In-line fours have a special place in the heart of all motorcyclists. Today, our first shot at owning one is the Honda CB650R.
At the mention of a big bike, the first thing that comes to my mind is an engine that has four cylinders, regardless of how they are arranged. Four pistons need to be hammering away in harmony to develop a ton of horsepower and a soundtrack worth listening to if it is to be the definitive sport bike.
There was a big gap in Honda’s CB range in India — from the CB300R all the way to the mighty CB1000R — a hiatus that could be filled by a motorcycle that is fast enough to be fun yet friendly enough to lend itself to everyday riding. The CB650R came along in 2021 and occupied that space quite well, giving us a chance to own an in-line four earlier in the price range.
The CB650R is the zenith for those who want to upgrade to the world of multi-cylinder machinery. There is something undeniably cool and mature about the sight of four gleaming exhaust header pipes running down the front of the engine. Leaving that untouched, the designers at Honda have built the rest of the CB around it and to good effect.
The round LED headlamp, sculpted tank, and the minimal tail section are all elements that are consistent with their “Neo Sports Café” styling shared by the entire CB range, but the CB650R with its twin air intakes and large 15.4-litre metal tank looks closer to the 1000R than the 300R. The second half of the motorcycle is minimal in comparison and the rear is rounded off in big-bike fashion by a chunky 180-section tyre and a thin tail-tidy. Furthermore, Honda have done a phenomenal job of combining their trademark maroon colour with bronze-gold accents on the clutch and crankcase covers, rounding the whole thing off tastefully with a darker shade of bronze for the wheels. Overall, the CB650R packs the aggression and drama of a naked streetfighter into a classy and elegant package.
Even with the seat 810 millimetres off the ground, most riders can comfortably place both feet on the ground and the pillion seat is also quite reasonable. The riding position is sporty yet comfortable because, although the foot-pegs are high and rear-set, the well-padded seat and wide handlebar take a lot of load off the wrists. Over the course of a fast ride from Mumbai to Pune, I experienced no body ache and only had to deal with the fatigue that comes from cruising at triple-digit speeds with no wind protection. Being a naked motorcycle, you are always starring in a first-person video game every time you go for a ride with almost nothing of the motorcycle in front of you. A downward glance will reveal the thin, bare-bones LCD console that displays the essentials.
There is not much to show, anyway, because this CB is just about as raw as it gets these days. The only electronic aids on offer are traction control and ABS and the former can be switched off should you feel like relying completely on your skill with the throttle. The other oddities of this motorcycle are also on the left side of the switchgear; the horn, indicator, and traction control switches are all in places where they are unlikely to be. All that apart, everything you touch on the Honda feels premium and of good quality, from the switchgear and foot levers to the welding on the chassis.
The CB650R draws motive force from a 648.72-cc, liquid-cooled, in-line four-cylinder engine that develops 87 hp at 12,000 rpm and a peak torque of 57.5 Nm at 8,500 rpm while being mated to a six-speed transmission. It cranks over easily and settles into a menacing hum that easily betrays its sporty intentions without being obscenely loud. The CB doles out pleasant tunes all across the board and, more importantly, at the right time. The induction roar when the throttle is opened is addictive and purposeful and the motorcycle barely makes any noise when it is just cruising through the city. Open the taps and this Honda roars through to its red-line with compounding urgency, clearly demarcating each 1,000-rpm increment as it gathers speed, making for an extremely enticing soundtrack through the four-into-one exhaust system.
The best part about the CB650R is that it is 100 per cent usable. The fuelling is smooth and the acceleration is approachable yet engaging. This motorcycle will coax even a beginner into fully exploiting its potential and will be a potent machine in the hands of an expert. The multi-cylinder engine’s flexibility at low rpm and its combination with the well-spaced transmission and short final gearing make it extremely usable even in low-speed urban conditions. While following the camera crew’s car through the busy city of Mumbai, I had the CB rolling along in sixth gear with no fuss whatsoever. It pulls from as low as 2,000 rpm in top gear, from as slow as 35 km/h, and things only get
better when you open it up. When one wants to run the tacho needle to the red-line through each gear and use all of this motorcycle’s horses, the CB responds eagerly to that too without warping one’s mind. A nice wave of torque allows it to pick up pace through the gears while the soundtrack encourages one to continue the behaviour. The only chink in the refinement manifests sharply upwards of 6,000 rpm where vibrations creep in at the foot-pegs and at the base of the fuel-tank. Rather unexpected from a Honda.
At 206 kilograms, the CB is not the lightest motorcycle around but, being well-balanced, it hardly affects its agility while manoeuvring through traffic. Some of that weight does make itself felt in the corners but not to a degree that compromises the fun of going around them. The CB650R requires some muscling to tip into a turn but once on the line, it is easily capable of carrying a good deal of pace through the corner to make rides fun and lively. The brain-to-bitumen interface is managed by Dunlop Sportmax tyres and they do an adequate job of providing grip and usable feedback.
The CB650R uses a 41-mm USD Showa Separate Function Fork Big-Piston (SFF-BP) at the front and a directly mounted monoshock at the rear; together they keep the motorcycle composed while cornering fast. The set-up is on the stiffer side, in sport bike fashion, but the ride quality is surprisingly good at pace with only the harshest of bumps filtering through to the rider. As for the brakes, the twin four-pot, radially mounted Nissin calipers do not offer the best in terms of feel at the lever but are fully capable of stopping this beast in a hurry, aided by well-tailored ABS. Hard braking on this Honda will trigger the hazard lights, alerting other road-users that you are slowing down quickly, and I feel that is a good safety feature to have.
At the end of my time with the Honda CB650R, I was sad to see it go because it worked for me on so many levels. A refined and powerful motorcycle of good quality that can be used to its full potential every day is infinitely more rewarding than any high-powered, two-wheeled exotica that can only be let loose on a racetrack. However, the Honda’s eye-watering price of Rs 8.71 lakh (ex-showroom) will put it beyond the reach of many, myself included. Furthermore, the CB650R shares its turf with the parallel-twin Kawasaki Z650 and the Triumph Trident 660 triple; both more accessible alternatives, by the way.
In conclusion, if you are willing to look past the sticker price and just want a stylish, powerful, reliable, naked sport motorcycle that you can use every day, this is it, my friend; the definitive upgrade.