2001 Honda CBR600F4i - Track Test
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CBR600F4i Track Video! (1min.15sec.)
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By: Bill Wolf
Track photos by: Kevin Wing
Honda has deliberately developed their ever-popular F series middleweights to offer the most balanced package possible. By balance, we mean real-world comfort, performance that at least matches the competition and good day-to-day street rideability. Most of the "F" models have hit this target dead center, but it looks like this formula may not offer enough performance to keep today's riders satisfied.
Many of Honda's competitors have continued to build performance focused 600s with a bit less attention paid to street comfort and rideability. For years Honda's well-rounded formula has paid off big, but it appears the tide might be changing as riders continue to purchase more sharply focused 600s in large quantities.
Our own experiences here at Motorsports Network have mirrored that of the consumer. We loved Honda's F4 when it was introduced in 1999 - a great bike to be sure. However, riding Yamaha's R6, introduced just a few weeks after the F4, left us feeling that we could do no wrong. We rode the more narrowly focused, sharper edged R6 up the California coast to the races at Laguna Seca and simply could not have had more fun. Though the comfort level was on the poor side, but far from terrible, the performance and ease at which you could ride the bike fast was simply exceptional. This left our staff arguing over which bike would be the best to own if you had to spend your hard earned cash for only one bike. Some picked the F4 for it's marginally better comfort and easier to use power band, some would have nothing but the R6 based on it's addictive easy-to-ride-fast performance.
The New F4i
Honda knew that merely continuing to offer what was arguably the best all around 600 on the planet might not be enough to continue generating strong sales numbers, so the decision was made to focus on boosting the F4's performance while basically leaving the comfort of the bike alone.
The 370 pound (dry) F4i is not a totally new bike, rather a heavily modified F4 with numerous engine, chassis and bodywork changes. The single largest change, other than styling, is the addition of high-pressure (50psi) programmed fuel injection - thus the model designation "F4i". Fuel injection allows for more precise fuel metering and delivery over a wider rpm range, while providing better throttle response and decreasing the ever important emission levels.
Additional engine changes include a lighter cam shaft sprocket and increased valve spring pressure (two springs per intake valve) which allow for higher revving. There are new piston rings that slide with less friction and increased internal engine oil flow. Honda claims the revamped engine puts out 5% more peak horsepower; redline is now 14,200 rpm, 700 rpm higher than last years F4.
The F4i isn't designed just to rev higher, as the engineers at Honda wanted increased top end power out of the liquid-cooled DOHC 16-valve engine without sacrificing low-end and mid-range torque. Ringing more power out of an engine means you must bring in more air. More airflow means greater intake noise, something that's hard to deal with considering the current noise regulations. The answer for Honda came by way of a two-stage ram-air system utilizing resonator chambers fitted to the plastic air intake ducts. (image at right)
To increase the bikes pulling capabilities at high speeds, 5th and 6th gears have been shortened slightly and the rear sprocket was enlarged from 45 teeth to 46.
The California model possesses slightly different ignition mapping and utilizes a catalyzer in the exhaust system to help the bike meet 2004 emissions standards. Two horsepower are sacrificed in the process.
The aluminum twin-spar frame was made more rigid to improve the F4s handling as well as to increase feedback to the rider. Other rolling chassis changes focused on reducing unsprung weight and increasing the rigidity of individual components. Over a pound was taken off the front wheel assembly, with about 300 grams taken off the 3.5 x 17 inch wheel itself. The wheel bearings were moved outward, closer to the fork tubes and the rotor carriers were moved out closer to the brake calipers - all to reduce weight and to improve rigidity of the pieces. Weight was also taken off the 5.5 x 17 rear wheel assembly, nearly 2 1/2 pounds. The rear cush drive was also redesigned for less lash and a more direct feel.
Who would you like developing your next sportbike?
Mr. Hiroyuki Ito, the F4i Large Project Leader, has 25 years of experience working on a wide variety of Honda motorcycle projects. Mr. Ito was also a top racer in Japan, finishing as high as second overall at the 1982 Suzuka Eight-Hour on a Honda race bike of his own design, dubbed the RS1000.
The F4i's new bodywork carries a more racy look and slips through the air with a 3% reduction in COD. It also houses a new dual headlight design which uses 40% brighter H7 bulbs. The turn stalks are shorter and the mirrors are now positioned higher and closer to the rider so you don't feel like you're looking across an ocean to view them. Storage has been added under the rear seat, though the seat doesn't cleverly flip up like on the 929RR.
The elimination of carburetors allowed for a slightly larger air box and a larger fuel tank (4.8 us gallons / incl. 0.9 reserve) complete with a delayed fuel level sensor to fight against false readings when the bike is leaned over. One silly new feature is an amber shift indicator. We know where our eyes should be when riding, do you?
Riding the F4i on the track
After spending the day on Honda's new CBR600F4i at Las Vegas Motor Speedway we can tell you this. The bike is much quicker, producing about the same low end pull as the F4 but with a superior surge of power when acceleration from the mid to upper rpm. The fuel injected engine is smooth and offers quick response, and enough power to carry the front wheel down the entire infield straight at the Las Vegas track (it was fun).
The transmission, which wasn't perfect on the F4, is said to provide for smoother and more positive shifting. It felt improved to us, at least on the track.
The chassis is exceptional, now providing quicker and more precise steering - much like the CBR929RR. It would appear the added chassis rigidity and lighter wheel assemblies have made a noticeable difference. Stability on the track was excellent, even at over 150mph.
Comparing the F4
The first thing we noticed after jumping aboard a year 2000 F4 for comparison was that the bike felt excellent on the track. The second thing we noticed was a distinct lack of power up top - compared that is to the new F4i. It left you wanting to jump back on the quicker revving and stronger pulling F4i. It's not that the new model will necessarily pull away from the F4 in all situations, as one impromptu race out of a sweeping corner and through the banked straight demonstrated. The older F4 can hang right with the F4i if both are already hard on the gas and accelerating. This surprised the F4i rider ahead of us as our F4 stayed with him through the first half or more of the straight. On other sections of the track, however, the new models quicker revving and stronger top end performance made accelerating and getting around the Las Vegas track easier and faster. The bike's quicker steering, more powerful brakes, and more compliant suspension didn't hurt either.
The ignitions black box processes information double the speed of the one found on the CBR929, introduced just last year, making for smooth throttle response - at least on the track. There was no hint of fuel injection jerkiness when getting on or off the throttle. Brake components, like the chassis, have been designed to be more rigid providing for exceptional braking from the one-finger front brake. Never could we have used more brake than provided by one finger on the lever, and we simply couldn't begin to match the new bikes high speed braking with the F4 we rode for comparison.
Honda has retained the relative comfort of the F4, using the same bar and peg positioning with only a slightly higher seat. Wind protection, however, has been reduced somewhat, which is a little like taking something from nothing.
The bike is easy and fun to ride. One of its attributes we enjoyed most was that it sounds good. It doesn't put out somewhat mundane sounds like the CBR929RR (full throttle blasts excluded), and in fact sounds much like an aftermarket exhaust fitted F4 when you listen to it circulate the track. (just listen as you play our video)
Honda still wants to offer the best all around sporting 600, but with competition for the fastest and best handling middleclass sportbike so heated they had to focus on cutting edge performance. Changes for the 2001 model focus on making the bike a better potential race bike while sacrificing as little street performance and comfort as possible. The result is one highly refined motorcycle that is fun to ride, yet still reasonably comfortable. How it performs against the other 600s for 2001 is anyone's guess, however we wouldn't bet against the F4i as it's sure to give the competition fits this season.
After our day on the track a Honda engineer uncharacteristically asked us what we didn't like about the new F4i. We were stumped, as there was nothing in our mind that even remotely concerned us about the new bike - rare indeed. We asked for his email address so we could think about it and get back to him. As of yet, his email address goes unused. As we see it, there is no way you could possibly loose when buying the new F4i.
Thanks for tuning in,
Bill Wolf - MN
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