Honda dusts the cobwebs off the cafe racer
Honda calls the CB1000R a ‘neo sports cafe’. It’s a fresh take on cafe racers, those so very 1960s, Quadrophenia-style rides. This, however, is much more modern and ‘The Matrix’. You can imagine Keanu riding it, bullet-time, in a sleek depiction of the future. Neo’s Neo, if you like.
Because the CB1000R has a detuned Honda Fireblade engine, there’s no need for any special trickery to achieve warp-speed, either. This is a cafe naked with a superbike’s intensity, served up the moment you press the starter. It fires, vocally, into a fast, intense idle and feels tightly-coiled from the first gear-clunk. By the time I was into second, I was in love.
A hard seat, hunkered-over riding position with a sat-forward stretch to reach the bars, and the lack of any sort of screen, underline the CB1000R’s compact feel and no-nonsense attitude. It immediately feels charismatic and exciting. Yet because you’re not lying flat across the top of it like you are a superbike, it’s possible to enjoy the scenery and the approving nods from others (a cool LED headlight helps here, too).
On a ’Blade, the ride generally revolves around going as quickly as possible. That’s hugely thrilling – I know, I recalibrated my sensation of speed on one earlier in the summer. But the fact you can enjoy it without necessarily getting all ‘Marc Marquez’ is not to be underplayed.
Mind you, that engine means you won’t be going slow for long. It’s a gorgeous thing, so deliciously smooth and balanced. It sounds like a superbike without the blare or scream, and serves up acceleration no cafe racer could ever dream of. A firm, float-free and well-damped ride gives the sporting attitude to match, without the pummeling aggression of a superbike. The classy, crisp and immediate response of the front end is pleasing, too. Perfectly well-judged, and almost certainly more purposeful than many would expect.
The bike I tested had the ‘+’ pack, which adds more glitz to the frame and panels, a snappy quickshifter and must-have heated grips. Because you’re so exposed and it encourages you to ride so quickly, it’s easy to get the shivers on the CB1000R. Not least because you want to look cool riding it, rather than layering up with Arctic riding wear. That’s not a problem in the futuristic metropolis in which Honda imagines you riding from macrobiotic cafe to cafe, of course.
Unlike period cafe racers, the Honda is beautifully built. Don’t underplay this: it’s what makes the reality of owning one as alluring as a sepia-tinged fantasy. The paint and polished metalwork is rich, the controls feel robust and weighty. There’s a meat to it that suits its character, and the feedback you enjoy as a result is very satisfying. It helps riders actually ride it well, too. The nicely damped clutch is easy to feed with precision and the gearbox is clean and clicky.
It oozes fine breeding. Which is why it was an unexpected highlight. Perhaps like others, I’d somewhat dismissed it as a bike with niche appeal, a machine more about a select market sold on looks rather than a rider’s delight. But the CB1000R actually works very well.
I still don’t get The Matrix. But I am now convinced by the character of Honda’s Neo. Because it looks so cool, rides so well, feels so tactile and has that gem of an engine, it has to be a five-star review. Certainly no rotten tomatoes needed here.
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