The CBR marked a turning point for the Japanese manufacturer. No longer was the spotlight aimed firmly at the Superbike category, that class now had to share the stage with the Supersport boys, and it wasn’t long before the CBR had some serious competitors. Of course the Honda was the result of Kawasaki’s bold move in the mid capacity class with its GPz600R of 1985, but that machine was still stuck in the time warp between the two decades, whereas the Honda was looking well ahead to the future with no hint at what had gone before it. The result was a machine that felt right no matter what you wanted to do with it, ride it within an inch of its life with your chin firmly planted to the tank and it rode like a racer, or simply potter about in the urban scene and the CBR behaved like the best of commuters, it was a performance tour de force that caught the opposition unawares, and for some time too.
The Honda is just a complete package and everything works in unison to make every process relatively seamless and certainly effortless. The CBR is so laid back at the art of going fast it is almost taking the mickey, no fuss no commotion, just speed and plenty of it. A handful of gas here, a fist full of brakes there, run wide or go in too deep and the Honda handles it all with little more than shrug. When pushed to the absolute limit, the standard suspension does start to lose its composure, this is a zone one would rarely venture into on the road however, but easily sorted, with a bit of set up time and a change of fork oil The nearest machine from the period that can compare to the CBR is another Honda, the VFR750R, a machine once again comfortable to be on and deceptively fast.
The CBR600 looks the part even at a stand still, the smooth flowing plastics and overall business like air gives nothing other than the impression that this baby knows its way around a race track or twisty B road. Any sort of crash damage no matter how minor looking can prove expensive beyond belief, the Honda, though tough looking, is a fragile beast once its clothes are ruffed up a shade. The bracketry that holds the all-encompassing plastics, is easily moved out of alignment, requiring either specialist care, or more likely, replacement fittings. Look out for misalignment of the fairing panels, particularly where the upper fairing meets the lower, as this is a good sign of the main front stay having been twisted at some point in the bikes life.
Overall, Honda got the idea spot on from the very first CBR, even with the F1’s cross ply, skinny tyres, it still handles in a respectable manner. Every subsequent version, year on year, has harnessed the latest in technology and used it to great effect creating a real legend that still lives on today.
On the bike, the feel is not the expected head down and bum up stance that the design would have you believe, for such a focussed sports machine the overriding initial impression is one of the middle ground, especially seating wise. The bars are high and the seat heavily scalloped to make the seating position more tourer than scratcher, much more VFR than what we have come to expect from a CBR, this works superbly on the road making for a relaxed yet very speedy ride when the conditions allow it. The seating position enabled most riders to comfortably get down behind the screen for high speed work, while also doing a great job of a sports tourer for the times when sitting up and chilling out are necessary. The first of the CBR F2 series, the FM seen here, takes the basic ethos laid out by the F1 and builds on it in all of the weak areas not that there are many of them. Claiming a true 100bhp, the first roadster 600 to do so, albeit at the crank rather than at the rear wheel, the CBR made light work of the opposition and is still an impressive package today.
Compared to the spindly tyres of the early F1 model, the F2, with its radial rubber, is bang on the money, it is light, handles sweetly, if a little loose footed at times and performs with an all round confidence. The brakes could be better, the twin piston floating calipers are good, with plenty of feel, but lack initial bite and power when compared to similar machinery from the period and beyond.
At speed, the CBR never appears to be doing anything beyond its capabilities, the rider can stay right up with, and even in front of, the proceedings, such is the manner that the middle weight Honda goes about its business. This attribute is one of the main reasons the CBR stole the mantle back from the Yamaha FZR in 1990, a bike just as fast as the CBR but with less feedback making its presence felt to the rider and the end result is a sharper but less friendly machine. The CBR by comparison won many friends from a wide range of riding abilities, it being able to cosset the inexperienced and ride like the best of them when piloted by a road or track warrior.
There is plenty of good clean examples around today, a mix of huge numbers sold and Honda legendary build quality, and despite being long in the tooth most will still hold its own against much newer models. Expect worn rear suspension and weeping fork seals but these are plentiful and cheap to fix too. Do look out for signs of race use, after all this model of CBR launched many a race career, so avoid drilled sump plugs, crash rash, and after market bodywork, unless the price is very low.
Honda CBR600F Model history
Some machines in history follow or reinforce trends while others simply start the ball rolling. The CBR is definitely in the latter category having been designed on a clean sheet of paper with one thing in mind, to create the very best middleweight. The opposition was stiff, but totally unprepared for Honda’s latest baby.
It is 1987, and Honda have finally given up feeding the masses V4 powered sports bikes. The idea never did fully catch, on as the performance differences were too few to justify the huge hike in both technology and cost. The answer lay in a series of across the frame fours, the flagship of which being the relatively ill-fated CBR1000, and its smaller sibling, the CBR600, their two destinies could not have been more different.
The CBR handled better, turned faster, stopped quicker than all of the opposition while looking every bit the racer on the road too, leaving the GPz and others trailing in its wake. When Honda first released the CBR, the world wasn’t quite ready for such a package and it took some time for the others to catch up, they eventually did and this started a war that is still running every bit as fiercely today.
In 1990, the F2 followed the first model, and it is this machine that really paved the way for the 90s and beyond, using much of the technology that was also being earmarked for the all-new CBR900RR Fireblade due for release two years later, the CBR600 was a very advanced package. The cylinder block was cast as part of the upper crank casing to save size and weight while the redline was increased to 13,000rpm.
The capacity was increased, albeit by a whopping 1cc, but more importantly the bore and stroke changed from a long stroke 63 x 48mm to a more squat and higher revving 67 x 42.5mm. These changes alone saw the power raise enough to beat the current opposition and became an important part in making the CBR the perfect all rounder. The F2 model remained relatively unchanged for the next five years, minor cosmetic changes were evident but the power plant remained at the top of its game throughout.
Honda CBR600 timeline
1987 January CBR600FH
Chassis number PC19-2000017
The very first of the CBR series, the F1 was introduced in this year. The sucked sweet look and compact design was ground breaking, it looked identical to the larger CBR1000 only in miniature.
1988 October CBR600 FK
Chassis number PC23-2000144
Modifications to the engine and bigger carburettors saw an increase in power
1989 December CBR600 FL
Chassis number PC23-2100659
The unforgettable Benetton painted version, thankfully it didn’t last too long in the product range and disappeared after one year.
1991 January CBR600 FM
Chassis number PC25-2000059
Total update was seen for this year, beefier forks, a completely redesigned engine and an all-new steel chassis sharpened the already capable CBR.
1992 January CBR600 FN
Chassis number PC25-22100030
New graphics was all that was deemed necessary to keep the CBR at the top of its game.
1992 November CBR600 FP
Chassis number PC25-2201237
Basically the same as the FM but with more adjustment added to the rear shock and front forks.
1993 December CBR600 FR
Chassis number PC25-2300751
Nothing more than a redesign in the graphics department
1994 December CBR600 FS
Chassis number PC31-2000062
An increase in compression sees the power rise even further as the competition gets nearer. Floating front discs are also added to improve the braking power.
1995 November CBR600 FT
Chassis number PC31A-TM000001
New colour schemes are added but little in the way of actual mechanical improvements.
1996 November CBR600 FV
Chassis number PC31A-VM100001
A complete update across the whole machine. New suspension and bodywork make for a machine able to re-establish its place at the very forefront of the supersport class.
1997 November CBR600 FW
Chassis number PC31A-WM200001
The FV underwent a paint job to become the FW ready for the 98 season, a big change was around the corner though.
1998 November CBR600 FX
An all-new aluminium beam framed model was introduced marking the end of the original concept. It also featured an all new engine and overall design but still looked like a CBR600 should.
Honda CBR600F FM Specifications
- Engine – four-cylinder liquid-cooled inline-four DOHC
- Capacity – 599cc
- Bore/stroke – 65 x 45.2mm
- Power – 89.9 bhp @ 11,600rpm
- Torque – 44.9 ft-Ibs @ 9960 rpm
- Carburetion – 4 x Keihin CV34mm
- Transmission – 6-speed, wet clutch, chain final drive
- Frame – square section steel, alloy swing arm
- Suspension – 41mm telescopic forks adjustable damping. Pro Link single rear shock adjustable pre load and compression damping
- Brakes – 276 mm disc twin-piston floating-calipers. 220 mm disc single-piston floating-caliper
- Wheels – 120/60 x 17 160/60 x 17
- Weight – 205kgs
- Top speed – 148mph
- Wheelbase – 1405mm
- Fuel capacity – 16ltrs
Honda CBR600F Gallery