Review: Honda CB650F

Beautifully finished and has the air of quality you'd expect in a Honda
Beautifully finished and has the air of quality you'd expect in a Honda
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THIS is a bike not just made for younger riders, but made by them too. Honda’s development team was made up entirely of 20-somethings. But the CB650F has no easy task. It has to replace both the dependable novice-friendly CBF600N and the much-loved CB600F Hornet middleweight.

The young team has done a superb job on the looks. The CB650F is enchanting, especially in the “tricolore” paint scheme, where the gold coloured six-spoked wheels really come into their own along with the forward 
biased styling, broad shoulders and the light, tapered rear.

The mirrors are easy to position and offer a good, broad view and the digital dash is easy to read and relatively informative, although it doesn’t have a gear indicator. The aluminium cast swingarm is neat, and the parallel, slightly bent to the right exhaust pipes are a nostalgic nod to the old CB series. The bike’s styling and finish actually makes it look far more expensive than its £6,399 price tag.

At first glance, the 650F is a worthy successor to the popular Hornet. Its extra 49cc promises extra torque and usability. But you can only adjust the suspension’s rear spring preload, and the predecessor’s four piston calipers have been replaced by the cheaper, two-piston, yet adequate, Nissins.

The 649cc in-line four cylinder engine whirs discreetly to life and the gearchanges are buttery smooth, but the clutch isn’t easy to feed in which can lead to a slightly jerky sensation. It’s no deal breaker, but it isn’t the instantly familiar and reassuring Honda feel you might expect from the Japanese perfectionists. That said, the CB remains a comfortable introductory motorcycle.

The riding position is roomy and there is still enough contact with the 208kg bike and its 17.3-litre tank to inspire confidence, especially for novices. The new 650 punches out of the starting blocks with more conviction than a 600cc inline four, but from there on out, it feels less alert than Yamaha’s MT-07 or Kawasaki’s 636 Ninja.

It has a tractable and forgivable engine, you can take a roundabout in sixth gear without the bike bogging down in protest, but it won’t leap into action when you snatch the throttle back on the exit. The power delivery is elastic rather than explosive, with a useable midrange that together with an effortless six-speed gearbox allows you to make smooth, efficient progress.

Compared to the Hornet, the CB650F does lack a bit of character. The power curve has been ironed out by bulking up the bottom of the rev range and amputating the top end, resulting in a smooth graduation of torque. It’s certainly practical, but riders thinking of switching from the Hornet might miss its dual personality that encourages you to work its gearbox and then rewards you with a top end rush of power.

The Spanish test route I rode consisted of well over a hundred miles of pure, unadulterated twisties, glazed in the finest, grippiest asphalt imaginable. It’s the sort of environment that makes any middleweight feel as agile as a BMX and the CB650F is no exception.

It may not be as featherlight as the compact MT-07 or ER-6n parallel-twins but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the Honda’s handling feels more neutral as a result. Together with the softly-damped suspension that’s comfortable and communicative, the CB is ideal for riders who have yet to master the art of throwing a bike on its ear and dealing with the consequences.

If you are more experienced, you’ll notice that even at a relatively lively pace, the front end remains quite stable while the back sways gently, indicating that the suspension clearly favours a more moderate ride.

Newcomers looking for a reliable, unintimidating first bike can’t go far wrong with the CB650F. It is beautifully finished and has the same air of quality you would expect to find in any Honda. What it doesn’t have however is the Hornet’s sting in the tail. By comparison the riding experience feels slightly basic and alongside the MT-07 and ER-6n, the CB650F lacks the fizz and sparkle of youth. Which is a shame, as that’s exactly who Honda is aiming to attract.

VITAL STATS

PRICE £6,399

ENGINE 649cc 87bhp 46.5 lb ft

KERB WEIGHT 208kg

SEAT HEIGHT 810mm

FUEL CAPACITY 17.3 litres