By 2001 the CBR600F had been one of the world's best-selling bikes for 14 years, its success maintained by regular improvements since the model's launch in 1987. But Honda faced a dilemma due to the increasing specialization of the middleweight super-sports division.

How could the HONDA CBR00F remain competitive with race-replicas such as Suzuki's GSX-R600 and Yamaha's R6, on the road and World Supersport racetrack, while maintaining the all-round excellence for which it had long been renowned?

Honda's conclusion was that a single bike could not continue to compete in all areas. So in 2001 the firm introduced two distinct CBRs, backing-up the revamped standard 600F with a new Sport model. Designed primarily as a basis for Supersport racing, the Sport incorporated a selection of tuning parts in place of some of the more practical features with which the CBR had traditionally been fitted.


Aggressive styling


Most of the changes were common to both models. More aggressive styling was the most obvious, with twin headlamps set above a reshaped pair of air intakes. The ducts fed a new fuel-injection system, based on that of the FireBlade. Other modifications included a stiffened aluminium frame, digital speedometer with clock and fuel gauge, retuned suspension, plus lighter wheels and brakes.

Power output of both models was an unchanged 108bhp at 12,5()Orpm, as the Sport's new engine parts were aimed at making it more competitive when tuned for racing, rather than in standard form. Valvegear was revised, the flywheel lightened and the clutch strengthened. The Sport, which had a black finished frame, also had a single seat with pillion pad instead of a dual seat, and no centre- stand or grabrail.

The Sport's engine came into its own in Supersport racing, where with careful tuning the top teams were able to coax as much as 125bhp from the 599cc four, despite strict limitations on what could be changed.

A flowed cylinder head, new camshafts, increased compression and a special ignition system combined to allow the CBR to rev to 16,000rpm, almost 2000rpm higher than standard, giving a top speed of over 175mph (282km/h). Despite this, Kawasaki's slower ZX-6R went on to win the 2001 championship ridden by Australian Andrew Pitt.

Ironically the Sport's engine changes made little difference to its performance in standard form. But few owners complained about that because, predictably, both versions of the new CBR6 were rapid and handled very well. Despite its more aggressive look, the Honda's famed all-round ability was very much intact. Its 16-valve motor still worked best at high revs, but there was lots of power from 9000rpm and useful torque from way down low.

Another boost was the motor's snarl through its airbox under acceleration. Although even this CBR did not stir the senses quite like some of its harder- edged rivals, the slightly racier feel provided some welcome extra personality. Yet predictably the CBR was just as refined and well behaved as ever, striking its traditional balance between performance and practicality.

The standard 600F's revised suspension,

slightly reduced weight and sticky radial tyres made it more agile than the previous CBR, though the difference was small. On a racetrack the Sport was better still, though only just. Even this Honda was not quite as sharp as its most aggressive race- replica rivals, but it was the fastest HONDA CBR600F yet. And crucially the Sport's extra pace and racy image did not spoil the all-round ability that had long made Honda's middleweight four so popular.

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