Touring Sport: Scotland on a Honda CBR650F
|Cam (right) and me before heading out on Scotland’s North Coast 500 route. My clothes were still wet from riding up to Scotland the day before.|
Down in England and through the gridlock of Glasgow the bike had filtered through traffic with stunning ease. Riding the NC 500 it’s handled every sweeping curve, every hairpin turn, every wide-open straight, every crawling village lane. On the fifth day, we hit the infamous Applecross pass. The bike is so steady I’m able to do a section no-handed. This has the opposite of the desired effect. Instead of calming Cam’s nerves (he’s following me down and feeling stressed) he panics about the both of us.
Cam’s riding a Suzuki DL650 V-Strom, which has a 20-liter (5.2 U.S. gal.) tank. The Honda has a 17.3-liter (4.5 US gal.) tank but the two of us are needing to fill up at roughly the same time. Ridden prudishly, the CBR650F’s fuel economy is mystical. Ridden like a goof by someone who loves the tight roar of its engine at high revs, it still delivers a solid 190 miles before the fuel light.
Lubing the chain without a center- or paddock stand is a pain in the caboose, but people with far more expensive motorcycles face the same challenge. Cleaning the bike is simple enough, though I’d worry about the fairing’s stick-on graphics coming off over time. Checking tire pressure is relatively easy; access to valves is uncomplicated and the bike light enough I can muscle wheels into position.
|Inverness Castle marks the official starting point of the North Coast 500.|
On the sixth day, Cam and I stop for lunch north of Perth. From here we’ll go our separate ways: he back to Glasgow, me taking a slow route south via Northumberland National Park.
“So, what’s your assessment of the bike” he asks. “Sick of it yet?”
“No,” I say. “I’m pleasantly surprised. That dash annoys me. And I feel the frame welds and fairing decals are tacky, but that’s really about it as far as downsides.”
The decals are my second biggest complaint. They’re just stickers, looking like they’ve been slapped on as an afterthought. In “matte gunpowder black” with “candy rosy red,” though, the bike is overall gorgeous. With only one more day in my possession, I’m feeling sad about not getting to stare at it much longer.
That night I stay in a hotel and can see the parking garage from my room. I go back down to the garage and move the bike to the top level so I can sit and look at it from afar. There’s something about the CBR650F’s look that says: “Someone cool rides this bike.”
Beyond the decals, all the bits and bobs are up to the standard I’d expect from Honda. Which means you could ride this thing around the world six times before needing to adjust the chain. OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get my drift. Certain bits are plasticky –– this is an affordable bike, after all –– but it should all last a long time.
My final hours with the CBR650F are spent covering 100 miles of motorway on an unusually cold morning. The bike is out-maneuvering everything else on the road and handily keeping pace with the Audis and BMWs that try to muscle their way down the A1. Zipping through traffic I’m able to hit gaps I wouldn’t think of attempting on my own bike. The Honda has so much zing, fluidity, and ability to dance.
This bike really has done everything I’ve asked of it. I’ll be honest: it hasn’t cured me of my desire for technological and comfort whizzbangery, but I’ve really, really enjoyed my time on it. Meanwhile, the aftermarket offers all kinds of bike-specific accessories to help transform the CBR650F into something more tour-ready (add a set of Shad panniers and it will definitely look the part). No, two people wouldn’t be happy crossing the continent on such a rig, but an individual may find it’s everything he or she wants.
|Cam (right) and me at John O’Groats – the furthest point north on mainland Britain.|
I wish I could test this theory. I’d like to kit this bike out with hard panniers, a top box, heated grips, and a new screen, and ride it to Vladivostok. But too quickly I arrive at Honda HQ and am handing over the keys.
“I’ll go fish your bike out of the [garbage] bin,” the Honda rep says.
The Three Questions
1) Does the Honda CBR650F fit my current lifestyle?
For the most part, yes. If I had a version of this bike that was fully kitted out with all the aftermarket bells and whistles I could easily live with this thing as my everyday, all-the-time, go-everywhere bike. But it would fail completely to serve as transportation for both myself and my wife; our spontaneous trips to Devon would be no more.
2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Definitely. This thing has a fluidity and lightness that instantly feels right. It makes a great noise when revved hard but also provides effortless, genteel handling through urban situations.
3) Is it better than my current bike?
No. The Honda’s a lot of fun, and if you hit it hard with an aftermarket-accessories hammer it could be damned useful, but it’s simply not better than the ‘Strom. That was instantly clear to me when I got back on my bike after riding through cold morning traffic. On the Honda I had been aching and losing feeling in my hands from the chill. On the ‘Strom I was warm, comfortable, confident, felt I had power more readily accessible (the ‘Strom hits peak torque at roughly 4500 rpm, after all), and, with the Givi AirFlow screen to protect me and my heated grips to warm me, I was much happier.