Full Review: 2008 Honda CBR1000RR

The 2008 Honda CBR1000RR: Built for the Street but Unveiled at the Track

Kevin Wing

The 2008 Honda CBR1000RR -- along with its competition, which includes the Suzuki GSXR-1000, Buell 1125R, and to a lesser extent, the Ducati 1098 -- is a lot of bike for the street. In fact, though Honda calls the CBR1000RR a street bike, its press introduction was held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

It's no wonder the Japanese manufacturer wants to show off their new CBR1000RR at a track; underneath its slightly updated skin, it bears almost no resemblance to its predecessor.

Read on to find out how this $11,599 superbike's makeover enabled it to shed some weight, gain more power, and refine its road manners.

The Honda CBR1000RR's Facelift: Above the Surface

Though it can appear quite different from its predecessor in photos, the 2008 Honda CBR1000RR doesn't look so dramatically different in person. Sure, you can get graphics-free bodywork (like this yellow and black combination), but the main changes in the redesigned bike include a stubbier nose, a narrower body with turn signals integrated into the side mirrors (finally!), and twin ram-air intakes underneath the headlights.

The CBR1000RR's tail is also cleaned up with a smaller, lighter seat and cowl. Honda Parts and Accessories now offers an eCushion seat, which promises to be more comfortable than gel saddles.

The CBR1000RR is available in color schemes ranging from discreet to bold.

More Than a Pretty Face: An Overview of the CBR1000RR's Tech Innovations

In order to make the CBR1000RR competitive, Honda knew they had to increase its power output to keep it on par with bikes like the Kawasaki ZX-10R and the Yamaha R1. Though many of its competitors have gained weight in order to cope with more stringent emissions standards, the Honda has lost 17 pounds (wet weight is now 435 pounds), while gaining an unspecified amount of horsepower.

The only thing more effective than weight loss is mass centralization, the practice of moving the weight towards the center of the motorcycle. Honda achieved this by removing the outgoing model's underseat exhaust and replacing it with a stubbier, mid-mounted canister. The 4-2-1 exhaust hides a pressure-actuated valve that routes air through three chambers in order to maximize performance while staying within legal noise and emissions levels.

The all-new engine is narrower and 5 pounds lighter, and displaces 999.8cc-- a touch more than the previous version thanks to a larger bore and slightly reduced stroke. The inline-4's compression ratio is bumped to 12.3:1, and twin ram-air, revised cams and valves boost power.

A new slipper clutch replaces the old hydraulic unit, and the Honda Electronic Steering Damper has been relocated and lightened for further mass centralization. A new MotoGP-derived Ignition Interrupt Control System is designed to sense driveline lash and reduce it by retarding ignition when necessary between 2,500 and 6,000 rpm, and throttle response is also smoothened by an Idle Air Control Valve.

Riding the 2008 Honda CBR1000RR

The CBR1000RR's body is noticeably narrower than its predecessor, and the bike feels impressively light at a standstill. The rider sits tall in order to produce the ground clearance necessary for steep lean angles. Riding 2007 and 2008 models back to back, the '08 rode noticeably smoother, with considerably more power available through a wider spread of the powerband. Handling is also more precise, with the bike communicating a clear sense of exactly what it's doing and where it's headed. The clutch engages smoothly, though a certain amount of lever feedback is noticeable during shifts (which is normal for the slipper mechnanism). Overall, controls (including the shifter) are light and require little input.

Power comes on so strong-- especially at higher revs-- that my first few laps around Laguna Seca were relatively sedate as I acclimated. Mass centralization helps the CBR change directions more eagerly, and this nimbleness came in especially handy at the famous "Corkscrew." More of the bike's abilities were revealed after the second session: higher revs squirted the bike ahead, producing fierce acceleration that put the radially mounted, four-piston 320mm Tokico front brakes to the test. Lap after lap, the CBR inspired greater confidence (and, subsequently greater speeds.) Never did it feel underequipped for the task at hand, especially when compared to the already capable 2007 model.

Handling and braking are strong, but the most impressive feature of the CBR1000RR has to be its speed; on Laguna's straightaway, third gear wheelies came easily and without much effort.

In Conclusion: Confidence-Inspiring Speed

The CBR1000RR's performance at Laguna Seca was stellar, but what distinguished it from other liter bikes was how easily it performed at such a lofty level. Unlike sportbikes like the Ducati 1098, which has high performance limits but demands much from the rider, the CBR1000RR handled itself with grace and made the rider feel more expert. Steering wobble was imperceptibly removed thanks the electronic damper, and the bike seemed to want to go exactly where you pointed it.

The handlebars are 6.5mm higher than the 2007 model, improving its ergonomics. Though the riding posture is still somewhat demanding, the CBR is far less extreme than the Ducati (as is its $11,599 price tag, which is only $100 more than the 2007 version.)

Agile, smooth, and outrageously powerful, the 2008 Honda CBR1000RR is a bike for riders interested exploring the outer levels of performance without breaking the bank. While it's certainly not for everybody (especially those who lack the maturity to handle such extreme levels of performance), the CBR1000RR is an outstanding achievement in both technology and capability-- exactly the sorts of qualities riders look for in an all-out performance bike.