Honda CB650F Review
|Honda's new middleweight is back with a basic, but well-set-up suspension arrangement, a low centre of gravity with an under-belly exhaust system, linear acceleration in all 6 gears, excellent mid-range acceleration as well as from a standing start and phenomenal fuel economy.||
|✓||Looks, suspension, brakes, gearbox, running costs, those pipes!|
|×||No gear position indicator, mirrors, levers, tyres, seat, slightly buzzy|
Vespula vulgaris: the common wasp is a pest to many, but a much underestimated creature, because of its alleged inferiority to the larger, more powerful: vespa crabro: the European Hornet. The BBC tell us: "Hornets are less aggressive than many more frequently encountered wasp species, in spite of their fearsome reputation"
In 2013, Honda ceased manufacture of the popular 600cc naked bike, the Hornet, in favour of a new breed of middleweight naked bikes, calling the new model simply the CB650F. This new machine was powered by an inline 4, 649cc engine, with a relatively mediocre power output of 86bhp compared to its predecessor, the Hornet which had around 100bhp. The lowering of bhp was in part to allow the bike to be modified (by means of ECU or throttle restriction) for the new lower class of licence, the A2, which allows the rider to have a maximum of 47bhp. The reduction in power output was the subject of much derision and the bike was surely doomed from the off, especially among the hardcore Honda client base who adored their 600cc range.
However, the world was in for a surprise. The new middleweight Honda bit back, and bit back hard! With a basic, but well-set-up suspension arrangement, a low centre of gravity with an under-belly exhaust system, linear acceleration in all 6 gears, excellent mid-range acceleration as well as from a standing start, and phenomenal fuel economy the CB650F soon became a popular “first big bike”.
In 2017 the CB650F saw an aggressive facelift, and some tweaks which upped the power output to a slightly more respectable 90bhp. Approaching 40 years of age, and with signs of middle-age kicking in, I abandoned my love of sports bikes, and rewarded my achy wrists and neck with the 'sit up and beg' riding position of a new “17” plate Honda CB650F in millennium red. I ordered it with the semi-sports pack, which gave me a carbon fibre effect rear hugger, and a rear seat cowl. Naturally, I added an R&G tail tidy to get rid of the hideous Euro requirement that is that lump of black plastic on the back that holds the number plate, and fitted a set of Strada7 short levers – I can never understand why manufacturers fit those horrible, barely-adjustable lumps of silver metal on even the top of the range models of bike. Heated grips soon followed, as my commute from coast to city in winter can be a little nippy, and as time went by an Ermax sports screen was also added as the continuous wind battering can become a little wearing on the motorway. I have recently added a K&N air filter, but more of that later.
The bike is superb... why I didn't have a straight bar naked bike before, I do not know... So why is it so good? Well, for starters, there's the price tag. It is under £6500 on the road, and for a rider with 5 years no claims living in East Yorkshire, it has just cost me £113 to renew and that includes personal accident cover and helmet and leather insurance too.
It is not super-naked fast, and if you want to pootle around gently, abiding by the speed limits and accelerating with moderation, then you can, and you can get a reward of around 60mpg – even without the streamlining of a screen. More spirited riding reduces that to around 50mpg, but that is still a very good excuse to take the bike and leave the car on the drive. And believe you me, you will want to be more spirited. The transmission is silky smooth and acceleration is excellent in every single gear... although you will probably want to leave it in 3rd and hang around at the top of the rev range on those country lanes!! The brakes – with linked ABS as standard – do require a little bedding in from new, but once set, you can stop it on a sixpence... I've never seen a sixpence, but I imagine it's small!
At the higher end of the rev range, the inline 4 explodes with aggression and excitement, and there is a nice raspy roar from the standard exhaust set-up. A criticism many – including myself – had of the 2014-16 CB and CBR 650 bikes, was the fact the exhaust was way too quiet, almost dangerously so, and many replaced it with after market systems. It being a full system, this is not a cheap exercise, the popular Akropovic costing around £1200 fitted. The phase 2 650 has a much nicer sounding, and louder exhaust. Many people will still go for an after-market set-up, ever seeking that race bike scream, but all I'm saying is... it's not a necessary addition with this new model.
The CB650F handles really well. Ok, there is room for improvement, but for the average joe rider – me, and probably 90% of those on the road – it is great. The Showa forks perform admirably, and if you must, the rear suspension is adjustable. The bike sits on Dunlop tyres, which come under a lot of fire on owner's forums online, but quite frankly I have no complaints. I have ridden the bike like a grandad (No offence grandads out there, as there are probably many faster than me... but just go with the saying!!!), and I have ridden it like a wannabe Dani Pedrosa (well, I think so)... I have ridden in the dry, the wet, the hot, the cold... and they have coped just fine. So, there are better tyres out there. My favourite all time tyres are Conti Road Attaks... but others will have other preferences. However, my advice is to just stick with the standard fit tyres, and wear them out before you replace them. You should easily get 6000 miles out of them with normal road use. The low centre of gravity also adds to the overall effect, and makes for a perfectly balanced and very forgiving machine, perfect for the newer rider, or anyone going back into biking after a maritally enforced break... you know what I mean!!
Aesthetically, the bike is a vast improvement on the 2014-16 version, with a much more modern front end, and LED lights which are great even on dipped beam – and the roads I use are pitch black at night. It may be a naked bike with straight bars, but it still retains a sporty feel.
I feel I must put something negative in here, to balance it out a little, but my only real complaint is that the bike is a little buzzy, and so the pins and needles do kick in sooner than in its previous incarnation. Oh, and the mirrors are not great. Also it is a shame that you have to fork out a small fortune for extras like a belly pan (or under cowl as Honda call it), but then this is a bike on a budget. If you want Öhlins suspension, belly pans, bar-end mirrors, seat cowl, and lots of Gucci gadgets as standard on a naked bike, you could always opt for the absolutely incredibly superb new Triumph Street Triple RS, but at an added cost of £4000, increased insurance premiums as thieves really like Triumph for some reason, and it is most certainly not a suitable “first big bike.”
I will be in my mid-forties when I change this one, and I can see myself going for a CrossTourer or similar, but for now, this little wasp keeps my soul alive!
Go on... you know you want to!
- Naked Rider, 2018
Capacity: 649 cc
Power: 90 bhp
Seat Height: 810 mm
Wet Weight: 208 kg
Range: 190 miles