The bike that started it all – CBR600F review

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    juliet
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    Training Wheels
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    I have written several reviews of all the CBR600 models … I hope you guys enjoy them and find them useful, this is my first one for the original CBR600F of 1987 – 1990 :-)

    ^^^
    Take a really good look, nice isn’t it. This is the bike that started it all.

    History:

    The first CBR600F(G) arrived on our shores way back in 1987. There were four model years, running from 1987 F(G), 1988 F(J), 1989 F(K) and 1990F(L) This all new Honda beat Kawasaki’s then class leading GPZ600 by 12Bhp and weighed 28lbs less. This bike could simply turn sharper, go faster and brake later. The CBR600’s all enclosed bodywork also helped with the aerodynamics. Colour coded mirrors and a rear hugger were standard equipment. At 182Kg the CBR was also light for the day, this meant the suspension and brakes could do their job so much better. The CBR600F1 was even comfortable and well built too.

    And so it was born, the “jelly mould” CBR600 of 1987, not everyone was a fan of the styling but I just simply loved that full enclosure bodywork back then. Indeed my own love affair with the CBR600 began when I was only 12 and first saw one on a visit to the bike dealer with my dad . If I see a mint example I still think they look great today!!
    That full enclosure bodywork hides a steel frame, an inline four cylinder engine of 598cc with twin cam, 16 valves and 85Bhp.

    Looking at it now it would just be too easy to dismiss this bike as a decent first effort but that would be doing it somewhat a disservice. In 1987 this bike was the quickest and most powerful middleweight ever built, but it was it’s complete user friendly nature that won the hearts of fans the world over :-)

    CBR stands for City Bike Racing, and Honda’s idea was to create a bike that could take you to work and back five days a week and then win races on at the weekend. Whilst more than two decades will have taken their toll on these machines, back in their day they could out handle almost anything out there due to the balance between chassis and engine power.

    For the 1989 model year the hugely successful CBR600 got upgraded with minor tweeks. It looked the same jelly mould bike but underneath it got higher compression (11.3:1, up from 11:1), the cam timing was revised, bigger carbs fitted, new ignition and a beefed up clutch. It also got adjustable rebound damping. Power was increased from 85Bhp to 93Bhp and, apparently was a noticeable difference.

    I only ever rode one of these original machines the once at 17. At the time I had a little black Kawasaki GPZ500 which I thought felt great until I tried my friend’s CBR600F(L). The overriding impression was one of comfort, poise and balance. On pulling away there was a smoothness to the engine that felt amazing after the lumpy twin of my 500. I remember the engine pulling away strongly and smoothly with a nice steady rise in speed until the bike hit about 7,000rpm, at which point the power just came flooding in. Looking back I would say it had a somewhat peaky feel to the motor as later bikes had more low and mid range power. It felt alive and fun though. The thing about CBRs is they always feel vibrant and alive.

    Performance and specifications:

    I have no doubt that to modern sport riders the original CBR600 would feel somewhat dated now, low pegs, high bars, and a too comfortable by half riding position, more sports tourer now than full on sportster. Still, is a 0-60mph time of 3.5secs and on to a top speed of 137mph combined with comfort anything to be sneezed at??

    Engine: liquid cooled, carb fed,16V DOHC, inline four, 598cc

    Claimed Power: 85Bhp @ 11,000rpm

    Claimed Torque: 43.3lbft @ 8000rpm

    Frame: steel beam

    Front suspension: 37mm forks, air assisted TRAC anti dive system.

    Rear Suspension: Pro-link adjustable for preload only

    Dry weight: 182Kg (400.4 lb)

    Seat height 77cm (30.8in)

    Fuel capacity 16.5 litres(3.63 gal)

    Performance

    0-60mph 3.5 secs

    0-100mph 7.7 secs

    Top Speed 137mph

    Fuel consumption 45mpg

    The CBR600F1 had a nice set of clocks that I still think look great today with their red details and markers.
    These clocks always looked great at night with their orange/red glow.
    I have always preferred the original style clocks on a bike as opposed to the new digital read outs of today.
    There is just something about a set of needles, gently illuminated from below as you ride into the twilight …


    Indeed, who could ask for more, the all new Supersport 600 and the lure of the open road ahead.

    The original 1987 UK CBR600F1s came in a rather fetching red/silver or blue silver scheme at the time.
    I always loved the first red/silver and then the later red/white/blue as shown below.
    This bike always had that “get on me and ride me” look.

    In 1989 these were the three colours we had available for that year here in the UK

    Problems:

    All models of the CBR have been pretty much bomb proof but like anything there were a few ****les here and there but nothing too drastic.
    On early ones the fuel pump was the weakest point and could fail by 30,000 miles. New ones cost between £150 – £200 so it is worth trying to clean the contacts and the filter first.
    The engine/gearbox is strong, there were occasional second gear problems with high mileage or abused examples but usually the CBR engine if looked after is capable of well over 100,000 miles.

    Indeed many despatch riders in London clocked up much more than this with some CBR600s showing 150,000 miles plus, and still going strong. Regular oil/filter changes are your friend. That, and not continually thrashing the bike to within an inch of it’s life ..lol

    Which ones to buy??

    The best of the old jellymould CBR600 was the later 89/90 F(k), F(L) models for their higher power (93Bhp v 85Bhp) and slighty tweaked chassis with adjustable rebound damping and radial tyres.
    One would have to say realistically though, that the condition is going to be the deciding factor on a bike this age. Go for the lower miles, mint 87 model over the scruffy 90 model anyday of the week.
    Neither model will disappoint especially if you take into account their age and treat accordingly.

    Just how tough was that old CBR600 engine??

    One of our bike magazines here stripped down a 25,000 mile abused CBR600 engine to see what kind of damage might have been inflicted. This bike had done a full 25,000 miles with NO service and had been estimated to have done 1200 rear wheel slides, 4500 wheelies and 5000 rolling burnouts. The bike belonged to a stunt monkey.

    On strip down the cams and journals were found to be unmarked. Inlet and outlet valve clearances were all in tolerance bar one of each. The camchain was fine, crank was fine. The main bearings were perfect. Pistons, rings, bores all found to be fine with minimal to zero wear.
    All this on the most abused CBR on the planet too. That has to be testament to how tough these motors really are.

    Comparisons

    These are strictly from my memory now from reading the road tests of the day. The bikes that Honda was up against at the time were the Kawasaki GPZ/GPX600, the Suzuki GSX600 and the Yamaha FZR600. The Yamaha was the sharper handling bike (on the track), but was often criticised for a lack of comfort and being too focused for the road. The Kawasakis were softer, had great engines that felt “lively” , the GSX600 or “teapot” as we called it back then because of it’s dumpy looks was a comfortable all rounder but lacked the Honda’ edge, speed and handling on the road.
    Indeed the Honda didn’t excel at any one thing, the consensus at the time was that it did all things well with poise, comfort and style. It was an almost perfect combination of power, weight and balance that few bikes could compete with. You almost felt all this the moment you just sat on it.

    Conclusion

    In my opinion the original CBR600 is still a viable bike today. It was simply quite brilliant in 1987 at it’s launch and even today all these years later, if you can find a good one that has been well serviced and looked after, it is still a great bike to ride and learn on. Whilst it is certainly no 600RR, and lacks that bike’s aggressive looks and potent performance, it is still a very pleasant machine to ride that is well rounded with an ample turn of speed if pushed. Besides, if you are not travelling everywhere at warp speed you get to admire the views more. A well looked after CBR600F1 for the right price could be just the ticket to get into some fun biking cheaply without being saddled with finance in these somewhat hard times.

    Review written by
    Juliet Jameson.

    Data and performance figures taken from my CBR600F1 brochures.
    Pictures scanned from my own original CBR600F1 brochure :-)

    (This review can and will be added to with more facts and information)

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