfathomable to mankind, the Japanese people thought it would be a good idea to swap horn and indicator switch. You don’t want to turn on the indicator when a teenager with iPhone jumps in front of you. You want to honk but it won’t let you because the horn button isn’t where it should be. On top of that, the horn button presses from the inside and not the outside which means you need a thumb as long as your middle finger to use it easily. Maybe the owners will get used to it but the transition won’t be smooth considering it would be a practice of decades for most of them.

Agility

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“Sports tourer” has a sport right there. Which means it should corner, and it does. It is planted through corners and manages to follow directions but isn’t very agile. Nothing really wrong here but I had higher expectations. Another problem is the position of footpegs. I personally like that because the whole six feet three inches of me can fit without the knees approaching to kiss the indicators. However, it also means that they are sitting low and you won’t like that at all on a track day. Some might say that I am expecting it to do everything but isn’t it what this motorcycle is about?

Price

If you are fat, stupid and your father has got some current accounts, you will buy a Harley Davidson Iron. If you have had your affair with any of the bigger KTMs on sale in India, you will outgrow this motorcycle very quickly. If you are looking for something to tour on, the Versys 650 makes a strong case. If you are looking for a discrete big capacity motorcycle, you can pick the Bonneville. If you want looks and power and all the loud and flashy stuff with the four cylinder orchestra, you can pick the Z800. Who exactly is going to buy the CBR 650F then? Priced north of eight lac, it pokes the Z800 in the bottom which is meaner, greener and more powerful. While it is an excellent package, it just has too much competition around it. It is good at so many things but the others are better at some things, the things people seem to like.

Overall it is a good motorcycle. Very close to what anyone upgrading to a bigger motorcycle expects from his or her motorcycle. Yet it fails to evoke emotions and dare I say it, lacks a character. It is just too neutral and Honda is asking a lot of money for water. All of a sudden it feels like CBR 250 fighting against the likes of Duke 390 and RC 200. So there you have it. If you have anything to add, don’t forget to drop a comment or tweet @the_motonomad.

 

Akshay Sharma