December 14, 2018 By Maynard Marcelo Photos by Randy Silva-Netto

The Symphony of Four: 2018 Honda CB650F Review

Inline-4s; you either love ‘em, or hate ‘em. Me? I love them. Having owned a succession of inline-4 powered Japanese bikes in the past, I have developed quite a soft spot for them. They are often branded as soulless by V-twin aficionados, but personally, I love how inline-4 bikes deliver smooth and linear power up to redline, and the sound they make at full throttle is music to my ears. In fact, one of the many reasons why I love riding inline-4 powered bikes is the high-pitch banshee-like scream no single cylinder, parallel twin, or V-twin motor could ever hope of producing. And right now, one of the most accessible inline-4 powered bikes you could buy in the Philippines is none other than the new CB650F from Honda.

 

That honor used to belong to the Suzuki Bandit 650A at PhP 399,000. But since Suzuki Philippines no longer imports the Bandit 650A, the most affordable inline-4 bike you could buy right now is the Honda CB650F. So what do you get with your PhP 459,000? Quite a lot, apparently. First of all, you’d get the sweet revving and sweet sounding 649cc liquid-cooled, dohc, 16v inline-4 motor that’s good for 89.85 hp at 11000 rpm and 47.20 lb/ft of torque at 8000 rpm. It’s not the more powerful ex-CBR600RR motor used on the CB600F Hornet that we were hoping for, but rather, a descendant of the much older CBR 600 Hurricane that’s been updated to meet the strict Euro 4 emissions standard. The CB650F shares its engine with the fully faired CBR650F. Speaking of emissions, the CB650F expels its exhaust gasses through one of the sexiest, if not the sexiest, stock exhaust manifold in the market. It’s reminiscent of that of the 1975 Honda CB400F Supersport. The motor is mated to a new 6-speed close ratio gearbox to enhance acceleration and a sportier feel.

Unlike the backbone frame of CB600F Hornet, the CB650F gets a new, steel twin-spar frame that uses the motor as a stressed member. This chassis layout not only showcases the motor and that aforementioned sexy exhaust manifold, it also gives the CB650F that modern naked bike look. Up front, there’s a new, non-adjustable Showa fork called the SDBV system. It stands for Showa Dual Bending Valve system which does a superb job of emulating the damping characteristics of more expensive cartridge-style forks and gives the CB650F a solid and well-planted feel in high-speed corners while also giving a compliant ride around town. The rear Showa monoshock is connected directly to the aluminum swingarm and has a 7-stage spring preload adjustment. Braking duties are handled by a pair of two-pot Nissin calipers biting on twin 320mm wavy discs up front and a single piston caliper biting on 240mm wavy disc in the rear. ABS is standard, and it’s the only electronic rider aid available on the CB650F.

The CB650F is designed to be an accessible bike for new riders, and this clearly shows in the low-ish 810mm seat height. At 5’7, I’m not particularly tall, but thankfully I could reach the ground with both feet. The seat cushion is narrower at the front to allow short riders to reach the ground easily. The reach to the rubber-mounted handlebars is short for a near upright riding position. The instrument console, while functional, looks a tad dated compared to the overall design of the bike and is hard to read in direct sunlight. It could also use a gear indicator that its competitors like the Yamaha MT-07 and Suzuki SV650A have. But thankfully, none of these minor gripes detracts from the CB650F riding experience. We brought the CB650F to our favorite proving grounds in the mountains of Tanay, Rizal for some photo opportunities. But instead of retracing our route back to Makati, as we normally do, we decided to take the long way round via Infanta and then to Real, Quezon province. From Real, we took the road going to Famy, Laguna which then took us to the giant wind turbines in Pililla, Rizal. A short ride from Pililla, we turned right towards Sampaloc and then back to Marilaque. This 300-plus kilometer route allowed me to test the abilities and fuel efficiency of the CB650F thoroughly. Despite my ham-fisted riding, the CB650F returned a respectable fuel efficiency figure of 21 kilometers per liter. Very impressive.

As a sporty middleweight naked, the CB650F is surprisingly comfy, thanks to the back and arms-friendly riding position. The seat cushion is a little on the firm side for my taste, but then again, that should soften up with more saddle time as the bike was delivered to us with practically 0 kilometers reading on the odometer. But in typical Japanese fashion, the CB650F felt surprisingly lively for a brand-new and unbroken-in bike. Even with a cold motor, a handful of throttle will send the rev counter racing towards the 11000 rpm redline. No stalling or stuttering. Impressive. And because it’s a Honda, I got an immediate sense of familiarity with the riding position and the controls. After engaging 1st gear for the first time, it only took me a few hundred meters from the office building to acclimatize to the low-speed handling and balance of the bike. But it’s up on the mountain roads of Infanta where I truly enjoyed the neutral handling characteristics of the CB650F. It doesn’t steer as quickly as some middleweights do, but it feels superbly planted in any angle.

 

Like most inline-4 motors the CB650F lives for revs, and will happily spin to its 11000 rpm redline all day if you want it to, but it’s also surprisingly flexible. Since it doesn’t have a gear indicator on the dash, I caught myself a couple of times shifting up a gear while riding at ridiculously low speeds only to find out that I was already in 6th gear. There’s a surprising amount of drive at low rpm in 5th and 6th gears, but a downshift or two is still needed for quick overtaking maneuvers. It’s between the 8000 rpm to 11000 rpm sweet spot where things start to become interesting on the CB650F. Oh, did I forget to mention that the CB650F sounds glorious at full song? Thankfully, the wide 180 rear and 120 front Dunlops provide all the grip you will ever need in real-world riding conditions, even without the benefit of traction control in the wet. We were caught in a sudden downpour while riding in Pililla, Rizal and never did I feel like they were struggling for traction. It was already dark when we rode back to Manila, but thankfully the LED headlight provided enough illumination to light up the twisty roads ahead.

In price and in engine capacity, it’s obvious that the CB650F has the Kawasaki Z650, Suzuki SV650A and Yamaha MT-07 squarely in its crosshairs. At only PhP375,000, the Z650 undercuts the CB650F by as much as PhP84,000, enough savings to buy you a brand new 125cc scooter. This is followed by the SV650A at PhP 399,000, and the MT-07 at PhP 419,000. While they may be a bit cheaper compared to the CB650F, these bikes are all powered by two-cylinder motors of different capacity and configurations. Of course, they have their own unique charms and characteristics that would suit different type of riders. But if it’s the smooth revving and sweet sounding inline-4 cylinder motor you’re after, then there’s only the CB650F in this price range. It’s the beginner-friendly bike that even experienced riders could have a genuine blast on.

Technical Specifications:

Engine: Inline-four, 4 stroke, liquid cooled

Displacement: 649 cc

Max Power: 85.8 bhp @ 11000 rpm

Max Torque: 46.4 lb-ft @ 8000 rpm

Transmission: 6 speed

Seat Height: 810 mm

Tire, front: 120/70 R17

Tire, rear: 180/55 R17

Brakes, front/rear:  Disc/Disc ABS

Fuel Capacity:  17.4 liters

Curb Weight:  208 kg

Price:  Php 459,000

+: Smooth and flexible 649cc inline-4 motor and predictable handling.

-: Instrument cluster looks dated, and has no gear indicator.

C! Rating: 9/10

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