CALABOGIE, ON – Much like most other young riders, I aspired for a supersport such as the Suzuki GSX-R600 as my first bike. It’s the perfect size, the perfect amount of power (so I thought), and the perfect balance of functionality plus badass appeal. After I started testing bikes along with cars for a living, I learned that there’s more to riding than always looking like the cool Gixxer rider on the block. I was invited to the launch of the new 2014 Honda CBR650F and VFR800 in Calabogie, Ontario, and came away from this trip with a different outlook on things altogether.
I was more excited for the rejuvenation and redesign of the legendary Honda VFR800, but the all-new model, the CBR650F, pleasantly surprised me. The CBR650F isn’t as crazy as its sibling, the CBR600RR, but is much more refined and livable on a daily basis. It’s also a bit faster than its smaller sibling, the CBR500R. I mean, this new 650F won’t get nearly as many looks from passerby as a supersport would, but how much does street cred really matter these days anyway? The new CBR is powered by a liquid-cooled 649cc inline 4-cylinder engine that, while Honda will not release an official horsepower number, feels like it sends about 95 horsepower to the rear wheel. It’s pretty torquey and gets going up to speed nicely.
All CBR650F models sold in Canada are equipped with ABS, which is great for the unpredictable weather we have. On my ride route through some breathtaking roads and lakeside avenues in Calabogie, I did encounter a roughly 5km patch of pure dirt and gravel. It would have been nice to be on the traction control-equipped VFR800, but I was on the CBR. It handled the terrain with ease, but I did take it extremely slow. ABS came in handy, as did the 41mm front fork. It’s notable that this engine is all-new, along with the chassis, the wheels, and all of the fairings. The CBR650F is not reworked from any other model produced.
The riding position of the CBR is excellent. At 6’1/175, I was comfortable for a roughly 2 hour ride around some lovely twisties and long straights. The handlebars are a bit higher than I’d like, but the ergonomics of the bike overall are lovely. I would prefer a slightly meatier engine note, but that can be easily fixed with the addition of a clean aftermarket exhaust. At $9,499 for the CBR650FA (the “A” depicts its standard ABS system), it’s a great value for the level headed rider, even as a first bike.
I will say though that the highlight of the event for me was trying out the 2014 Honda VFR800’s VTEC system in the flesh. The VFR’s pedigree as a V4 engine returns, and is tuned for a lot more power in the midrange where it previously lacked. The powerband is smooth and consistent right through the rev range, and this motorcycle never feels as though it’s gasping for air. It’s not as mental fast as some of the liter-bikes, but it’s undoubtedly just as engaging and more livable on a day-to-day basis. Much like in Honda’s automotive applications, the VTEC kicks in right at the 6900-7000rpm mark with a notable change in engine note. It gets throatier and louder, and becomes rather addictive.
Most VFR owners over the past couple decades have held on to their bikes for the sole reason that they are just that good. These things sport bulletproof reliability, timeless looks, and standard features that make them appealing to riders of all shapes, sizes, and styles. Now though, the VFR800 comes standard in Canada with traction control, LED headlights, self-cancelling turn signals, 5-stage heated grips, an adjustable seat, and an optional quickshifter. The self-cancelling signals are actually pretty neat; there’s an algorithm that calculates differences in rotation speed between the two wheels to detect lean and turning, and cancels the signals appropriately. It works quite well – I became far too used to it and began to forget to cancel my signals when I jumped back onto the CBR650F.
These two swanky new motorcycles reflect both modernization as well as maintaining tradition in the Honda lineup. Loyal VFR owners looking to replace their older models now have something exciting yet familiar to look forward to. On the CBR side, the all-new model is appealing and surprisingly versatile. At $14,499, the VFR800 is competitively priced, and will undoubtedly continue to make the same statement it has on the market for many years now. The all-new Honda CBR650F is appealing to various riding styles, but is completely manageable for new riders as well, provided they can handle 650cc. I would happily put either of these new rides in my garage, but I will say that if I owned a 2014 VFR800, I would be using my motorcycle for commuting as well as leisure rather than just as a weekend toy.
First Ride: 2014 Honda CBR650F and VFR800 Gallery
*All photos thanks to Bill Petro of Bill Petro Photography*