Riding the 2016 Honda CB650F is a bike with no sauce. No frills, no fancy electronics beyond the now-compulsory ABS and nothing to get a specs-geek excited. But it works and it works flipping well. There are no fancy fripperies covering up other issues; the secret is in what’s not there and the fact it’s been built by a company that has an instinct to get things right.
So it doesn’t matter that the suspension has no damping adjustment because the standard set-up seems spot-on for both comfort and road-holding. It doesn’t matter that there’s no traction control because the power delivery is predictable and smooth, and the back brake pedal is just where you need it to add a little stability powering out of a greasy roundabout. And it doesn’t matter that it’s ‘only a 650’ because there’s more speed and acceleration available than most of us will ever actually use, and with such a broad spread of power, you always have a choice of gears that’ll give strong drive for overtaking.
In many respects the 2016 Honda CB650F is everything that’s good about Honda in one package. The riding position feels like a carefully considered balance between comfort and control. The handlebars are unfashionably non-chunky and relatively short, but well-positioned for either sharp, sporty steering on back-roads or subtle, refined control nipping through soggy city centres. The relationship between footrests and handlebars tips you forward into the wind just enough to keep the pressure off your neck at high speed, but doesn’t give you back (or arse) ache over distance. These things don’t happen by accident.
Then there are the brakes. Look at the spec sheet and they seem okay for this kind of bike but nothing to write home about. But in practice there’s subtle feel and control in the wet, and surprisingly strong power delivered instantly when you pull harder. The ABS is effective but not intrusive. A lot of softly sprung bikes get the rear ABS chirruping away all too easily, but the 2016 Honda CB650F saves it till it’s needed.
And finally there’s the weight distribution. Honda has a fascination with mass centralisation and the 2016 Honda CB650F feels the benefit. At 208kg fully fuelled it isn’t especially lightweight (about the same as a Fireblade and 12kg heavier than a CBR600RR), but it feels it – much more nimble than a lot of the competition and so confidence-inspiring that you end up cornering at sportsbike speeds without feeling the need to hang off or put in half as much effort.
That’s impressive for a bike that many people somehow dismiss as ‘alright for a first big bike I suppose’. Truth is the CB would be a good first big bike – it’s easy to manage and easy to ride too. But it’s also a lot more than that thinly-veiled dismissal deserves. Which all comes back to the beginning and that word simplicity.
Actually, that’s probably underplaying it. I’m sure if I analysed the detail there’s all manner of complex fuelling tech and state-of-the-art friction management inside the engine, but that stuff is all hidden. What the rider sees is something with few distractions that just works brilliantly.
The engine feels less aggressive than the CBR600RR with which it shares a history. Look closer and you can see the sports bike heritage in the piggyback gearbox (for more compact packaging) and tiny dimensions. The 2016 Honda CB650F isn’t torque like a Street Triple or SV650, but is still easy to get off the line and picks up speed smartly enough for easy overtaking. The gearbox is good, but does occasionally need a second prod between first and second and an accurate foot on downshifts rather than just stamping on the pedal like Riverdance on Red Bull.
There’s a bonus sporty side to the motor too if you’re feeling frisky. The last 3000 rpm has a pronounced kick, although most will have changed up by then. In making the 2016 Honda CB650 friendly to all, Honda has built a throttle that needs a lot of turning before you hit the real power – like the cable is an inch too long. Some more fashionable bikes would have a sharper rider-mode as an option, but once you’re used to it the CB650F is fine – you just keep it in a lower gear and closer to the power.
Top speed is a lot higher than you’d ever want to go for long on a naked bike, but 80-90mph cruising is comfortable for long(ish) periods, although like most middleweights, there are some vibes through the bars so you’ll feel a tingle in your fingers when you stop. Look at the footrests and you’ll see some hefty lumps of added alloy that soak up the vibes, but you can’t do that up top. It’s not a problem, but it is there after 100 or so motorway miles.
The only fly in the performance ointment is a slightly disappointing average fuel consumption of 51mpg. Road test and photoshoot mileage is often a little thirstier than real life, but most of my miles on the 2016 Honda CB650F were riding, not testing. Theoretically, that still gives a range of 187 miles per tank, but these days my ageing bladder is ready for a break by 120 miles anyway.
A couple of weeks into the test I was having a chat with a biking mate, describing the 2016 Honda CB650F without him being able to see it. He was asking questions about the spec; does it have an alloy frame? No. Upside down forks? No. Adjustable suspension? Er, no, it doesn’t even have a rising rate suspension linkage or preload adjustment on the forks. Radial brakes? No, but it does have radial tyres. He wasn’t impressed.
Thing is, the 2016 Honda CB650F is a great example of why none of this is necessary on a road bike. Halfway through the photoshoot, slinging the Honda into a difficult Lincolnshire corner with a nasty bump on the exit I realised that I wasn’t even aware of what the suspension was doing. At 70mph the 2016 Honda CB650F ﬂicks in accurately, holds a line and even has enough in reserve to make subtle changes if needed. That’s impressive — there are a lot of bikes in this class where you feel like a passenger on a pogo stick, ﬁghting uncontrolled damping and mismatched springs. The Honda has none of that – it just feels classy.
And according to a couple of younger riders I got chatting to at Willingham bike meet, it looks classy too. They liked the white frame, graphics and different coloured wheels. Which is good because I wasn’t too sure. But Honda is aiming this bike at a variety of audiences and we should applaud the company for taking the KTM approach to colour schemes.
The measure of a bike’s ability for me — as unscientiﬁc as it seems — is how long it takes before I’m scanning the classiﬁeds to see how much I can get one for. With the CB650F it was after the ﬁrst 30 mile ‘long-way-home’ And then again after the ﬁrst long day out, and again last night despite getting soaked on the way home from Hinckley. If you’re interested, You can get a decent PCP deal with 0% ﬁnance and £49 a month, which is laughably good value for something as grant as the 2016 Honda CB650F.
2016 Honda CB650F Specifications and Price
Engine : 4-Stroke, Inline-Four, DOHC 16-Valve, Liquid-Cooled
Bore x Stroke : 67 x 46 mm
Capacity : 649 cc
Compression Ratio : 11.4 : 1
Induction : PGM-FI Fuel Injection
Transmission : 6-Speed, Chain-Drive
Power : 86 BHP @ 11.000 RPM (claimed)
Torque : 63 N.m @ 8.000 RPM (claimed)
Dimensions (LxWxH) : 2.110 x 775 x 1.120 mm
Wheelbase : 1.450 mm
Seat Height : 810 mm
Ground Clearance : 150 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity : 17.3 litres
Weight : 208 kg (wet, claimed)
Frame : Steel Diamond Frame
Front Suspension : 41mm Telescopic Fork, 120mm Stroke
Rear Suspension : Monoshock Damper with Adjustable Preload, 43.5 mm Stroke
Front Brakes : Twin 320mm Discs, with 2-Piston Caliper, ABS
Rear Brakes : 240mm Discs, with 1-piston Caliper, ABS
Front Tyre : 120/70 – ZR17 M/C (58W)
Rear Tyre : 180/55 – R17 M/C (73W)
Price : £6499